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Thompson v. Thompson

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 8, 2018

TRICIA A. THOMPSON
v.
ASHLEY N. THOMPSON Appellant

          Appeal from the Order Entered February 15, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Clarion County Domestic Relations at No(s): 2015-D00104

          BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., SHOGAN, J., and MUSMANNO, J.

          OPINION

          SHOGAN, J.

         Appellant, 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.

         The trial court set forth the relevant facts of this case as follows:

[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 represent [Appellant].
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.

         On appeal, Appellant raises the following issues for this Court's consideration:

[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 ...

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