Calculating Child Support Can Be Both Confusing and Frustrating

Calculating the amount owed for child support can be both confusing and frustrating. No matter how often you try, it is impossible to figure out how any domestic relations officer comes to the conclusion of what is the proper amount of support owed by the obligee. One way to get a handle on what to expect before a support conference is to visit the official Pennsylvania child support calculator found at the Pennsylvania Automated Child Support Enforcement System (PASCES) website. This website uses the same computer program employed by domestic relations officers when they attempt to resolve cases between parents in child support conferences throughout the Commonwealth.

The PACES child support calculator estimates each parent’s net monthly income by deducting their federal, state and local income taxes, FICA taxes, union dues, and mandatory retirement contributions in accordance with Pennsylvania’s child support law. The calculator does not consider itemized deductions when calculating federal income taxes; a standard deduction is used instead.

Child support income is not the same as taxable income. The PACSES child support calculator assumes that all income is earned from employment, which is subject to 7.65% FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes. There is no adjustment for income generated by employment (Schedule C), which is subject to 15.3% self­-employment taxes, or rental income, interest and dividends, capital gains, corporate distributions or other types of income that are not subject to FICA taxes. All these types of income are treated the same as earned income. The PACSES program overestimates the income for self-employed parents and underestimates the net income for parents who have other types of income.

When you use the Pennsylvania child support calculator, start with the dollar amount shown in box 16 (state wages) from your W­2 form instead of box 1 (wages, etc.). Box 1 is your federal taxable income, which is equal to gross income minus pre­-tax deductions. Most of the pre­-tax deductions are not allowable for child support purposes.

Since the statutory definition of income for child support purposes is much different than the definition of taxable income, there are many legal issues that affect child support income. That is why the PACSES child support calculator is only an “estimator”. Experienced legal counsel is the best way to insure that you pay the correct amount of child support.

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