TRICIA A. THOMPSON
ASHLEY N. THOMPSON Appellant
from the Order Entered February 15, 2017 In the Court of
Common Pleas of Clarion County Domestic Relations at No(s):
BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., SHOGAN, J., and MUSMANNO, J.
Ashley N. Thompson, appeals from the February 15, 2017 order
entered in the Clarion County Court of Common Pleas. After
careful review, we reverse the order, vacate the trial
court's denial of in forma pauperis status, and
remand with instructions.
trial court set forth the relevant facts of this case as
[Appellant] is the mother of two young children. In 2015, she
placed the children in the custody of her mother, [Tricia A.
Thompson, ("Appellee")], who then sought child
support. [Appellant] was employed and the Clarion County
Domestic Relations Office applied the support guidelines and
calculated [Appellant's] monthly support obligation at
$108. This court issued an Order for support. Soon[,
Appellant] fell behind. The Domestic Relations Office took
enforcement action and eventually filed petitions for civil
and indirect criminal contempt in November 2015.
Following resolution of those petitions in 2016, this court
ordered [Appellant] to remain current with her monthly
support obligation of $108 and to pay an additional amount of
$30 per month toward arrears, for a total monthly payment of
$138. [Appellee] requested to terminate the support case, but
[Appellant] still owed arrears. This court then issued an
Order on October 11, 2016 directing [Appellant] to continue
to pay $138 per month; all toward the arrears. [Appellant]
failed to remain current and so the Domestic Relations Office
filed another contempt petition, stating the amount of the
arrearages was $1, 978.18. This court scheduled a hearing for
February 14, 2017 and appointed attorney Gina Bianco to
On November 10, 2016, attorney John Troese entered his
appearance for [Appellant]. There were no further filings
until February 1, 2017, when attorney Troese filed a Motion
to Withdraw Contempt and for Continuance of Hearing. This
court issued an Order on February 2, 2017[, ] denying the
Motion to Withdraw Contempt [because] the court could not
order the Domestic Relations Office to withdraw its petition.
The court also denied the Motion for Continuance because the
hearing had been scheduled, and Mr. Troese had known it was
scheduled, for almost two months. Attorney Bianco, who had
previously represented [Appellant], was available to
represent her at the next hearing if attorney Troese was
unable to attend.
On February 14, 2017, prior to the hearing, a conference
officer from the Domestic Relations Office conducted a
conference with [Appellant] and her attorney Gina Bianco and
they reached an agreement. [Appellant] agreed she would
remain current with her monthly payments of $138. She also
agreed she was in [civil] contempt because she had failed to
make the payments as previously ordered. She also agreed if
she failed to remain current she would serve a sentence of
incarceration of six months. The parties stated the terms of
their agreement in a written Explanation of Rights and
Procedures form dated February 14, 2017, which is part of the
record in this case.
The court commenced the hearing on February 14, 2017[, ] that
had been scheduled on the [civil] contempt petition and
counsel for the Domestic Relations Office and [Appellant]
stated they had reached an agreement. They explained the
terms of their agreement and presented the Explanation of
Rights and Procedures form signed by [Appellant]. [Appellant]
confirmed on the record that she had read and signed the form
and she understood and agreed with its contents. She informed
the court she was working and she had the ability to make the
payments of $138 per month[, ] and she would continue to work
and be able to pay in the future. She stated she knew if she
failed to make the payments she would serve a sentence of six
months [of] incarceration. A transcript has been prepared and
is part of the record. This court issued an Order dated
February 15, 2017 [("the February 15, 2017
order")], which incorporates the terms of the
parties' agreement, including a suspended sentence of six
months incarceration. [Appellant] has not been incarcerated
for failure to comply with [the February 15, 2017 order].
On February 28, 2017, attorney Troese filed a Praecipe to
Proceed In Forma Pauperis for [Appellant], stating she was
unable to pay the costs. The court issued an Order on March
8, 2017 denying the application because two weeks earlier, on
February 14, 2017, [Appellant] stated she was employed and
was able to make payments of $138 per month. Attorney Troese
filed another Praecipe to Proceed In Forma Pauperis on March
16, 2017. He also filed a Notice of Appeal on that date. The
court issued an Order on March 21, 2017 directing [Appellant]
to submit the required form Affidavit to support her request
to proceed in forma pauperis. She submitted an
Affidavit and another Order was issued on April 26, 2017
granting in forma pauperis status for the purpose of
obtaining copies of the record.
Trial Court Opinion, 6/8/17, at 2-5. Both Appellant and the
trial court have complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.
appeal, Appellant raises the following issues for this
[1.] Was [Appellant] guilty of willful contempt?
[2.] Did the [domestic relations] court fail to follow rules
set forth by the Supreme Court in addressing the type of
contempt in this case?
[3.] Is a suspended sentence a proper sanction for contempt
of a ...