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family law Archives

Military Benefits

A number of different benefits may come into play in a family law matter if either of the parties is a member of the military. If there are children, child support can be established based on the military member's pay. This pay can fluctuate based on whether they are deployed or at home. Their pay also generally includes additional allotments for housing, clothing, etc. which are to be counted as income for support purposes. Each branch of the military has their own regulations to establish an interim support obligation if a family is separated. Alternatively, they will honor a court order established through local family court.

Pennsylvania Surrogacy

Pennsylvania does not have a statute in place as it relates to surrogacy, however, case law has upheld a surrogacy contract. There are two types of surrogacy. A traditional surrogacy is where the carrier has a genetic relationship with the child. For example, the carrier's eggs are used along with a sperm donor. A gestational surrogacy is where the carrier has no genetic relationship. With a gestational surrogacy both the egg and sperm are implanted into the carrier. In J.F. v. D.B., the carrier mother attempted to keep the children following birth despite having entered a surrogacy agreement. 897 A.2d 1261 (2006). The court eventually held she didn't have standing for a custody action and turned the children over to the intended parents per the contract. The courts went a step further in In re Baby S, when it explicitly upheld a surrogacy agreement. 2015 Pa. Super. 244 (2015).

Facts about Emancipation

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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Children Witnesses

The general rule on hearsay is that any out of court statement being offered for the truth of the matter cannot be admitted unless it meets one of the exceptions for hearsay. An additional loophole separate from the hearsay exceptions addresses minor children. The policy of the Commonwealth is to promote procedures to protect children witnesses. These procedures are outlined in 42 Pa C.S.A. 5981 - 5988. For the purposes of the provisions in these sections, child is defined as an individual under sixteen (16) years of age. Per Section 5984.1, the court may direct that a child's testimony be recorded for subsequent presentation in court so long as the method accurately captures all information presented during such testimony.

What to wear to Family Court

What you wear to Family Court is less important than how you act when you are there. That being said, however, it is important that you give the Court the respect it deserves. Do not show up wearing flip flops, tank tops, shorty shorts, beat up jeans, sneakers. Whether you have a conference or you have a hearing before the Judge in a Courtroom, you should dress like you were going to Church back in the day when people dressed appropriately for Church. If you have tattoos, cover them up. If you have piercing or gage earrings, take them out. Since Family Court is often based on subjective opinions, it is best to not give any reason to the Court to side against you, whether they do so consciously or not.

Reasons to consider a Prenuptial Agreement

If you are getting married, you may want to consider a prenuptial agreement before you tie the knot.  A prenuptial agreement is not necessary in every situation, but is very useful to avoid conflict in certain situations.  It is not always just for divorce.  You may want to use it to allow you to decide how your assets will be distributed in the event of death rather than have your spouse be entitled to their elective share.  

Handling Custody during bad weather/sickness, use common sense

Oftentimes when you have a custody agreement, your agreement or order spells out specific times and meeting places for custody exchanges. Even the best crafted custody agreement, however, does not contemplate every situation that possibly could arise.  In these circumstances, you must often make a judgement call.  For example, if your child is burning up with a fever, it may not be in the best interest of your child to insist that they return to you for your designated custodial time.  You may want to consider your child and let them rest until they are up for travel.  With winter upon us, you may also find yourself required by your custody order to exchange your child in the middle of a snowstorm, or worse, blizzard.  Again, you should use your best judgement in deciding whether to follow the custody agreement.  This is why it is very important that parents be able to communicate with each other.  Oftentimes, you will need to make accommodations for the other parent.  You cannot expect a custody agreement or court order to resolve every possible scenario.  

Why you should file a counterclaim in custody

If you are one of the many families who are facing custody issues and you find that your ex has file a petition for custody or a petition to modify your current order, you should consider filing a counterclaim for custody.  While it is true that you do not have to file an answer or a counterclaim in order for the court to decide a schedule, what happens if your ex suddenly withdraws their petition the day of the hearing?  If you do not have a counterclaim filed, then the Court will cancel the hearing since there will be no petition to hear.  While this is fine if you do not want a change, it may not be so great if you were expecting to raise issues on why you need an order or why you want a change, this is not such good news.  In order to prevent this from happening, you should always file a counterclaim on custody.  That way, if your ex does decide to withdraw the petition filed, the Court will have to hear the case unless you also withdraw your petition.

Non-Marital Families

The courts may recognize certain rights in relationships other than marriage. Palimony is the term for legal property and support rights arising from co-habitation. Co-habitation is not necessarily required for a palimony claim so long as there is a marital-like relationship. The default rule is that title controls ownership in the absence of a written document stating otherwise. However, the courts may recognize certain equitable doctrines to achieve fairness even if strict adherence to the written document would produce a different result. One cause of action is a constructive trust through the theory of unjust enrichment. The crux of the theory is that it would be unfair to allow the person that doesn't have title to be excluded from the wealth they helped create.

Insurance Policies

Questions regarding insurance policies often come up in the context of a divorce. Married couples may have commingled auto insurance policies, health insurance plans, and/or life insurance policies with their spouse as beneficiary. Technically, there are no rules on maintaining certain policies that existed at the commencement of the divorce in the sense that there is no automatic punishment or sanction for dropping these policies at separation. On the other hand, the courts have the power to order certain policies be maintained through their general equity powers in the period between separation and divorce. Perhaps, the most prudent action is to maintain all policies until finalization of the divorce or other mutual agreement or seek the advice of an attorney first to avoid the potential of additional fees that may be incurred if you are ordered to reinstate any policy and/or be responsible for any liability incurred while the other party was uninsured. Additionally, as it relates to health insurance specifically, it is routinely ordered as part of a support action and unreimbursed medical expenses, which can be substantial if there is a lapse in insurance coverage, will also be shared.

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