Appealing a Support Order
Both the payor (the person paying support) and the payee (the person receiving the support) have the right to appeal a child support, spousal support, or alimony pendente lite order, when they do not believe that the amount was calculated correctly. In Pennsylvania, the first step to appeal a support order is to request a de novo hearing before the Support Master or Judge, depending on the county’s local practice. Both parties have twenty (20) days from the date of receipt or the mailing date of the support order, whichever occurs first, to request a hearing.
At the de novo hearing, both parties will have the opportunity to provide exhibits and testimony in support of their positions, and to cross-examine the other party and the other party’s witnesses (if any). The hearing is de novo (“starting from the beginning”), the Support Master or Judge will review the evidence as though it is the first time the matter is being addressed or calculated. This means that even though the parties have already attended a support conference, they will still need to provide documentation of income, expenses, etc., even if they have already provided that information at the initial conference.
The Support Master or Judge will issue a report containing her recommendations following the hearing, or an Order if the proceedings are before a Judge. If the parties do not agree with the report issued by the Support Master, then the parties have the right to file “exceptions” with the Judge in their county’s Court of Common Pleas. Exceptions must be filed within twenty (20) days of the date of receipt or the date of mailing of the report, whichever occurs first. The opposing party will have the opportunity to respond to the exceptions and may raise their own exceptions.
Exceptions are essentially written arguments laying out a party’s position with regard to the support matter(s) decided in the Support Master’s report. A Common Pleas Court judge may choose to decide the matter based solely on the filed exceptions and the record, or she may schedule an argument on the exceptions.
After the judge issues an order regarding the exceptions, the parties have the right to appeal the order to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Similar to the exceptions process, the parties will file briefs with the Superior Court and may be scheduled for an argument. The last appellate option is to file an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. For an appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, no party has a “right” to be heard. The party requesting review by the Supreme Court must petition to be heard in these courts. It is extremely rare for support matters to be heard before this Court.
Issues commonly appealed in a support matter include the calculation of a party’s income, the inclusion of childcare or other expenses in an order, and any upward or downward adjustments in the support amount(s) due to factors such as a party’s other children, a party’s unusually high or low income, etc.
If you are interested in learning more about appealing a support order, please contact Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 for a consultation with one of our attorneys.