There are different ways to approach a divorce; couples most often choose between direct negotiation, mediation, a collaborative divorce and formal litigation. A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision will likely make it difficult for a couple with significant wealth to choose the option for a collaborative divorce. In a collaborative divorce, each spouse hires attorneys and negotiations occur on every aspect and item of their split outside of the court system. The recent ruling has changed the way child support will be handled for high income earning parents, likely forcing most couples to litigate their divorce.

Several years ago a couple filed for divorce and the husband had significantly higher yearly income than his wife. Annually he earned around $15.5 million and she earned $105,000. According to the child support calculations that Pennsylvania used for all divorcing parents, the payments would equate to $60,000 a month in their situation. The husband challenged the amount, arguing that it was excessive — particularly for just one child. He appealed the ruling.

The appeal made it to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the court recently ruled that lifestyles are different for high-income earners and therefore child support payments should not be calculated in the same manner as for lower-income earners. The ruling determined that any parent earning more than $30,000 net income a month would have child support payments determined by the amount of money it would take to maintain the child’s current standard of living. The standard of living can include private school tuition, vacations, cars, housing and material items.

With the new ruling and now established guidelines, some experts assume it will be very difficult for couples to achieve a divorce in a collaborative manner. That remains to be seen, though with varying ideas of lifestyles and income required, couples with high income may ultimately need to have court intervention through litigation. Pennsylvania family law attorneys familiar with child support laws and local court procedures can advise an individual accordingly.