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Domestic Relations


Preparing for your
Conference and Hearing

(Return to the Main Domestic Relations Page)

Conference and Hearing
Once a support complaint has been “filed” (which means the paperwork is completed and officially recorded), both parties will receive “conference notices” (an official order by the court to attend the conference), as well as various forms requiring information. On the day of the conference you should report to Domestic Relations at least fifteen minutes before the scheduled time of your conference, bringing with you the information you were directed to bring (see below). When both parties have reported to the receptionist, your case will be heard. Depending upon individual circumstances, even if one party fails to appear, the case may proceed. (See “If only one party appears”) The conference may last up to one hour.

Things to Bring to the Conference
Both parties will be ordered to bring their previous year’s income tax returns and payroll stubs for the past six months. They must also bring medical insurance cards, insurance policy numbers, benefit booklets, and any other things that will help the officer make the best decision.
Self employed clients must bring previous year’s tax returns, all IRS 1099 forms, business records and financial statements. People who receive unemployment or worker’s compensation disability or pension benefits must bring must bring proof of the amount they receive. You will have received in the mail, along with the court hearing notice, an income and expense statement (income is how much you earn; expense is how it is spent.) This form must be filled out and brought with you to the conference. Please do not bring children to the conference unless you are notified to do so.

Please click here for a print of our Income Statement form to bring with you for your office conference…

Please click here for a print of our Guidelines Expense Statement form to bring with you for your office conference…

Both these forms are needed to assist our office.


What happens at the conference?
A Domestic Relations Conference Officer will guide you through the conference. The purpose of the conference is to give the parties an opportunity to decide what amount and what type of support will be paid.  The conference officer will use the income information that the parties and their employers have provided to determine the net (after taxes) income of each party. The amount of support each party may be required to pay is based mainly on both parties’ net monthly incomes, how much is capable of earning, and/or reasonable need.

In Pennsylvania, support amounts are determined by using written support guidelines, which are the same in the whole Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Copies of the guidelines are also available from the Domestic Relations office, or for the Domestic Relations Rules of Civil Procedure which includes the guidelines link to:
http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/231/Chapter1910/chap1910toc.html

Although guidelines are used to determine the support amount, every case is also affected by individual circumstances. Some of the items, which may be considered in deciding a support amount, are:

  • MONTHLY NET INCOME-This is determined by averaging the monthly gross income (before taxes) over a six month period (when possible), and subtracting from it the mandatory (must be taken) deductions. Monthly gross income included overtime, tips, bonuses and commissions. Federal, state, and local taxes, social security deductions, medical insurance costs that benefit the children and other spouse, mandatory retirement contributions and union dues are subtracted from gross income to arrive at the net monthly income.

  • FLUCTUATING (CHANGING) INCOME- Adjustments in support orders will not be made for normal changes in earnings. Support orders for seasonal employees such as construction workers, are ordinarily based on an average of one year’s earnings.

  • EARNINGS CAPACITY-In certain circumstances, if a party who is able to work chooses on his or her own a lower paying job or fails to work at all, he or she will be considered to have an income equal to his/her earning potential.  This also may be true when a party voluntarily (on his or her own) quits work or is fired for misconduct.

  • RETROACTIVE EFFECT-Support orders are usually made retroactive (go back) to the date that the support complaint was filed. Credit may be given for voluntary payments made between the filing date and the date of the support order. Proof may be required to show that these voluntary  payments were made. Therefore, it is suggested that any voluntary payments be made by check. The court will decide the retroactive arrears (amount of back support owed) and require a payment on the arrears in addition to the payment of the regular support amount.

  • DEVIATION (ADJUSTMENT)- The guideline figures may be adjusted for circumstances such as unusually high fixed bills, the age of the children a duty to support order and/or spouse, etc.

  • MORTGAGE PAYMENT-The guidelines assume that the spouse who is living in the marital residence (the family’s home) will be solely responsible for the mortgage payment, real estate taxes and homeowners insurance.  The support order is based on the belief, unless it actually states otherwise. Therefore, if the party who is NOT living in the home is paying the mortgage, real estate taxes, or insurance, and is found to owe support to the party who is living in the home credit may be given for paying those expenses.

  • CHILD-CARE EXPENSES-Reasonable child-care costs are the responsibility of both parents. The guidelines provide that child-care expenses be divided proportionately between the parties based upon their incomes.

  • PRIVATE SCHOOL EXPENSES-The support guidelines do not consider the costs of private school tuition. If a private school is a reasonable need of the child because of the child’s special needs, or the parties’ prior standard of living, the support award may be adjusted so that the parents share the expense proportionate to the parties’ incomes.

  • DIRECT CONTRIBUTION OF NON-CUSTODIAL PARENT-The support guidelines assume that the non-custodial parent has regular contact with his/her child.  Therefore, adjustments to the guidelines will only be considered if the non-custodial parent has the child overnight 40% of the time or more pays an unusually high or low amount of the expenses of the child.

  • MEDICAL SUPPORT-The law requires that both parties provide medical support for the children, if able. Therefore, when a support Order is issued through Domestic Relations, it may require the plaintiff and defendant to have medical insurance for the children/plaintiff and to pay part of the medical costs not covered by insurance. Most recent support orders provide for medical support. Please bring all updated insurance information to all office visits.

