Our area is still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The storm's strong winds and rain caused widespread damage over a large area of the nation. Specifically, southeastern Pennsylvania is still dealing with power outages due to downed trees and wires. Many government offices, schools and local courts were forced to close Monday and Tuesday of this week. At this point, all local courts in southeastern PA are open and may be contacted as far as any matters that need to be rescheduled. Our office hopes everyone has remained safe during the storm. We will continue to work hard to assist you in all your family law needs as our communities continue to recover from the aftermath.
Emancipation terminates a parent's obligation to support their child. Emancipation generally occurs when a minor reaches the age of 18 and has graduated high school. Whether a minor can be emancipated even before that time is a fact-intensive analysis. An emancipated minor must demonstrate they are able to assume all legal responsibility for themselves. Factors that are often considered include the child's age, marital status, ability to support themself, and the desire to live independently of their parents. A decision on emancipation would be made based on the totality of the circumstances after examining all the facts in any given case.
Under Pennsylvania law, 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 her meals, receives mail, and stores personal possession.
When an unmarried woman has a child, paternity will need to be established before a father can be listed on the birth certificate, before the mother can seek support from the father and/or before standing for custody can be established. Establishing paternity can be as simple as the father executing an acknowledgment of paternity. The acknowledgment indicates the father is waiving his rights to any genetic testing or trial on the issue of paternity. If a father is unwilling to execute an acknowledgment or is simply unsure of the paternity of the child, genetic testing can be conducted so that the DNA results can be examined. Both parents will be ordered to participate in genetic testing. Failure to appear by the father can result in a court order declaring him as the father by default. Failure to appear by the mother can result in the court dismissing an action for support. Tests results alone are not sufficient to establish paternity. Instead, the parties must stipulate in writing that the test results prove paternity or the court must make an order on paternity after reviewing the test results.
Be it divorce, custody or support, once a court order is put in place, any violation of that court order can be considered contempt. For example, if a custody order provides that the parents are to exchange custody every Wednesday and the exchange never occurs to the fault of one party, the faulting party is in contempt. The consequences of being held in contempt can vary. 23 Pa. C.S. 5323 (g) regarding contempt of custody provides for any one of the following as punishment: imprisonment for a period not to exceed six months, a fine not to exceed $500, probation for a period not to exceed six months; and/or counsel fees and costs. In practice, based on the severity of the case, the Judge may just give a verbal warning or may suspend custody until the court order is complied with.
Many people consider their pets as members of the family and accordingly, when the family breaks up, custody of the pets can become an issue. The Today Show recently covered a story of a man who had already spent $60,000 in a custody battle over his dog previously shared with his ex-girlfriend. While pets may be considered members of the family from the perspective of the owners, the courts in Pennsylvania deal with pets the same way as they deal with other inanimate personal property in the event of a divorce.
Pennsylvania's custody relocation statute, 23 PA C.S. 5337, requires the party seeking relocation to get court approval or the other parent's permission prior to relocation. A relocation is defined as any move that would "significantly impair the ability of the nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights." 23 Pa C.S. 5322. 25 percent of the 35 million children with separated, divorced or single parents have a parent that lives a significant distance from the other parent, limiting the amount of traditional custody time with the non-custodial parent. In addition to giving notice of the proposed relocation and petitioning the court if the other party won't consent, the party seeking relocation is to submit a proposed order outlining the custody schedule in the event of a relocation. As with any custody decision, the party seeking relocation must show how the relocation is in the child's best interests. A party seeking relocation should use the proposed order to demonstrate their genuine intent to ensure the nonrelocating party will still have a strong relationship with the child(ren) as a Judge will usually believe maintaining a strong parent-child relationship is in the child's best interests. This responsibility to prove that a strong parent-child relationship will continue has become easier with the development of social media and video calling services. In fact, the term "virtual visitation" has been coined to describe the opportunities for parents and children to remain touch through the use of technology.
The issue of obesity among both children and adults is a regular topic in the news. It is also being addressed more and more often in the realm of family law. Parents in a custody dispute may allege the other parent is not a fit parent because of their own weight problems. The argument then follows that the parent will not be able to provide proper care for the child because he or she won't be able to keep up with the child. Alternatively, parents may hurl allegations at each other because of the child's weight problems. Here, arguments may be made that a parent is not looking out for the best interest of the child because he or she allows the child to eat predominantly unhealthy things or doesn't promote adequate exercise. This failure to ensure an appropriate diet and active lifestyle puts the child at risk for developing serious medical problems such as diabetes or heart disease. It may also subject the child to additional ridicule from their peers damaging their self-esteem and psychological well-being.
One frequent question in the context of divorce is what will happen to health insurance coverage in the context of a divorce. Generally, a spouse cannot drop the other spouse during the context of the divorce. Health insurance is often considered in the context of support and spouses are obligated to provide support for each other during the marriage. Once divorced, however, you cannot remain on your ex-spouse's health insurance plan. If you are unable to obtain alternate health insurance on your own right away you can look into COBRA coverage.
The US House of Representatives just passed a bill that would prohibit family courts from considering military deployment as a factor when awarding custody. The bill was introduced by Representative Michael Turner, R-Ohio, and will now be headed to the US Senate for a vote. The rationale behind the bill is that individuals who are ordered into deployment by one branch of government should not be punished in the form of adverse custody decisions by another branch of government. Presently, family court judges can cite deployment as a factor in determining a custody order. The bill would only prohibit deployment as a factor if the individual being deployed cannot bring family members with them on their assignment. Further, the assignment must be between 60 days and 18 months in length.