Domestic Relations Section
14 N 6th Street
Allentown, PA 18101
Fax (610) 782-3725
Monday - Friday 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
The mission of the Lehigh County Domestic Relations Section is to provide services to dependent children and spouses through establishment of paternity, establishment of support orders, and enforcement of support orders. This mission is accomplished with respect for the needs of all parties involved in the support case.
The Domestic Relations Section provides all services in compliance with Federal, State, and local laws, and local Rules of Court.
The Domestic Relations Section (DRS) is part of the Family Court of the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas which provides support services to custodial parents seeking financial support from an absent or non-custodial parent. Additionally, the DRS establishes support orders for dependent spouses.
The DRS consists of judges, managers, hearing officers, conference officers, and various technical and clerical support staff. The DRS staff is assisted by the PACSES (Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System) statewide computer system and is trained to make recommendations to the Court for support amounts when the parties involved in the support case are unable to come to an agreement.
DRS Information Topics [ Expand All | Hide All ]
Filing for Support
- A party may apply for child or spousal support services by filing a complaint in the DRS between the hours of 8:00AM-3:15PM, Monday through Friday; or online at www.childsupport.state.pa.us. A party who initiates an online application for support is still required to appear in the DRS within 30 days to complete the filing process.
- The party who is to receive support is referred to as the "plaintiff" or "oblige" and the party who is to pay support is referred to as the "defendant" or "obligor".
- The plaintiff who files a complaint for support will first be seen by an intake interviewer. The following information must be provided by the plaintiff at the intake interview:
- The plaintiff's social security number, photo identification, name and address of employer, marriage license (if married) or divorce decree (if divorced).
- The defendant's name, address, date of birth, social security number, employer, names and addresses of closet relatives, and any information that will assist the DRS in locating him/her.
- The name, date of birth, birth certificate, and social security number of all the children for who support is sought.
- After the intake interview is completed, an establishment conference is scheduled before a conference officer that requires both parties to appear. The plaintiff filing for support receives notice the day of the intake interview and the defendant receives notice by regular and certified mail. If there is not a current address on the defendant, a conference cannot be scheduled at that time
- If the defendant cannot be found based on the information provided by the plaintiff, the DRS will initiate locate action using all available resources including, but not limited to: federal and state tax information, driver's license information, credit bureau information, employment information, and public assistance information.
- At the support conference, the determination of which party will be the plaintiff and which party will be the defendant will be made by the conference officer based upon the income of the parties, the support guidelines and existing laws, and the custodial arrangements at the time of the conference. If supported by the information presented at the conference, the party initially named as the defendant may be deemed to be the plaintiff even if the party did not file a complaint for support. This does not apply to parties seeking spousal support or alimony pendente lite.
Establishing a Support Order
- In all matters relating to a support case, a party may choose to be represented by an attorney. If a party wishes to have an attorney but does not have one, he/she may contact the Lawyer Referral Service of the Lehigh County Bar Association at 610-433-7094 or by visiting their website at Lawyer Referral Service website
- Both parties are required to attend the support conference which is conducted by a conference officer. Both parties must bring the following information:
- All income and expense documentation
- Most recent tax return
- Paystubs for the past 6 months
- Verification of other income/assets
- Medical insurance information/insurance cards
- If claiming a disability and inability to work, medical documentation from the treating physician
- Any other information that will assist the conference officer in determining the amount and provisions of the support order
- Arguments or expenses which are not supported by written documentation and are contested by the opposing party may not be considered by the conference officer. Verification of income and expenses cannot be submitted once the conference has concluded.
- After gathering all pertinent information and documentation, the conference officer will calculate a support obligation in accordance with the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines. At that time, the parties may agree to the guideline support amount resulting in a support order being entered by agreement. In most circumstances, the parties will also have an opportunity to negotiate the support amount which differs from the recommended guideline support amount. In situations where the parties cannot reach an agreement, the conference officer will enter an interim (temporary) order and schedule the case for a hearing before a hearing officer. The parties will receive a copy of the interim order and notice to appear for the hearing.
- At the hearing, sworn testimony is taken from the parties and any witnesses. The hearing officer will issue a report and proposed order, which if not contested, will become a final order for support.
- A party who fails to appear or who arrives over 15 minutes past the scheduled conference or hearing time will be considered late which may result in the entry of a support order or dismissal of the support action.
- If an alleged father (the man named as the father) appears at the support conference and denies he is the father of the child, the conference will not be conducted until paternity is established. The DRS will facilitate genetic testing for any unresolved paternity issues for children who are subject to a support action.
