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December 2017 Archives

Receipt of an Inheritance

The receipt of an inheritance may impact your divorce or support case. Section 3501 of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code defines what will be considered marital property, and up for division, versus what will be considered non-marital property. Marital property includes all property acquired by either party from the date of marriage through the date of separation. There is a presumption all property acquired during the marriage is marital regardless of how title is held (e.g. individually vs. jointly). However, property received as a gift, bequest, devise or descent is non-marital per 23 Pa. C.S. 3501(a). Accordingly, an inheritance that is received during the marriage can still be claimed as non-marital property. As a practical tip, parties should avoid commingling inheritance funds with other marital funds. Inheritance funds may still need to be disclosed since the separate assets of the party are a factor for equitable distribution under 23 Pa. C.S. 3502.

Pre-Nuptial Agreements

A pre-nuptial agreement is a private contract between the parties entered into prior to their marriage that outlines how assets and debts will be handled if the parties subsequently divorce. A simple pre-nuptial agreement often provides that each party retains their respective premarital property and any increase of value of premarital assets. It may also provide that anything they acquire in their individual name during the marriage would remain their separate property. Property acquired in joint names can be divided based on the applicable divorce laws or the parties can agree to split at a certain percentage, e.g. 50/50. A pre-nuptial agreement may also address spousal support. It is not uncommon for the amount of support to a spouse to increase based on the number of years married or number of children produced. Alternatively, one spouse may be required to pay support as a punishment if they commit adultery during the marriage. 

Exclusive Possession

Many parties in the process of separating are anxious to find out how they can get the other party out of a shared residence. For married individuals, a decision on which party will keep a marital property will not come until the end of the divorce matter and in the interim both parties retain the right to access the marital property. There are two exceptions to this general rule. First, a party may be evicted from a marital property in the context of a Protection from Abuse Order. A final PFA Order can remain in place for a maximum of three (3) years. The second way to have a party removed from marital property is through an application for exclusive possession.

Bankruptcy and Family Law

Parties who are unable to keep up with their financial obligations may consider filing for bankruptcy. Chapter 7 bankruptcy involves liquidation of a party's assets to repay debts. Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves a payment plan with all collected funds subsequently distributed to creditors in order of their priority. A bankruptcy filing results in an automatic stay meaning the party filing for bankruptcy is protected from creditors seeking payment from them until the bankruptcy is resolved however, there are exceptions to this general rule. Specifically, the filing of a bankruptcy petition does not operate as a stay for any proceeding regarding the establishment or modification of an order for domestic support obligations, concerning child custody or visitation, or for the dissolution of a marriage (including decree with court order or property settlement agreement except to the extent that such proceeding seeks to determine the division of property that is property of the estate). Accordingly, a party may not seek to dismiss all their obligations in a family law matter by filing for bankruptcy.

Irrevocable Trusts

A trust is a mechanism wherein assets are set aside for certain beneficiaries and managed by a trustee subject to the terms of the document. Irrevocable trusts cannot subsequently be modified or terminated. Irrevocable trusts can help protect assets for parties who may need long-term care. Elderly persons needing long-term care often try to utilize Medicaid to assist with the expenses. Medicaid is a need-based health care program so there are limits on the amount of income and assets a party can have when seeking eligibility. 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.

Stock Options as Income

Stock benefits are often given to employees as part of their compensation or as an incentive to remain with the company. One of the factors to consider when dealing with stock benefits is whether the benefits are vested or not. Vesting is when all restrictions on the exercise of stock benefits are lifted. Each employer may have different rules on how long it takes benefits to vest. It is important to review the grant documents for the benefits to understand how they work and when they will vest.

Military Retired Pay vs. Disability Pay

Military retired pay is a divisible asset in the context of a divorce matter. For marriages of at least ten (10) years, military retired pay can be divided through DFAS such that each party receives their share of that benefit directly. For marriages of less than ten (10) years, the service member would be responsible to make sure the spouse received the correct amount of the benefit. Disability pay is not a divisible asset. The amount of disability pay is based on the extent of the service member's disability rating. Service members used to have to reduce their retired pay by the amount of any disability pay they elected to receive. This could result in the spouse of the member being shorted.

Allocation of Support

Allocation is the identification of separate portions of a support award where a party receives both child support and some form of spousal support simultaneously. Child support and alimony payments have different tax consequences. Child support is not tax deductible by the payor or taxed as income to the payee. The exact opposite is true of alimony. Alimony can be claimed as a tax deduction for the payor and must be claimed as income by the payee. Parties can reach a mutual agreement to allocate a support award however they see fit. Where support is calculated pursuant to the guidelines, the Order will spell out what portion of the support award is child support versus what portion of the support award is alimony.

Wills for Heroes

Wills for Heroes is a program in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Bar Association that provides free wills, living wills, and powers of attorney to first responders and their spouses/significant others. Proof of military or public service affiliation is required. Appointments are required and can be made on the Pennsylvania Bar Association website. Each appointment is for one hour. At the conclusion of the appointment, each participant will have their final, notarized documents to take home with them. If a spouse or significant other is also participating, their appointment will be immediately following that of the first responder. The program is made possible through the time of volunteers including attorneys, reviewers and witnesses.

Survivor Benefit Plan

Survivor benefits refer to the benefit that can be paid to the selected beneficiary following the death of the employee. This type of benefit is available in the context of a military pension plan. A survivor benefit is a marital asset that should be addressed in the context of a divorce. It is a separate asset than the pension itself such that a spouse could receive a portion of the actual pension as well as the survivor benefit. The participant spouse must elect a survivor benefit plan at the time of retirement. This is because there is a cost for the survivor benefit plan which is paid through a reduction of the base amount for the benefit. Presently, there is a cost of 6.5% the base pay to elect a survivor benefit plan.

Deciphering Military Pay

Service members can receive compensation in a number of different categories. First, every service member will receive basic pay. This is their compensation for being enlisted as a service member. Certain service members will receive allowances in addition to their basic pay. BAH is the allowance for housing. This figure varies depending on the geographic area where the service member is due to differences in cost of living throughout the country. BAH should be added to the basic pay when determining income available for support. If a member is not receiving a housing allowance this may because they reside on base for free. In that scenario, the value of the benefit they are receiving in living for free should be imputed to them and tacked onto their income available for support.

Child Support for Military Families

There are several options in providing for child support of minor children when one of the parents is in the military. One option is the traditional method of pursuing court-ordered support through the state court with jurisdiction. Please note that the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which mandates a stay on civil matters while a servicemember is on active duty, may interfere with the ability to quickly pursue a court order through a local court. A servicemember can elect to waive the protection provided by the SCRA and proceed with any civil matter, including family law issues, at their discretion. Any such waiver should be writing. 

Holiday Schedules

As the holiday season approaches it is a good time to figure out where children will spend the holidays if you are separated or divorced. A good custody order will include a holiday schedule. Frequently seen provisions include alternating holidays so that one parent has a holiday in even years while the other parent has it in odd years. Another option is splitting the holidays so that each party has a certain time allotted on the holiday itself. This works best if the parties are in close proximity to each other to minimize travel time on the holiday. There could be a holiday schedule which provides for the parties to always have the same holidays every year. In some instances, a custody order may simply state that holidays will be shared as mutually agreed upon by the parties without specifics. This is only recommended if you have a good relationship with the other parent to avoid arguments or stressful last-minute negotiations.

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