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March 2018 Archives

How to Divide Your Retirement Plan

Retirement plans are often one of the significant assets up for distribution in the course of a divorce. Careful attention should be given to the type of retirement plan at issue to avoid tax penalties and/or early withdrawal penalties to the extent possible. Additionally, the type of retirement plan will dictate what will be necessary in terms of documentation or court orders to effectuate the rollover. Non-qualified plans include individual retirement accounts or IRAs. These can usually be rolled over by completion of a form with the applicable institution. You should still do a direct rollover to a similar account to avoid taxes and/or withdrawal fees.

Non-Marital Property

Section 3501 of the Divorce Code sets out what property will be considered non-marital property and therefore not subject to equitable distribution in a divorce case. Any property acquired prior to the marriage that has not increased in value during the marriage is non-marital as well as any property acquired after final separation but potentially prior to the entry of a divorce decree as long as marital property was not used in its acquisition. Any inheritance received is treated as a gift and will also be deemed non-marital so long as it is not subsequently commingled with marital funds. The court will also not look at property that was disposed of in good faith while the marriage was intact. An example would be property sold to a family member for its fair market value. Veterans' benefits cannot be attached, levied or seized except in the case where a portion of the veteran's retirement pay was waived in exchange for the benefits. Finally, any payment from a cause of action or lawsuit where the underlying claim occurred before the marriage or after separation. Property acquired prior to the marriage or in exchange for said property is not marital as well as property expressly excluded by valid written agreement of the parties at any time.

Passports for Children

Every person, regardless of age, must have a passport to travel out of the country. Initial passport applications for children under sixteen (16) years of age must be made in person. Both parents of the child should be present. If one of the parents cannot be physically present, they may complete a parental consent form instead. This form must be notarized and a copy of the parent's ID must accompany the form. There are exceptions to the requirement of the consent of both parents including court order or proof of sole custody. Additionally, there is an application to obtain passport without the other parent on the basis of exigent circumstances and the unavailability of the other parent. You can visit the U.S. Department of State website for additional details on the requirements to obtain a passport at travel.state.gov.

Filing for Support

23 Pa C.S. Section 4321 provides that married persons are liable for the support of their spouse according to their respective abilities to provide and parents are liable for the support of their unemancipated children under 18 years of age. Domestic Relations is the branch of the court that handles support applications. An application for support can be filed with their office in the county where you reside or where the payor resides. An application can also be initiated online through the support program website. Support between spouses is based on the difference in income. 40% of the difference in income can be awarded in a case where there are no children. 30% of the difference in income is appropriate where there is also a child support component. Child support in Pennsylvania is based on statewide guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The guidelines are based on an "Income Shares Model" such that the guideline amount is shared by the parties based on percentage of custody time as well as percentage of income.

Separation Defined

Most parties pursuing divorce will choose to proceed with no-fault grounds for divorce. A no-fault divorce simply means there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. There are two different ways to establish an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage under the Divorce Code. First, both parties may consent to the divorce after 90 days from when the complaint was filed and served. This is referred to as a 90-day mutual consent divorce. Alternatively, if one party won't consent, the other party can move forward after the parties have been "separated" for at least one year. This is referred to as a separation divorce. Separation, however, does not mean the parties have to physically live separately. Parties may elect to still reside in the same home but can be considered "separate" based on the definition provided by the Divorce Code. Section 3103 of the Divorce Code defines "Separate and apart" as follows: Cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not. In the event a complaint in divorce is filed and served, it shall be presumed that the parties commenced to live separate and apart not later than the date that the complaint was served." Accordingly, the date the divorce complaint is filed will generally be accepted as the date of separation regardless of whether the parties continue to live together or not.

Step-parent Adoption

It can be a simple process for a step-parent to adopt their step-child. Some of the statutory requirements for adoption are waived in the case of a family member adopting a child. Specifically, a home study, which is expensive and can take several months to complete, is not required. Instead, the step-parent need only complete the necessary background checks.

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