Domestic Relations Details
Representation by an Attorney
In all matters scheduled by the Domestic Relations Section, you have the right to have an attorney present, but it is NOT required. The decision is yours as to whether or not you choose to have an attorney with you when you come to Domestic Relations.
If you are being represented by an attorney, the attorney will be required to enter his/her appearance on your case. Once the attorney has entered his appearance, he/she will receive a copy of all Court Orders filed in your case.
Please tell your attorney if you no longer wish to have him/her represent you. The attorney will be required to withdraw from your case. Until an Order to withdraw as counsel is received, the attorney will continue to receive all Court Orders entered in you case.
What is Support?
The term support is usually defined as money given by a person to help provide food, clothing, shelter and other necessities for his or her dependents. The term “dependents” refers to the spouse and/or children whom a person is legally bound to support. Therefore, in Domestic Relations, support refers to two separate financial obligations, child support and spousal support.
Child support is support and medical coverage for dependent children.
Spousal support is support for a dependent spouse if the parties are married, but living apart.
Medical coverage and other expenses are other types of support besides money which may be requested during a support action. The plaintiff may request medical coverage for the spouse and children be provided by the defendant. A plaintiff may request the defendant help contribute toward all medical, dental, and prescription expenses not covered by insurance.
The defendant may be required to pay for a share of day care expenses for the children, which allows the plaintiff to work or attend school.
Who may request support?
The law in Pennsylvania states that the “custodial parent” or any adult or agency caring for a minor child, or any married individual living apart from his/her spouse may request support from the absent parent or spouse. The law states that both parents have an obligation to support their children, but the amount of the support obligation depends on many factors. The most important factor is the net income of each parent. The way the Domestic Relations Section figures net income is described later in this manual. Both parents are expected to support their children as much as they are financially able.
Generally, a child has a right to receive support until his or her 18th birthday or until graduation from high school, which ever happens last. Parents may also be required to pay child support when their child has been paced outside of the home by a Juvenile Court Judge or child welfare agency. In those instances, the county agency is the plaintiff, and both parents are expected to reimburse the county as much as they can afford as determined by the state guidelines.
How to apply for support
If you wish to start a new support case or add a child to an active case, you can come into the Domestic Relations Section Monday through Friday between the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. Upon arrival, you will be given an Intake Questionnaire to complete which asks for information on all parties in the support case. The intake interview process takes about 30 minutes per case. All clients are seen on a first come first serve basis.
Preparing to apply for support
Before you come in to open a support case, gather as much of the following information as possible to bring with you. The list of information is needed for yourself and any children you will be filing for. The Domestic Relations Section is not able to acquire this information for you.
- Driver’s License or photo identification
- Social Security Cards for yourself and all children you are filing for
- Paternity order or acknowledgement of paternity for children, if one already exists
- Marriage License or certificate
- Divorce decree or certificate
- Medical insurance cards
- Family Court documents of any kind (support orders, visitation order, custody order, divorce, protection for abuse, marital settlement agreement, etc.)
The following information is needed for the person you are filing against:
- Complete name
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Place of birth
- Parents names
- Disability, pension or any other type of income information
You can expect to spend about 30 minutes for the Intake interview. You will be seen by an Intake interviewer who will prepare a support complaint and answer any questions you may have about your case. You will be scheduled for a support conference to determine how much the absent parent will pay for support. The date of the support conference will be approximately 4 to 6 weeks from the date of filing.
Locating the absent parent
Domestic Relations Section can file a complaint without a good address for the absent parent. If you do not know the absent parent’s current address, the following is a list of sources of information you may be able to obtain. Please bring any of these documents or information with you when you come in to file.
- A pay stub from a current or previous employer
- A utility bill
- An old driver’s license
- Any professional license the person may have and the state that issued the license.
- Probation or parole paperwork
- Current or previous bank statements
Preparing for your office visit
- Make sure you know exactly where you are to appear and arrive on time.
- Be sure to bring whatever mail you have received from the Domestic Relations Section with you when you come to the office.
- Know and understand the reason you are there, and be prepared to tell Domestic Relations staff exactly what you are asking for.
- Always be honest. Failure to tell the truth is a crime.
