When it comes to claiming child support, many parents feel overwhelmed. The process can feel intimidating, and sometimes threats from the other party add to the fear of moving forward. At Cornerstone Law Firm, our family law attorneys are here to help you navigate the process. Here are a few things to keep in mind in the process of pursuing child support.
There are essentially two legal steps if there is a dispute
When support is contested here in Berks County, there are two steps in the process. The first is the “conciliation conference,” where the parties attempt to work out an agreement on the amount due with the help of a mediator. This mediator is appointed by the County and seeks to serve as an impartial guide to an agreement that will benefit all sides.
If either side is unhappy with the mediator’s recommendation, they may appeal this decision to the next level, which includes a hearing before a “hearing officer” in the Berks County Services Center. This hearing officer is usually less inclined to hammer out an agreement, and instead will make a ruling based on the guidelines and the attorneys’ arguments. The final number received here can be appealed, but the standard of review requires that the hearing officer made some serious mistake that amounts to “an abuse of discretion.” In practice, this means the hearing officer’s decision is final.
The “best interests of the child” are always the key
You’ll hear this phrase throughout the process of both custody and child support, but the Berks County Court of Common Pleas will ultimately seek what is “in the best interests of the child” in making a final determination. The Court is challenged under Pennsylvania law with determining this, and the factors the Court can use in making this decision are broad. The Court and its officers are left with broad discretion to determine the amount of support you receive, which is another reason you want a good attorney helping you navigate this process.
Child support can’t be “waived” by agreement
It is not uncommon to hear from clients that they’ve made an agreement not to pursue child support, sometimes in exchange for something else. Perhaps you agreed to forgo child support if the other party agreed to let you keep a car, or something like that. But these agreements are generally unenforceable under Pennsylvania law.
If you’re seeking child support in Berks County, it is vital to have a good family law attorney on your side. Call Cornerstone Law Firm today to speak with one of our attorneys to learn what your rights are in the custody and child support processes.