A domestic relations conference is an uncomfortable experience, but it can help to have an idea what to expect. You, your spouse (for simplicity, I’m going to use “spouse” throughout this blog post even though you and the other party may no longer be married or may never have been married), and your attorneys will meet with a conference officer in that individual’s office. The conference officer sits at his or her desk and everybody else sits around a table in front of the desk. The conference is scheduled to last an hour.
The conference officer will review information such as your names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and your children’s names and dates of birth. He or she will want to know about the custody arrangements for your children, since that can impact the child support calculation. The conference officer will review your most recent tax return(s) and pay statements to calculate your incomes. You can discuss issues such as overtime pay, bonuses, and earning capacity (if someone is not working). You will want to provide documentation of medical insurance expenses, extraordinary medical or other expenses and possibly mortgage information, depending on your specific situation.
You, your spouse and your attorneys will have the opportunity to ask questions about incomes and expenses. If there are differences of opinion about how certain things should be considered (such as bonuses, overtime pay or earning capacity), you and your attorneys will have the opportunity to explain your positions about those issues. The conference officer will frequently prepare one or more support calculations during the conference and explain those calculations. You and your spouse will have the opportunity to come to an agreement on support if you wish to do so.
If you reach an agreement, the terms of that agreement are entered as a court order and you are waiving your right to appeal the order (that makes sense, since you are agreeing to it). If you do not reach an agreement, the conference officer will issue a support order that is effective as of the date the support complaint was filed. If the order is entered without an agreement and either party is unhappy with the order, he or she can request a hearing before a judge or divorce master (depending on the county).
The domestic relations conference is not a formal court proceeding. There is no court reporter present, the conference officer is not a judge and the PA rules of evidence are not enforced. The only record of the conference are the notes kept by everyone involved and the documents each of the parties submit. The only record that actually matters to the court system are the conference officer’s notes and the documents that are submitted.
I cannot possibly cover all the possible details of a domestic relations conference in a blog post and every situation is unique, but hopefully this gives you a basic understanding of what to expect. If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss the domestic relations system or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.