Divorce Masters Information and Forms

The Hearing Officer in Divorce is an attorney appointed by the Court to make recommendations in contested divorce and annulment actions. The Hearing Officer will hear economic claims raised in those actions, including equitable distribution, alimony and counsel fees. The Hearing Officer will also hear contested issues on the date of separation. There are presently 3 full-time divorce/equitable distribution Hearing Officers. The Hearing Officers do not provide legal advice or assist the parties in filing for divorce.

Appointment of a Hearing Officer

To resolve contested issues in the divorce, including economic claims, either party may file a Motion for Appointment of Hearing Officer (Form 10). Motion for Appointment of Hearing Officer is filed in the Prothonotary’s Office and requires a filing fee. The Motion includes a certification that the Inventory as required by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure has been filed and served on the other party. The proposed Order should specify all of the claims to be addressed by the Hearing Officer. The cover sheet, which is printed on yellow paper, is available in the Prothonotary’s office.

Procedures Before a Hearing Officer

Once the Order to appoint a Hearing Officer is entered, the Hearing Officer will schedule a preliminary conference in about thirty days to determine the scope and nature of the contested issues. Attorneys for the parties and any unrepresented parties should attend the preliminary conference. Counsel and any unrepresented parties should file and send to opposing counsel and the Hearing Officer in advance of the preliminary conference a memorandum setting forth the factual background of the matter, along with a preliminary list of assets and liabilities and their values, and identifying any discovery or valuations that are needed. The Hearing Officer may recommend to the Court entry of orders for discovery.
The Hearing Officer will timely schedule a settlement conference thereafter. Parties and counsel should attend the settlement conference. At least 7 business days before the conference, counsel and any unrepresented parties must file and exchange a Settlement Conference Statements including biographical information of each party, including but not limited to, age, education, occupation, income, health and children and identifying any legal or factual disputes or issues.

The statement must include a list of all marital assets, with values as of date of separation and at present, and the balance of any liabilities associated with each asset on the relevant dates, a list of all marital debts, with values as of date of separation and at present as well as a list of any payments made post-separation, a list of all non-marital assets, with values as of the date of marriage/date of acquisition, date of separation and current, and the balance of any liabilities associated with each asset on the relevant dates, and an accounting of the post separation disposition and/or transfer of any marital assets.

All supporting documentation should be presented to the opposing party at least 7 days before the settlement conference and to the Hearing Officer at the settlement conference. Both parties must provide their most recent Income Tax Return and pay stubs for the prior 6 months. In the event of an alimony claim, each party shall file their Income and Expense statements with the Prothonotary. A Vital Statistics Form should also be filed with the Prothonotary. Finally, the statement should contain a proposed specific schedule of distribution including the percentage distribution to each party, along with a proposal as to the amount and term of any alimony.

Continuance of the Settlement

If either party seeks a continuance of the settlement conference before the Hearing Officer, he or she must submit the original signed and completed Motion for Continuance (Form 10) to the Hearing Officer at 201 W. Market Street, Suite 5301, West Chester, Pennsylvania 19382. The moving party should 1st contact the opposing party to determine his or her position regarding the request and include that information in the motion. The Hearing Officer will rule on the motion for continuance and will notify counsel in writing of the disposition of the motion. The Motion for Continuance is specific to proceedings before the Hearing Officer (including divorce, custody and support) and should not be used for another purpose.

If the matter cannot be resolved after 1 or more settlement conferences and the grounds for divorce or annulment have been established, a party may file a Certification of Trial Readiness (Form 11). This Certificate of Trial Readiness must be printed on blue paper. Extra copies are available in Family Court Administration.  The party must serve a time-stamped copy of the Certification of Trial Readiness on the assigned Hearing Officer and file a Certificate of Service (Form 12) as proof thereof with the Prothonotary.

Certification of Trial Readiness Inclusion

The Certification of Trial Readiness must include an estimated time for trial and should be completed in full. Failure to establish grounds for divorce or complete discovery before the filing of the Certification of Trial Readiness may delay the scheduling of the trial. The Hearing Officer will place the matter on the trial list and will schedule the matter for trial in due course. The trial list for each Hearing Officer is posted on the Court website. The hearing before the Hearing officer is a formal hearing where testimony and evidence are presented. The parties must comply with the Rules of Court and the Rules of Evidence. Pro se (or unrepresented parties) are held to the same standard as attorneys in this hearing. A court reporter will be present to record the notes of testimony and there is a fee associated with the transcription of these notes. Once the hearing is concluded, the Hearing Officer will review the evidence and prepare a Report which summarizes the proceedings and sets forth the Hearing Officer's findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendation for disposition of the disputed issues. If exceptions are not filed in compliance with the state and local rules, the Report will be submitted to the Court for entry of a final Divorce Decree of other Order.

If exceptions are filed, the matter will be scheduled for argument on the exceptions before a Judge. The parties must follow the local rules to request a transcription of the notes of testimony and to file and serve briefs in support of his/her exceptions in order to pursue these exceptions.

For more Information

Family Court Administration can provide general information about scheduling and court procedures, but cannot provide legal advice about your case. For more information, contact an attorney.