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August 2017 Archives

Steps for Simple, Uncontested Divorce

The procedures outlined below are suitable for an amicable divorce where there are no ancillary issues such as equitable distribution, custody or support. First, a Complaint in Divorce must be filed with the court. This may be your local county court or another county courthouse within the Commonwealth provided you consent to their jurisdiction. The difference in filing fees is a reason why you may look into filing outside of your county. Second, the Complaint in Divorce needs to be served on the opposing party. This can be done informally by having the other party execute an Acceptance of Service. Other options include service via certified mail, return receipt requested, restricted delivery or personal service by a process server of the Sheriff's office.

Where Can You Adopt?

The Pennsylvania Adoption Act is fairly liberal in terms of where an adoption can take place. An adoption can take place in any county where the natural parents of the child occur. It may also take place in any county where the child to be adopted resides. Additionally, an action for adoption can be initiated in the county where the parties looking to adopt reside. Outside of any county where a party of an adoption matter may reside, an agency adoption can be brought in any county where that agency has an office. The final option as to where you may file is where the child to be adopted previously resided with leave of court. This means a court must make a determination as to whether filing in a county where the child used to live or was born is appropriate.

HIPAA

HIPAA is the acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This Act establishes guidelines on the dissemination of sensitive medical information. It is a federal statute applicable nationwide. There are three main provisions of the Act. First, it seeks to make it easier to maintain health care in terms of transfers between jobs or carriers. Second, it sets a standard for providers of health care and the plans they offer. Third, it addresses each individual's right to privacy as it relates to their medical information.

How to Rollover Retirement Assets

Retirement assets are often one of the substantial assets in a marital estate. It is possible to do a tax-free rollover of retirement benefits as part of a divorce. First, you will need to know what kind of benefits are involved. Qualified benefits will require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to achieve the tax-free rollover. Qualified plans include defined contribution plans such as 401K as well as defined benefit plans such as pensions. Federal retirement plans (e.g. CSRS, FERS, TSP) also require a court order to achieve the rollover however the appropriate order for federal plans is a Court Order Acceptable for Processing (COAP). Once the QDRO or COAP is drafted to dictate the percentage or fixed amount to be rolled over, it is signed by the parties and then the Judge prior to submission to the plan for execution.

Veterans Benefits in Divorce

Former military members may be eligible to receive a number of different veterans benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Possible benefits include disability compensation, pension benefits, life insurance, educational benefits and more. Veterans benefits cannot be divided as an asset in a divorce case. This is due to the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act (USFSPA). The Pennsylvania Divorce Code confirms this rule. Under 23 Pa. Section 3501(a), discussing the definitions for marital benefits, veterans benefits exempt from attachment, levy or seizure are defined as non-marital.

Hague Convention Implications

Enforcement of an international custody order is addressed by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Signatories to the Hague Convention are required to immediately return children if taken or retained in violation of a custody order. All countries who are parties to the Hague Convention must establish a "Central Authority." This office is responsible for dealing with any Hague Convention violations. For children removed from the United States, a petition for return should be filed through the U.S. State Department, Office of Children's Issues. From there, the petition is transmitted to the Central Authority for the other country involved and ultimately adjudicated there. It is important to begin the process as soon as a violation occurs for the best likelihood of having the child returned.

Child Support Awareness Month

August is National Child Support Awareness Month. August has been dedicated to child support awareness since 1995 when President Clinton began it as part of his welfare reform agenda. The purpose of raising awareness is to improve the collection of child support payments. The preferred method of collection is wage garnishment. There is also information on sanctions for failure to pay support which may include suspension of driver's licenses and passports for parents with child support arrears. All 50 states participate in child support awareness month.

Changing School Districts?

Custody refers to both physical custody, which is the schedule parties follow, as well as legal custody, which is who makes important decisions for the child(ren). Often times parties will share legal custody meaning they need to communicate, and ideally agree, on major decisions impacting healthcare, religion and education. Which school district a child goes to is an example of an education decision that should be discussed in the context of shared legal custody. If the parties ultimately cannot agree on a school district, the court could intervene to make the final determination.

