Domestic Relations - Q & A

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I can't afford to pay the filing fees. What can I do?

The fees can only be waived by an order of court signed by a judge. The form to request this is called an IFP (In Forma Pauperis). There is a copy of this form on the Introductions page of our website and the form is also available in our office. The form should be presented in Motions court. Follow the standard operating procedures for Motions court for the judge assigned.

What is support and who may receive it?

Support is the payment of money for the care, maintenance and living expenses of a child or a spouse. There is no requirement, nor any ability, for this Court to require an accounting from the person receiving the support to show where or how the support money is spent.

Child Support: Under Pennsylvania law, parents are responsible for the financial support of their children until emancipation. Emancipation occurs when the child turns 18 years of age and graduates high school, whichever occurs last. There are certain exceptions to this rule which may apply when the child has turned 18 and has withdrawn or dropped out of high school or when a child has special needs. In certain cases, parents may be responsible for the support of their children beyond the age of 18 or emancipation.

Spousal Support: Under Pennsylvania law, one spouse may be responsible for the support of the other spouse. Generally, when there is a large difference in the incomes between the husband and wife and they are separated from each other, spousal support may be ordered by the Court. Spousal support is also commonly referred to A.P.L. (or alimony pendente lite). There are certain legal differences between spousal support and A.P.L. which may be discussed with an attorney.

The obligation to pay spousal support ends when a divorce decree is entered by the Court. If a party is required to pay support to a spouse after the divorce, that is known as alimony and may or may not be handled through this office.

How do I file for support and what should I bring with me?

Save time by completing the online Request for Support Services at https://www.humanservices.state.pa.us/csws/. We can access the answers provided and complete the process in our offices.

File for support either by appearing, in person or through an attorney, in the Domestic Relations Section offices during normal office hours. Meet with an Intake Scheduling Specialist between 8:30 am and 3:30 pm Monday – Friday to file a Complaint or Petition.

If the noncustodial parent lives in Pennsylvania, allow approximately 45 minutes for filing a Complaint for support in the office

If the noncustodial parent lives outside Pennsylvania, contact us to make an appointment to file a Complaint for support as it may take longer.

To file a petition for modification of an existing order in the Domestic Relations office, allow approximately 30 minutes to complete the petition.

The filing fees are set forth on our Fees and Costs page. For those receiving cash assistance from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare there is not a filing fee.

When filing a New Complaint for support, the following information must be provided to the Domestic Relations Section:

  • Names of both the custodial and noncustodial parents
  • Their address
  • Their date of birth
  • Their Social Security Number
  • Their place of employment
  • Birth certificates for the child(ren)
  • Social Security Cards (not just numbers) for the child(ren)
  • Medical Insurance Cards (if currently insured)
  • Marriage certificate if filing for spousal support
  • Copies of recent pay stubs if the noncustodial parent lives out-of-state
  • If there is or was an order of support in any other state or court bring a copy of that order or information concerning that case as well
What if there is a PFA order against the person from whom I am seeking support?

The Protection From Abuse order will not prevent both parties from attending scheduled court hearings at the same time.

Please notify our staff if a Protection from Abuse order exists or if there are concerns about safety related to filing for support. We will work to address the safety concerns.

In all conference or hearings where we are aware a PFA order is in place, a third party will sit in to assure the proceeding is calm and safe. Harassing or threatening behavior will not be tolerated.

How is the support amount determined?

In Pennsylvania, the amount of support that an individual is required to pay is governed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure as set forth by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Generally, support is calculated by taking your gross (pre-tax) income and subtracting only the following items:

  • mandatory federal, state and local taxes (in their proper amounts; not as withheld on the pay check);
  • mandatory retirement deductions (NOT 401-k deductions);
  • union dues (and in some cases, other mandatory work-related expenses);
  • the cost of health insurance which is paid for the persons covered by the support order.

There are no other deductions taken in determining each parent's net income.

From this net income amount as calculated by the Court, a mathematical formula is applied which takes into account both the parents' incomes and the amounts specified by the Supreme Court as the cost associated with providing support for a child.

