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KATHLEEN ARMSTEAD v. WILBURT DANDRIDGE (07/12/78)

decided: July 12, 1978.

KATHLEEN ARMSTEAD, APPELLANT,
v.
WILBURT DANDRIDGE



No. 147 April Term, 1977, Appeal from the Order of September 24, 1976, of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Family Division, at No. 1703 of 1970.

COUNSEL

Mark B. Greenblatt, Pittsburgh, with him John W. Herold, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

John F. McGinty, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price and Spaeth, JJ. Jacobs, President Judge, concurs in the result. Watkins, former President Judge, and Van der Voort, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Price

[ 257 Pa. Super. Page 417]

This is an appeal from an order of the court below granting appellee's petition for vacation of a support order in favor of appellant's child, canceling all support arrearages, and dismissing appellant's petition for a rule to show cause why appellee should not be held in contempt for failure to comply with the support order. We reverse the order of the lower court and reinstate the support order.

An exposition of the factual background of this matter is necessary to an analysis of the issue presented.*fn1 On April 22, 1970, appellant Kathleen Armstead initially contacted the domestic relations office in regard to securing support from appellee Wilburt Dandridge, who appellant maintained was the father of her illegitimate child.*fn2 On July 7, 1970, appellant directed that the case be dropped, but on August 4, 1970, she asked that it be reinstated. Both appellant and appellee appeared for a conference on August 26, 1970, at which time appellee orally agreed to pay $10.00 per week for support of the child. No court order was entered because no complaint for support had yet been filed.

Appellant and appellee again met before a domestic relations counselor on September 17, 1970. A formal complaint for support under the Civil Procedural Support Law*fn3 was then filed, and appellee signed a consent support order requiring him to provide $10.00 weekly for Ronny Armstead's support. At the bottom of the consent order appellee

[ 257 Pa. Super. Page 418]

    signed his name after the words "I admidt (sic) parontage (sic) of child." The order was later signed by Judge Guffey in camera.

On September 24, 1971, a second support order was entered, again by consent of the parties, increasing the support obligation to $60.00 monthly. Appellee made sporadic support payments until March of 1972. Appellant made no further attempt to enforce the support orders until April of 1976, although she testified that at some point she assigned her support payments to the Department of Public Assistance as she was receiving a welfare grant. On April 19, 1976, appellant sought a rule to show cause why appellee should not be held in contempt for failure to comply with the support orders. Appellee cross-petitioned to vacate the orders and to cancel the accumulated arrearages. Hearings were held before Judge Ross of the Family Division on May 26 and June 9, 1976, and by order dated September 24, 1976, the court dismissed appellant's rule seeking enforcement and granted appellee's petition to vacate the orders and cancel the arrearages. The court's disposition was based on its finding that appellant had not waived his right to a criminal determination of paternity.

There are several cases which are basic to an understanding of the law on this topic. In Commonwealth v. Dillworth, 431 Pa. 479, 246 A.2d 859 (1968), the appellant challenged an order of support entered under the Civil Procedural Support Law. Although Dillworth had demanded a jury trial, the finding of paternity was made and the support obligation was set by a judge sitting alone. Our supreme court held that the 1963 amendment to the Civil Procedural Support Law,*fn4 relied upon by the trial court, was not ...


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