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DOMESTIC RELATIONS SECTION

455 W. Hamilton Street, Room 320
Allentown, PA 18101-1614
Phone: 610-782-3185
Fax: 610-782-3725
Email: cslehigh@pacses.com

Raymond T. Stabinsky, Director
Julie Haring, Deputy Director

ABOUT US

The Domestic Relations Section (DRS) is a division of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County that is responsible for the establishment and enforcement of child support orders under the federal Title IV-D child support enforcement program. The DRS has 62 full-time dedicated staff whose primary mission is to enhance the lives of children and families by ensuring both parents provide the necessary financial support to their children. The DRS has almost 9,000 active support cases in Lehigh County and collects over $45 million dollars annually in child support payments.

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of the Domestic Relations Section (DRS) 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 DRS provides all services in compliance with Federal, State, and local laws, and local Rules of Court.

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INFORMATIONAL TOPICS
Filing for Support/Intake
  • The party who is to receive support is referred to as the "plaintiff", "obligee", or "custodial parent", and the party who is to pay support is referred to as the "defendant", "obligor", or "non-custodial parent".
  • A plaintiff who files a complaint for support in person is seen for an intake interview. The following information must be provided by the plaintiff at the intake interview:
    • Plaintiff's social security number, photo identification, name and address of employer, marriage license (if married) or divorce decree (if divorced).
    • 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 location of the defendant.
    • Name, date of birth, birth certificate, and social security number of all the children who support is sought.
  • At the conclusion of the intake interview, a support conference is scheduled before a conference officer that requires both the plaintiff and defendant to appear. The plaintiff receives notice of the conference on the day of the intake interview, and the defendant receives notice by regular and certified mail.
  • If there is not a current address for the defendant and his/her location is unknown, a conference cannot be scheduled. The DRS will initiate locate action using the Federal Parent Locate System (FPLS). This system interfaces with various federal, state, and local resources in an effort to locate missing non-custodial parents (defendants).
  • 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 (APL).
Establishing a Support Order
  • Both parties are required to appear for the support conference which is conducted by a conference officer. Both parties must bring the following documentation to the conference:
    • Income and expense documentation
    • Most recent tax return
    • Paystubs for the past 6 months
    • Verification of child care expenses
    • Verification of other income/assets
    • Medical insurance information/insurance cards
    • If claiming a disability and inability to work, medical documentation from a licensed physician
    • Any 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.
  • The conference officer will calculate a support amount in accordance with the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines. The parties may agree to the recommended guideline support amount resulting in a support order being entered by agreement. In most circumstances, the parties will be able to negotiate the support amount which differs from the recommended guideline support amount. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the conference officer will enter an interim (temporary) support order and schedule the case for a hearing before a hearing officer. The parties will receive a copy of the interim support order and notice to appear for the hearing
  • At the hearing before the hearing officer, sworn testimony is taken from the parties and any witnesses. The hearing officer will issue a summary report and a proposed support order, which if not contested, will become a final support order.
  • 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 complaint for support.
Establishing Paternity
  • If an alleged father (the man named as the father) appears at a support conference and denies he is the father of the child(ren), the conference may not be conducted until paternity is established. The DRS may facilitate genetic testing for any unresolved paternity issues for a child(ren) 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.
  • If an alleged father appears at the support conference and acknowledges he is the father of the child(ren), the father may sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity and a conference shall proceed to establish a support order.
Modifying an Existing 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, a change in custody arrangements, etc.).
  • A party may file a petition to modify by appearing in the DRS, contacting the DRS to request the petition, or online at: https://www.humanservices.state.pa.us. A petition for modification will only be accepted if completed in full. Once a petition for modification is filed, a modification support conference will be scheduled and notices to appear will be sent to both parties by regular mail.
