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SOMERSET COUNTY

Consolidated Rules of Court; Miscellaneous 1999

[30 Pa.B. 3030]

Adopting Order

   And Now, this 1st day of June, 2000, it is hereby Ordered:

   1.  The following designated Somerset County Rules of Civil Procedure (SOM.R.C.P.) are amended to read in their entirety, as reflected in copies of rules as follows, effective thirty days after publication in The Pennsylvania Bulletin:

      SOM.R.C.P. 1920.      Divorce. General.
      SOM.R.C.P. 1920.31.  Procedure On Joinder Of Re-
         lated Claims Of Alimony Pendente Lite And Child
         Support.
      SOM.R.C.P. 1920.51.  Appointment Of Master. Notice
         Of Hearing.
      SOM.R.C.P. 1920.53.  Master's Hearing And Report.
      SOM.R.C.P. 1920.55.  Exceptions To Report.

   2.  The following designated Somerset County Rules of Civil Procedure (SOM.R.C.P.), copy of which follows, are hereby adopted as rules of this Court, effective thirty days after publication in Pennsylvania Bulletin:

      SOM.R.C.P. 1920.33.  Procedure On Joinder Of Re-
         lated Claim For Distribution Of Property.
      SOM.R.C.P. 1915.8.  Reports Of Physical And Mental
         Examinations.

   3.  The following designated Somerset County Rules of Civil Procedure (SOM.R.C.P.) are rescinded, effective thirty days after publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin:

      SOM.R.C.P. 1920.42.  Notice Of Presentation Of Re-
         quest For Divorce.
      SOM.R.C.P. 1920.62.  Indigents.

   4.  The Somerset County Court Administrator is directed to:

   A.  File seven (7) certified copies of this Order and the following rules with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

   B.  Distribute two (2) certified copies of this Order to the Legislative Reference Bureau for publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

   C.  File one (1) certified copy of this Order and the rules with the Pennsylvania Civil Procedural Rules Committee and one (1) certified copy of this Order and the following rules with the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Procedural Rules Committee.

   D.  File proof of compliance with this Order in the docket for these rules, which shall include a copy of each transmittal letter.

By the Court

EUGENE E. FIKE, II,   
President Judge

Rules of Court

Divorce

Som.R.C.P. 1920.  General.

   A.  Filing Fees and Required Advance Deposit of Costs.

   1.  In indigent cases, the sum of $33.00 (Prothonotary--$22.50; Sheriff--$12.50) shall be paid to the Prothonotary upon filing the divorce complaint, unless such deposit is specifically excused by Court Order for inability to pay.

   (Formerly R18-401A).

   2.  In non-indigent cases, in addition to the sums required for the initial filing and service, the following sums shall be deposited with the Prothonotary:

   a.  Before any motion for Divorce Master is presented to the court, the moving party shall deposit the sum of $250.00 with the Prothonotary on account of the costs for adjudication of the divorce cause of action; and

   b.  Before any motion for Special Master is presented to the court, the moving party seeking adjudication of equitable property division or other economic issues shall deposit the additional sum of $800.00 with the Prothonotary on account of the costs for adjudication of those issues, unless authorization to proceed otherwise is first obtained by Order of Court for cause.

   (Formerly R18-401A(1) and R18-401B.)

   3.  The Court or a Master may require an additional deposit to cover the cost of employing an appraiser or other professional to provide necessary expert evidence to assist the Master in making his findings and recommendations, provided that the Court or the Master shall first confer with counsel and unrepresented parties concerning such employment and the cost thereof. Any objection by any party to such employment or to the cost thereof may be brought promptly to the attention of the Motions Judge.

   (Formerly R18-401D.)

   4.  If it appears during the proceedings before the Master that additional amounts should be advanced to pay anticipated costs, and the parties are unwilling to advance the amount deemed necessary by the Master, the Master shall, by motion, request the Court to order additional payment from the parties. The Master shall include in the motion a certification as to whether the parties consent or object to the motion. The Master shall provide a copy of the motion to Counsel and unrepresented parties.

   5.  Any balance of advance deposits remaining after payment of costs and compensation shall be held by the Prothonotary for disposition in accordance with the allocation of costs between the parties by final decree.

