In rapidly changing economic times, parents who have child support orders need to know their rights and obligations. Pennsylvania’s system of child support collection and enforcement is centralized in Harrisburg. You can learn about the system and access your own child support account at www.childsupport.state.pa.us.
Child support orders are modified at the request of either party if the income of either party has changed substantially. Generally, the modification is retroactive to the date the modification request was filed in writing with the county domestic relations department. But recently, a Pennsylvania appellate court upheld a five year retroactive modification of an order, finding that a father had failed to disclose substantial salary increases over that five year period of time. The father’s monthly net income increased progressively from just over $5,000 per month to over $14,000 per month over the five year period.
The Pennsylvania child support statute requires that all parties to support orders must promptly inform the local domestic relations office and the other party to the case of any “material” changes to his or her circumstances. Material changes in circumstances certainly include salary changes but also include changes in health insurance benefits, day care expenses, and any other issues that affect the support order at issue.
The Pennsylvania child support statute also requires that a party who knows of a change in the other party’s income must promptly move for a modification. But in the case of the father whose salary increased over five years, the court found that the mother did not know of his income changes and had not received any of the father’s tax returns. The court disregarded the mother’s failure to promptly request modification, simply because there was no evidence that the mother knew of the father’s economic success.
Where a parent has any concrete reason to believe that the child support order should be changed, delaying moving for modification can be costly. Usually, the courts will not modify any child support orders retroactive to a date prior to the filing of the request for modification. But where a paying parent fails to meet his or her affirmative duty to disclose increased income to the local domestic relations office, grounds may exist for broad retroactive modification of a child support order.