What is Support?
The term support is usually defined as money given by a person to help provide food, clothing, shelter and other necessities for his or her dependents. The term "dependents" refers to the spouse and/or children whom a person is legally bound to support.
Therefore, in Domestic Relations, support refers to two separate financial obligations, child support and spousal support.
Types of Support
Child Support is support and medical coverage for dependent children.
Spousal Support is support for a dependent spouse if the parties are married, but living apart.
Alimony Pendente Lite (APL) is when the dependent spouse is asking for support in connection with a divorce. (A dependent spouse is one who proves that he or she lacks the ability to earn enough income because of lack of skills, lack of education, ill health, or the responsibility of taking care of young children). The dependent spouse is entitled to support at a level equal to the standard of living which he or she had during the marriage, if the other spouse’s finances are sufficient (enough).
Medical Coverage and Other Expenses There are other types of support besides money which may be requested during a support action. The plaintiff (person filing for support) may request that medical and hospital coverage for the spouse and children be provided by the defendant (the person being asked to pay support). This request is limited by the kind of coverage available and its cost to the defendant.
The defendant may be required to pay for a share of day care expenses for the children, which allows the plaintiff to work or attend school.
Who May Request Support?
The law in Pennsylvania states that the "custodial parent" (the parent the child lives with) or any adult or agency caring for a minor child, or any married individual living apart from his/her spouse may request support from the absent parent or spouse. The law states that both parents have an obligation to support their children, but the amount of the support obligation depends on many factors. The most important factor is the net income of each parent. The way that the Domestic Relations Section figures net income is described later in this manual. Both parents are expected to support their children as much as they are financially able.
The parent who has custody of the child more than 50% of the time claims the child as a dependent for income tax purposes. This can change only if the custodial parent (the one with whom the child lives) fills out and submits IRS form 8332. This form allows the absent parent (the parent with whom the child does NOT live) to claim the child as a dependent. Parents cannot claim the child as a dependent if more than half of the child support came from a third source such as public assistance.
Generally, a child has a right to receive support until his or her 18th birthday or until graduation from high school. Parents may also be required to pay child support when their child has been placed outside of the home by a Juvenile Court Judge or child welfare agency such as Mifflin County Children and Youth Services. In those instances, the local county is the plaintiff, and both parents are expected to reimburse the county as much as they can afford as determined by state guidelines.
How to Apply for Support
If you wish to start a new support case, add a child to a present active case or reopen an old case, contact Domestic Relations at our number (717) 248-3955 between 8:00 AM and 4:30 PM. Tell the operator that you wish to speak to the Intake officer. If the Intake officer does not answer, leave a message informing the worker of your request; be sure to leave your name and daytime phone number. The Intake officer will return your call as soon as possible to make an appointment for your Intake interview.
Preparing for Your Intake Appointment
Before you come in to open your case, gather as much of the following information as possible to bring with you for your appointment:
- Social Security cards/numbers for yourself and the children who reside with you.
- The name, address, social security number, date of birth, and employer of the "absent parent" (i.e., the person who will pay support).
- Medical insurance cards and numbers for yourself and the absent parent.
- Birth certificates for the children in your care.
- Marriage license and divorce decree, if applicable.
- A photograph of the absent parent.
- The drivers license number of the person who will pay support.
Your Intake Interview
You can expect to spend about an hour for the Intake Interview. For the best possible service, please arrive on time. You will be seen by the Intake officer who will prepare a support complaint and answer any questions you may have about your case. You will also be scheduled for a support Conference to determine how much the absent parent will pay for support. The date of the support Conference will be approximately 4 to 6 weeks from the date of the interview.
Note that support complaints are sometimes sent to another county or state if the absent parent lives there, but it is not always necessary to do so. There are federal and state laws that allow us to address a case in Mifflin County even if the absent parent lives outside Mifflin County or Pennsylvania. The Intake officer will discuss this issue during your interview if appropriate, and will determine if the case will be sent to another court. If the case is sent to a court outside Pennsylvania, the other court will establish and enforce the support order and send the payments to our office. In such cases, you are not required to go to the other court for any hearings. These actions are called "Interstate/reciprocal/UIFSA cases."
If the absent parent lives in a nearby county, you may go to that county and file a support action in their Domestic Relations Section. Mifflin County will not be involved in the action, and you will have to attend hearings in their court when scheduled.
It is generally desirable to have both parties in a case report to the same court. If circumstances allow you to file a case directly with the court that will be hearing the matter (often the court where the defendant lives or works), we encourage you to do so.
Locating the Absent Parent
Domestic Relations cannot file a complaint without a good address for the absent parent. If you do not know the absent parent's current address, Intake staff will work on your case based on the information you provide. You may be called at a later date to give more information. The Domestic Relations office uses a variety of sources to try to locate an absent parent. Some of these sources include federal and state tax information, driver's license, credit bureau and public assistance information and employment information.
If a good address is found, you will be contacted again to come in and complete the complaint. If the absent parent cannot be located, your case may be closed based upon the lack of necessary information.
ABCs of Support
Click the following link to find out more about The ABCs of Child Support Enforcement - following this link will let you view the "Orientation to Child Support" web-based training module hosted by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (O.C.S.E.).