What is the Pennsylvania approach to child support in cases of shared custody?

Understanding Shared Custody Child Support in Pennsylvania

When parents separate or divorce in Pennsylvania, the well-being of any children involved remains a top priority. Child support is a crucial component of ensuring that children receive adequate care and support from both parents, regardless of their living arrangements. Pennsylvania's approach to child support in cases of shared custody reflects a nuanced understanding of family dynamics and the financial responsibilities of each parent.

Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines

Under Pennsylvania law, both parents are obligated to provide financial support for their children. The amount of child support is determined by state guidelines, which take into account several factors, including the incomes of both parents, the number of children, and the custody arrangement. The guidelines are designed to ensure that children receive the same proportion of parental income that they would have if their parents lived together.

Shared Custody and Support Calculations

In shared custody situations—where a child spends at least 40% of their time with each parent—the calculation of child support deviates from standard determinations. Shared custody inherently changes the financial dynamics, as both parents incur significant housing, food, and other costs related to child-rearing.

To address this, Pennsylvania employs a three-step process for calculating child support in shared custody:

  1. Determining Basic Support Obligation: The combined monthly net income of both parents is used to find the basic child support obligation based on the state's guidelines.
  2. Adjusting for Custodial Time: This basic obligation is then adjusted to reflect the percentage of time the child spends with each parent. If one parent has more custodial time, the other may be required to pay a higher amount to balance out the expenses incurred.
  3. Accounting for Additional Expenses: Finally, expenses such as health insurance premiums, unreimbursed medical expenses, and childcare costs are factored into the equation. These costs are typically divided proportionally between the parents based on their respective incomes.

For example, if Parent A earns $3,000 per month and Parent B earns $2,000 per month, and they share custody equally, Parent A may be responsible for a larger share of the child support due to their higher income. However, if Parent B incurs additional healthcare costs for the child, this could offset or reduce Parent A's payment obligation.

Modifying Child Support Orders

A key aspect of Pennsylvania's system is its flexibility in modifying child support orders. As circumstances change—such as a parent's income fluctuating or a change in custody arrangements—either parent can request a modification of the support order. This ensures that child support remains fair and reflective of each parent's ability to contribute.

Historical Context

Pennsylvania's approach has evolved over time to better reflect modern family structures and economic realities. Historically, one parent—often the mother—would be awarded primary custody while the non-custodial parent paid support. As shared custody has become more common, Pennsylvania has adapted its guidelines to ensure they remain equitable for both parents and beneficial for children.


The Pennsylvania approach to child support in cases of shared custody balances the financial contributions of both parents with the needs of children caught in the midst of separation or divorce. While navigating these matters can be complex, understanding how child support is calculated under shared custody can help parents anticipate their obligations and rights.