So, you and your spouse have physically separated. You are living under separate roofs. It looks like a divorce action is inevitable. But right now your spouse wants you to pay support. Your three minor children live most of the time with your spouse who earns much less money than you do. You’re sitting in a busy waiting room of what is generally known as the Domestic Relations Office waiting for your name to be called. You expect to see a judge – but you will not.
MFDD family law attorneys explain to our clients the way our courts are structured to resolve family law disputes. The family law court system is not at all what most people think it is, especially if your ideas come from what you see on television, in movies, or read in novels. You and your spouse will not see a judge in the Domestic Relations Office. You will instead appear before a support conference officer who will decide how much child support and/or spousal support you will be required to pay. When the conference officer makes a decision with which you don’t agree, you can ask to appeal the decision. You want a hearing before a judge.
In many counties, including Lehigh County, you will not get a support hearing before a judge. You can have a hearing, but in Lehigh County your hearing will be conducted by a Support Hearing Officer (also known as a Support Hearing Master). If you disagree with the Master’s decision, you can appeal to a judge. But….the judge will not hold a hearing. He or she will merely review the transcript of the hearing testimony – which you must pay for – to determine whether or not there was an error of law made by the Support Hearing Officer. If so, you usually will get another hearing before the Hearing Officer.
In Northampton County, your first stop in the family law support process also begins at the Domestic Relations Office with a conference before a Support Conference Officer. If you disagree with the decision of the Conference Officer in Northampton County, you can ask to appeal and have a hearing before a judge. But when you appear for your hearing, you will find that the judge assigned to your hearing has many other support hearings scheduled the same day. Sometimes hearings are scheduled 15 or 20 minutes apart and you will have very little time to make your points. The judge will rely heavily upon what is in the Conference Officer’s file.
It is possible to resolve family law issues – divorce, equitable distribution, child custody, child support, spousal support, and even alimony – without entering the courthouse.
Experienced MFDD family lawyers will advise you what decision to expect if you do go to court….so you can obtain that result without the cost, time, and distress of lengthy, layered court proceedings.
It takes knowledgeable, experienced family law attorneys and reasonable parties to stay out of court and still resolve your family law issues. MFDD family law attorneys can help you achieve good and fair results outside the court room as attorney advocates, or through a process called mediation where we can act as a mediator for both parties. We are also able to effectively advocate for you in court, if necessary, particularly when you are being asked by your spouse (or his or her lawyer) to accept something less than you would achieve by litigating the disputed issues in court.