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How child support orders are established

When parents in Pennsylvania decide to separate, there may be confusion as to how the child support system works. Noncustodial parents have a responsibility to provide financially for their children, and the support system functions to make that a reality. August marks Child Support Awareness Month, an initiative designed to draw attention to support programs and their importance for children.

In order to establish child support in the first place, it is necessary to determine who the parents of the child are. Maternity can be established by showing that the mother gave birth to the child, and there are several ways that paternity can also be established. If a woman gives birth to a child while married, her husband is the putative father. In addition, an unmarried father can sign an affidavit affirming paternity immediately following the birth or at any time thereafter. In some cases, paternity is doubtful or in dispute. Such parents can seek a DNA test to verify the identity of the father. Once the father has been established through genetic testing, the court can issue an order of paternity.

The amount of child support is governed by a standard state formula. There are several objective factors considered by the formula, and the most prominent is the noncustodial parent's income. This includes not only wages from a job but also other types of income, such as dividends, benefits, trust proceeds and lawsuit awards.

Sometimes, a child support order is established before financial hardship hits the noncustodial parent. In this circumstance, the noncustodial parent can work with a family law attorney to seek a child support modification. The court can issue a new support order based on the noncustodial parent's current income and future financial expectations.

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