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Do Husbands and Wives Have a Legal Duty to Financially Support Each Other?

Each spouse owes support to the other as long as they are legally married. A court may require a spouse to contribute to the support of the other. The amount of support is determined by considering the income of each spouse, their earning capacities, assets and needs. Statewide support guidelines establish a presumptive amount of support based upon these factors, with primary emphasis being placed on income. A copy of these guidelines is available at the domestic relations office at your county court house.

Can I Obtain Financial Support?

Under the Divorce Code, a dependent spouse may be able to collect temporary alimony while divorce proceedings are pending. Statewide guidelines establish a presumptive amount of support. A spouse may also be given an award of post-divorce alimony if the court finds that it is necessary. In determining the amount of alimony and the length of time it is to be paid after a divorce, the court considers such factors as age, health, standard of living, relative earnings, the contribution by a party to the increased earning power of the other or as a homemaker, and the custody of minor children.

Who is Responsible for the Support of the Children?

According to the law, both parents have a responsibility to support their children which continues even after a divorce. In determining the amount of child support to be paid by one parent or the other, the court will consider the income of both parents, their earning capacities, assets and needs, as well as the needs of the children. Statewide support guidelines establish a presumptive amount of support based upon these factors, with primary emphasis on income, A copy of these guidelines is available at the domestic relations office at your county courthouse.

Once a child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, the parents generally are no longer required to support that child. However, if the child is unable to support him/herself because of a physical, mental or emotional disability, the duty of support may continue beyond the age of 18. Parents are no longer required to pay support to a child who is attending college, unless they have mutually agreed to do so in writing.

How Do I Obtain Spouse or Child Support?

A person seeking support may file a complaint for support in the domestic relations section of the trial court for a minimal charge. A conference will be held with a hearing officer at which both parents will be required to disclose their income and expenses. An attempt will be made by the hearing officer to have the parties reach an agreement as to the amount of support, if any. If an agreement cannot be reached, the usual procedure is for the hearing officer to submit a recommendation to the court as to the nature and amount of support that should be awarded. The court will enter an order of support based on that recommendation. If either party is not satisfied with the court order, he/she may demand a hearing before the court at which the order could be modified. When both parties exhaust their appeal rights, it will become the final order.

Can A Final Support Order Be Changed?

Either spouse or parent may seek an increase or reduction in the amount of support in the final order of he/she can show that a substantial change of circumstances had taken place since the order was entered by the court. An increase or decrease in earnings by the spouse or parent or in the needs of the children are examples of substantial changes in circumstances.

How Are Support Orders Enforced?

If a person who is ordered to pay support willfully fails to do so, the support can be automatically taken from his/her wages. In addition, a judgment may be entered by the court against that person for the total amount of support that has not been paid in the past, requiring him/her to pay all that is owed. Failure to obey a court support order could also result in a term of imprisonment.

What if the Parent Paying Support Moves Out of State?

Support orders entered into one state will be enforced in other states which have adopted a reciprocal support law. The Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act has been adopted in Pennsylvania. If the whereabouts of the parent paying support are unknown, the federal government can provide assistance to courts to locate the missing parent.

Do I Have to Pay Child Support If I Do Not Have Visitation or Custody Rights?

Denial of visitation or custody rights is not a lawful excuse for ignoring a support order. A person has the right to go to court to enforce visitation or partial custody rights, but it is a separate proceeding. Refusing to pay support because a denial of visitation or custody rights will only result in legal action taken to enforce the support order.

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Pennsylvania grants a no-fault divorce when both spouses agree to divorce and file an affidavit that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The court may grant a divorce 90 days after filing. If one spouse files an affidavit that the couple has lived apart for at least two years and that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court may grant a divorce based on those circumstances.
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