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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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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