The Lehigh County Domestic Relations Section's mission is to provide services to dependent children and spouses through establishment of paternity and support orders and enforcement of those orders. This mission will be accomplished with respect for the needs and concerns of all parties involved in the support matter.
The Domestic Relations Section provides services in compliance with State and Federal laws and regulations and local rules of Court.
Introduction to Domestic Relations
The function of the Lehigh County Domestic Relations Section (D.R.S.) is to establish and collect support for children and dependent spouses.
The Domestic Relations Section consists of judges, administrators, domestic relations officers, and various technical and support staff. Client information and financial records are tracked through the state-wide PACSES (Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System).
The staff of the D.R.S. is trained to make recommendations to the Court for support amounts when the individuals involved are unable to agree on amounts of support, insurance coverage and medical bills. These recommendations are based on law, training and experience of staff.
Child Support - support and medical coverage for dependent children. "Dependent" refers to the spouse and/or children whom a person is legally bound to support.
Spousal Support - support for a dependent spouse if the parties are married but living apart.
Alimony Pendente Lite (APL) - when the dependent spouse is asking for support in connection with a divorce. A dependent spouse is one who proves that he or she does not have the ability to earn enough income because of a lack of skills, education, ill health, or the responsibility of taking care of young children. The dependent spouse is entitled to support at a level comparable to the standard of living which he/she had during the marriage, if the other spouse's finances are sufficient.
Medical Coverage and Other Expenses - The obligee (person filing for support) may ask that the obligor provide medical and hospital coverage for the spouse and children. The obligee may also request support for day care expenses and other medical expenses. Expenses relating to the child's birth may also be included in an order for support. If the parties do not have health care coverage, they can apply for low cost coverage through a health care provider.
When an individual requests support, he or she must first file a complaint at the Domestic Relations office. This person is referred to as the "obligee" or "plaintiff." The person who is to pay the support is called the "obligor" or "defendant."
The person seeking support will first be seen by an intake worker who will prepare the support complaint. This meeting will take approximately 30 minutes.
Information needed for the intake meeting:
If the defendant/obligor cannot be found, a parent locate action will be initiated. Some of the sources that staff will use include: federal and tax information, driver's license information, credit bureau, public assistance and employment information.
Both parties will receive notice to attend a conference with a Domestic Relations conference officer. Both parties should bring with them their prior year's income tax return and payroll stubs for the last six months; verification of other income sources; medical insurance cards; insurance policy information and any other information that will help the conference officer determine the support amount. If you claim a disability, you must provide documentation of your disability claim or verification from a treating physician of your inability to work.
In all matters relating to Domestic Relations, the parties have a right to be represented by an attorney. Attorneys provide important help and advice about legal matters relating to the case. If a party wishes to have an attorney but does not know one, he/she may contact the Lawyer Referral Service of the Bar Association of Lehigh County at (610) 433-7094 or visit the website of The Lawyer Referral Service of the Bar Association of Lehigh County Website.
If the person requesting support (obligee) fails to attend the conference, the case may be dismissed. However if the obligee receives Public Assistance and does not attend, the matter will be heard. The D.R.S. will advise the Department of Public Welfare that the obligee did not attend the conference and was thus, "uncooperative." He or she could lose welfare benefits as a result.
At the conference, the conference officer will listen to both sides and, using the information provided by the parties and their employers, the will determine the amount of support which is required according to statewide support guidelines. The amount of support is based on both parties' net monthly incomes, the amount each party is capable of earning, and/or reasonable needs. If an agreement is reached between the parties, a support order is entered that day. If there is no agreement, an interim order may be entered by the conference officer and the matter will be scheduled for a record hearing before a support hearing officer. If one of the parties fails to appear and service has been obtained, the conference may proceed and an order entered in his/her absence. Whether the order is a final order (agreement) or an interim order, the parties are compelled to comply with the terms of the order.
