Most divorces proceed on the basis of no-fault or irretrievable breakdown of the marriage based on mutual consent after ninety days or two year separation, however, fault grounds for divorce can still be utilized. Under 23 Pa CS 3301(a), the fault grounds for divorce are listed and include(1) desertion for the period of one or more years; (2) adultery; (3) cruel and barbarous treatment; (4) bigamy; (5) imprisonment for a term of two or more years; and (6) indignities to the point of life being intolerable and burdensome. The party alleging fault must prove its existence and must also establish they are the “innocent and injured spouse.” 

23 Pa CS 3301(b) discussing another ground for divorce infrequently used: institutionalization. This provision allows a divorce on the ground that insanity or serious mental disorder has resulted in the other spouse’s confinement in a mental institution for at least 18 months without reasonable prospect the spouse will be discharged. “A presumption that no prospect of discharge exists shall be established by a certificate of the superintendent of the institution to that effect and which includes a supporting statement of a treating physician.” There is often no benefit to pursuing fault grounds for divorce over no-fault grounds as fault is not a factor to be considered in equitable distribution (division of property). However, the laws of support do address fault grounds in two instances: as a defense to paying spousal support and as a bar to receiving alimony.

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In a custody matter, court approval or permission of the parent is required prior to a relocation. A relocation would be any move that substantially interferes with the custodial rights of the other parent. 23 Pa CS 5337 lays out the specific procedures to be followed in the event of a proposed relocation. First, the party seeking relocation should give 60 days notice to the other parent by certified mail, return receipt requested. If not possible to give 60 days notice, notice should be given within 10 days of becoming aware of the relocation. The notice of relocation should include as much information as possible regarding the new address including names and ages of individuals who will be residing there, home telephone number, name of new school district and school, and date of proposed relocation. A counter-affidavit should also be supplied with the notice giving the other party the opportunity to object to the relocation.

If notice is properly given and no objection is received, it is presumed the other parent consents to the relocation. The party seeking relocation would simply need to file a petition for confirmation of relocation. If the other parent objects, a hearing would need to be held prior to the relocation. Section (h) goes into detail about the factors for the court to consider when making a custody determination pursuant to proposed relocation. The party proposing the relocation has the burden of establishing that the relocation will serve the best interest of the child(ren) under the factors listed. Both parties have the burden of establishing an appropriate motive in seeking to relocate or opposing the relocation.

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One of the consequences of failing to pay child support is a suspension of your driver’s license. This can happen if support is overdue by three months or more. Advance notice must be given prior to the suspension. The notice specifies the past due amount, how, when and where it can be contested. Grounds for contesting notice of suspension are limited to mistake in the amount of past due support actually owed or mistaken identity. The suspension will occur after thirty days if there is no response, the past due amount is not paid or excused, or there is not a court-approved payment plan in place.

The available methods to have a driver’s license reinstated mirror those that could prevent a suspension in the first place. They include paying the past due amount, entering into a court-approved payment plan or being excused from the obligation. A driver’s license is not the only license subject to suspension. The court also has the authority to suspend recreational licenses issued by the Pennsylvania Game Commission as well as licenses issued by the Fish and Boat Commission. There is no right to appeal an order suspending a license. The only option is to petition the court that ordered the suspension for relief. Additionally, car insurers are prohibited from taking adverse actions, such as increased premiums or rate penalties, if a suspension occurs under 23 Pa C.S. 4355.

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The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently made a decision that will change how Protection from Abuse (PFA) cases will proceed. Previously, as a matter of practice, a PFA petition once filed would be reviewed by the Judge and then a decision could be made as to whether a temporary PFA order was warranted pending a final hearing just based on review of the petition. In Ferko-Fox v. Fox, 2013 PA Super 88 (2013), the Superior Court ruled that the practice of granting temporary orders in this fashion does not meet the requirements of due process as required by the PFA statute. Specifically, 23 Pa. C.S. 6107 (b) requires the court to conduct an ex parte hearing prior to determining if a temporary order is warranted.

Based on the Fox decision which demands strict compliance with the PFA statute, a person seeking a PFA will be required to go before a Judge after filing the petition in order for a brief hearing to be held. This is required in order to safeguard the defendant’s due process rights. According to the Superior Court, those due process rights are not met unless the court takes the time to question the moving party as to the truth of their petition. Arguably, having the moving party appear before a Judge and be sworn in reduces the likelihood that they will make exaggerated or false allegations of abuse. Additionally, the hearing gives the Judge the opportunity to view the demeanor of the moving party and determine his or her credibility as well as see first-hand any physical evidence of abuse. The only exception the court will recognize to this requirement of an ex parte hearing is if there are exigent circumstances and the moving party is unable to appear.

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A spouse is entitled to their share of the military pension no matter how insignificant. Under the 10 year rule, where the parties have been married for 10 years and the servicemember has accumulated 10 years of service, DFAS (Defense Finance and Accounting Services) can pay the spouse directly. When the 10 year rule has not been met the servicemember will be responsible to pay the spouse themselves. This, of course, makes it harder to enforce the distribution of the pension. A court can only award a division of a military pension if it has jurisdiction over the servicemember via residence, domicile or consent. Only disposable retired pay can be divided. This is the total monthly pay less certain deductions. The highest percentage a spouse can receive of the military retired pay is 50%. The spouse will stop receiving military pay when the service-member dies.

In order to continue to receive benefits after the death of the servicemember, a Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) must be in place. The plan is available if both parties elect it and pay the required premium. It will allow the spouse to continue to receive retired pay post-death of the servicemember. The surviving spouse is entitled to 55% of the retired pay received by the retiree. To ensure the spouse receives the SBP as a former spouse, you must complete a deemed election specifying that the spouse will be named as a former spouse under the SBP within one year of the dissolution of the marriage.

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