- Although these matters may be very upsetting to you, focus your attention of the purpose of your appearance. Present the facts as you know them. Remember, staff members are here to serve both parties, and are trying to do what is in the best interest of all.
- Bring all information with you that will help to prove your position (receipts, bills, income information, etc.)
- Bring completed forms and all papers and letter which the court may have sent you in advance.
Conference and Hearing
Once a support complaint has been filed, both parties will receive a conference notice as well as various forms requiring information. On the day of the conference, you should bring with you the information you were directed to bring in the Order to appear for the conference. When both parties have reported to the receptionist your case will be heard. The conference may last up to one hour. Depending upon individual circumstances, even if one party fails to appear, the case may proceed.
If only one party appears
If the plaintiff fails to appear for a scheduled conference, the case may be dismissed. However, if the plaintiff is on public assistance, 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, the conference may proceed with the information provided by an employer and/or the plaintiff. A support order may be entered in the defendant’s absence, and if paternity is in question, the defendant may be found to be the father of the child without the benefit of paternity testing.
For these reasons, it is very much in the interest of both parties to appear at the support conference and all related support matters.
Things to bring to the conference
Both parties will be ordered to bring their previous year’s income tax return and payroll stubs for the past six months. You should also bring your social security cards, driver’s license/photo ID cards, medical insurance cards, insurance policy number, benefits booklets, proof of daycare expenses, copies of other support order, and other things that will help the officers make the best decision. Self-employed persons must bring business records and financial statement. People who receive unemployment or worker’s compensation disability or pension benefits must bring proof of the amount they receive. You will have received in the mail along with the Order to appear at the conference, an income and expense statement. This form must be filled out and brought with you to the conference. PLEASE DO NOT BEING CHILDREN TO THE CONFERENCE.
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 financial information which the parties and their employers have provided to determine the net income of each party. The amount of support each party may be required to pay is based mostly on both parties’ net monthly income, how much each is capable of earning, and/or reasonable needs.
In Pennsylvania, supports amounts are determined by using written support guidelines, which are the same throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Copies of the guidelines are available at the Lawrence County Law Library located in the main Court House or they may be accessed online at 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 over a six month period and subtracting any mandatory deductions. Federal, state, local taxes, social security deduction, mandatory retirement contributions and union dues are subtracted from the 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.
- Earning capacity: If a party who is able to work and 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 includes a party who voluntarily quits work or is fired for misconduct.
- Retroactive effect: Support order are usually made effective retroactive to the date the complaint is filed. Credit may be given for voluntary payments made between the filing date and the effective date of the support order.
- Deviation (adjustment): The guideline figures may be adjusted for circumstances for various reasons.
- Mortgage payment: The guidelines assume the person living in the marital residence will be solely responsible for the mortgage payment, real estate taxes, and homeowner’s insurance. The support order is based on this belief. 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’ income.
- Visitation 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 defendant spends an unusually great amount of time with the child, such as if the defendant has the child overnight 40% of the time or more.
- Medical support: The law requires both parties provide medical support for the children, as able. An adjustment may be made to the support order to reflect the costs of the coverage. The law requires that the uncovered medical expenses be divided proportionally between the parties according to their income. The support guidelines assume that the first $250.00 per person of un-reimbursed medical expenses will be paid by the custodial parent.
- TANF recipients: The Department of Public Welfare requires everyone who receive assistance to file for support against the non-custodial parent. The person receiving assistance must sign his or her rights to support to the Department of Public Welfare. This means all money collected from the non-custodial parent based on the support order will be turned over to the Department of Public Welfare. If the support award is greater than the total benefits received from welfare, the custodial parent and children may no longer wish to receive public assistance and will directly receive all money from the support order. Any arrears owing to the Department of Public Welfare at the time the custodial parent takes the children off welfare must still be paid to the Department of Public Welfare.
If the parties cannot come to an agreement at the conference, the officer will enter a temporary Order called an Interim Order. This is the recommended support amount determined by the Pennsylvania state guidelines. This order may be appealed within 20 days of the date the order is mailed. If an appeal is filed, the case will be scheduled for a De Novo hearing before the Judge.