The determination of support has nothing to do with whether the Conference Officer, Hearing Officer, or Judge likes or dislikes someone. It is a purely mathematical process. There is a grid established based on the parents incomes, number of children and parenting time.

In addition to the amount of monthly support, an individual may also be required to contribute a share of any child care, medical, educational or other expenses incurred by the custodial parent for the child in addition to the support amount.

How paternity is established and why is it important?

Paternity can be established in the following ways:

  • marriage to the birth mother at the time of birth
  • sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at the hospital
  • sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at a conference or hearing
  • by order of court after a hearing
  • have a genetic test performed

Children born of a marriage are presumed to be the offspring of the married parties. This presumption is rebuttable and can be challenged in a court hearing.

In support matters, Pennsylvania law allows an alleged father (defendant) to acknowledge that he is the father of the child or request to have testing performed to determine paternity . Acknowledgement of Paternity forms may be signed in the hospital at the time of a child's birth or at a support establishment conference.

An (alleged) father can choose to sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form and become legally responsible for a child or can refuse. Refusal results in genetic testing, the cost of which will be paid by the alleged father. The current cost for testing as of January 1, 2016 is $56.85 per family or $18.95 per person and will be performed onsite at the Domestic Relations office. If an ( alleged) father elects to have this testing and the results show that he is the father and he disputes those results (thinks that the testing was inadequate or improperly performed), he may request a trial on the issue of paternity before the Judge.

Without filing a petition for support or answering a petition filed against him, a putative father may seek to establish paternity of a child by filing a complaint as established by Pennsylvania Rule of Court 1930.6. Testing will be ordered only after a hearing on the matter is complete. This option is open only to putative fathers. Mothers should proceed through the support process.

In Washington County, paternity testing is done utilizing buccal swab DNA testing. In this type of testing, a Domestic Relations Staff member will take a buccal swab (which is similar to a large Q-Tip) and swab the inside cheek of the mother and child and the alleged father to collect a cell sample for DNA analysis. These samples are then sent to the lab and results are generally returned within four to six weeks. Once the DRS receives the results, a copy of them will be sent to both parties.

When results of this type of testing are returned, they generally come back at either 0% (meaning the defendant is excluded as the father of the child) or at 99.5% or above.

Under Pennsylvania law, when test results from testing of this type are returned at 99.0% or higher, there is a presumption created that the defendant is the father of the child. What this means is that, if the defendant requests a trial to challenge the results of the test, it is his burden to prove that he is not the father, as opposed to the Commonwealth's burden to prove that he is the father. In such cases, it is the defendant's obligation to bring forth evidence and testimony to the Court to show that the testing was performed improperly or that the results were otherwise inaccurate.

In almost all paternity cases, the parties will be asked to sign a stipulation. This stipulation is not required to be signed, but it must be explained. This stipulation (which is nothing more than a written agreement between the mother and alleged father) states that if the test results come back at 99.0% or higher, the defendant (alleged father) agrees that he is the father of the child and gives up his right to have a trial to challenge the test results. In addition, the plaintiff (mother) agrees that if the results come back at 0%, that the defendant is not the father of the child and the case is dismissed without further involvement of the parties.

The establishment of paternity is very important for a child for many reasons including: permitting that child to have their father listed on the birth certificate, giving that child the right to inherit from the father, and giving that child the right to receive government benefits which the child might be entitled as a result of parentage.

What must I do if I receive an Order to appear for a support conference or hearing?

All orders to appear for a support conference or hearing specify: the date, time and location at which parties must appear. Parties will receive this notice, along with a copy of the Complaint for Support which has been filed by regular and/or certified mail.

Enclosed with our order to appear there is Income and Expense Statement which MUST be completed prior to the support conference or hearing.

Enclosed with the order to appear are a set of interrogatories. These are written questions which must be answered and returned to the Court by the date specified. Use the postpaid envelope enclosed. Both the interrogatories and the income/expense statement may be returned at the same time and both must be signed. Also return any documentation required or requested by the interrogatories.

Where do I go for support conferences or hearings?

Domestic Relations Section
Family Court Center
Second Floor (entrance level)
29 West Cherry Avenue
Washington, PA 15301

Do I have to appear for my support hearing if I live outside of Washington County, Pennsylvania?