Lump Sum Alimony

Alimony is support paid to an ex-spouse following the divorce decree. The amount of alimony is largely based on the incomes of the parties but may also be affected by the distribution of the other assets, if any. Unless otherwise stated by agreement, alimony may be subsequently modified due the changed circumstances of either party. The changes must be substantial and of a continuing nature. As previously alluded to, an alimony provision within an agreement between the parties may not be modified in the absence of a specific provision allowing such a modification within the agreement. Generally, the length of alimony is directly attributable to the length of the marriage. For example, a party may expect approximately 1 year of alimony for every 3 years married. For marriages of over 25 years, an indefinite term of alimony may be appropriate.

Limits on Grandparent Rights

Section 5325 of the Domestic Relations laws sets out the circumstances under which grandparents and great-grandparents may petition for partial custody/visitation. One of three conditions must be met: (1) a parent of the child is deceased; (2) the parents of the child have been separated for at least six months; or (3) the child has lived with the grandparents or great-grandparents for at least 12 consecutive months provided a petition is filed within six months after the child is removed from the home. However, in a 2016 decision, D.P. and B.P. v. G.J.P. and A.P., No. 25 WAP 2015, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for the Western District, held that Section 5325(2) intruded on the constitutional rights of the parents.

Basic Requirements for a QDRO

A qualified domestic relations order or QDRO for short, is a document that is needed to split certain retirement benefits in the context of a divorce. Specifically, all benefits governed under ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) require a QDRO for division. ERISA plans may include pensions, 401Ks, profit-sharing plans, and stock ownership plans. A few examples of plans not governed by ERISA are local state or municipal plans, IRAs, or military benefits. There are certain base requirements for all QDROs. One, you must identify the name and address of both the participant spouse and the alternate payee, or party now standing to receive a portion of the benefits.

Dealing with Pre-Marital Assets

The Divorce Code defines marital property as that acquired from the date of marriage through the date of separation. It may also include the increase in value of property earned prior to the marriage to the extent the increase occurs during the marriage. A popular example of this may be a retirement plan or savings account. With assets or property earned prior to the marriage, it is important to ascertain the value of that property as of the date of marriage to assign that portion to the party who owns it.

Informal Probate Administration

Informal administration is where the bulk of the process is by agreement of the interested parties. The notice requirements are still the same. After the short certificate, the executor or administrator needs to notify all possible beneficiaries as well as all possible debtors by publishing notice in the local law reporter and a local newspaper of general circulation. The executor or administrator should notify social security, employer(s), banks, insurance companies, retirement plans, etc. regarding the death of the decedent. The tax returns for the decedent and the estate still need to be completed with applicable taxes paid. 

Formal Probate Administration

Formal administration involves handling the entire process through the courts. After the short certificate, the executor or administrator needs to notify all possible beneficiaries. They will also need to notify all possible debtors by publishing notice in the local law reporter as well as a local newspaper of general circulation. The executor or administrator should also notify social security, employer(s), banks, insurance companies, retirement plans, etc. regarding the death of the decedent.

Start of Probate Process without a Will

If a loved one has passed away without a will, the laws of intestacy will govern how their estate is handled. The closest kin can apply to the Register of Wills to be designated as the administrator of the estate. They will also be granted a short certificate has proof of their authority to handle the estate.

Start of Probate Process with a Will

After a loved one has passed, one of the first steps to be taken is to determine if they have a will. If so, you will want to locate the original will and make sure it has been properly signed. Ideally, the will has a self-proving affidavit so that the witnesses to the will do not need to be present when the will goes to probate. If there is not a self-proving affidavit, someone with knowledge of the deceased's signature would need to verify the signature. In some counties this must be done in person. The named executor will need to go to the Register of Wills with the original will, photo identification, and some method of payment to open the estate.

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