Handbook :: Conference & Hearing Information

RULE 1910.11 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure is followed to conduct conference hearings in the Clearfield County Domestic Relations Section.

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. When both parties have reported to the receptionist that they have arrived, your case will be heard. Depending upon individual circumstances, even if one party fails to appear, the case may proceed. The conference may last up to one hour.

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. When both parties have reported to the receptionist that they have arrived, your case will be heard. Depending upon individual circumstances, even if one party fails to appear, the case may proceed. The conference may last up to one hour.

What to Bring

Both parties will be ordered to bring their most recent Federal Income Tax Returns, as filed with the Internal Revenue Service, (including any attachments, W-2’s & 1099 Forms & any Schedules) and payroll stubs for the past six months. People who are receiving unemployment, workmen’s compensation or pension benefits must bring proof of the amount they receive & if applicable the address, phone number of the benefit provider and/or any claim number. Self-employed people must bring business records and financial statements (i.e. Profit & Loss Statements).

You will have received in the mail, along with the court hearing notice, an income & expense statement (income is how much you earn; expense is how it is spent). This form must be completed & brought with you to the conference. Please read & follow the instructions under Section III: Expenses on page three before completing this section. If you are self-employed or if you are salaried by a business of which you are owner in whole or part, you must also fill out the Section II: Supplemental Income Statement which appears on page two of the income & expense statement.

In addition, you should bring verification of child care expenses (including cancelled checks, money orders, and/or signed receipts); proof of medical coverage which you may have, or may have available to you, including costs being incurred or aditional costs to add to spouse and/or children; and any information relating to professional licenses.

Please do not bring children to the conference hearing unless paternity of the child needs to be established.

What Happens at the Conference

A Domestic Relations conference officer will guide you through the conference. The purpose of the conference is to decide what amount and what type of support will be paid. The conference officer will use the income information, which the parties and their employers have provided to determine the net (after manditory deductions) income of each party. The amount of support each party may be required to pay is based mostly on both parties’ net monthly incomes, how much each is capable of earning, and/or reasonable needs.

In Pennsylvania, support amounts are determined by using written support guidelines, which are the same in the whole Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Click here to get a copy of the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines . Copies of the guidelines are also available from the Domestic Relations office.

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:

  1. MONTHLY NET INCOME – This is ordinarily based upon at least a 6 month average of all income (before taxes), and subtracting from it the mandatory (must be taken) deductions. Monthly gross income includes, but is not limited to, overtime, tips, bonuses and commissions. Federal, state, and local taxes, social security deductions,  mandatory retirement contributions and union dues are subtracted from gross income to arrive at the net monthly income.
  2. FLUCTUATING 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.
  3. EARNING 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 quits work or is fired for misconduct.
  4. RETROACTIVE EFFECT – Support orders are made retroactive to the date that the support complaint is started. 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.
  5. DEVIATION (ADJUSTMENT) – The guideline figures may be adjusted for unusual circumstances.
  6. MORTGAGE PAYMENT – The guidelines assume that the spouse who is living in the marital residence (the family home) will be solely responsible for the mortgage payment, real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance. The support order is based on this belief, unless it actually states otherwise.
  7. CHILD CARE EXPENSES – Reasonable childcare costs are the responsibility of both parents. The guidelines provide that childcare expenses be divided proportionately between the parties based upon their incomes.
  8. 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 children 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.
  9. SUBSTANTIAL OR SHARED PHYSICAL CUSTODY – The support guidelines assume that the non-custodial parent has regular contact with his/her children. Therefore, adjustments to the guidelines will only be considered if the defendant spends an unusual amount of time with the children. (i.e. if the defendant has the children overnight 40% of the time or more).
  10. 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 the 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. Also, the law requires that uncovered medical expenses be divided proportionally between the parties according to their incomes. However, the support guidelines assume that the custodial parent will annually pay the first $250.00 per person of un-reimbursed medical expenses. If your Order does not include it, you may petition to have your Order modified (changed) to add medical support
  11. 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 of Blue v. Blue. The Legislature, in response to the Court’s decision in Blue, enacted legislation that took effect June 2, 1993. On October 10, 1995 this statute 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.
  12. EFFECT ON T.A.N.F. RECIPIENT (a person who receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families receives a welfare 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 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.) If appropriate, the Domestic Relations Section will arrange for the parties and the child to have paternity testing 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 and the case will be scheduled for further proceedings by the court.

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 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 Domestic Relations Section was given the address of the defendant’s employer before the conference or hearing, the income information will be requested directly from that employer.

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.

IF YOU FAIL TO APPEAR FOR THE CONFERENCE/HEARING OR TO BRING THE REQUIRED DOCUMENTS, THE COURT MAY ISSUE A WARRANT FOR YOUR ARREST OR ENTER AN ORDER IN YOUR ABSENSE. IF PATERNITY IS AN ISSUE, THE COURT MAY ENTER AN ORDER ESTABLISHING PATERNITY. FAILURE TO APPEAR AS DIRECTED BY THE COURT IS A SERIOUS MATTER WHICH COULD RESULT IN FINES, IMPRISONMENT OR BOTH

If the two parties cannot come to an agreement at the conference, the conference officer will enter a recommended order, based upon review of documents & application of Supreme Court Guidelines.

Factors previously described in this manual will be taken into account. Following the hearing, and after considering the issues, the conference officer’s recommendation will be mailed to the parties. 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 (called a DE NOVO Request), within ten days of filing of the recommended order. If no party demands a hearing before the court within ten days, the order will become final.

DE NOVO Request to the Conference Officer’s Recommendation

Either party may file a DE NOVO to the conference officer’s recommendation. A DE NOVO request 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 “Support Court”. Meanwhile, the conference officer’s recommendation becomes an interim Order of court, which both parties must follow until the Judge rules on the case and enters the final order.

Usually one or both of the parties’ attorneys file the DE NOVO Request, but it is possible to file them yourself. If you file a DE NOVO Request, the Domestic Relations Section schedules a hearing date for Support Court. On the date of the Support Court hearing, the parties or their attorneys argue their clients’ position, then, after reviewing all of the evidence, the judge gives a final decision

IF THE DE NOVO REQUEST IS NOT FILED WITHIN TEN DAYS FROM THE DATE OF FILING OF THE RECOMMENDED ORDER, THE RECOMMENDATION WILL BECOME A FINAL ORDER OF COURT. IF A DE NOVO REQUEST IS FILED, THE RECOMMENDATION IS CONSIDERED  A TEMPORARY ORDER UNTIL FINAL ORDER IS ENTERED.

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