Custodial parent:

The custodial parent (the person who receives support payments) not residing in Washington County, is not required to appear for support or contempt hearings. Their interests will be represented by the Title IV-D Attorney. However, they are expected to cooperate fully with the court.

The IV-D Attorney will make sure that the procedural requirements of the hearing are met and that the case is not dismissed for a custodial parent that does not appear. The same procedural representation is not provided to a non-custodial parent.

The Title IV-D attorney provides procedural representation only. The IV-D Attorney is not "your attorney" and the custodial parent is not their "client." Custodial parents are urged to appear or be present for support or contempt hearings in person or by telephone, if possible. This is particularly true if there are any special circumstances that the Court should know about concerning the custodial parent or the child(ren). If the custodial parent has particular matters for the court to address, they should make every effort to appear. Only custodial parents can answer allegations made by the noncustodial parent at the hearing and present direct testimony for the Court to consider.

The telephone conference request form must be completed and mailed/faxed to the DRS no later than 3 days before the hearing date along with any documentation that is requested. This form is enclosed with the hearing notices.

Noncustodial parent:

The noncustodial parent in the case (the person who pays support), MUST appear for support and contempt hearings. If they are unable to physically appear, they are responsible for requesting a telephone conference. The noncustodial parent may offer testimony by telephone only after completing and returning the telephone conference request form.

The telephone conference request form must be completed and mailed/faxed to the DRS no later than 3 days before the hearing date along with any documentation that is requested. This form is enclosed with the hearing notices.

Failing to appear for a support hearing will result in:

  • the hearing will proceed without their input, even if they are the person who filed
  • the Court will use whatever evidence it has before it to determine the amount of support or
  • the Court may impute the income a parent can, or do, make and will base a support order on that
  • if paternity needs to be established failure to appear may result the noncustodial parent becoming the legal father of a child
What are the rules to participate by phone and how do I request to do this?

Rules for a telephone hearing:

  • The party requesting the telephone participation must reside outside of Washington County, unless there are extenuating documented circumstances (hospitalization, immobilization, etc.).
  • A party may only request a telephone hearing for support conferences or hearings. There are no facilities in the Courthouse (where contempt hearings and exceptions arguments are heard) for a telephone hearing.
  • If a party requests telephone participation and at the beginning the conference or hearing is not present or cannot be reached by telephone, the conference or hearing officer shall proceed without that party. The Conference or Hearing Officer will only attempt to call one time.
  • Any party requesting participation by telephone must be present at the phone number provided to the Court at the time of the proceeding and for up to 1 hour after the assigned time.
  • Documentation for the conference or hearing must be submitted to the Domestic Relations Section by mail prior to the date and time of the hearing. The record will not be kept open for additional evidence to be submitted.

How to request participation by telephone: When the scheduling notice is received a party may contact the Domestic Relations Section to be sent a Telephone Conference Request Form by mail or print one from the Introductions page of our website.

The form must be completed and returned by the time specified on that form, but not less than three(3) days prior to the hearing.

What will happen if I don’t appear for a conference or hearing before the Court?

If a party fails to appear for a conference or hearing, the court may proceed without their participation or dismiss the matter. If the court proceeds a recommended order of support may be entered against them, even if they filed the petition.

If a noncustodial parent fails to appear for a CONTEMPT conference or hearing, a bench warrant will be issued for their arrest based on the failure to appear. Upon arrest, the noncustodial parent will be lodged in the Washington County Correctional Facility until such time as their case may be heard by the Judge.

What happens at a support conference?

If the child or children were not born during a time when the parents were married or if an Acknowledgement of Paternity has not been signed, paternity must be established.

If paternity is not an issue, the support conference will proceed as follows:

The first step in a determination of support is for the support conference to be conducted. This conference is conducted by the Conference Officer who is a court official. The Conference Officer will collect various information from both parties, including demographic, employment, and income information and will calculate the net incomes of the parties. From these net incomes, the Conference Officer will calculate the guideline amount of support which is presumed to be correct in the case.

