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Domestic Relations ​FAQs

How can the mother establish paternity if an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form
is not completed at the hospital?
If the alleged father does not sign the AOP form, paternity must be established through the courts. The mother can go to the Domestic Relations Office (DRO) and request paternity establishment services or consult with an attorney to be advised of her rights and possible course of action.

How is the amount of a support obligation determined for child(ren) and/or spouse?
The amount of child support awarded by the court is established in accordance with the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines, which is in the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 1910.16. The Support Guideline was developed on the premise that the child(ren) of separated or divorced parents should receive the same proportion of parental incomes as if the parents were together.

How long will I have to pay child support?
Pennsylvania law establishes that both parents are liable for the support of their children who are unemancipated and 18 years of age or younger. However, parents may be liable for the support of their children who are 18 years of age or older. For example, a support obligation may continue for a child who is 18 and still attending high school. When a child is emancipated, or over 18 years of age and no longer attending high school, one of the parents may file a "Petition for Modification of an Existing Support Order" to request that the child support order be stopped. Additionally, there may be other situations, such as the existence of physical or emotional challenges, when parents may be required to pay support for a child who is 18 years of age or older.

Even if the child has reached emancipation, child support arrears remain an outstanding debt until paid in full, regardless of how long that takes. Modification of a child support order will not eliminate arrears that accumulated as a result of nonpayment of the support order.

What can happen if a defendant does not pay child support?

  • Civil Contempt
  • Jail for up to six months, a fine up to $500, or probation for up to six months
  • Seizure of your bank accounts
  • Seizure of any Personal Injury or Workers Compensation Awards
  • Seizure of your Federal and State Tax Refunds
  • Suspension of your Driver’s, Professional, Occupational, and/or Recreational Licenses
    (Hunting & Fishing)
  • Passport Denial
  • Liens against any Real Property that you own
  • Interception of Lottery Winnings
  • Credit Bureau Reporting
  • Publication of your name in the newspaper as a delinquent parent

What is the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program?
The Federal Tax Refund Offset Program (FTROP) collects payments of child support from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) income tax refunds of defendants who owe past due child support. Before a case is submitted to FTROP, Federal Law mandates that: (1) for cases involving cash assistance, the support obligation must have an overdue amount of $150 or more and (2) for other cases having an overdue amount of $500 or more.

The overdue support will continue to be submitted through FTROP for collection until the arrears amount reaches a $0 balance, whether or not the child is a minor.

FTROP collections are applied to all of a defendant’s cases, not just the support case that qualified the defendant for the FTROP submission. Defendants will receive a notice stating how much of the Federal income tax refund was intercepted and how much was applied to each case. 

What is SCDU (State Collection and Disbursement Unit)?
SCDU collects and disburses all support payments. SCDU is required to disburse support payments within 48 hours of receipt. For more information on SCDU and its operation, you may contact the SCDU Customer Service Unit toll-free, at 1-877-727-7238.

When payments are received, how is the money divided up for support, arrears, and fees?
In accordance with Pennsylvania rules of court and Federal law, the payment is first applied to all Title IV-D child/family current support, child/family-related support obligations, and amounts ordered on arrears (OOA). If the payment amount is more than the current month’s obligation(s) for child/family support, current spousal-only support, alimony pendente’ lite-only, and alimonyonly are paid. Spousal/alimony pendente’ lite/alimony-only arrears (including OOA) are paid after all child/family arrears are paid in full. The defendant’s fees are paid last.

If the defendant has more than one child support order, and collections from income-withholding are not sufficient to meet all child support obligations, how are the collections distributed?
The Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System (PACSES) has a record of the monthly support obligation (MSO) on every support case. PACSES is programmed to distribute a monthly support payment to every recorded case, even when one person's payment must be applied to multiple cases. If the MSO for each case is not the same, and the support payment is less than the total of all MSOs, PACSES prorates the payment so that each of the child support obligations receive a share of the payment, based on the amount of the MSO. In this situation, the amount of the payment distributed to a child support obligation may not equal the full amount of the child support order depending upon how much the defendant pays. If the defendant makes a payment in an effort to be paid ahead on her/his child support obligation, the payment will be applied to any existing child support arrears. If child support arrears are owed to the plaintiff, the extra paymentwill be applied to those arrears; if the arrears are owed to the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), and no arrears exist for the plaintiff, the payment will be applied to the DPW arrears.

Who do I contact for information on my child support case?
The Domestic Relations Office (DRO) that manages your child support case is the best source of information on your case. The DRO will maintain contact with out-of-state child support agencies if your case involves an out-of-state defendant, and can provide information regarding the status or progress of your case.

How do I update my address or employer?
Parties must inform the Domestic Relations Office (DRO) of any material change in circumstance within seven (7) days. Address can be updated online or report any address change to the Domestic Relations Office (DRO) that manages your child support case. Report any changes in employment to the county Domestic Relations Office (DRO) that manages your child support case.

How can I file for custody?
For legal assistance with your custody case, you have the following options:

  1. If you believe you cannot afford a lawyer, you may contact MidPenn Legal Services to inquire
    on qualifying for free legal assistance at (717) 232-0581 or 1-800-326-9177. If you qualify,
    you may be assigned to a Legal Services lawyer or a pro bono lawyer or MidPenn will schedule
    you for a pro se Custody Clinic and begin the legal process.
  2. If you can afford a lawyer, you may contact the Dauphin County Bar Association Lawyer
    Referral Service at (717) 232-7536. They will provide you the name and phone number of a
    private family law attorney who you can contact concerning representation.
  3. The Self Help Center is located in the Law Library on the 4th floor of the Dauphin County
    Courthouse, Front & Market Streets, Harrisburg, PA. At the Self Help Center, you will be able
    to purchase a packet containing information and forms. The Self Help Center is open Monday
    through Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. If you are unable to go to the Self Help Center, the
    forms and instructions are available on the Dauphin County Website: www.DauphinCounty.org

How do I modify my support order?
You may visit the Domestic Relations Office (DRO) and ask for a Modification Petition, complete, sign, and return the petition at the Domestic Relations Office (DRO). There is a filing fee that must be paid at the time the Petition is filed (cash or money order). You will receive a notice with the date, time, and place of your scheduled conference to talk about the request for modification. The notice lists information that you must bring to the conference. You must attend this conference. If you fail to appear, your petition may be dismissed.

How can I receive my support payments?
You can receive your payments either by Direct Deposit (you must have your own checking or savings account) or Pa EPPICard (debit card).

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