In Pennsylvania parents are required to support their children. The amount of child support that a parent must pay is decided by evaluating the incomes of the parties and applying the Pennsylvania support guidelines. Once an order of support is entered by the court, the parent must pay the amount ordered or face contempt proceedings. If a parent falls behind in their obligation, the court will set a “purge” amount, which is not the entire amount owed, but a portion to be paid to avoid further contempt proceedings.
Generally, if a person willfully fails to comply with an order for support, the parent can be found to be in contempt and be 1) imprisoned for a period not to exceed six months, 2) fined in amount not to exceed $1,000.00, or 3) probation for a period not to exceed one year. The court order committing a parent to jail must specify the conditions for the parent to fulfill to be released. See 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 4345. If a parent is found to be in in contempt of the court order, the parent may present evidence that he or she is presently unable to comply with the order of support. Childress v. Bogosian, 12 A 3d 448, 465 (Pa. Super. 2011). This evidence must be taken into consideration in setting a purge amount.
In Orfield v. Weindel, 2012 Pa. Super. 135 (Pa. Super. 2012), the trial court found that an obligor was in contempt of the support order where he failed to pay child support arrearages of $4,244.00, was required to pay $300.00 per month and only made one payment of $10.75 in two year. The trial court ordered the obligor to pay a purge amount of $4,244.00 even though the record showed that he only made some money under the table in the past two years as an auto mechanic and an ice cream truck driver, was currently unemployed, had no assets and was living with his sister. The obligor asked the trial court to lower the purge amount and asked for time to find a job so he could start making payments. He also offered to pay $1,000.00 with borrowed money. The trial court insisted that the obligor pay the entire amount owed as his purge amount and he was committed to prison.
Obligor appealed the matter to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. On appeal, the Superior Court agreed that the trial court did not consider the obligor’s present ability to comply with the support order to pay the entire amount of arrears to purge the contempt. Thus, the trial court’s order was vacated and the matter was remanded to the trial court to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine what conditions would be sufficiently coercive yet enable obligator to comply with the Court Order.