  • Parties are entitled to a review of the current support order once every 3 years from the last support order entry date. A party may file a petition for modification to determine if any changes are warranted.
  • 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 modified support order or dismissal of the petition for modification.
Support Payments
  • If a defendant has a regular source of income such as wages from an employer, an income withholding order is sent to the employer to deduct support payments from the defendant's wages. The employer is responsible for sending payments to the Pennsylvania State Collections and Disbursement Unit (PA-SCDU) in Harrisburg, PA. This also applies to unemployment compensation benefits, worker's compensation benefits, social security disability benefits, and pension benefits.
  • If a defendant does not have a regular source of income to issue an income withholding order, the defendant is responsible for making payments on his/her own by using one of the Support Payment Options.
  • Regular support payments are not accepted over-the-counter in the DRS unless specifically ordered by the Court.
  • A TouchPay kiosk is available in the lobby of the DRS during regular business hours (Monday through Friday, 8:00AM-4:30PM) to make support payments by cash, credit card, or debit card. Fees apply.
  • If a defendant has more than one support case, support payment(s) are divided proportionately among all of the support cases
  • After a payment is processed, it is forwarded to the plaintiff by direct deposit to a bank account or to the plaintiff's Way-to-Go Card (debit card).
Enforcing a Support Order
  • Enforcement action is initiated by the DRS when a party fails to comply with the provisions of a support order. The following administrative and judicial enforcement remedies are used to enforce compliance and collection of a support order:
Income Withholding
  • Support orders require an immediate income withholding order which is a court order directing withholding of support payments from a defendant's income. This includes wages, unemployment compensation benefits, social security disability benefits, worker's compensation benefits, and pension benefits..
Federal and State Tax Refund Offset
  • A defendant's federal tax refund will be intercepted when $500 or more in arrears is owed to a plaintiff or $150 or more in arrears is owed to the Department of Human Services (DHS).
  • A defendant's state tax refund will be intercepted when $150 or more in arrears is owed to the plaintiff or the Department of Human Services (DHS).
Credit Bureau Reporting
  • A defendant will be reported to the consumer credit bureau agencies as delinquent when 2 or more months of arrears is owed. Once the amount of arrears falls below 2 months, the defendant's status with the consumer credit bureau agencies will change from delinquent to current.
Passport Denial
  • 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.
Liens
  • A defendant's arrears balance become an automatic lien against his/her real 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, they will submit a request to the DRS for certification of the arrears owed. Upon closing or settlement on the property, any net proceeds from the sale, up to the amount of arrears owed, are forwarded to the DRS as a payment on the support order.
  • A defendant's arrears balance become an automatic lien against the net proceeds of a monetary award or settlement that is paid out 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.
Lottery Winnings Intercept
  • A defendant's individual ticket holder lottery winnings in excess of $2500 will be intercepted when $100 or more is owed in arrears.
Civil Contempt
  • 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 conducted by a conference officer.
  • If an agreement is reached at the contempt conference, the conference officer will prepare a written agreement. 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.
  • At the conclusion of the contempt hearing, if the court finds that the defendant has willfully failed to comply with the support order, the court may find the defendant in willful civil contempt and impose one or a combination of the following:
    • Incarceration not to exceed 6 months;
    • Fine not to exceed $1000; and/or
    • Probation not to exceed 1 year
  • If 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 immediate release from jail. If incarcerated, the defendant may be Ordered to participate in work release as a means of securing payments toward the support order.
Bench Warrant
  • If a defendant fails to appear for a contempt conference in the DRS or a contempt hearing before a judge, a bench warrant may be issued.
Body Attachment
  • If a defendant fails to comply with an Order entered by a judge at the conclusion of a contempt hearing, a body attachment may be issued for the defendant's arrest. Upon arrest, the defendant is immediately committed to jail without further hearing to serve the sentence imposed by the judge at the contempt hearing.
Freeze/Seize of Financial Assets