Appealing the conference officers recommendation
Either party may file an appeal of the recommendation. Filing an appeal allows the parties to argue, before a judge of the family court, that the support order is improper. This appearance before the judge is called De Novo Court. Meanwhile, the recommendation becomes an Order of Court which both parties must follow until the Judge rules on the case and enters a final Order.
There is a fee of $40.00 that must be paid at the time the appeal is filed.
IF AN APPEAL IS NOT FILED WITHIN 20 DAYS, THE RECOMMENDATION BECOMES A FINAL ORDER OF COURT.
Enforcement of support Orders
Effective July 1, 1990 all cases automatically require an income attachment order. This is a court order which directs the defendant’s employer to subtract the amount of support from the defendant’s paycheck and pay this amount directly to the State Collection and Disbursement Unit (SCDU) within 10 days. Income attachments can also be used on unemployment compensation, worker’s compensation, and pension benefits.
If payments are not made despite the income attachment, or if the defendant is not paying the full amount of the order, the case is eligible for enforcement action. A notice of non-compliance is mailed to the defendants who fail to make regular support payments or have not made a payment in 30 days.
If the defendant continues to not make payments, he or she is in violation of the court Order, and contempt of court procedures may be started. Through these contempt proceedings a defendant can be forced to make a lump sum payment, or be put in jail by order of the Judge after a finding of willful contempt at a Contempt Hearing.
In addition, federal income tax refunds may be intercepted and applied to back support. The Domestic Relations Section will automatically apply for an IRS Tax Refund Intercept on all qualifying cases. To qualify for the IRS intercept program, all of the following eligibility requirements must be met:
- Only child support can be collected. Your support order must be for child support only. However, spousal support may be included if the same order includes support for both spouse and children.
- The past due child support must be at least $500.00 ($150.00 if arrears are owed to the Department of Public Welfare) and 1 month of arrears (3 months of arrears if arrears are owed to the Department of Public Welfare) for a case to qualify for IRS intercept. Any money owed to the welfare office will be paid first from any IRS refund received. Retroactive arrears cannot be collected by IRS Tax Refund Intercept. Each month, the PACSES system automatically submits eligible cases for IRS Intercept.
- The child must be under 18 years of age as of December 31st of the tax year you are applying for.
- We must have the correct social security number of the person who owes the child support.
The fee for this service is $25.00. This fee will be deducted from any IRS collection made. You do not need to pay anything in advance. Domestic Relations will automatically submit your case every year as long as it meets all of the requirement listed above.
If you have any questions about the IRS intercept program, Contact:
Domestic Relations Section
ATTN: IRS Intercept Coordinator
430 Court Street
New Castle, PA 16101
If a defendant owes back support, Domestic Relations may report him/her to the Credit Bureau. The plaintiff does not have to request this action. This is automatically done by the PACSES system. In order for this to happen the defendant must be at least 60 days in arrears. The Defendant’s arrears are then reported to the credit bureau. This will affect the defendant’s credit rating.
Any past due support becomes a lien automatically. If the person who owes support is buying, selling, or refinancing real property and owes past due support, the automatic lien would normally have to be paid in full before he/she would be able to buy, sell, or refinance the property. Title companies, banks, and mortgage companies routinely contact the Domestic Relations Section to verify if the person involved in a real estate transaction owes any past due support, and if so, how much.
Driver’s License Suspension: recent changes to the law allow for suspension of driver’s licenses if a defendant is delinquent in the payment of a support debt. Cases must meet the following criteria:
- The total support order arrearages are greater than or equal to 3 times the total monthly support order obligation.
- The support order does not have an active income attachment.
The term Medical includes reasonable expenses for medically necessary services and supplies such as:
- Optical Services
Services that are NOT covered:
- Chiropractic services
- Cosmetic surgery
- Psychiatric/Psychological Services
Guidelines for medical coverage
Parties must provide each other with the following:
- Name of health care coverage provider(s)
- Any applicable identification numbers or cards
- Address to which claims should be mailed
- All documentation regarding guidelines and participating health care providers, including a copy of the benefit booklet or coverage contract.
- Copies of any claim forms
If the child or spouse receives Medical Assistance parties may be required to provide health insurance.
