Establishing a Support Order
Upon completion of the filing process, the case will be assigned to a Conference Officer. The case will be scheduled for an informal conference and all parties, including attorneys if applicable, will be notified by court order when to appear/participate. An additional court order will be sent to both parties’ employers to obtain income information that will be reviewed at the conference.
It should be noted that the incomes of the parties are a major factor in determining the amount of support to be awarded. The Conference Officer will determine income amounts and the data will be entered in the PACSES (Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System) computer that will identify a monetary amount of support based on Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines. Additional issues to be determined at the conference will be child care, medical insurance, unpaid medical bills, orthodontia, and other issues related to support. [Please note the Domestic Relations Section does not handle custody (legal, physical, and visitation) matters.]
The Child Support Estimator is a tool available to the public to estimate the potential child support award. It does not calculate spousal support. A final determination of the child support amount will be established by the Court; however, this tool may assist clients with reaching an agreement to child support prior to the conference. If support issues (financial amount, medical provisions, effective date) are agreed upon, parties may appear in the office to meet with an available Conference Officer to sign a support agreement. Parties also have the option to submit a notarized signed Agreement Worksheet (assuming paternity has been resolved). Under these circumstances, a scheduled support conference would not be necessary.
As the case proceeds to a conference, if the parties can come to an agreement on the issues of support, the terms of their agreement will be reduced to writing by the Conference Officer and signed by the parties. It will then be forwarded to a Judge who will make the terms of the agreement an Order of Court. If the parties do not come to an agreement, the Conference Officer will forward a recommended order to a Judge for their signature. This Interim Order will then be mailed to all parties and their respective counsel. By the conclusion of the support conference, parties will have received a Client Instruction Packet providing useful information.
If within twenty days of receipt of the Interim Order a party files a Request for a Hearing de Novo, the case will be heard again in its entirety by the Support Master. The Support Master is an attorney-at-law appointed by the Court to hear the case anew in a formal hearing. A stenographic record will be kept of all proceedings, and formal evidentiary rules will apply. The parties and their attorneys have the opportunity to present evidence through documents and testimony, and present legal argument. After the hearing, the Support Master will prepare a detailed report and Recommendation which will be incorporated into a court order for a Judge to review and sign. The Order, Report, and Recommendation will be mailed to the parties and their attorneys.
If either or both parties take exception to the recommended order, they must within twenty days of the order file a formal legal document called "Exceptions" at the Domestic Relations office. It is strongly recommended that a party consult with an attorney before taking that step, because there are costs and formal prerequisites which are found in the rules of both the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas. If Exceptions are filed, a transcript of proceedings will be prepared by the court reporter at the expense of the excepting party. A Judge will review the record of the proceedings held before the Master and hear legal argument, and render a final order. If a party is dissatisfied with the final order, their recourse is likely to be an appeal with the Superior Court in Harrisburg, PA.
A request for a transcript from a formal Cumberland County legal proceeding may be submitted through the Court Administrator's Office.
Note that pending all hearings and appeals, the Defendant remains responsible for paying the support order unless the Court issues a contrary order.
The Domestic Relations Section has legal counsel who may assist Plaintiffs, who meet certain financial and/or statutory qualifications, during this hearing de novo. On all support orders that are entered, unless otherwise agreed to, the income of the Defendant will be attached for the amount of the support order, plus an amount to be applied to any arrearages.
It is MANDATORY that both parties notify each other and the Domestic Relations Section, in writing, of any change that might have an effect on the support order. Changes may include, but are not limited to, lay-offs, injuries which result in time off work, changes of employment, changes in address, change of living arrangements for the children or change of child’s status in school, and changes in income. Support orders can be modified if there has been a change in circumstances. Clients may request a petition to modify by contacting the Domestic Relations Office. Complete the petition and return it to the Domestic Relations Office at PO Box 320, Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17013.