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Passports for Children

Every person, regardless of age, must have a passport to travel out of the country. Initial passport applications for children under sixteen (16) years of age must be made in person. Both parents of the child should be present. If one of the parents cannot be physically present, they may complete a parental consent form instead. This form must be notarized and a copy of the parent's ID must accompany the form. There are exceptions to the requirement of the consent of both parents including court order or proof of sole custody. Additionally, there is an application to obtain passport without the other parent on the basis of exigent circumstances and the unavailability of the other parent. You can visit the U.S. Department of State website for additional details on the requirements to obtain a passport at travel.state.gov.

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Filing for Support

23 Pa C.S. Section 4321 provides that married persons are liable for the support of their spouse according to their respective abilities to provide and parents are liable for the support of their unemancipated children under 18 years of age. Domestic Relations is the branch of the court that handles support applications. An application for support can be filed with their office in the county where you reside or where the payor resides. An application can also be initiated online through the support program website. Support between spouses is based on the difference in income. 40% of the difference in income can be awarded in a case where there are no children. 30% of the difference in income is appropriate where there is also a child support component. Child support in Pennsylvania is based on statewide guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The guidelines are based on an "Income Shares Model" such that the guideline amount is shared by the parties based on percentage of custody time as well as percentage of income.

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Separation Defined

Most parties pursuing divorce will choose to proceed with no-fault grounds for divorce. A no-fault divorce simply means there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. There are two different ways to establish an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage under the Divorce Code. First, both parties may consent to the divorce after 90 days from when the complaint was filed and served. This is referred to as a 90-day mutual consent divorce. Alternatively, if one party won't consent, the other party can move forward after the parties have been "separated" for at least one year. This is referred to as a separation divorce. Separation, however, does not mean the parties have to physically live separately. Parties may elect to still reside in the same home but can be considered "separate" based on the definition provided by the Divorce Code. Section 3103 of the Divorce Code defines "Separate and apart" as follows: Cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not. In the event a complaint in divorce is filed and served, it shall be presumed that the parties commenced to live separate and apart not later than the date that the complaint was served." Accordingly, the date the divorce complaint is filed will generally be accepted as the date of separation regardless of whether the parties continue to live together or not.

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Step-parent Adoption

It can be a simple process for a step-parent to adopt their step-child. Some of the statutory requirements for adoption are waived in the case of a family member adopting a child. Specifically, a home study, which is expensive and can take several months to complete, is not required. Instead, the step-parent need only complete the necessary background checks.

Presently, there are three background checks required: (1) Child Abuse History Clearance; (2) PA State Police Criminal Record Check; and (3) FBI Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare.

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Bringing Children to Court

One of the factors for consideration in determining what is in the best interests of the child for a custody award is the preference of the child. It is common for the opinion of the child to be sought in the course of a custody evaluation. There is also the possibility that a child will appear in court to offer testimony. There are rules specific to the testimony of children in Pennsylvania. 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.

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Diminishing Credit

Diminishing credit is a concept that property brought into a marriage loses its separate nature and becomes marital in nature as the marriage progresses. The court may give credit for separate property brought into the marriage depending on the circumstances. Generally, any credit to be received decreases with the length of the marriage. For example, Bucks County will reduce the credit by 5% a year such that there is no longer a credit after 20 years. A prime example of a situation where this rule would be applicable is the purchase of a marital home. Say Spouse A contributed $40,000 of their pre-marital money to the purchase of the house. If the parties separated after 5 years, the amount of Spouse A's individual contribution is reduced by 25%. Accordingly, Spouse A would argue that 75% of the $40,000 down payment, or $30,000, is their separate property and not subject to equitable distribution in the divorce. In contrast, Chester County applies a 10% reduction per year so that after 10 years there is no credit. In the above example, after 5 years 50% of the credit will have vanished so that Spouse A would only be able to assert $20,000 as separate property not subject to equitable distribution.

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Workers Compensation Awards

Pennsylvania law does recognize workers' compensation awards as marital property subject distribution in a divorce action. In order for the award to be classified as marital, the underlying injury creating the eligibility for workers' compensation must have occurred during the marriage. Pennsylvania generally utilizes the timing of the receipt of assets for identifying marital property. The court still has the discretion to consider the purpose of the award and other equitable considerations when determining what percentage should go to each spouse in distributing the marital estate.

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Unreimbursed Medical Expenses

You may be able to get reimbursed for medical expenses if you have an existing support order. 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. This $250 threshold is per person for orders that cover multiple persons. The parties will only need to share expenses that exceed $250 per year per person. Proof of the unreimbursed expenses should be timely supplied to the other party but must be supplied to the other party and Domestic Relations no later than March 31st of the following year. Parties are certainly encouraged to work things out amongst themselves prior to this deadline.

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Starting a Divorce Action

The initial step is to get a Complaint filed with the court. The Complaint would include the grounds under which you are seeking divorce as well as any other types of relief requested. For example, your complaint would state if you are asking for a no-fault divorce on the basis of mutual consent or separation or a fault divorce. It may also include counts for equitable distribution if there is marital property, custody if there are minor children involved, and support for minor children or between spouses. There is a filing fee due at the time the complaint is filed.

Once a divorce complaint is filed it must be served on the opposing party before the matter can proceed. Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1930.4 discusses acceptable methods of service for all domestic relations matters.

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Recognition of Foreign Orders

U.S. Courts have recognized foreign support/custody orders, divorce decrees, adoption decrees, and money judgments. A court will recognize a foreign Order under the doctrine of comity so long as the party has established domicile in the foreign country. As discussed in Hilkmann v. Hilkmann, "[c]omity is a recognition which one nation extends within its own territory to the legislative, executive, or judicial acts of another. It is not a rule of law, but one of practice, convenience, and expediency. Although more than mere courtesy and accommodation, comity does not achieve the force of an imperative or obligation...Comity should be withheld only when its acceptance would be contrary or prejudicial to the interest of the nation called upon to give it effect." 2003 PA Super 25 (2005).

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Office Locations

Langhorne Office
174 Middletown Boulevard
Suite 300
Langhorne, PA 19047

Phone: 215-752-6200
Fax: 215-752-6202
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Doylestown Office
196 West Ashland Street
Doylestown, PA 18901

Phone: 215-348-3800
Fax: 215-752-6202
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King of Prussia Office
630 Freedom Business Center
3rd Floor
King of Prussia, PA 19406

Phone: 484-704-2100
Fax: 215-752-6202
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Jenkintown Office
610 Old York Road
Suite 400
Jenkintown, PA 19046

Phone: 267-636-0100
Fax: 215-752-6202
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