Child Support In Philadelphia

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1 The hub of pro bono legal assistance in Philadelphia since 1981 Child Support In Philadelphia Brenna Simonson Philadelphia VIP Legal Intern Prepared July 2015 Philadelphia VIP I 1500 Walnut Street, Suite 400 I Philadelphia, PA I I

2 I. Filing For Support In order to receive child support, a person must demonstrate that the child lives primarily with that person. Usually it is the custodial parent who files for support; however, any person, such as a grandparent, caring for a child can begin a support action for a child, regardless of whether that person has court granted custody of the child under Rule This Rule also allows a person who would have an obligation to pay child support to file a Complaint to ask the Court to enter a support order against the filing party. Pa.R.C.P (a)(6). This is generally done in circumstances where the defendant does not want to lengthen the court proceedings. Child support is most often started through the filing of a complaint for support. However, it can also be raised in either a divorce complaint or counterclaim. Support can only be issued starting from the date that the complaint is filed, so it is important to not delay in filing for support. Any claim for support must include: attorney identification number; counsel s complete address and telephone number; Domestic Relations (DR) number and Pennsylvania Automated Child Support Enforcement System (PACSES) number (where a number has been assigned, if this is a new DR case, the number will be assigned at filing); the full names of the parties, and any aliases; complete addresses of the parties with city, state, and ZIP code; Social Security numbers of the parties and the children involved; place of employment of parties (if any) and payroll numbers; whether the petitioner is receiving public assistance (include DPW number, if assistance is received); full names of all children of the parties for whom support is sought, with their dates of birth; complete addresses of the children for whom support is sought; full name and address of any custodian for an child/ren for whom support is sought; place of employment of any custodian for any child/ren for whom support is sought; information on health coverage available to any party and any child/ren for whom support and/or health coverage is sought; and clear designation in cases where the parties are married as to whether spousal support is sought for the filing party. The form support complaint can be found in the Rules of Civil Procedure at Pa.R.C.P A copy of the form support complaint can also be found on the Court s website ( or on Philadelphia VIP s website (. If a count for child support is included in a divorce complaint, support claims must be clearly stated. Even if they are included in a divorce complaint, support claims will be processed separately. When including a count for child support, the court requires the original plus nine copies, collated and stapled. The court will keep the original complaint, plus six copies. 2

3 Please note that a PACSES number is different from a Domestic Relations number in terms of distinguishing cases. PACSES is the Pennsylvania Automated Child Support Enforcement System. All 67 domestic relations sections in Pennsylvania use the same PACSES number to ensure that information regarding support can be readily viewed by each separate section. II. Filing Procedures When filing a support claim, the original and three copies of a support pleading must be filed with the Family Court at 1501 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA at the Office of the Clerk of the Family Court, which is on the 11 th floor. Please refer to the section above regarding the number of copies when including a support count in a divorce complaint. The following items should be included when filing a support complaint: 1. complaint 2. attorney verification 3. completed Domestic Relations Information Sheet (a copy of which can be found on Philadelphia VIP s website) 4. fees (all checks must be made payable to the Office of Judicial Records; the cashier is located in the Office of the Clerk of Courts) o support complaint: $35.50 o support raised in a divorce complaint: no fee beyond the filing fee for a divorce complaint ($328.98) o modification or contempt: no fee o motion: $42.68 Generally, VIP clients are eligible to file an in forma pauperis (IFP) application, where clients must demonstrate to the court that they are unable to pay the required filing fees. After submitting an IFP application, the court reviews it and a decision is made within thirty days. The form IFP Certification can be found on Philadelphia VIP s website ( If your client has been granted IFP status, you should include a copy of the documentation confirming the awarding of IFP status when filing any other motions or pleadings on this support case. III. Court Proceedings Philadelphia County has a three-step process for determining support, which includes a pretrial support conference, a support master s hearing, and an exceptions hearing before a judge. See Pa.R.C.P and A. Pretrial Conference First, the court will set a date for a mandatory pretrial conference. This conference is scheduled usually within 30 days of the date the request for support was filed. The conference officer is an employee of the Court who is not a licensed attorney. The conference officer has limited authority to request that an order be entered. It is not a recorded proceeding. 3