   6.  No copy of any divorce or annulment decree shall be issued by the Prothonotary to any person unless all record costs in the case are paid, or unless the person to whom the copy is issued has by court order been excused from payment (in whole or in part) which may be granted only for inability to pay.

   (Formerly R18-402.)

   B.  Master

   For purposes of these rules, Masters are classified as ''Divorce Master'' whose duties and authority are limited to determining cause for divorce or annulment, and ''Special Master'' whose duty and authority are limited to determining distribution of property and, in connection therewith, alimony, counsel fees, costs and expenses.

   NOTE:  Issues of alimony pendente lite and support shall be referred to the Domestic Relations Department, not to a Master, see: Thomas v. Thomas, 39 Somerset Legal Journal 157 (1981).

   (Formerly R18-1B01.)

   C.  Compensation of Masters.

   1.  A Divorce Master shall be compensated as follows:

   a.  All non-indigent cases--minimum $200, plus additional compensation at the rate of $75 per hour for each hour, or fraction thereof, in excess of two hours.

   b.  In all indigent cases--$125, plus additional compensation at the rate of $30 per hour for each hour, or fraction thereof, in excess of two hours.

   (Formerly R18-301.)

   2.  A Special Master shall be compensated, in all cases, at a minimum of $225, plus additional compensation at the rate of $75 per hour for each hour, or fraction thereof, in excess of two hours.

   (Formerly R18-301.)

   D.  Compensation of Stenographers.

   1.  In uncontested divorces, where there is testimony by plaintiff only, or testimony by defendant only on a counterclaim, and no testimony by the adverse party, the stenographer employed by the Master shall be entitled to an appearance fee of $50.

   2.  In all other cases, the stenographer employed by the Master shall be entitled to an appearance fee of $50 for a hearing lasting three hours or less, and $100 for a hearing lasting more than three hours.

   3.  In all cases (including uncontested cases), the stenographer shall be paid a fee of $1.85 per page for each page of the original transcript. The parties shall pay a charge of $.50 per page for each page of copy which they may request, which shall be paid by the party requesting the copy and may not be taxed as costs in this action.

   4.  In cases in which the testimony is voluminous or extraordinary services are required, the Master shall be permitted to increase the stenographer's appearance fee, after consultation with counsel and subject to court review.

   5.  When the stenographer reports to the Master that the transcript is ready, the Master shall notify each party of intent to direct the Prothonotary to issue payment to the stenographer. The parties shall have ten (10) days within which to file objections with the Motions Judge, who shall promptly decide the same. If no objections are filed within such ten day period, the Master shall direct the Prothonotary to issue payment from the costs deposited by the moving party, directly to the stenographer.

   6.  Except as specifically set forth above, the ultimate liability or responsibility among the parties for the payment of stenographer's costs shall abide the final decree in the case.

   (Formerly R18-303.)

Som.R.C.P. 1920.31.  Procedure on Joinder Of Related Claims Of Alimony Pendente Lite And Child Support.

   A.  All claims for alimony pendente lite and child support shall be processed through the Domestic Relations Section.

   B.  To initiate proceedings in the Domestic Relations Section when a claim for alimony pendente lite or child support has been asserted in a complaint or petition in a divorce action, the party asserting the claim shall file in the Domestic Relations Section: (i) a certified copy of the complaint or petition filed in the divorce action, and (ii) a complaint on forms approved and provided by the Domestic Relations Section. Upon filing of the Domestic Relations Section complaint, the claim for alimony pendente lite or child support shall proceed in accordance with practice and procedure for support. Income and expense statements, tax returns and pay stubs required by Pa.R.C.P. 1920.31 shall be filed by the parties in the Domestic Relations Section in accordance with support procedure.

   C.  Unless specifically ordered otherwise, all payment of child support and alimony pendente lite shall be made to the Domestic Relations Section.

Som.R.C.P. 1920.51.  Appointment of Master. Notice of Hearing.