At this point the parties can either come to an agreement on the amount of support or not. If the parties agree to an amount of support, the Conference Officer will prepare an Agreement and Order of Support for the parties to sign. After this agreement is signed, it is sent to the Judge for signature and copies mailed to the parties thereafter.

If the parties do not reach an agreement, the Conference Officer will enter an interim order of support directing the defendant to pay the guideline amount of support. After the entry of that order the parties will be scheduled for a hearing de novo. Either party may confirm the request for a de novo hearing in writing and within twenty (20) days of the entry of the Conference Officer's order and must pay the hearing fee to the Domestic Relations Section. If neither party confirms the de novo hearing, the interim order will become a final order. If a de novo hearing is held, the parties will appear before the Hearing Officer.

What happens at a support hearing?

The Hearing Officer is an attorney, appointed by the Court, to hear testimony in support cases and make a written recommendation to the Court as to the amount of support which should be paid. The Hearing Officer will hear testimony and receive evidence from the parties and any other witnesses. Testimony in the hearing will be given under oath and is on the record. This is the only opportunity the parties will have to present evidence, so they should be prepared for this hearing on the date scheduled for the de novo hearing.

After the Hearing Officer hears all testimony, he or she will prepare a written report and findings, which shall be mailed to the parties and their attorneys. If either party disagrees for any reason with the Recommendation of the Hearing Officer, he or she must file Exceptions within twenty (20) days from the date written on the report.

How do I file exceptions?

If Exceptions are filed by either party, a temporary order of support at the amount recommended by the Hearing Officer will be entered until the Court hears oral argument on the exceptions. Parties and their attorneys will receive an order directing when this argument will be heard. The filing party is required to order the transcript of testimony from the hearing for the Court to consider the exceptions.

Parties must also file a brief in support of the exceptions. The date by which a party must file this brief will be set forth in the order scheduling the date for oral argument. A brief is a written statement of the legal reasons why a party believes the Hearing Officer made a mistake in their recommendation.

Information on how to prepare a brief may be obtained from the local law library or bar association.

To order a transcript from a support hearing, contact the DRS office. A deposit of $50 is required when ordering a transcript.

Once the transcript is prepared, parties will be notified that it is ready. If additional money is owed for the transcript, the requestor will be required to pay that amount before the transcript will be filed with the Court and copies for the parties are released.

Parties MUST appear for the oral argument on the Exceptions. If a party fails to appear, their exceptions will be dismissed and the recommended order of support entered as a final order of support.

If neither party files exceptions to the recommendation of the Hearing Officer, then a final order of support will be entered after the twenty (20) days has passed.

What are my obligations if I receive public assistance benefits?

If a custodial parent receives cash assistance from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, they are required by Pennsylvania law to cooperate by filing a support action in the Domestic Relations Section and to appear for all support hearings, including those to establish paternity of their child(ren).

For ALL public assistance cases, a custodial parent must also:

  • Name the father of each child and provide identifying and location information for that father.
  • Must cooperate with ALL request s of the Domestic Relations Section for information.
  • Must appear for all support proceedings, unless they reside outside of Washington County, Pennsylvania.
What are my obligations while I have an active support case?

Having a support case open and active in the Domestic Relations Section (either for active support, arrearages only, or birthing expenses), requires the following obligations on behalf of both parties:

  • To notify the Court and all other parties, in writing, within seven (7) days of any change of address or employment. If a party fails to notify the Court of a change of address, any notice mailed to the address of record is deemed received, even if the party no longer resides at that address.
  • To notify the Court within seven (7) days of any change in income.
  • To make full support payments to SCDU at all times that a wage attachment is not in effect.
  • To not make or accept direct payments. ALL money must pass through the court in order for the noncustodial parent to receive credit for it.
  • To provide any information requested by the Court in the time period specified.
How do I change my support order?

Both the custodial parent and noncustodial parent in a support action are permitted to request that the support order amount be changed whenever there is a change in circumstances of either party. However, six (6) months must have passed since the date of the last support order, or the moving party must ask for the permission of the judge before proceeding. See Local Rule L 1910.19.

