Penna. Child Support Law Not Pre-Empted by Social Security Act, Court Holds

October 11, 2009 | Child Support, Court Decisions, Legal Perspective

Icon for author Brian Vertz Brian Vertz

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania granted reargument en banc to the litigants in Silver v. Pinskey (2009), to consider whether Pennsylvania’s child support law might be pre-empted by the federal Social Security Act, precluding the trial court from ordering the parents to share the children’s derivative benefits. In this case, the mother initially had primary custody of two teenaged children following the parents’ separation. The mother was initially designated as the representative payee of the children’s Social Security benefits derived from their father’s retirement. Later, father won equally shared custody and was designated as the representative payee. The trial court ordered father to share half of the children’s Social Security derivative benefits with mother, noting that the Pennsylvania guidelines do not address the situation where an obligor is receiving such benefits. The Superior Court initially vacated the trial court’s order, prompting Father to request reargument, which was granted.

On reargument, Father argued that the Pennsylvania courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction to order him to share the Social Security derivative benefits with mother. He also argued that the trial court misapplied the criteria for granting a deviation from the support guidelines due to “other household income.” The Superior Court en banc held that it was not deprived of jurisdiction, as it had not altered the designation of the benefit payee. The Court also held that the Social Security benefit could be properly considered as grounds for a deviation from the child support guidelines. Yet, the Court held that the trial court had erred by ordering father to share the Social Security benefit while setting child support at $0. The Superior Court regarded this result, however well-intentioned, as “bordering” on violation of federal law. Consequently, the Court remanded to reconsider the child support guidelines.

Several other issues raised by Father were dismissed by the Superior Court. Specifically, Father argued that the trial court had no authority to order him to pay his proportionate share of medical insurance provided by the mother’s spouse or extracurricular activities including gymastics, softball, baseball, basketball, summer camp, and piano lessons. The Superior Court saw no merit in these arguments.

Contact Us