Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Mother’s Earning Capacity Must Be Determined Before Determining Father’s Presumptive Guideline Child Support

In the family law and child support appellate case of P.W. vs. S.MS., PICS Case No. 16-0466, (Pa. Super. April 7, 2016), the Honorable Jack A. Panella, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, ruled that the trial court erred in ordering the father to pay child support without first considering the mother’s income under the Guideline Child Support.

Mother of P.W. appealed from the order of the trial court setting child support liability for father S.M.S., contending that the trial court erred in applying support guidelines. Mother filed a petition for child support after de novo hearing requested by mother, the trial court entered an order that determined  it was unnecessary to determine mother’s earnings capacity, because father’s liability for support for all of his children, due to father’s existing support order for prior family exceeded 50% of his monthly income. On appeal, mother challenged the court’s application of child support guidelines in calculating father’s support obligation mother. The court agreed the trial erred in its application of guidelines. The court first held that the trial court was required to deviate from the guideline amount only after determining the amount thus, the trial court erred in not determining the mother’s income before then determining father’s presumptive guideline obligation to the parties’ child. The court further held that the trial court erred in addressing mother’s claim that she should not be assessed an earning capacity, pursuant to the nurturing parent doctrine.

The court then ruled that after determining the father’s support and addressing mother’s nurturing parent doctrine claim, the trial court had to proportionally reduce father’s obligations to both the parties’ child as well as to the children from father’s prior family in order to show no preference to either family so, as to not unfairly punish the mother for making a second claim after the first family.

Finally, the court ruled that the trial court erred in not addressing the mother’s claim for unreimbursed birth-related expenses as mother’s petition included a claim for such expenses. Accordingly the court vacated the trial court and remained for recalculation of father’s support obligation.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 39 PLW 372 (April 19, 2016).

Filed Under: Child Support; Family Law; Application of Child Support Guideline.

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