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October 2017 Archives

Appraisals

An appraisal may be needed to ascertain an accurate value of an asset in a divorce or estate matter. Parties may elect to use one appraiser or have competing appraisers. When choosing an appraiser, it is important to make sure the appraiser is licensed or certified. A licensed appraiser has met the minimum requirements for practice. A certified appraiser must complete additional classroom hours and practice in the field. A list of all licensed and certified appraisers is available on the appraisal subcommittee website.

Annuities

An annuity is an investment of a resource in order to receive a fixed payment. Once the investment is annuitized, the original investment cannot be returned. At that point, the characterization of the investment is changed from an asset to income. An annuity is considered marital property and subject to division in the event of divorce. Parties should be careful to review the terms of the annuity contract in determining the best way to split this asset. The goal should be to minimize any tax implications or penalties in dividing the asset. The best option may be off-setting the value of the annuity with another asset in the divorce such as a marital residence.

Filing for Support

The first step in seeking support is to file a complaint with the Domestic Relations office. You can go to the office located in your county for assistance in filing. Through the child support program website you are now able to start a request for support online. Once a complaint is submitted, an initial support conference is scheduled for approximately four weeks later. Any support will be retroactive to the filing date so parties requesting support are not prejudiced during this time frame.

Inheritance Taxes

Pennsylvania does apply a tax on assets passed through probate or intestacy. The amount of tax depends on the value of the estate as well as the relationship of the beneficiaries to the decedent. There is no tax imposed for assets passing to a surviving spouse or to a child under 21 years old. There is a 4.5% tax for assets passing to children over 21, parents or grandparents. There is a 12% tax for assets passing to siblings. There is a 15% tax for all other transfers including to aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins or persons of no relation. There are some institutions exempt from the inheritance tax including certain government entities and charitable organizations.

National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. You can visit www.nnedv.org for details on the daily initiatives. The goal is to provide information on what constitutes domestic violence and how to address it once recognized. Thursday, October 19th, is purple Thursday and people are encouraged to wear purple to raise awareness. Pennsylvania has several laws in place to protect victims of domestic violence.

Dividing the Marital Residence

The marital home is often one of the bigger assets to be divided in the context of a divorce. There are two options available regarding division of the marital residence. First, one party can keep the home and buy the other party out for their share of the equity. Equity would be determined by the fair market value of the home minus any mortgages or other liens on the home. The second option is for the home to be sold and the proceeds divided among the party. As a matter of equitable distribution, the disposition of a home would generally not be heard until grounds for the divorce have been established and the matter is scheduled for court. However, the family court has the authority to make determinations regarding a marital home even prior to or an equitable distribution hearing or entry of a divorce decree. The court can grant one of the parties exclusive possession of the home while the divorce is pending under Section 3502 of the Divorce Code. An award for exclusive possession should not be given lightly and the party requesting it has the burden of proving its necessity.

Confirmation of Consent in Adoption

One of the ways an adoption can proceed is if the natural parent(s) consent to the adoption. A Petition for Confirmation of Consent can be filed by the party executing the consent or the party intending to adopt the child. Pursuant to 23 Pa. C.S. Section 2711, a consent must be signed by the following individuals where applicable: (1) the child(ren) being adopted if over 12 years of age; (2) the spouse of the adopting parent if that spouse is not also a petitioner; (3) the natural parent(s) of any minor child(ren) being adopted; (4) the guardian of an incapacitated child up for adoption; and (5) the guardian of a minor child or persons having custody when the adoptee has no parent whose consent is required. There are several timing rules that must be adhered to. First, the consent cannot be signed by a natural mother within 72 hours, or three days, after the birth of a child. A consent can be signed by a natural father at any time after he has been notified the child is expected to be born or has been born. Executed consents become irrevocable after 30 days. The can be revoked on the basis of fraud or duress within 60 days.