4 Each party should bring the following to all hearings and conferences: most recent tax returns (Federal and state) including all W-2 s, 1099 s, etc. verification of income, such as recent paystubs if a party is self-employed, three years of individual returns, as well as corporate, partnership, or other applicable returns a completed Income and Expense statement if either party is requesting a deviation based upon extraordinary income or expenses Proof of insurance coverage for the children and the documentation indicating the cost for the same if it is not readily apparent on any paystub. Proof of the costs of the children s tuition and/or day care expenses On the Income and Expense statement, the custodial parent must specifically identify the child s monthly expenses. The party must complete a list of the following if an expense statement is not included with the notice of conference: income: wages, rents, SSI, pension, income tax refund, unemployment compensation, SS disability, SS retirement, temporary or permanent disability assets: automobiles, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate, CDs, 401(k) plans, trailer homes, motorcycles, mutual funds, rental property, interest in real estate expenses: rent, utilities, food, clothing, child care, school tuition, car payment, repairs and maintenance, time-share, telephone bills, therapy, transportation, loans court order: a copy of support orders entered by courts outside of PA must be provided A form Income and Expense Statement can be found on Philadelphia VIP s website (. Counsel should bring at least three copies of these documents to the conference: one for the attorney, one for the court and one for opposing counsel. If the obligor is claiming that he or she has more than 40% of the overnights with the child warranting an adjustment to the child support obligation, that party should also come to the conference with whatever documents or court orders that the obligor may have demonstrating the number of overnights the obligor has with the child/ren. If a father wishes to contest paternity, he and the child can have a genetic test performed at the courthouse. If the man is found to be the father, he will be responsible for the genetic testing fee. When paternity is confirmed, the parties will receive notice regarding the hearing date. After the conference, the conference officer will review the income information provided by the parties and will determine the amount of child support based on the Support Guidelines. If the parties agree to the guidelines amount for support or any other number, the conference officer will prepare the appropriate agreement, which will be signed by the parties. That agreement will be submitted to the appropriate Judge so that it can be entered as an Order of Court. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the conference officer will recommend that an interim support order be entered based on the guidelines calculations. The conference officer does not have the authority to make any determinations regarding earning capacity, or regarding a party s income where that person is not paid by a regular pay check (i.e. parties who are paid in cash or under the table or where there are disputes as to how much someone is earning from side jobs), Such matters can only be determined by a Master or a Judge. 4

5 The conference officer can take into account the costs for day care, tuition, and other expenses of the child(ren) if the parties agree. If there is a dispute as to whether or not any expense should be considered in the child support calculation, that issue will be deferred to a Master. If there is no agreement, the case will be scheduled for a hearing before a Support Master. The parties will receive notice of the Master s hearing date at the time of the conference. This will be the only notice that the parties will receive. No other notice will be mailed to the parties. Please note that the defendant should be prepared to bring a blank check to the conference. The defendant will be responsible for making an initial support payment based on the agreed order or the interim order, as appropriate. B. Support Master s Hearing The Master s hearing is the support trial. It is a record hearing before a Support Master who is a licensed attorney. It is at this hearing, that the attorney should be prepared to present all relevant testimony and evidence. During the Master s hearing, the parties should bring sufficient copies of all relevant documentation to be considered by the court. If a party is obligated to pay support for other children, not part of another Philadelphia County support order, they must provide a copy of the foreign order. Do not assume that you can just make copies of documents during the proceedings. The Masters may not allow it. If a Master does allow it, it will be taking away from the time to present your case. Masters hearings are scheduled for 45 or 90 minutes. Counsel should request a protracted hearing if testimony of witnesses is necessary. Please note that support masters hearings are also electronically recorded, so all parties must speak loudly and clearly. The master will receive evidence, hear argument, and file a report containing findings and a proposed order for support. Pa.R.C.P (c) allows the master to modify or terminate an existing order. Usually, after the parties are sworn in by the Master, the Master will ask the moving party a series of questions to get the minimum information that the Master will need to prepare his or her written report. The Master will then allow direct examination of the witness by his or her attorney and cross-examination by the other side. Please remember that the Rules of Evidence do apply. Once one side has completed presented his or her evidence and testimony, the Master will ask the responding party a series of questions and then will allow direct and cross-examination of the witness. After all evidence and testimony has been presented to the Master, the parties and their attorneys are excused. The Master will prepare a written report containing the Master s findings of fact and proposed order. This will be sent to the parties and their counsel by mail. Until the report has been issued, the order that was entered at the conference will remain in place. The Master s report will be reviewed by the court and, if approved, made an interim order. If either party does not agree with the recommended Order, that party can file Exceptions. Exceptions must be filed within 20 days of the interim order. The opposing party has another 20 days to file exceptions after the date of service of the original exceptions. After the expectations are filed, the matter is scheduled before a judge. During this time, the interim order remains in effect. 5

