Most people familiar with family law realize that “divorce” is usually a catch-all term for multiple “cases within the case” such as child support, spousal support, custody, or equity actions. One Divorce Complaint can open up any number of actions within it which must be adjudicated and addressed in order for the overall divorce to move toward a conclusion. In the case of economic issues (equitable distribution and support), an Order must exist before a Decree can be entered.
Due to the fact that there can be strict divisions among the various causes of action, it can be difficult, if not impossible, for the Court to address an inequity in one area with a remedy from another.
To illustrate this point, the Court in Centre County recently issued a holding in the case of Allen v. Allen, 110 PDDRR 71 (Pa.C.P. 2010) which acknowledged the Court’s authority to assess attorneys and lost income to Wife due to Husband’s failure to obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. The Court did not find that Husband’s overpayment in another aspect of the case precluded them from assessing him with these penalties.
I can only imagine the frustration the Husband felt in not having his credit applied to this deficiency, or in not getting similar satisfaction in recapturing that credit, but this case illustrates the fact that the courts will treat each aspect of the case on its own merits. In this instance, if Wife’s loss of income and attorney’s fees was a result of delay tactics, allowing the Court to simply redistribute a credit from another area will not have the same deterring effect as levying the costs and fees against him in this instance.
Furthermore, there are often policy restrictions in dealing with credits, particularly as it applies to child support. Domestic Relation Offices and the Pennsylvania State Collection and Disbursement Unit often preclude a payor from taking reduced support payments, and they will not issue a refund. The credit usually carries until some intervening event occurs or the subject child is emancipated.
Be sure to discuss with your attorney how the different aspects of your divorce influence the other. You may find that what looks advantageous in your equitable distribution case, may be detrimental to your support case. Furthermore, understanding the financial restrictions between various causes of action, such as support and equitable distribution, will allow you to get a better grasp of your overall case. As always, if you have questions or don’t understand something, ask your lawyer; it is his or her job to make sure you understand what is going on in your case.