Some people go through the domestic relations office to establish child support, spousal support or alimony pendente lite orders. Some people make those arrangements without involving the domestic relations office. There are pros and cons to involving or not involving the domestic relations office and that decision should be made on an individual basis, after careful consideration. Before discussing specifics, I want to make it clear that I am not disparaging the domestic relations office employees. I believe they work very hard and try their best to do the right thing.
The domestic relations support formulas are relatively predictable, which can be either a positive or a negative. The support formulas are based on both parties’ net monthly incomes, so unless someone has a complicated income situation, you can usually get a pretty good idea of what the support amount will be ahead of the conference. Even adding expenses like health insurance premiums, mortgage payments and childcare expenses can be pretty straightforward if you understand the formulas involved. This predictability can sometimes help people reach agreements and reduce the need for court hearings and appeals.
The domestic relations support formulas do not include everything that could impact the financial situations for both parties. If the support amount under the domestic relations guidelines leaves either party unable to pay his or her monthly expenses, it is not adjusted. Most monthly expenses are not considered in calculating the support amount. The formula is necessary to handle the sheer volume of support actions filed through the domestic relations office. It would take far more time to handle support actions if all of the possibly relevant facts were considered individually and the results could vary widely depending on the conference officer involved.
Having the domestic relations office determine the support amount can make the process more objective. It doesn’t matter what either party believes is fair, because the conference officer is using the established criteria to calculate the order. Nobody is being “greedy” or “cheap” because the parties aren’t determining the support amount. Of course, that does not eliminate the hard feelings if one party thinks the ordered amount is too much or too little.
The physical process of meeting at the domestic relations office can be very stressful and unpleasant. It’s busy, uncomfortable, not very private (you can often overhear other conferences being conducted, which means other people can most likely hear you discussing your life situation) and most people can’t wait to leave when the conference is done. The prospect of meeting at an attorney’s office or a neutral location to work out a support agreement can be very attractive if you’ve ever spent an hour or two at the domestic relations office.
I encourage clients to work out support arrangements without involving the domestic relations office, if possible. Based on my years of experience working with people and spending time in various county domestic relations offices, I believe it is the better option.
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.