Appeal from the Order Entered May 27, 1987 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County, Civil, No. 87-20050.
Judith A. Huber, Assistant District Attorney, Lebanon, for appellant.
Horace M. Ehrgood, Lebanon, for appellee.
Cirillo, President Judge, and Watkins and Hester, JJ.
[ 375 Pa. Super. Page 506]
This is an appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County sustaining Mr. Goodman's exceptions to a master's recommendation of spousal support and entering an order for $15.00 per week, plus $5.00 per week upon the accumulated arrearages. We affirm.
On January 23, 1987, following the parties' separation, Mrs. Goodman filed a complaint for spousal support. The parties stipulated to Mrs. Goodman's entitlement to support and, on March 26, 1987, a hearing was held before a Domestic Relations Hearing Officer [DRHO] to determine the appropriate amount. An award of $50.00 per week, plus $5.00 towards the arrearages, was recommended. Mr. Goodman's exceptions were sustained by the trial court, which then applied the local guidelines to determine the order from which Mrs. Goodman now appeals.
In reviewing such an order, this court will reverse only where the record indicates a clear abuse of discretion and does not support the trial court's order. Stredny v. Gray, 353 Pa. Super. 376, 510 A.2d 359 (1986). The trial court possesses wide discretion as to the proper amount of support payments and, unless the surrounding circumstances suggest the court abused its discretion, its judgment will not be disturbed. Biler v. Biler, 353 Pa. Super. 49, 508 A.2d 1261 (1986).
The record shows that a thorough inquiry into the parties' situations was made. The Lebanon County support guidelines were applied and no challenge to their validity is
[ 375 Pa. Super. Page 507]
raised.*fn1 It is the trial court's attribution of an income to Mrs. Goodman, based on her earning capacity rather than on her current income, which is central to this appeal. Mr. Goodman argues that there was substantial evidence on the record to support the trial court's action in declining to accept the recommendation of the DRHO and, instead, setting a different amount after its own review of the evidence. Mrs. Goodman argues that, absent a clear abuse of discretion by the DRHO, and so long as the record contained sufficient evidence to support the recommendation, the trial court erred in sustaining the exceptions and entering an order in an amount other than that recommended.
We first note that the findings of the DRHO were only advisory and not in any way binding on the trial court. See Pa.R.C.P. 1910.12, sections (d) (hearing officer shall file report containing recommendation with respect to entry of an order), (f) (absent exceptions, court shall review report and, if approved, enter a final order), and (g) (following argument on exceptions, court shall enter appropriate order) (emphasis added). Because the procedure followed under this rule involves, "in essence substantially a master's hearing, akin to a master's hearing in divorce", explanatory comment to Rule 1910.12, the cases addressing the use of a divorce master's report and recommendations are apposite to actions for support under this rule. See, e.g., McBride v. McBride, 335 Pa. Super. 296, 484 A.2d 141 (1984). While such a report is to be given the fullest consideration, especially with regard to the credibility of ...