- An alleged father who fails to appear for genetic testing may be adjudged by an Order of Court as the biological father of the child.
Enforcement of Support Order
- Enforcement is the process of securing compliance with court orders for child and/or spousal support. Provisions of the support order in conjunction with Federal, State, and local laws provide the framework for enforcing a support order. The DRS is responsible for monitoring cases for compliance and identifying cases which become delinquent and require enforcement action to be taken.
- The following are the many administrative and judicial remedies which may be used to enforce collection of a support order:
- All support orders require an income attachment which is a court order directing an employer to deduct support payments from a defendant's paycheck. Income attachments are also issued for unemployment compensation benefits, social security disability benefits, worker's compensation benefits, and some pension benefits.
Federal and State Tax Refund Offset
- A defendant's federal tax refund may be intercepted and applied toward the arrears when:
- $150 or more in arrears is owed to the Department of Human Services (DHS)
- $500 or more in arrears is owed to a plaintiff (non-DHS)
- A defendant's state tax refund may be intercepted and applied toward the arrears when $150 or more in arrears is owed to the DHS or a plaintiff (non-DHS).
Credit Bureau Reporting
- When 2 or more months of arrears are owing, a defendant will automatically be reported to the consumer credit bureau agencies as delinquent. Once the arrears balance falls below 2 months, the defendant's status with the consumer credit bureau agencies will change from delinquent to current.
- A Petition for Contempt may be filed by the DRS upon a defendant's failure to comply with the support order. The defendant will receive notice of a date and time to appear in the DRS for a contempt conference which is held before a conference officer to address the allegations of contempt.
- If an agreement is reached at the contempt conference, the conference officer will prepare a written order for signature of the parties and submit it to the court.
- If an agreement is not reached or if the conference officer determines that the defendant's failure to comply with the support order is willful and there is a present ability to comply, the Petition for Contempt is scheduled for a contempt hearing before a judge for consideration of incarceration or other appropriate sanctions
- A contempt hearing is held before a judge. If after the hearing, the court finds that a defendant has willfully failed to comply with the support order when he/she was capable of complying, the court may find the defendant in willful civil contempt and impose one or a combination of the following for each support case:
- Incarceration not to exceed 6 months;
- Fine not to exceed $1000; and/or
- Probation not to exceed 1 year
- When the court enters an order committing a defendant to jail for willful civil contempt, the court will specify the conditions or purge that if fulfilled, will result in the defendant's release from jail. While incarcerated, the defendant may be court ordered to participate in the work release program as a means of trying to secure payments on the support order.
- A bench warrant is issued for a defendant who fails to appear for a contempt conference in the DRS or a contempt hearing before a judge.
Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM)
- When a defendant owes arrears, the court may freeze and seize a defendant's financial assets from a financial institution and apply it as payment on the arrears.
Thrift Savings Plan Account seizure
- When a defendant owes arrears, the court may freeze and seize a defendant's financial assets from a Thrift Savings Plan account and apply it as payment on the arrears.
Unclaimed Property seizure
- When a defendant owes arrears, the court may seize a defendant's unclaimed property with the Pennsylvania Treasury Department and apply it as payment on the arrears.
Lottery Winnings Intercept
- When a defendant owes more than $100 in arrears and is an individual ticket holder of winnings in excess of $2500 from the Pennsylvania Lottery Commission, the winnings will be intercepted and applied toward the arrears.
- A defendant's arrears become an automatic lien against his/her her property. This information is available to title companies and banks that are required to review for liens at the time of property transfers. If the title company or bank determines there is an arrears lien against the property under review, they will submit a request to the DRS for written certification of the arrears owed. Upon closing or settlement on the property, any proceeds from the sale, up to the amount of arrears owed, are forwarded as payment on the arrears.
- A defendant's arrears become an automatic lien against the net proceeds of a monetary award or settlement that is paid as a lump sum. This may be as a result of a monetary award from a lawsuit, worker's compensation claim, or social security disability claim.
- When a defendant's owes over 3 months in arrears and there is not an active income attachment in effect, the court may enter an order to suspend/nonrenew/deny the defendant's Pennsylvania driver's license, recreational license (hunting, fishing, boating) , and/or professional/occupational license.
- A defendant who owes arrears of $2500 or more (combining all support cases) will not be able to obtain or renew a passport until all the arrears are paid in full
Work Search Program
- The DRS offers a work search program for unemployed or underemployed defendants who meet certain criteria and are willing to take an active role in improving their employment and financial status. While enrolled in the work search program, the defendant will periodically meet with a conference officer who will evaluate his/her past and present employment history and provide the defendant with various employment resources in an effort to help him/her to find full-time employment.
