Spousal Support Handbook Information
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County Domestic Relations
430 Court Street
New Castle, PA 16101
is part of the Family Court.
The Family Court is
a division of the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas.
explains how the Domestic Relations Section of the Family Court works.
Although it has other duties, the Domestic Relations Section is mainly
responsible for working with families to establish and collect support
for children and spouses.
Relations Section is made up of judges, administrators, conference
officers, enforcement officers, Investigators, and attorney and various
technical and clerical workers. The staff is assisted by a large
computer system which is used to track cases, keep financial records,
and is a tool which helps in the enforcement of support orders.
This system is called PACSES, which stands for Pennsylvania Child
Support Enforcement System.
Domestic Relations Section:
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Domestic Relations Section
430 Court Street
New Castle, PA 16101
You may appear at
the Domestic Relations Section to speak to an Enforcement Caseworker
about your case on Monday and Tuesday from 8:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M.
You may call the
Domestic Relations Section and speak to an Enforcement Caseworker about
your case on Monday and Tuesday from 1:00 P.M. to 3:30 P.M.
PLEASE DO NOT TELEPHONE
OR WRITE TO ANY JUDGE OR CONFERENCE OFFICER ABOUT YOUR CASE.
JUDGES AND CONFERENCE OFFICERS ARE NOT PERMITTED TO GIVE ADVISE OR
DISCUSS CASES OUTSIDE THE COURTROOM OR CONFERENCE ROOM. CONTACT
DOMESTIC RELATIONS WHEN YOU NEED HELP WITH YOUR CASE.
that some may not be able to contact the Domestic Relations Section
during regular business hours, therefore, there are additional methods
to contact the DRS.
(Interactive Voice Response) to leave a voice mail message at
be left on the child support web site.
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
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?
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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 ďdependentsĒ
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
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?
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The law in Pennsylvania states that the
ďcustodial parentĒ 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
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
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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
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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.
Driverís License or photo identification
Social Security Cards for yourself and all children you are
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
The following information is needed for the
person you are filing against:
Date of birth
Social Security number
Place of birth
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
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Domestic Relations Section can file a complaint
without a good address for the absent parent. If you do not know
the absent parentís 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 driverís license
Any professional license the person may have and the state that
issued the license.
Probation or parole paperwork
Current or previous bank statements
for your office visit
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Make sure you know exactly where you are to appear and arrive on
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.
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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 defendantís
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 yearís income tax return and payroll stubs for the past six
months. You should also bring your social security cards, driverís
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
workerís 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
partiesí net monthly income, how much each is capable of earning, and/or
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
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
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 yearís 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 homeownerís 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
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 childís special needs,
or the partiesí prior standard of living, the support award may be
adjusted so that the parents share the expense proportionate to the
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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
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.
of support Orders
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Effective July 1,
1990 all cases automatically require an income attachment order.
This is a court order which directs the defendantís employer to subtract
the amount of support from the defendantís 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, workerís 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
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
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
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
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 Defendantís arrears are
then reported to the credit bureau. This will affect the
defendantís 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.
Driverís License Suspension: recent
changes to the law allow for suspension of driverís licenses if a
defendant is delinquent in the payment of a support debt. Cases
must meet the following criteria:
1. The total support order arrearages are
greater than or equal to 3
times the total monthly support order obligation.
2. The support order does not have an
active income attachment.
The term Medical
includes reasonable expenses for medically necessary services and
supplies such as:
Services that are NOT covered:
Guidelines for medical coverage
Parties must provide each other with the
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
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
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.
a Support Order
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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.
of a support Order
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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.
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IFSA Ė Intrastate
1. Support cases filed
between counties in the same state.
2. The initiating party need not be present for conferences.
3. May be filed for
establishment, enforcement, modification of a support Order, or determination of paternity.
4. By filing an IFSA, you are submitting
to the jurisdiction of the responding county.
UIFSA Ė Interstate
1. Support actions
filed outside of the state in which the party filing resides.
2. May be filed for
establishment, enforcement, modification of a support order, or
determination of paternity.
3. By Filing a UIFSA you are submitting to
the jurisdiction of the responding state.
4. The response time
when dealing with another state is approximately 6 months. These
actions are sent to the responding stateís 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:
1. Your photo ID & Social Security card.
Security cards/numbers for all defendant and children.
3. Home address
for the defendant.
4. Name and
address of the defendantís employer.
5. Proof of
medical insurance coverage.
license/divorce decree/current protection from abuse order.
support Order (2 copies) and affidavit of arrears (certified copies are
sources of income for the defendant such as, social social security,
veterans benefits, etc.
last three (3) pay stubs and last yearís tax return.
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.