How to get payment for medical expenses
Parties must follow the insurance company rules. All bills must be submitted to all available insurance plans. If a claim is denied by the insurance company for failure to follow their rules, the other party cannot be made responsible for the share of the cost.
Documentation must be provided to show that the first $250.00 per person/per calendar year has been met.
The party with the medical bills should send copies of the bills and insurance statement to the other party by certified mail. The exact amount owed and to whom should be clearly stated. A certified mail receipt card will be returned to the sender as proof the bills were received by the obligor. Please keep this receipt.
The party who is responsible to pay the bill should send the payment to the other party by check or money order so payment can be verified within 30 days.
Enforcement of medical payment
If full payment or payment arrangements have not been made within 30 days, notify the Domestic Relations Section by sending:
- Copies of the medical bills
- Insurance company statements
- Verification that the $250.00 per person/per calendar year deductible was paid
- Copy of the certified mail receipt
The Domestic Relations Section will only enforce medical bills one year from the date insurance company paid or denied the claim. The Domestic Relations Section will contact the party responsible for payment and adjust the amount of support arrears the total amount of the bills accordingly.
Modifying a Support Order
If you want to modify an existing order, you must file a petition in the Domestic Relations Section. This petition must state the reason you are requesting a change in the support order. A support order can be changed by petition only if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the order was entered and a conference will be scheduled.
Changes to support orders become effective no earlier than the date the petition to modify is filed. Unless you were unable to file the petition to modify because of circumstances beyond your control, changes to support orders cannot be applied to the time period before you filed the petition to modify. It is very important for the parties to petition the court as soon as possible after experiencing a change in circumstances. Any changes to a support order will be retroactive to the date the petition to modify was filed unless agreed to by the parties. Parties cannot agree to modify the effective date of an order if the support is assigned to the Department of Public Welfare.
Parties may terminate a support order at any time if they both agree, as long as the children are not receiving assistance. To terminate the order the plaintiff may appear in the Domestic Relations Section and sign a Petition to terminate the support order. The support order will be stopped once the termination order has been signed by a Judge.
Review of a support Order
According to federal regulations, you are entitled to a review of your case once every three years. Parties may request a review of their order every three years, to determine if a change in their order would be proper. It is necessary to file a petition to modify to request a three year review and a conference will be scheduled. However, if the children are receiving assistance, the review will automatically be scheduled.
Interstate Cases: IFSA/UIFSA
IFSA – Intrastate
- Support cases filed between counties in the same state.
- The initiating party need not be present for conferences.
- May be filed for establishment, enforcement, modification of a support Order, or determination of paternity.
- By filing an IFSA, you are submitting to the jurisdiction of the responding county.
UIFSA – Interstate
- Support actions filed outside of the state in which the party filing resides.
- May be filed for establishment, enforcement, modification of a support order, or determination of paternity.
- By Filing a UIFSA you are submitting to the jurisdiction of the responding state.
- The response time when dealing with another state is approximately 6 months. These actions are sent to the responding state’s Central Registry and then forwarded to the county in which the respondent resides. These cases are monitored to ensure communication occurs in a timely manner between the two states.
An appointment is needed to file either an IFSA or UIFSA action. Please allow 45 minutes to 1 hour to do so.
REQUIRED INFORMATION TO FILE IFSA OR UIFSA:
- Your photo ID & Social Security card.
- Social Security cards/numbers for all defendant and children.
- Home address for the defendant.
- Name and address of the defendant’s employer.
- Proof of medical insurance coverage.
- Marriage license/divorce decree/current protection from abuse order.
- Current support Order (2 copies) and affidavit of arrears (certified copies are required).
- Other sources of income for the defendant such as, social social security, veterans benefits, etc.
- Your last three (3) pay stubs and last year’s tax return.
- Birth certificates for the children for whom you are filing for support.
You may file at anytime to modify your order, primarily when there is a change of circumstance. Your support order is eligible for a review every three (3) years. You can request either a modification or a review by filing a petition to the responding county or state. Once again you will need an appointment and allow 45 minutes to 1 hour for filing.
If you are receiving Public Assistance and you fail to appear as required to file for support, your Public Assistance grant may be discontinued. If you are unable to keep your appointment please contact the Domestic Relations Section to reschedule.