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Child Support: Court-Ordered vs. Direct Payment

All parents are liable for the support of their children. Spouses are also responsible for the support of their spouse. Once parties separate, a support award may be appropriate to maintain a similar lifestyle as was established while the family was intact. Parties are free to determine on their own an amount of support to be paid. This can be done through direct payment meaning there is an agreement for one party to pay the other party directly. The alternative to direct payment is support paid through the court. Domestic Relations handles support establishment and enforcement in Pennsylvania. A party owing support would pay to the statewide collection and disbursement unit and then the money is routed to the intended recipient. Wage garnishment is the preferred method of collection and will be put in place once an amount is established as long as that is available based on the employment of the party paying support.

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The benefit of going through Domestic Relations is the automation of the process. Money will be taken from the other party's pay and distributed to the party receiving support on a consistent basis. Further, if a paying party falls behind, Domestic Relations will also initiate contempt proceedings and keep track of all missed payments to be caught up on. Some parties may prefer direct payment for the flexibility it provides. It can work if the paying party is responsible and makes payments on time without prompting. It becomes problematic when the party owed support is constantly having to chase down the paying party for the support. Another benefit of a direct payment is coming to any amount the parties are agreeable to and adding any number of expenses to the order. Domestic Relations will use the statewide guidelines as a rebuttable presumption. Parties can still elect a support award different from the guidelines amount in a court order. Domestic Relations is also bound to the rules of civil procedure and certain restrictions on what expenses can be added into a support order.

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