By Elizabeth J. Billies | Esquire
1. How do I begin a support action?
In order to initiate a support action, a party must file a Complaint for Support and an Application for Support Services at the appropriate Domestic Relations Office. Those forms are generally available on the appropriate Domestic Relations Office’s website. Parties may file a Support Complaint in person or by mail. Make sure to check the website to see if there is a filing fee. The other party must be served with the Complaint as well as notice of the support conference date. It is best to serve the other party quickly after filing, as they will begin to receive notices from Domestic Relations whether or not they have been served.
2. What happens at the support conference?
In all counties, the support action will first be addressed at a Domestic Relations Support Conference before a Domestic Relations Support Conference Officer. Conferences are scheduled before the Officers (who are not attorneys) approximately four to six weeks after the filing of the Complaint. At this level, the parties may appear with their attorneys or without counsel. The Conference is relatively informal, with the Support Conference Officer reviewing the documents and data submitted by parties. Counsel and the Officer may also ask relevant questions regarding the income and expenses of the parties and needs of the children, particularly if one party doesn’t bring the information required.
3. What do I need to bring to the conference?
Both parties should bring the following documents, if applicable. Remember, if you don’t bring verification of an expense it may not be considered! Also be sure to bring at least three copies of all documents, one for you, the other side and the officer to review.
- Completed Income Statement form which is provided by Domestic Relations with the conference date notice;
- Most recent federal income tax return with W2's and 1099's;
- Six months of pay-stubs;
- Medical insurance documentation;
- Verification of child care, tuition, and summer camp expenses;
- Mortgage, real estate taxes and homeowners’ insurance documentation;
- Documentation relating to any social security derivative benefits received on behalf of the children and/or;
- Any other information relating to any deviations being requested (i.e. multi-family deviations or shared custody adjustments).
4. What happens after the Officer looks at the documents?
After reviewing all of the information provided, the Officer will enter the data into the PASCES support calculation software and share his/her verbal recommendation with the parties. The Officers will also generally show the parties their calculations so that the parties can understand how the recommendation was calculated. The Conference Officers strongly encourage the parties to reach an agreement.
If the parties agree to accept the recommendation, or some other amount is agreed to, the Officer will prepare a Support Order for the parties to sign and the support proceeding is complete.
5. What if we can’t come to an agreement?
If a final agreement cannot be reached, the Officer will enter a temporary Order and the matter will be scheduled for a hearing before a support master or judge, depending on the county. That hearing is generally scheduled before the parties leave the Conference, so be sure to bring your calendar. The Conference Officer will also provide payment instructions to the obligor and direct deposit information to the obligee at this time.