Also, the law requires that uncovered medical expenses be divided proportionately between the parties according to their incomes.  However, the support guidelines assume that the first $250.00 per person of unreimbursed medical expenses be paid by the custodial parent. If your order does not include it, you may petition to have your Order modified (changed) to add medical support.

  • COLLEGE EXPENSES FOR ADULT CHILDREN- In the past, college support was allowed by case law for adult children. This case law was overturned in the case Blue v. Blue. The Legislature, in response to the Courts decision in Blue, enacted legislation that took effect June 2, 1993. On October 10, 1995 this statue was declared unconstitutional. Therefore, the Domestic Relations Section can pursue college support for adult children only in limited circumstances. For further information, please contact an attorney.

  • EFFECT ON T.A.N.F.  RECIPIENT (a person who receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families receives a grant for a child)-The Department of Public Welfare (DPW) requires everyone who receives a T.A.N.F. grant to file for support against the non-custodial parent. The person who receives T.A.N.F. must assign (give over) his or her rights to support to the DPW. This means that all money collected from the non-custodial parent on the support order will be turned over to the DPW.

If the support award is higher than the total benefits received from the DPW, then the custodial parent and children may no longer receive public assistance and will directly receive all money from the support order. Any arrears (back support) owing to DPW at the time the custodial parent takes the children off welfare must still be paid to the DPW.

ESTABLISHING PATERNITY
If an alleged father (the man who was named as the father) appears at a support conference and denies that he is the father of the child, the conference can go no further until paternity is established. (Paternity tests are not allowed for a child born while the parties are married to each other, unless otherwise court ordered.)

If appropriate, the Domestic Relations Section will arrange for the parties and the child to have paternity testing by a medical technician at the Domestic Relations Section to test whether or not the man is the father of the child.

The laboratory will test the genetic samples to determine how likely it is that the man is the father. After the testing is completed, the results of the tests are sent to both parties

If Only One Party Appears
If the plaintiff (the person asking for support) fails to appear for a scheduled conference, the case may be dismissed. However, if the plaintiff is receiving TANF, the case will continue in his/her absence and the Department of Public Welfare will be notified that the plaintiff has failed to cooperate. This could result in the plaintiff being taken off public assistance.

If the defendant fails to appear for a scheduled conference, the conference will continue if the Domestic Relations Section has proof of his/her earnings. The Domestic Relations Section requests income information for the defendant directly from his employer if this information is available at the time the complaint is filed.

Before a support order can be entered, the law requires proof that the person against whom the support claim is made (the defendant) has been given notice of the claim and a date to come to a conference or hearing. If receipt of that notice can be proven and the defendant (the person being asked to pay support) fails to appear, and if it has been determined how much the defendant earns, a support order may be entered. Otherwise, the proceedings will be delayed, and the defendant may be sent a notice of warrant for arrest for his or her failure to appear.

FAILURE TO APPEAR AS DIRECTED BY THE COURT IS A SERIOUS MATTER, WHICH COULD RESULT IN FINES, IMPRISONMENT OR BOTH.

Hearing
If the two parties cannot come to an agreement at the conference, a hearing will be scheduled. The officer may enter a Temporary Order called an Interim Order, for 100% of the recommended amount if this is a new case. The support case then will be scheduled before a Hearing Officer. A Hearing Officer is a lawyer appointed by the Judges of the Family Court to take testimony on support cases, and make decisions regarding the amount of support. The hearing will usually be held within 60 days after the conference. The conference officer, if unable to enter a support order may take the matter directly to the Hearing Officer immediately following the conference.

The hearing will be electronically recorded, and all rules of court will apply. The hearing officer will review the conference officer’s recommendation and notes, take testimony if necessary, review documents, and apply the guidelines and the law of Pennsylvania. Factors previously described in this manual will be taken into account. Following the hearing, and after considering the issues, the hearing officer will sign a recommendation. The recommendation will contain the amount of support the defendant is to pay and will also contain any other issues related to support.

Either party may file an appeal within ten days of receiving the recommendation.


Meanwhile, the hearing officer’s recommendation becomes an order of court, which both parties must follow until the Judge rules on the case and enters the final order.

IF AN APPEAL IS NOT FILED WITHIN TEN DAYS, THE RECOMMENDATION WILL BECOME A FINAL ORDER OF COURT.

  • Please click here for a print of our Income Statement form to bring with you for your office conference…
  • Please click here for a print of our Guidelines Expense Statement form to bring with you for your office conference…
  • Both these forms are needed to assist our office.
  • Please click here if you are the Plaintiff to fill out the Plaintiff Interview Form to bring with you the day of your court hearing…
  • Please click here if you are the Defendant to fill out the Defendant Interview Form to bring with you the day of your court hearing…

Representation by an Attorney
In all matters scheduled by the Domestic Relations Section, you have a right to have an attorney present, but it is not required. Attorneys can give you helpful advice about legal matters related to your case. The decision is yours as to whether or not you choose to have an attorney with you when you come to Domestic Relations.
The Plaintiff may qualify for legal representation by contacting the Office of Support Representation at 610-891-4233.

If you want to have a lawyer, but do not know one, you may seek one through the Delaware County Lawyer Referral Service at the local Bar Association. They can be contacted at:
LAWYER REFERRAL SERVICE:

Delaware County Bar Association
PO Box 466
Media, PA 19063
(610) 566-6627.

 

(Return to the Main Domestic Relations Page)

 

201 West Front Street, Media, PA 19063
610-891-4000
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