An order of support is changed or modified by filing a petition for modification. Parties can do this online at https://www.humanservices.state.pa.us/csws/, by coming to the Domestic Relations Section in person or requesting a petition be sent by mail. Mail requests must be signed, notarized and include the filing fee.

What do I do if I am paying spousal support and a divorce is granted?

The Domestic Relations Section does not handle divorce and does not know when a divorce is granted and does not automatically adjust support orders to remove spousal support.

If a noncustodial parent is paying both child and spousal support and the order is unallocated, they MUST file a petition for modification to remove the spousal support. They should bring a copy of the divorce decree and marriage settlement agreement or stipulation to the support conference.

If a spouse is paying spousal support/ APL only, Local rules of court L-1910.17-3 and 1910.17-4 govern. In most instances, necessary changes can be done without a modification conference.

Copies of the divorce decree and marriage settlement agreement/stipulation must be provided to the Domestic Relations office. The documents must indicate a date that the support should stop, deal with any required medical coverages /costs and indicate how any arrears accrued should be handled.

What do I do if one of the children who I pay support for turns 18 and graduates high school?

Prior to a child turning 18 years old the Domestic Relations Section will send an emancipation inquiry request form to the custodial parent and a copy to the noncustodial parent. If the form is not received, contact the Domestic Relations Section. Schools will not release information to the Domestic Relations office.

What is PACSES?

PACSES stands for the Pennsylvania Automated Child Support Enforcement System. It is the statewide child support computer system that integrates all aspects of support establishment and enforcement.

How do I pay my support?

All support payments are required to be made by wage attachment with employers.

If a noncustodial parent is self-employed (1099), changes jobs, a wage attachment has not yet issued, or any time support is not being automatically deducted from some source of income, the noncustodial parent is REQUIRED to make support payments directly to SCDU at the following address:

PA SCDU
P.O. Box 69110
Harrisburg PA 17106-9110

PAYMENTS MUST INCLUDE THE NONCUSTODIAL PARENT'S PACSES MEMBER ID, NAME AND/OR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER TO BE PROCESSED. ALL PAYMENTS MUST BE BY CHECK OR MONEY ORDER. DO NOT SEND CASH BY MAIL.

Further instructions may be found at: PA CHILD SUPPORT.

Payments can also be made via nCourt at www.washingtoncosupportpay.com or call into the nCourt call center at (844) 400-6735. Service charges apply.

What do I do if I cannot pay my support?

Noncustodial parents who are unable to pay monthly support amounts, should immediately contact the Domestic Relations Section and speak with their Enforcement Officer.

Failure to notify the Domestic Relations Section Enforcement Officer will result in enforcement actions up to and including incarceration for contempt.

What type of enforcement actions may be taken if I don't pay my support?

Failure to pay support as ordered by the Court, will result in any and all of the following enforcement activities by the Washington County Domestic Relations Section:

If a payment is missed on a case, a Notice of Non-Compliance letter may be sent; or an Enforcement Conference will be scheduled with the Enforcement Officer. If the defendant fails to appear for this conference or fails to reach or abide by any agreement entered into at the conference, then contempt proceedings will be initiated against them.

Contempt Conference

When a contempt petition is filed, the noncustodial parent is ordered to appear before a Conference Officer or Hearing Officer. If the noncustodial parent is ordered to appear for contempt, prompt arrival is expected. Failure to appear will result in a bench warrant issued for their arrest. If a bench warrant is issued and the noncustodial parent is arrested, they will be scheduled for hearing in front of the Judge via video.

The Judge may order the noncustodial parent to pay money and/or taken certain actions in order to be released from jail. This is called setting a purge condition; failure to meet these conditions may result in continued confinement in the county correctional facility up to six months for each charge of civil contempt. Once the purge conditions are met, the judge will sign a release order provided that there is no other reason for confinement

If a noncustodial parent is jailed, they may be granted work release if they have proof of employment and work hours. This is subject to verification by the county jail authorities.