   A.  All cases for divorce or annulment, except cases under Divorce Code Section 3301(c) (consent affidavits) and Section 3301(d)(1)(i) (undenied two year separation), shall be referred to a Divorce Master, and all claims for property division, alimony, counsel fees and costs, requiring resolution by litigation shall be referred to a Special Master, unless otherwise ordered by the court for cause.

   (Formerly R18-1B02.)

   B.  An appointed Master who is unable to serve shall promptly notify counsel for the moving party.

   (Formerly R18-1B03.)

   C.  If it becomes necessary for any reason to vacate the appointment of any Master, the party who obtained the appointment shall prepare and present a proper motion and appropriate order (including a new appointment order if needed).

   D.  Paragraph (7) of the prescribed form of motion for appointment of a master (Pa.R.C.P. 1920-74) shall state:

   1.  In all cases: the name(s) of other counsel who are or may be interested in the case, or a statement that no other counsel is known or believed to be interested; and

   2.  In property division cases: whether or not a divorce decree has been entered, and whether or not the costs deposit has been paid pursuant to Som.R.C.P. 1920.A.2.

   (Formerly R18-1B05.)

   3.  In property distribution cases: whether each party has filed an inventory as required by Pa.R.C.P. 1920.33.

   E.  Notice of the date, time and place of presenting the motion for appointment of a Divorce Master or Special Master, and of the right to appear and be heard thereon, together with a copy of the motion, shall be given to all counsel of record and unrepresented parties at least ten (10) days prior to presentation.

   (Formerly R18-1B06.)

   F.  An Order appointing a Special Master shall operate as a scheduling praecipe for scheduling of Master's hearing. A copy of the Appointment Order shall be provided to the Court Administrator for placement of the case on a trial list.

   G.  Cases in which hearing is to be scheduled before a Special Master will be placed on the appropriate trial list as a non-jury case for scheduling during the civil trial session. Counsel for the parties and the Special Master shall appear at the Call of the Civil Trial List pursuant to Som.R.J.A. 1022. Hearings before the Special Master will be placed on the civil trial schedule prepared pursuant to the provisions of Som.R.J.A. 1023. Once scheduled, the hearing may only be continued by Order of the Court.

   H.  The Master shall be sworn to the faithful performance of duties as Master prior to hearing.

   (Formerly R18-201.)

   I.  The Master shall sit in an appropriate room of the courthouse or other County facility as assigned by the Court Administrator.

   (Formerly R18-202.)

   J.  Subpoenas for the appearance of witnesses before the Master shall be issued by the Prothonotary upon application of the Master, a party's attorney, or an unrepresented party.

   (Formerly R18-203.)

   K.  It is the duty of the Master to make every reasonable effort and inquiry to ascertain the whereabouts of a defendant and to give proper notice of hearing. In all cases, such inquiries and responses thereto shall be placed of record at the Master's hearing.

   L.  The notice of hearing shall state the date, time and place of hearing; that the parties may appear and be heard and present witnesses; and the name and mailing address of the Master.

   Notice of hearing shall be given to Counsel and unrepresented parties in accordance with Pa.R.C.P. 1920.51.

   (Formerly R18-1A01.)

   M.  Where defendant is incarcerated:

   1.  The notice of hearing shall also state:

   a.  If defendant wishes to attend the hearing, he has the right to request the court to grant permission to do so and to make arrangements for him to be brought to the hearing; and

   b.  If the defendant wishes the court to permit him to attend the hearing and to make arrangements for him to be brought to the hearing, defendant must within ten (10) days write to the Master requesting to be present; and

   c.  If defendant makes such request in writing, within ten (10) days to be present at the hearing, application to the court will be made for him; and

   d.  If defendant does not make a written request within said ten-day period to be present at the hearing, it will be presumed that he desires not to be present.

   2.  The hearing date shall be fixed sufficiently far in advance to allow time for the procedures above prescribed.

   3.  If defendant makes a timely request to be present at the hearing, the Master shall within ten (10) days thereafter:

   a.  Notify defendant's counsel of record thereof and that counsel shall make the necessary application to the court, or

   b.  Make the application to the court for the defendant if he has no counsel of record.

   Note:  See Jones v. Jones, 29 Somerset Legal Journal 152, 1 D. & C.3d 401 (1974). In general, notice of divorce hearing is governed by Pa.R.C.P. 1920.51.