- A defendant who participates in the work search program is expected to fully cooperate with the requirements of the program and the directives of the conference officer.
- When a defendant's whereabouts are unknown, the DRS utilizes the Federal Parent Locate System (FPLS) as a location tool. This system interfaces with various federal, state, and local resources in an effort to locate missing defendants when the DRS no longer has a valid address for the defendant.
- Successful location of a defendant using the FPLS is dependent upon the DRS having the defendant's full name, date of birth, and social security number. Other information that may assist the DRS with locate efforts are a physical description or photograph, current or former employers, arrest or incarceration record, and any additional dependents for which the defendant is paying court-ordered support.
- The inability to locate a defendant for 3 years (and the social security number is known) or 1 year (and the social security number is unknown) is grounds for the support case to be closed under current federal regulations.
Out of State Clients
- A party seeking support against another party who does not reside in Pennsylvania may be required to file the support action in accordance with the Uniform Family Support Act (UIFSA). Although each state has their own policies, procedures, and guidelines for child support, UIFSA provides for a more consistent and uniform process for establishing and enforcing support orders for parties who reside in different states.
- During the intake process, the intake interviewer will gather all pertinent information to determine if the support case will remain local or if UIFSA will be pursued. In addition to pursuing UIFSA for establishing a support order in the defendant's home state, UIFSA is also pursued to register an existing PA support order to the defendant's home state for enforcement purposes. The state registering the existing PA support order will give full faith and credit to the support order as if it were their own, and will attempt to enforce all existing terms and provisions of that support order
- When a client or attorney is unable to appear for a scheduled conference or hearing, a request for a continuance may be made asking the matter be rescheduled to a later date. Only emergencies or other extenuating circumstances are considered valid reasons for a continuance request.
- A continuance request should be submitted in writing using the proper form no later than 20 days prior to the scheduled event. In addition to completing the entire form, the party requesting the continuance must indicate the opposing party's position regarding the request. If the opposing party's written statement cannot be obtained, the party requesting the continuance may indicate the opposing party's position based on another form of contact (telephone call, email, etc.).
- A continuance request for a conference is granted or denied at the discretion of the DRS director or designee; for a hearing, at the discretion of the hearing officer; and for a court hearing, at the discretion of the judge.
- If time permits, the continuance request will be returned by regular mail to all parties indicating whether the request has been approved or denied; also, the parties may be notified by telephone.
Telephone Conference/Hearing Request
- A party who is unable to personally appear for a conference or hearing due to travel distance, medical restrictions or other unforeseen circumstances may request to participate by telephone. Requests for telephonic testimony must be submitted on the proper form to the DRS no later than 7 days prior to the scheduled event and must include all documents as indicated on the Order to Appear. If a request is received absent the required documentation, the request may be denied.
- If time permits, the request will be returned to the requesting party by regular mail indicating whether the request has been approved or denied; also, the requesting party may be notified by telephone.
Modifying and Review of a Support Order
- A party may file a petition for modification of a support order when there is a substantial or material change in circumstances, (i.e. considerable change in income or a change in custody arrangements).
- A party may file a petition to modify by appearing in the DRS, contacting the DRS to request the required document be sent by regular mail, or online at www.childsupport.state.pa.us A party who initiates an online petition to modify must mail or appear in the DRS within 30 days to pay the filing fee of $12. Petitions submitted to the DRS will only be accepted if completed in full and accompanied with the filing fee of $12.00.
- Parties are entitled to a review of the current support order once every 3 years from the last order entry date. A party may file a petition to determine if a change is warranted.
- If the defendant is employed, the employer will receive an income attachment ordering the employer to deduct the support amount from the defendant's wages. The employer is then responsible for sending payments to the Pennsylvania State Collections and Disbursement Unit (PASCDU) in Harrisburg, PA.
- If the defendant is not employed and/or an income attachment cannot be issued, the defendant is responsible for making payments directly to PASCDU. Regular support payments are not accepted in the DRS unless specifically ordered by the Court.
- If the defendant has more than one support case, the payment is divided proportionately among all the defendant's cases.
- After a payment is processed by PASCDU, the amount is forwarded to the plaintiff either by direct deposit through electronic funds transfer to a bank account or to an Epicard (debit card).
|Domestic Relations forms for Attorney's ||pdf||MS Word|
|Praecipe for Appearance
|Praecipe for Withdrwal of Appearance
|Support Order Agreement
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