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September 2012 Archives

Step-parent and Kinship Adoptions

In Pennsylvania adoptions are handled through the Orphan's Court. The rules and procedures for an adoption can be found in the Orphan's Court Rules under Rule 15. Each county may have a set of local rules pertaining to adoption which should also be reviewed and complied with where necessary. The primary, and in this instance the initial, requirement is the adoption petition. An adoption petition should include the name, age, residence history, marital status, other dependants, occupation, religion, race, relationship to adoptee, and state of health of all petitioners as well as the natural parents. The petition should also state the name, sex, race, age, date of birth, place of birth, religion, and residence history for the adoptee. Each adoptee requires a separate petition. The intended name of the adoptee following the adoption should be included as well. Consents of the natural parents and an original birth certificate of the adoptee should be attached as exhibits. Consent of the natural parents is not required if you are involuntarily terminating their rights. If that is the case you should indicate why involuntary termination is appropriate based on 23 Pa C.S. 2511(a) within the petition. An often used provision under 23 Pa. C.S. 2511 is that the natural parent has failed to perform parental duties or evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to the child for a period in excess of six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order

A qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO for short, is a document often used in the context of splitting assets in a divorce to rollover a portion of one party's retirement plan/benefit to the other party. QDROs are frequently utilized when pensions, 401ks and other retirement benefits have been classified as marital in nature and therefore up for distribution at the end of the marriage. The benefit of a QDRO is that it allows a tax-free transfer of the funds from one party to their new or soon-to-be ex-spouse. The receiving spouse would then be taxed as they withdraw the money as the tax laws provide. The exact nuances of how the plan/benefit is split and what options are available will vary based on the type of plan. For example, it may be that the party receiving a benefit as a result of a QDRO, often termed the alternate payee, cannot begin to do so until the initial participant in the plan begins to do so. The receiving party may or may not be able to designate an alternate successor if they die before the benefits begin to pay out. Or, the plan may provide the receiving party can only designate a survivor beneficiary that would be able to receive the balance of their portion of the benefit if they have started receiving the benefit before they die. The receiving party's benefit may or may not be affected by the death of the initial participant or his/her early withdrawal penalty, if applicable.

Jurisdiction/Venue in Divorce

Under Pennsylvania law, one of the parties to the divorce action must have been a bona fide resident of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to the commencement of the divorce. Bona fide residence is defined as actual residence with domiciliary intent. Domicile denotes the place where a person has his or her true, fixed, permanent home with the intention of returning after any absence. In other words, where an individual sleeps, takes her meals, receives mail, and stores personal possession.

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