6 If no exceptions are filed, the interim order becomes the final order. Additionally, matters not raised in the exceptions are deemed waived and cannot be introduced before the judge. The Exceptions must specify every error of fact or of law that the party claims the Master to have made. It is important to be specific. If an error is not raised in the Exceptions, then it cannot be raised at the Exceptions hearing. The form Exceptions can be found on Philadelphia VIP s website ( or on the Court s website (( Please note that Exceptions are very case-specific. It may be necessary to order the Notes of Testimony, especially when arguing that the Master did not take into account certain evidence or testimony. Information on how to order the transcript is attached to the Master s report. Exceptions will have to be filed before the transcript is ready so do not wait for the transcript before filing Exceptions. C. Proceedings Before a Judge Judges hear the following support matters: exceptions to support masters findings and interim order contempt petitions motions bench warrants Bench warrants may be issued if a party fails to appear for a pretrial conference, masters hearing, or court hearing. The party will receive notice that a bench warrant has been issued. A sheriff or warrant officer will pick up any party that fails to turn themselves in. An Exceptions hearing is similar to oral argument before an appellate court. The Judge is limited to the record of the proceedings before the Master. If something was not raised during the Master s hearing, it cannot be raised during the Exceptions argument. In most instances, no new evidence is presented to the Judge at the Exceptions argument. During the Exceptions argument, counsel should be prepared to argue why the Master had erred (or did not err) and should be able to indicate where in the Master s report and/or the record there is support for that argument. Following the presentation of argument by each side, the Court may issue an Order or may take the matter under advisement and issue an order by mail. The Judge has the authority to grant or deny Exceptions in full or in part. The Judge has the authority to enter an new support order or to remand the case back to the Master for additional evidence and testimony. If the matter is remanded, the Master will issue a new report and recommendation, which may be the subject to additional Exceptions. If the Judge enters an order setting forth a new support amount, this is considered a final order. This order can be appealed to the Superior Court or may be the subject to a Petition to Modify upon a showing of changed circumstances. 6

7 IV. Guideline Calculations The amount of child support is based on state-wide guidelines that are based on an incomeshares mode. Every support guidelines calculation begins with a party s net income. Pursuant to Pa.R.C.P (c), only the following mandatory deductions are considered: taxes non-voluntary retirement mandatory union dues alimony Generally, child support orders are based off of what percentage of the combined net incomes an intact family spends on their children. Other expenses such as extracurricular activities or tuition might be added to the amount. When the total amount is determined, it is divided between the parties in the same percentage that each party s income contributes the combined net monthly income. For example, if the mother s income is 42% of joint net monthly income and the father s is 58% and the mother has primary custody, the father will pay the mother 58% of the basic child support amount. Please refer to Pa. R.C.P and 23 Pa.C.S to see what the Court considers to be income for support purposes. Please note that Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is income for support purposes, but Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is not. Be sure to get confirmation from your client as to the form of benefit being received. If a child is receiving Social Security benefits for any reason, those benefits will be added into the family s net income. Please see Pa.R.C.P (b) to see how the Court treats the income of the child. The Support Guidelines are set forth in the Rules of Civil Procedure. Volunteers are encouraged to review the rules to get a better understanding of how the guidelines are applied. Many of the rules have good examples explaining their application. V. Discovery Under Rule , there is no discovery in a support proceeding, unless the court deems the matter to be complex. One party must file a motion with the court to claim that the case should be listed as complex. Rule does not explicitly state what makes a case complex. A motion should be filed if counsel believes that the case would be more complicated than most, such as one involving complex financial information. Among other things, complex financials might include someone who is paid in cash or is self-employed. If both parties are represented by counsel, they can exchange relevant income information to possibly reach a settlement agreement. If complex issues arise or information is not exchanged voluntarily, counsel may file a motion for discovery. VI. Child Support Motions A motion should be filed timely and within accordance with the Rules of Civil Procedure. Stays will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. 7

