Juvenile Law Center

December 16, 2005
889 A.2d 1235 (Pennsylvania Superior Court, Dec. 16, 2005)
Superior Court of Pennsylvania
Opinion By: 
Kelly, J

When Ordering Support, The Trial Court Should Not Be Constrained By Support Guidelines But Should Consider Child Placement Costs

Child was placed with Children and Youth Services (CYS) for twenty-one months. CYS filed an action seeking sought support from the child’s Mother for its placement costs. The trial court’s order directed Mother to pay a total of $4,549 ($325 for one month and $220 per month for eight months). CYS appeals on the basis that the trial court abused its discretion when it concluded that it was constrained to award an amount based solely on the child support guidelines.

The trial court determined that placement costs should not be considered in support orders, and that the court must follow the support guidelines. The support guidelines are generally a rebuttable presumption and must be applied by taking into consideration the special needs and obligations for the parties. The trial court found that there should first be a present determination of the parent’s ability to pay. Next the trial court should determine how much of the placement the parent costs is responsible for, and lastly, the court should explain whether it is deviating from the support guidelines and why. In this instance, the trial court found CYS could not seek placement costs in its action for support costs.The Superior Court reversed.

The Superior Court held that no case law sustains restricting a support order to the findings of the support guidelines. The trial court therefore applied an improper standard when findings that placement costs could not be considered in the support order. The Superior Court’s remand does not require the trial court to grant CYS exceptions. Rather the trial court should consider the relevant factors under the Public Welfare Code, Juvenile Act, Support Law and the state rules of civil procedure.

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