   (Formerly R18-1A01.)

   N.  A copy of the Master's notice of hearing shall be attached to the proof of notice required by Pa.R.C.P. 1920.51(e).

   (Formerly R18-1A03.)

Som.R.C.P. 1920.53.  Master's Hearing And Report.

   A.  Except as hereinafter provided, the Master's report shall be filed within the time limits provided by applicable Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.

   B.  A Special Master shall not submit a report concerning equitable property division and related matters unless: (i) a Decree in Divorce or Annulment has been entered; or (ii) the issue of divorce was presented to the Special Master and a recommendation regarding divorce is included in the report; or (iii) the Court permits submission of the report by special Order.

   C.  Upon receipt of an order appointing a Special Master or a substitute Special Master to hear matters pertaining to equitable distribution of marital property, alimony or counsel fees and expenses, the Prothonotary shall note in the docket or other appropriate record, a date 180 days after the date of the appointment. If the Master's report has not been filed on or before the expiration of the 180 day period, the Prothonotary shall, on the next business day, forward to the Motions Judge a copy of the docket entries in the case. The Motions Judge shall promptly notify the Court Administrator that a status conference is to be scheduled. The Court Administrator shall issue a scheduling order for prompt scheduling of the status conference and shall provide a copy of the scheduling order to the Master, counsel for any party appearing in the action and any unrepresented party.

   1.  The Master, counsel, and unrepresented parties shall be present for the status conference unless excused by the hearing Judge for cause.

   2.  At the status conference, all participants shall be prepared to provide the hearing Judge with clear and concise explanations for the delay in filing the Master's report. If the delay has been caused by the failure of the Master to fulfill his or her duties, the Court may, upon motion of a party or on its own motion, discharge the Master and appoint a substitute Master to complete the case, or the Court may proceed under the terms of subparagraph 3 below. Any Master who has been discharged under the provisions of this Rule will forfeit any compensation to which he or she may otherwise be entitled.

   3.  Prior to imposing sanctions described in subparagraph 2 above, the court may elect to issue an order to the offending party or to the Master directing compliance within a stated period of time. If the offending party or Master fails to comply with the terms of such an order, the court may impose the sanctions specified in subparagraph 2 above.

   D.  In indigent cases, the party proceeding as an indigent shall, at the Master's hearing, prove all averments in the petition for leave to proceed as an indigent, and respecting the adverse party's whereabouts, financial ability and resources.

   (Derived from former R18-208).

   E.  The Master's Report shall include:

   1.  The following material, organized in the following order:

   a.  Facing page, stating:

   (1)  Case caption

   (2)  Title (Master's Report)

   (3)  Detail of costs payable to Master and stenographer, and

   (4)  Index to remainder of Report.

   b.  Recommendation as to:

   (1)  Collection of costs (see Som.R.C.P. 1920.62.D.); and

   (2)  Relief granted or denied.

   c.  Transcript of proceedings before Master, which shall include a verbatim transcript of all proceedings before the Master, preceded by an introduction specifying:

   (1)  Date(s), time(s) and place(s) of proceedings before the Master, and

   (2)  The names and addresses of all persons present and their status in the case, and

   (3)  A specific statement whether or not defendant was present or represented at the hearing.

   d.  Decree, in accordance with the recommendation, in the form prescribed by applicable Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, which shall also state liability for costs.

   2.  The information required by applicable Pennsylvania Rules Of Civil Procedure.

   F.  Upon completion of the Master's Report, the Master shall ascertain from the Prothonotary whether the balance of the costs deposit still held is sufficient to pay for the Master's compensation and any remaining stenographic and other costs, and:

   1.  If the balance of costs remaining is sufficient for payment of same, the Master shall file the report with the Prothonotary and proceed in accordance with Subsection F.3. of this Rule.