Donor Agreements

Donor agreements are vital for identifying the legal rights of parties considering artificial insemination as part of assisted reproduction. An agreement should indicate that the donor does not have any rights subsequent to the donation. Specifically, the agreement should explain that no parental relationship is intended for the donor. It should be clear that donor's parental rights are terminated and that the donor forever forfeits the ability to file for any type of custody or visitation if a child is subsequently born. The agreement would allow the recipient to dictate what happens with the donation or any embryos created using the donation.

Medicaid Planning

Medicaid is a need-based health care program. It is a federal program that is administered on a state level. Elderly persons needing long-term care often try to utilize Medicaid to assist with the expenses. Appropriate estate planning can assist in this regard. Since Medicaid is for low-income individuals, there are limits on the amount of income and assets a party can have. An individual should plan ahead to make sure any countable assets and income are structured so as not to affect any future applications for Medicaid. Medicaid can look back five years from the date of an application so it is important to do any relevant estate planning well in advance.

Protection from Sexual Violence and/or Intimidation

Pennsylvania's Protection from Sexual Violence and/or Intimidation Act (PSVI) became effective July 2015. 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.

Additions to Support Award

Pennsylvania utilizes support guidelines to determine the appropriate amount of basic support in each case. The Rules of Civil Procedure also contemplate other expenses that can be added to a support calculation. Child care expenses as needed to allow for employment can be added to the support award. The total amount of child care expenses should be adjusted to reflect the federal child care tax credit if applicable. Health insurance premiums that provide coverage for children and/or the other party can be allocated between the parties' in proportion to their income. This is only applicable where a party is paying a portion of the premium as opposed to a scenario where the employer covers the full cost or a third party is providing the coverage.

Changes to Income

Once a support order is established each party is under a continuing obligation to notify the court of any changes income, employer or employment status. Changes income may impact the support order under the guidelines as the amount of support varies based on the income bracket the parties fall into. A reduction income does not necessarily mean the support order will change. The court can consider the reason behind the reduction income. A voluntary reduction income should have no effect on the support order. Voluntary reductions income are defined as a party taking a lower paying job, quitting or leaving a job, changing occupations or returning to school or being fired for cause. The purpose behind this provision is to make sure parties cannot benefit from attempts to escape or lower their support obligation.

Income for Support

Each party's monthly income is evaluated for the purposes of determining an appropriate support order. Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure dictate that each party's monthly gross income based on at least a six-month window should be ascertained first. For purposes of support gross income includes all wages or salary, bonuses, commissions, business income, rental property income, pension or retirement payments, royalties and dividends, and income from an estate or trust, social security disability and retirement benefits, disability benefits, workers' compensation, unemployment compensation and alimony. It also includes any other entitlement to money or lump sum awards such as lottery winnings, tax refunds, insurance compensation, settlements, awards or verdicts.

Support Guidelines

Pennsylvania utilizes support guidelines to determine the appropriate amount of support in each case. The initial step is to determine the net monthly income of the parties and who will be receiving the support. There is a rebuttable presumption that the amount of support as dictated by the guidelines is correct. In order to overcome this presumption a fact finder must make a determination that application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate. The guidelines are reviewed every couple of years to make sure they are still appropriate given current costs of raising children and the poverty level. The goal of using support guidelines is to ensure that similarly situated parties are treated similarly.

Dealing with Emotions of Your Divorce

When you move through your divorce you may feel as if your entire life is being turned upside down.  This upheaval can lead to emotional fallout that appears overwhelming to handle.  If you do not want to get divorced this can be even harder to comprehend and start to manage.  When we work with clients, we help them move through the process and build a stronger life for themselves so they can easily walk into their post divorce life.   Putting the right supports in place for yourself will greatly help you manage all of the pieces and stress.

After Your Divorce, Make These Changes Immediately

The process of getting divorced can be hard to move through.  When you are finally divorced you will probably want a break from making decisions and taking care of legal matters.  However, it is crucial to immediately update a few important areas of your life including your will, life insurance beneficiaries, and other estate planning documents.  

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