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family law Archives

Social Security Benefits

Social Security retirement benefits are payable based on an individual's prior earning's history. A party in divorce may be entitled to collect social security benefits based on the earnings history of their spouse instead of their own. For this to be an option, your spouse must already be at least 62 years old and receiving their social security benefits. Additionally, you must have been married to your spouse for at least ten years and be at least 62 years old. There is an exception to the age requirement if your spouse is deceased in which case you can start collecting at 60 years old or 50 years old if you are disabled. You cannot be remarried at the time you are electing to receive a spouse or ex-spouse's benefits however, remarriage is permissible if it occurs after age 60 or age 50 if disabled.

Birth Certificates

Additional copies of a birth certificate may be ordered from the Department of Vital Records. An application is required along with a fee. Fees may be waived for members of the armed forces Parties that may request a birth certificate include attorney or legal representative (documentation may be required), spouse, parent or step-parent (must submit marriage record supporting the relationship), grandparent or great-grandparent (specify maternal or paternal), and power of attorney for person named on birth certificate or immediate family member listed above. The following individuals may also submit an application if over age 18: person named on the birth certificate, siblings (including half siblings), children or step-children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction grants a court the authority to make legal decisions and judgments. Jurisdiction is most frequently obtained by residency. Residency is required to file a divorce in Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania law, specifically 23 Pa. C.S. 3104(b), one of the parties to the divorce action must have been a bona fide resident of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to the commencement of the divorce. Bona fide residence is defined as actual residence with domiciliary intent. Domicile denotes the place where a person has his or her true, fixed, permanent home with the intention of returning after any absence. In other words, where an individual sleeps, takes their meals, receives mail, and stores personal possession. Members of the military are considered to be residents of their home state even if they are stationed elsewhere at the time a divorce is commenced. The home state would be the state where they intend to return to and reside in following any term of active duty.

Mortgage Payments

A jointly owned property is frequently addressed in family law actions. It may be defined as a marital asset hence subjecting it to equitable distribution. Financial responsibility for the property may also be a factor in the context of a support action. If only one party is making payments on a marital residence while a divorce is pending, they may be able to seek a credit for payments made. This may be the case if both parties are residing in the home or if the party not contributing to the mortgage is residing in the home. Mortgage payments may also be considered in the course of establishing a support award. Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-6 covers adjustment to basic support awards and allocation of additional expenses. Under sub-section (e) mortgage payments, real estate taxes, and homeowners' insurance may need to be considered. Second mortgages, home equity loans and other obligations secured by the marital residence may be considered but are within the discretion of the court and addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Treatment of Veterans' Benefits

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. Additionally, the veteran gets to decide how to use educational benefits and who to designate as beneficiary for their life insurance.

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 basic and straight-forward pre-nuptial agreement could provide that each party retains anything they came into the marriage with as well as anything they acquire in their own name and that anything acquired jointly during the marriage will be divided equally or pursuant to their jurisdiction's divorce laws. A pre-nuptial agreement can also be much more specific and detailed in how it addresses pre-marital and marital property, regardless of how it's titled. An agreement may also address support for a spouse in addition to division of assets. For example, an agreement could provide for an increasing amount of support to a spouse based on the number of years married or number of children produced. It could also act as a waiver to any future support such that neither party could subsequently request any form of spousal support.

Business Perks

It is not uncommon for self-employed parties or parties with ownership interests in a business to have some expenses paid for by the business. Examples may include paying their cell phone bill, car payments or repairs, travel expenses, entertainment costs, membership dues, etc. Many of these expenses can subsequently be deducted as legitimate business expenses in terms of preparing a business tax return however, they are treated differently in the context of family law. The issue of how personal perks are being paid often arises when trying to identify income available for child or spousal support. The value of some of these "business expenses" can be added back to a party's income for purposes of a support calculation.

Guardianship

Guardianship is an option for any individual who has trouble or is incapable of making their own decisions. A court may appoint a guardian and grant the guardian authority to make decisions on behalf of the individual who has been deemed incapacitated by the court. The standard for incapacity involves an analysis of whether the individual can manage their financial resources and/or meet essential requirements for their own health and safety. A petition should be filed with the court to initiate a guardianship proceeding. Shortly after filing a petition you will be assigned a hearing date. The petitioning party has the burden of proof to demonstrate guardianship is absolutely necessary. This generally involves securing expert testimony from a treating physician regarding the extent of the incapacity and necessity for a guardian.

How to Approach the Subject of a Prenup

As a wedding day approaches, most couples are consumed with thoughts of dresses, flowers, music, food, fun, and love. The last thing anyone wants to think about, much less talk about, is how assets will be divided in the event of divorce! However, this is a conversation that many couples need to have. Marriage is full of tricky discussions - it's ok to start practicing that skill now.

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).

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