Will Quitting My Job Reduce Child Support? The Risk of Getting Assessed with an Earning Capacity in Pennsylvania

October 23, 2023 | By Marcelina R. Policicchio

Parents are equally responsible for their child’s needs and development. When it comes to child support, this does not mean that they have to equally contribute, but that they are each expected to contribute to the financial needs of the child to their full ability.

Pennsylvania has specific guidelines for the calculation of child support. These guidelines provide direction on how a person’s income is calculated for child support purposes. Usually, it is calculated based on a person’s actual earnings, however, in circumstances where a party voluntarily reduces his or her income or fails to obtain appropriate employment, the guidelines offer the court the option of assessing a party with something called an “earning capacity.” An earning capacity allows the court to impute parties with income based upon what they could be earning, as opposed to what they are actually earning. Therefore, when parties quit their jobs or fail to work to their full potential, the court has the option to calculate their income based on what their income was before they quit, or what their income would be if they worked full-time in a position for which they are qualified.

What is considered appropriate employment depends upon a party’s individual circumstances. There are various factors that go into the analysis of an earning capacity. These factors include prior work history, job skills, educational level, age, health or physical impairment, the local job market, and the party’s efforts to find suitable employment. When a party is imputed with an earning capacity, the court will also take into consideration reasonable childcare responsibilities and expenses.

The applicability of earning capacity analysis often arises when a party opts to seek a career change. If the job change results in an income similar to what the party was previously earning, then it is likely that the earning capacity assessment would not be applied. However, if the job change was voluntary and resulted in a reduction in income, in most cases the party will be imputed with an earning capacity.

Therefore, unless there was good cause for the job or career change, the party will be expected to continue paying what he or she was paying previously, regardless of how much his or her earnings decreased.

In conclusion, when there is an active support obligation, and a party voluntarily leaves his or her job without good cause and opts to accept a job that pays substantially less than his or her previous job, in most cases, he or she will not qualify for a reduction, but instead, his or her child support obligation will remain the same.

The determination of an earning capacity and the calculation of a child support award is extremely case-specific. If you have questions related to your support action, please contact a member of our team to determine what steps you should take based on your individual circumstances.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

About the Authors

Marcelina Policicchio - Pittsburgh family law attorney

Marcelina R. Policicchio


Pittsburgh Family Law Attorney Marcelina divides her time between family law, commercial real estate, mineral title work and business transactional work. As a Pittsburgh family law attorney, her family law practice primarily...

Read More by Author