  • The freeze/seize of a defendant's financial assets may occur when arrears are owed. This includes assets from a financial institution on checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts, thrift savings plan accounts, unclaimed property, etc. Any funds received are applied as a payment on the support order.
License Suspension
  • A defendant's driver's license, recreational license (hunting, fishing, boating), and professional/occupational license may be suspended, denied, or non-renewed when 3 months or more is owed in arrears, and there is not an active income withholding order in effect.
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 situation.
  • The defendant is required to appear in person at the Lehigh County PA Career-Link located at 555 Union Blvd, Allentown, PA 18109, for an initial appointment and participation in their recommended services.
  • The DRS conference officer will periodically evaluate the defendant's efforts to obtain full-time employment capable of fully paying the support order.
  • A defendant who participates in the work search program is expected to fully cooperate with the requirements of the program and any directives of the DRS conference officer.
Locating an Absent Non-Custodial Parent
  • If a non-custodial parent's (defendant's) location is unknown, the DRS will initiate locate action using the Federal Parent Locate System (FPLS). This system interfaces with various federal, state, and local resources in an effort to locate missing non-custodial parents. Location of a non-custodial parent by FPLS is dependent upon the DRS having the full name, date of birth, and social security number of the non-custodial parent.
  • Other information that may assist the DRS with locating the non-custodial parent may include a physical description or photograph, current or former employers, arrest or incarceration records, and any additional dependents for which the non-custodial parent is paying court-ordered child support.
  • If a non-custodial parent with a known social security number is unable to be located for 2 years, or if a non-custodial parent with an unknown social security number is unable to be located for 1 year, the support case may be closed under current federal regulations.
Out of State Non-Custodial Parent
  • A custodial parent or plaintiff seeking support against a non-custodial parent or defendant 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 parents who reside in different states.
  • During the intake interview, all pertinent information is gathered to determine if the support case will remain local, or if pursuing the case under UIFSA is appropriate.
  • UIFSA is also pursued to register an existing Pennsylvania child support order to the non-custodial parent's home state for enforcement if there is noncompliance. The state registers the existing Pennsylvania child support order and gives full faith and credit to the support order as if it was entered there, and will attempt to enforce all existing terms and provisions of the support order.
Other Filing Procedures (Exceptions, Motions)
  • Instructions for Filing Exceptions
  • Instructions for Filing a Motion
    • Motions on DRS matters are filed in the docketing division of the DRS. Upon filing, the original and one copy is retained by the DRS. It is not necessary to provide a courtesy copy to court administration or the judge. Please refer to LC.R.C.P. 208.3(a) and 208.3(b).
Electronic Devices
  • Audio/video recording of any judicial proceeding (support conference, contempt conference, support hearing) is strictly prohibited.
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, a change in custody arrangements, etc.).
  • A party may file a petition to modify by appearing in the DRS, contacting the DRS to request the required document, or online at https://www.humanservices.state.pa.us  Petitions submitted to the DRS will only be accepted if completed in full.  Once a petition to modify is filed, a modification conference will be scheduled and notices will be sent by regular mail to both parties. 
  • 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.
Obtaining Legal Services
  • In any Domestic Relations matters, you may choose to be represented by an attorney. You may contact the Lawyer Referral Service of the Lehigh County Bar Association at 610-433-7094 or online at www.lehighbar.org
  • DRS staff are not permitted to give legal advice.
Submitting Documents
  • You may not take pictures of documents with your mobile device that you plan on submitting to the DRS. If your mobile device is either IOS (Apple) or Android, the device has the ability to scan the documents. See the instructions below:
CLIENT FORMS
  pdf
Address-Employment Change PDF
Continuance Application PDF
Direct Deposit Enrollment PDF
Medical Expense PDF
Medical Support Brochure PDF
Support Payment Options PDF
Telephone Conference/Hearing Request PDF
ATTORNEY FORMS
  pdf
Continuance Application PDF
Praecipe for Appearance PDF
Praecipe for Withdrawal of Appearance PDF
Telephone Conference/Hearing Request PDF
Unallocated Support Order Agreement PDF
HELPFUL LINKS

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Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, 455 West Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA 18101-1614 • (610) 782-3000