Pittsburgh Family Law Services, P.C. Blog

What sources of income count in calculating spousal support?

What sources of income count in calculating spousal support?
The amount of spousal and child support you pay in Pennsylvania is directly tied to your income. This is very easy to calculate if you receive a W-2 and have no additional income. However, this can become far more complicated if you have multiple sources of income.  Some of these extra sources greatly inflate your earnings and your obligation and I always recommend knowing about them prior to going to court.  

General Rule:  First things first.  In Pennsylvania, the general rule is that if you’re putting money into your pocket at the end of the month, it’s almost always considered income available for support.  The only exceptions that you can count on are foster care payments and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Note that regular Social Security Disability, which is based upon your earnings record is considered income.  

Types of income included in support calculations:  Outside of the two very limited exceptions, the rest of what you earn is included as part of your income.  This means that your salary, bonuses, commissions, interest, rent, dividends, pensions, income from an interest in an estate or trust, royalties, dividends, lottery winnings, tax refunds, and insurance compensation are considered in determining a support amount.  

With some of these, it’s easy to understand why they’re included.  Rental income, for example, comes predictably at the same time and in the same amount every month.  Some of the sources aren’t as intuitive though.  With large lump sum payments, that doesn’t happen.  You will probably receive it once and then never receive it again.  A Hearing Officer can require that your award be put into an escrow account, to make sure that it remains available for support.  

It's very common for someone to have what I call “unpredictable” income.  By this I mean things like bonuses and commissions, which are dependent upon your individual performance and the performance of your employer.  If you own a business, your income probably fluctuates from year to year as the profits change from year to year.  Your support order will stay the same from month to month unless you request a modification and get a new order.  Because of that, it’s extremely important that you be careful about how you spend commissions, bonuses, and profits.  You don’t want to be in a situation where you have a high child support obligation but now lack the resources to afford it.  

How additional income affects the award:  If you have multiple sources of income, you can expect that the support award will increase.  There are two main ways that you’ll see this happen.  The first (and most obvious way) is that the additional income is added to your W2 wages and just goes into the regular support calculation.  For example, if you earn $7,500 per month at your job and $2,000 per month in rental income, your total income available for support would be $9,500.00.  The other way is for the Hearing Officer to deviate upwards from the guideline amount.  For example, if your support obligation is $1,500 per month, and upward deviation may make it $1,800 per month.  This is method is more common when your additional source of income is a lump sum such as an inheritance or lottery winnings.  

In my practice, I always recommend that parties sit down with a lawyer and run rough calculations before going to court.