When parents of minor children are separated, there are usually questions about Custody and Child Support. Although connected in most parent’s minds, the legal issues involved are not the same. For that reason, in almost all Pennsylvania Courts, including Blair County (where I practice) custody and child support cases are handled separately.
There are some good reasons for this. Child Support in Pennsylvania is based on the needs of the children, and the ability of each parent to pay. The amount, in most cases, is determined by a formula, based on the net income of each parent, and the number of children. A few adjustments can be made, based on things such as medical and daycare expenses, and the calculation might affected by other facts, such as a shared custody arrangement.
Child Custody is based on what is in the best interests of the children, including a range of factors, which have nothing to do with the parents income or ability to pay. Two somewhat extreme examples help explain the reasons for this:
A. A parent might be unable to work, and have no ability to pay child support. If he or she is a good parent we would want to deprive the child to have the benefit of that relationship, and not punish the child because the parent is poor.
B. An abusive parent who is a threat to the child might not be allowed to have contact with the child. If that parent is able to pay support, however, he or she should not escape financial responsibility just because visitation was taken away.
In most Pennsylvania Counties (including Blair, Bedford, Cambria and Huntingdon), custody and child support cases are heard in different places, and scheduled separately. This helps make it clear that the two matters are decided based on different facts. In support cases, the first step is a conference with a domestic relations officer. Custody cases are scheduled for a separate conference, either with a Judge or a master.