   2.  If the balance of costs remaining is not sufficient for payment of same, the Master shall lodge the Master's Report with the Prothonotary, sealed, which shall be available for review by no one other than the Master and the court, and the Master shall immediately send notice to counsel, the parties and the Motions Judge, advising that: (i) the Report has been lodged with the Prothonotary, (ii) upon payment of costs, the Report will be filed officially with the Prothonotary, (iii) that the moving party has a period of twenty (20) days within which to file a motion requesting relief from payment of the balance of costs, and (iv) if the costs are not paid, or if a motion for relief from payment of costs is not filed within such twenty (20) day period, the court will enter an order directing the moving party to pay the balance of costs. A motion for relief from payment of costs shall be transmitted to the Motions Judge for decision, sec reg. The ultimate responsibility between the parties for the costs and Master's compensation shall abide the final Decree.

   Upon payment of the balance of costs, or upon entry of an order determining payment of costs, under this subsection, the Report shall be considered filed and the Master shall proceed as specified in Subsection F.3. of this Rule.

   3.  When the Report is filed or considered filed under Subsection E.1. or 2. of this Rule, the Master shall: (i) give notice of filing as prescribed by Pa.R.C.P. 1920.53, and (ii) file an affidavit of service of said notice.

   4.  The notice of filing of the report shall state the fact of filing, that any party has the right to file within ten (10) days after mailing of the notice, exceptions (objections) pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1920.55, that if any exception is filed it will be heard by the court, and if no exception is filed the Report will be presented to the court for the granting of a final Decree in divorce (or annulment), and determining equitable distribution and other collateral economic issues, as applicable.

   (Formerly R18-209).

   G.  In any case, where there are insufficient costs on deposit to compensate the Master and the stenographer, the court, upon motion filed by the Master, or on its own motion, may proceed to determine whether the moving party should be required to advance the balance of costs necessary to compensate the Master and stenographer and to pay any additional costs in the action.

Som.R.C.P. 1920.55.  Exceptions To Report.

   Any timely exception to a Master's Report shall be scheduled for disposition by the court pursuant to the scheduling procedures set forth in Somerset County Local Rules of Procedure and applicable Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.

   If no exception is filed, the Prothonotary shall, after the expiration of the ten day period for filing exceptions, present the whole record to the Motions Judge for appropriate disposition. In such presentation, the Prothonotary shall note in writing for the Motions Judge any irregularities or unusual aspects of the proceedings.

   (Formerly R18-210.)

Som.R.C.P. 1920.33.  Procedure On Joinder Of Related Claim For Distribution Of Property.

   A.  In a case involving a claim for distribution of property, a Motion for Appointment Of Special Master may be presented only if (i) ninety (90) days have elapsed from service of the pleading or petition containing the claim for distribution of property, and (ii) the moving party has filed an inventory in the form required by Pa.R.C.P. 1920.33(a).

   Note:  Pa.R.C.P. 1920.33(a) requires both parties to file an inventory within 90 days after service of a pleading or petition containing a claim for distribution of property.

   B.  If the responding party has failed to comply with the provisions of Pa.R.C.P. 1920.33(a) within thirty (30) days after appointment of the Special Master, the Special Master shall report the failure to the Motions Judge for imposition of sanctions pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1920.33(c).

   C.  Within thirty (30) days after the appointment of the Special Master, each party shall file and serve upon the other party, a pretrial statement pursuant to the provisions of Pa.R.C.P. 1920.33(b). If a party fails to file and serve a pretrial statement within the thirty day time period required by this Rule, the Special Master shall so report to the Court for imposition of sanctions pursuant to the provisions of Pa.R.C.P. 1920.33(c) and (d)(1).

   D.  No hearing shall be scheduled before the Special Master until both parties have complied with the provisions of Pa.R.C.P. 1920.33(a) and (b) or an Order has been entered by the Court pursuant to the Special Master's report of failure of a party to comply.

Som.R.C.P. 1915.8.  Reports Of Physical And Mental Examinations.

   Reports of examinations of persons pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1915.8 are confidential. Copies of reports shall be provided only to counsel for the parties and unrepresented parties. No further copies shall be made unless authorized by the Court. Counsel and parties shall not disclose the contents of such a report to any other person unless authorized by the Court. Disclosure to an unauthorized person, including the child who is the subject of the action, shall result in sanctions.

[Pa.B. Doc. No. 00-1034. Filed for public inspection June 16, 2000, 9:00 a.m.]



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