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February 2018 Archives

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

Physician Verification Form

Each party's income is relevant in the context of a support action. Pennsylvania can assign an earning capacity for parties who are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. There are recognized exceptions to avoid having income imputed if you do not work. One of those exceptions is if you are physically incapable of working. In the event that a party in a support matter asserts an inability to work due to medical issues, the support rules require that a physician verification form be completed. Pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure (Pa. R.C.P.) 1910.29 (b), the physician verification form should be completed by the party's physician and submitted at the time of the support conference. A sample of the actual form to be used is contained in Pa.R.C.P. 1910.29(b)(3).

Criminal Background

Certain criminal charges are relevant in family law cases. Pennsylvania law requires parties to submit a criminal history verification in every custody proceedings. Under 23 Pa CS 5329, the court is to consider criminal convictions, not just official charges, when making a custody decision. Charges for the following crimes must be disclosed: homicide, aggravated assault, terroristic threats, stalking, kidnapping, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, luring a child into a vehicle or structure, rape, sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, indecent exposure, sexual intercourse with animal, sex offenders, arson, incest, concealing the death of a child, endangering welfare of children, dealing in infant children, prostitution, obscene sexual material or performances, unlawful contact with minor, sexual exploitation of children, driving under the influence, and manufacture/sale/delivery of controlled substances.

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