In a decision rendered May 20, 2014, the Honorable John E. Jones, III, sitting for the US District Court in the Middle District on the case of Whitewood v. Michael Wolf, ruled that two of Pennsylvania's laws regarding marriage were unconstitutional on the basis that they violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Now that Pennsylvania recognizes same-sex marriages, same-sex partners looking to dissolve their marriage are subject to the same process as far as divorce, equitable distribution and support. Most divorces proceed on the basis of no-fault meaning the parties need only allege an "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage" and either consent to the divorce after a 90-day period or establish 2-year separation. A no-fault divorce can also be obtained if one of the spouses is institutionalized for a period of 18 months provided they will likely still be institutionalized 18 months following the commencement of the divorce.
Pennsylvania's Protection from Sexual Violence and/or Intimidation Act (PSVI) became effective this month. The Act allows victims to obtain a civil no-contact order for up to three (3) years. Adults and minors can petition for an Order on the basis of sexual violence. Only minors may obtain an Order on the basis of intimidation provided the offender is over 18 years old. There is no filing fee to file. A temporary Order can be granted following an ex parte hearing. A final hearing must be held within ten (10) days of when the Petition is filed. The victim must establish sexual violence and/or intimidation by a preponderance of the evidence.
Unreimbursed medical expenses may be allocated between the parties in a support matter in proportion to their income under Pa. R.C.P. 1910.16-6. The court may include the expenses within the support order or direct that it is paid directly to the party receiving support or their healthcare provider. The first $250 per year is the responsibility of the party incurring the expense. The parties will only need to share expenses that exceed $250 per year. Medical expenses eligible for reimbursement include co-pays and other expenses for reasonable, necessary supplies or services. Surgical, optical, dental and orthodontic expenses are included but are not an exhaustive list.
There is often a misconception that assets and debts in individual names will not be divided as part of a divorce action. This is simply not true. Section 3501 of the Divorce Code defines marital property as anything acquired by either party from the date of marriage up to the date of final separation. It also includes any increase in value on pre-marital assets. In the event of reconciliation after separation, the time frame for items acquired during the marriage and ultimately subject to distribution would change as the Divorce Code refers to final separation as the date to consider when determining the marital estate.
There is no emancipation statute in Pennsylvania and cases are determined on a case-by-case basis looking at the facts. The key factor is if the minor child has already established independence. This would include financially supporting themselves and living apart from their parent or guardian. Any judicial determination is not permanent and can be revoked if the circumstances change. Further, it is not enough for a minor child to point to an intent to live independently. Instead, they must already evidence their independent status prior to a formal determination. Marriage and enrollment in the military usually favor an emancipated determination though the same criteria should still be considered regarding independence. Overall, it is a very hard legal standard to reach.
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