Case Notes: Petition for Modification of Support Works Both Ways

In the recent case of Brickus v. Dent, 5 A3d 1281 (Pa. Super 2010), the Superior Court dealt with a father who had asked the court to lower his child support. The question was whether the mother could ask for father's support to be increased at the support hearing, even though she had not filed for a support modification herself.

The trial court found that mother could not ask for a support increase, but the Superior Court overturned the trial court and ruled that when a modification for support request is brought before the court, it can go both ways (even if only one party has asked for a modification). This is in keeping with typical County procedure and also common sense. Why would we want to have more court hearings than necessary?

The laws governing both support and custody are supposed to be fluid and flexible. In support cases, the law permits a request for modification of support upon any significant change of circumstances. Now we know that the court has the ability to modify the order in whatever direction the facts dictate, regardless of who filed the request.

The Superior Court noted that the existing language in support modification paperwork gives notice to all parties that the order could go up or down - regardless of who filed for modification. The current language in the notice order reads: "...the appropriate court officer may enter an order against either party based upon the evidence presented without regard to which party initiated the support action".

Having experienced legal representation is especially vital in support cases. A careless support modification request can actually backfire party seeking relief. Also, smart counsel always looks to see whether a support order can be improved, regardless of who filed the request.

As always, speak to your attorney before applying this case to your circumstances. In the interest of clarity, I did not address several aspects of this opinion. Also, almost all rules have exceptions and the exceptions often have exceptions.