8 A support motion may be filed in the following circumstances: preliminary objections jurisdictional objection statute of limitation defense (paternity) discovery request protracted hearing request At any time before a final support order is entered,, the parties may resolve the outstanding support matter by agreement. If TANF cash assistance is received by the petitioner, or where the Department of Human Services (formerly known as DPW) has an interest, DHS must agree to the terms of the settlement. The following should be included in a motion filed with the court: 1. rule to show cause 2. proposed order 3. motion 4. verification 5. current Domestic Relations Information Sheet 6. motion sheet cover Many of these forms can be found on Philadelphia VIP s website (. Each agreement or stipulation must contain the following information in order to be approved by the court: names and Social Security numbers of the parties; docket and PACSES numbers; amount of support to be paid and the names and Social Security numbers of the persons for whom the support obligation is to be entered; timing of payment consistent with the payor s pay period (i.e. weekly, biweekly, semimonthly, or monthly); effective date of the order; specific amount of the payment toward the arrears, payable on the same schedule as the regular order provision for the attaching wages, either immediately or upon default of a certain number of payments; medical/health care coverage information and terms; allocation of the order (specify the amount intended for child support and for spousal support); names and effective dates for any child or spouse terminated or suspended from the support order. If any of the parties are not represented by counsel, both signatures should be notarized to ensure that the agreement is valid and consensual. The court usually will not accept support orders for direct payment between the parties. 8

9 VII. Modification of an Existing Order Either party may file to increase, reduce, suspend, credit, or terminate an existing support order if there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances for the party or child. Only the court can issue a change in the support order. Notification of a change in circumstance alone, such as a job change, does not alter the existing support order. The party must file a petition to modify. If a party does not notify the court of a significant change, such as an increase in income, the court can retroactively modify the order back to when the change occurred. The following should be included in a petition to modify filed with the court: 1. petition 2. verification 3. completed DR information sheet A petition to modify must state the change in circumstances and explain the relief requested. Notice must be sent to the opposing party after a petition to modify is filed. Upon filing, a pretrial conference is scheduled and notices are sent to all parties and counsel. Please note that a change in guidelines is not automatically a basis for modification. Pursuant to Pa.R.C.P (c), the court may modify or terminate the existing order, upward or downward, in any appropriate manner based upon the evidence. Therefore, a party seeking modification could receive a result different from that sought. Additionally, pursuant to Pa.R.C.P (b), after a party has filed a petition for modification, the petition may not be withdrawn unless both parties consent or with leave of court. Procedurally, once a petition to modify has been filed, it follows the same procedure as the filing of an initial support complaint, as outlined above. A form Petition to Modify can be found at the Court s website ( in the Rules of Civil Procedure (Pa.R.C.P ) or on Philadelphia VIP s website (. VIII. Petitions for Contempt Contempt matters allege that the party obligated under the support order is willingly failing to comply with the support order. A petition for contempt and related documents can be found in the Rules of Civil Procedure (Pa.R.C.P ) or on Philadelphia VIP s website (. Filing a petition to modify does not stay contempt proceedings. If a party believes they are entitled to a reduction or change in support, they must file a timely petition to avoid a contempt hearing. The court may enter a non-distribution order if a personal injury or other award may become payable to a party that is behind on their child support payments. 9

10 If a defendant is several months behind in child support, the Court on its own may initial contempt proceedings. A party can always go to Court to ask for the Court s assistance in the filing of a contempt petition. IX. Termination of Support Order Generally, a support order terminates when the child turns 18 or graduates high school; whichever is later. Under Pennsylvania law, parents are not required to contribute towards the cost of a child s higher education, unless it was already agreed upon in the support order or other written agreement. However, if the child is physically or mentally disabled and requires caretaking assistance, support may continue. 10

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