Montgomery County Family Court addresses child support, spousal support, and alimony pendente lite cases via a three tier system. The first tier is the support conference; the second tier is the support masters hearing; and the third tier is the support hearing before a Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas family judge.
When support cases in Montgomery County, whether involving child support, spousal support, or alimony pendente lite, also known as APL, are not resolved at the support conference, the case will be scheduled for a support master's hearing before one of the Montgomery County support masters.
Who are the Montgomery County Support Masters?
The support masters in Montgomery County are attorneys who work in a limited capacity for Montgomery County Family Court. The support masters preside over support cases that do not resolve themselves at the support conference, also known as the conciliation conference. In the past, Montgomery County Family Court assigned one support master to hear cases on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other support master to hear cases on Thursdays and Fridays. Which support master will decide a support case will be determined by what day of the week a party is scheduled to appear at the Montgomery County Domestic Relations Section.
The support masters in Montgomery County have jurisdiction over support matters including child and spousal support and alimony pendente lite (APL). Spousal support is support sought when the parties are separated and potentially before a divorce is pending, and Alimony Pendente Lite (APL) is alimony while the divorce is pending.
How long after the support conference does it take to have a support master's hearing in Montgomery County?
Support masters hearings in Norristown are scheduled to take place approximately four to five weeks after the support conference. The support conference hearing officers at Montgomery County Domestic Relations schedule the support masters hearings. The phone number to the Domestic Relations Section in Norristown is 610-278-3646.
What time are support masters hearing in Montgomery County?
Support masters hearings are listed for 9 AM or 1 PM. The hearing itself will take place at 321 Swede Street, Norristown, PA 19401.
The Support Masters are located at:
Approximately 15 to 16 support masters cases are listed each day and cases are taken on a first-to-arrive basis (with cases involving attorneys taken before pro se cases, in which parties are not represented by attorneys). It is therefore advisable for parties and their attorneys to be on time and ready to litigate the support case.
What is a "protracted" support master hearing in Montgomery County?
A "protracted" hearing is an extended hearing. A protracted hearing will be scheduled in Norristown when there are issues that the parties, the parties' attorneys, and Montgomery County Family believe will take longer than usual to litigate and resolve.
How protracted support masters hearings are to be scheduled and will proceed depend on which support master the parties' case is assigned. One particular support master in Norristown, for example, requires that parties' attorneys to contact the master in advance of the hearing and in writing to inform the master that the support case is expected to take more than one and a half hours. Another support master requires the parties' attorneys attend the first support master listing (with the attorneys' clients to be available by phone). At this first listing, the master will determine the child support, spousal support, or alimony pendente lite (APL) issues, the case's complexity, and how many days of hearings may be required. The support master will then schedule a protracted hearing in accordance with the master's calendar.
What happens at the support master hearing in Montgomery County?
Support masters hearings in Norristown follow the procedure set forth in the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedue; Pa.R.C.P. 1920.55-3 specifically. Support masters hearings are "non-record" hearings; meaning that the testimony is not recorded by a court reporter nor is an electronic recording made of the proceedings.
Hearings are abbreviated in nature, and usually begin with an opening "colloquy" by both parties' attorneys. Stipulations, agreements between the parties and parties' attorneys, as to facts pertaining to income and expenses are encouraged. If there are no stipulations between the parties and the parties' attorneys, the support master will determine the facts pertaining to income and expenses, either through proferred testimony or review of documents.
Are expert witnesses allowed at the support masters hearing in Montgomery County?
In general, expert witnesses should not be brought by a party's attorney to the first support master listing as it is unlikely that the expert witness' testimony will be heard at that time. Rather, the support master will schedule a separate court hearing to hear this testimony.
Witnesses may be subpoenaed to this proceedings, however, the support masters have no jurisdiction to enforce a subpoena (unlike a Montgomery County Family Court judge). A party's attorney may request that the opposing party's and opposing party's attorney's non-compliance with the subpoena be referred to a judge. Although this may delay the proceedings, it may be a strategic decision that has to be made be the aggrieved party and aggrieved party's attorney.
As to the application of the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines, it is wise for the parties and the parties' attorneys to review the Support Guidelines' preamble and utilize the aspects of the preamble as they pertain to the support case in the presentation of argument.
What happens after the support masters hearing in Montgomery County?
Either at the conclusion of the proceeding or after taking the case under advisement, the support master will recite his or her findings and issue a Recommendation. A written copy of the Recommended Order will be received by the parties and the parties' lawyers. "Exceptions" to the support master's Recommendations will become the Order of Court if timely Exceptions are not filed. If Exceptions are filed, the Recommended Order will become the interim Court Order pending hearing on the the third tier, which is a "de novo" hearing before a Montgomery County Family Court judge; a de nove hearing is as if the matter had not been previously heard or decided. Exceptions can only be withdrawn by agreement of both parties' attorney.
Third Tier: Hearing de novo Before a Montgomery County Family Court Judge
In the event that the parties do not agree to the Recommendation of the support master and file timely Exceptions, a hearing de novo is scheduled before a Judge, which as noted, is a brand-new hearing on the merits in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas "courtroom" and "on the record." Parties' and their attorneys should note that the Judge support hearing, whether for child support, spousal support, or alimony pendente lite (APL), will first be listed on a Judge's "short list."
The aim of a short list hearing in Norristown settlement, narrowing of the support issues, and finalization of any discovery issues. The order in which a support case is scheduled or listed does not necessarily determine the order in which the judge will hear the support cases at the short list. Parties and parties' attorneys are expected to be prepared to proceed with their support cases when called on the day of court. For the same reason, parties and parties' attorney should also be prepared to wait their turn. The parties and their attorneys may utilize that waiting period (which can be all day) towards continuing to try to resolve their support case if possible. If there is no resolution at a short list hearing, the support case will be listed for a protracted hearing.
Attorney for Child Support, Spousal Support, and APL in Montgomery County
Whether the party seeking child support, spousal support, or alimony pendente lite, or the party who the complaint is against, you must protect your interests. A party who is in financial need of child support to provide for his or her children, or a spouse who is financial need to maintain his or her standard of living before a divorce is filed or while a divorce is pending, must understand the process that Montgomery County Family Court uses to address Support cases. An attorney experienced with Montgomery County child support, spousal support, APL practice and procedure will be a valuable resource at the support masters hearing, and at a support hearing before a judge when the need arises. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today to learn how he can help.