At the same time any and all of the following may occur:

  • arrears payment will be increased
  • denial of passport issuance or renewal
  • contempt proceedings
  • suspension of driver's license
  • suspension of recreational license (hunting and fishing)
  • seizure of federal tax refund
  • seizure of state tax refund
  • credit bureau reporting
  • interception of lottery and casino winnings
  • suspension of professional license
  • suspension of occupational license
  • seizure of checking accounts
  • seizure of savings accounts
  • seizure of individual retirement accounts
  • seizure of other financial assets
  • lien against properties
  • publication of the noncustodial parent's name in the newspaper
What if my driver's license is suspended for failure to pay support?

If a noncustodial parent receives notice that their driver's license (or any other license) is going to be suspended for failing to make timely support payments, they should contact the assigned Enforcement Officer at once.

Please remember, if a license is suspended by the Department of Transportation, the license holder must follow all steps for restoration, including the payment of the $70.00 restoration fee. Failing to pay this restoration fee to the Department of Transportation, will result in the license not being restored.

What is SCDU and how do I obtain information concerning payments?

SCDU is the Pennsylvania Statewide Central Disbursement Unit for child support payments. It is located in Harrisburg and is responsible for processing all support payments for all 67 counties within the Commonwealth.

SCDU processes all payments within twenty-four (24) hours of their receipt, as required by federal regulations.

Generally, mail time is three (3) business days between Washington County and Harrisburg, and please should keep this in mind when mailing individual payments to SCDU.

The Washington County Domestic Relations Section CANNOT accept support payments. Cash or credit payments only for contempt purge conditions or filing fees are still collected by the Domestic Relations Section.

Any payments sent to SCDU must include the noncustodial parent's name, PACSES Member ID number and/or Social Security Number to be processed correctly. Failing to properly identify the payment, will result in delay in processing or return of the payment. In either case, if the noncustodial parent payment misses its due date because they failed to include proper identification on the payment, they may be subject to contempt proceedings for failing to make payments in a timely manner.

If a noncustodial parent is required to make a payment directly to SCDU either because they have changed jobs or there is an order of court permitting them to make payments without a wage attachment, send payments, made payable to "PA SCDU" to the following address:

PA SCDU
P.O. Box 69110
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9110

All information concerning payments is maintained by SCDU alone. The local office CANNOT check on the receipt of payments and information concerning payments is only available to the local office on the day after the payment is processed.

To contact SCDU concerning payments, call toll free, at 1-877-PAS-SCDU (1-877-727-7238) or visit their web site at www.humanservices.state.pa.us.

How do I collect unreimbursed medical expenses under my order of support?

Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Court, the custodial parent is responsible to make full payment for the first $250.00 per person per year of unreimbursed medical expenses. Amounts over that $250.00 per person per year limit are subject to allocation and contribution by the noncustodial parent as prescribed by the order of support.

The term "unreimbursed medical expenses" includes medical services and supplies; surgical, dental and optical services, and orthodontia. Unless specifically included by the order of support cosmetic, chiropractic, psychiatric or psychological services are not included in this allocation.

If expenses of this type are not already enumerated in the existing support order, the custodial parent must file a petition for modification asking that these expenses be included in the order of support in order to seek reimbursement.

When the current order of support requires the noncustodial parent to make payment or contribution toward unreimbursed medical expenses not covered by health insurance, the custodial parent must first send a copy of every medical bill or invoice to the noncustodial parent, via certified mail, return receipt requested, with a listing of each bill and their share of payment. Upon receipt, the noncustodial parent must make payment within thirty (30) days.

Please contact the DRS for medical expense reimbursement form and instructions. Copies may also be printed from our website at: Medical Expense Worksheet.

What is the PACSES IVR and how do I use it?

PACSES stands for Pennsylvania Automated Child Support Enforcement System. IVR stands for Interactive Voice Response.

The PACSES IVR can be accessed through a telephone to answer most child support questions.

The PACSES IVR is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The PACSES IVR gives quick access to child support information. There may be information about policy and procedures and case updates , including recent payments and account status. This system may be accessed by calling our office number (724) 228-6756 or 1-888-619-9907 (toll free).

The PACSES IVR greets callers with a list of choices. Use the touch-tone telephone keypad to select options. The computer will provide the information selected.

Washington County - 27th Judicial District of Pennsylvania
Washington County Court of Common Pleas
Washington County Courthouse
1 South Main Street
Washington, PA 15301
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