How Does Cohabitating Affect Child Support Obligations in Pennsylvania?

Both parents are expected to contribute to the financial needs of their child. In Pennsylvania, child support is based on standard guidelines. Deviations from the guidelines are rare, but judges may grant a deviation from the guideline in some cases. Talking with an experienced child support lawyer can help clarify those guidelines. Some of the situations that might give rise to a deviation in the standard child support guidelines include:

  • Support obligations for children from a previous relationship
  • Unusual needs of a child
  • The relative liabilities and assets of the parties
  • Out-of-pocket medical expenses
  • Other income in the household

In most cases, marrying another person does not impact child support obligations. Therefore, cohabitating should not impact child support obligations. However, because deviations are possible, a judge could find extraordinary circumstances may justify a modification of child support payments.

Recent Ruling Related to a New Spouse’s Income

In the case of J.P.D. v. W. E. D., 114 A.3d 887 (Pa. Super. 2015), the father’s child support obligation doubled after he married another woman. The Pennsylvania Superior Court confirmed the lower court ruling that increased the father’s child support payments from $665 per month to $1,365 per month. The father’s income was approximately $20,000 per year, and the mother’s income was approximately $50,000 a year. Why would the court grant such a drastic increase in child support?
The new wife’s net income was $1 million per year, and she owned substantial assets. The father’s testimony also supported the fact that he did not pay any bills or expenses because his wife handled all of the finances and owed the home. His testimony was that he had no living expenses. The court found that a deviation in child support payments was warranted. 

Marriage vs. Cohabitation 

Marriage and cohabitation are different in the fact that a spouse has a legal obligation related to the financial support of the other spouse. However, when you cohabitate with another person, that person is not legally required to assist you with financial support. Therefore, cohabitation should not impact child support obligations, but the lines could become blurred, and an unusual situation could result in a deviation from the standard child support guidelines.

Cohabitation Agreements

One way that you might protect yourself is to enter into a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement is a contract between two unmarried adults who live together and desire to define expectations and financial responsibilities. The agreement defines the contributions of both parties to household expenses. It also safeguards individual assets and income. 

With a cohabitation agreement, you can clearly demonstrate to the court that your partner does not contribute money toward any expenses related to your child. You can also demonstrate that your partner does not contribute money for your expenses to the extent that the contribution would justify a deviation from standard child support guideline. 
However, it is important to remember that every situation is different. A judge may determine that a deviation is justified depending on the situation, even if you have a cohabitation agreement.

Contact our Pennsylvania child support lawyers today to determine your parental rights. Seeking competent legal advice before moving in with someone may be the safest way to protect against a deviation of child support payments.