When no agreement is reached, the parties are given are served with a court notice to appear before the Family Court Hearing Officer for a Hearing De Novo. A Family Court Hearing Officer will conduct the hearing, where sworn testimony will be offered by both parties and, if necessary, witnesses. This hearing is conducted in accordance with the Rules of Procedure and Rules of Evidence. The Hearing Officer does not rely on statements made or documents presented at the conference. Each party is required to bring evidence of his or her income, such as pay stubs and tax returns. If you claim a disability, you may be required to present testimony of your treating physician. The Hearing Officer will issue a report and proposed order, which if not challenged, becomes the final Order for Support
In Pennsylvania, the amount of support is determined by using written support guidelines. These guidelines are the same throughout Pennsylvania. Copies of the guidelines are available at the Lehigh County Law Library, 4th floor of the Lehigh County Courthouse, 455 W. Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA. For information on obtaining these guidelines, visit the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines topic under the the Law Library section.
If an alleged father (the man who was named as the father) appears at a support conference and denies that he is the father of the child, the conference will go no further until paternity is established. If appropriate, the D.R.S. will arrange for the parties to undergo genetic testing to determine whether or not the man is the father. If the alleged father continues to deny paternity after the genetic tests are received, the case will be scheduled for a court proceeding.
After a support amount has been ordered, either party may challenge the order by requesting a hearing de novo. This request must be filed within twenty (20) days of the order. A Family Court Hearing Officer will conduct a formal hearing, where testimony will be offered by both parties and, if necessary, witnesses. This hearing is conducted in accordance with the Rules of Procedure and Rules of Evidence. The Hearing Officer will issue a report and proposed order, which if not challenged, becomes the final Order for Support.
A party may file a Petition for Modification of an Order if there is a substantial change of circumstances, i.e. considerable change in pay or a change in custody arrangements.
When an obligor has not made the payment for thirty days or more, the account is placed in "enforcement" status. The enforcement officer reviews assigned cases and determines what action can be taken to bring the account up-to-date. The first step generally is a letter to the obligor advising him/her that a payment of a certain amount must be paid by a specified date. If the obligor fails to make the payment, he/she can be listed for a contempt conference and subsequent contempt court. If there are extenuating circumstances, the enforcement officer has the option of giving the obligor additional time to make the payment. If the support amount is being deducted from an obligor's pay and the payments are not sent by the employer, the employer can be listed for contempt court.
If the obligor is listed for contempt conference and/or court and does not report as directed, a warrant can be issued for his/her arrest and detainment in Lehigh County Prison pending a bench warrant and contempt hearing before the judge. If the obligor reports as directed for the contempt conference, the enforcement officer will make a decision whether to list the obligor for contempt court. The judge will hear the matter and decide whether the obligor is in contempt of the support order. If there is a finding of contempt, the judge can sentence the obligor to a term of imprisonment not to exceed six months. The judge can also enter a "purge" condition which means that the order can include a provision that the obligor could "purge" him/herself of the imprisonment by paying a specified amount on the support account in addition to paying the regular ordered amount.
Other enforcement options include: intercepting the obligor's IRS refund; requesting that the obligor's driving privileges or professional license be suspended; requesting that the obligor's passport be denied; reporting the obligor to the Credit Bureau; placing a lien on the obligor's property; and requesting seizure of funds in bank accounts.
If the obligor is employed, the employer will receive a wage attachment ordering the employer to deduct the support amount from the obligor's wages. The employer then sends the payments to be applied to the account. If there is no wage attachment in effect, the obligor is responsible for paying the support amount directly in the amount ordered by the Court. All payments must be sent to the Statewide Collection and Disbursement Unit (SCDU) in Harrisburg.
If the obligor has more than one account, the payment is divided among all accounts. After the payments are processed, and if there are no "holds" on the account, the support will be forwarded to the obligee either through an EFT (electronic funds transfer) to a bank account or to an EPICARD.
According to federal regulations, you are entitled to a review of your case once every three years (from the last order date). Parties may request a review of their order every three years to determine if a change in the order is proper.
Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, 455 West Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA 18101-1614 • (610) 782-3000