No. 1538 April Term, 1978, Appeal from Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County at No. 1057 of 1975.
Theodore F. Huckestein, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellant.
John L. Bailey, Pittsburgh, for appellee.
Cavanaugh and Hoffman, JJ.
[ 291 Pa. Super. Page 226]
The dispute in this case involves the amount of child support the father-appellee should be required to pay. The parties were divorced in 1975 and the father was subsequently ordered to pay $400.00 per month for support of his three children. The lower court was presented with a petition to increase support and for attachment for noncompliance by the mother, and a petition to decrease the support order and strike the arrears by the father. The lower court decreased the monthly award to $200.00; ordered a wage attachment for that amount; and modified the previous order to allow for the payment of arrears, which had been reduced to judgment, in monthly installments of $40.00. Mrs. Dunbar appeals. We reverse and remand.
Mr. Dunbar made the required support payments until September, 1976. At that time he sought relief from the order from the Administrative Judge of the Family Division in Allegheny County due to the fact that a creditor had attached his bank accounts. In the ensuing two years four
[ 291 Pa. Super. Page 227]
hearings before three different judges were held as a result of the father's failure to comply with the support order. (Mr. Dunbar is a real estate developer who met with serious business reversals, as will be demonstrated in greater detail below).
The first hearing was held before Judge Zeleznik on January 24, 1977, under Mrs. Dunbar's rule to enforce the support order. After a hearing the court continued the case for approximately forty-five days. The court noted in its order that Mr. Dunbar's bank accounts had been garnished. On June 13, 1977, the parties again appeared before Judge Zeleznik to consider Mr. Dunbar's Rule to suspend the arrears and cancel the support order, and Mrs. Dunbar's petition to reduce the arrears to judgment. On September 22, 1977, the court ordered that the record arrears of $4,100.00 be reduced to judgment, that the Rule to suspend arrears and cancel the support order be discharged and that the existing support order remain in full force and effect.
The third hearing was held to consider Mrs. Dunbar's petition for contempt. The court, by Judge Bigley, made the rule for contempt absolute and ordered Mr. Dunbar incarcerated unless he paid the record arrears of $2,800.00 within thirty days. The final contempt hearing was continued for three weeks so that Mr. Dunbar could make a three week trip to Europe. The postponement was allowed because Mr. Dunbar's father tendered a $500.00 support payment on his son's behalf. Mr. Dunbar was subsequently sentenced to sixty days in the Allegheny County jail, but was released early due to good behavior and for health reasons. Following his release, the support order was reinstated in all respects and Mr. Dunbar was ordered to pay the sum of $2,800.00 to Mrs. Dunbar within sixty days. The court noted that funds from a certain bank account had become available to the father from which he could make the support payments.
The fourth hearing was held on October 5, 1978, before Judge Kaplan. Stating that changed circumstances now render the father ...