A Partition Action is the type of legal proceeding needed to divide property amongst unmarried individuals that cannot agree what to do with the property. There are two options in a partition action. One option involves physically splitting the property, if possible. The alternative option, and more likely occurrence, involves the home being sold with the proceeds divided. As far as procedure, a complaint for partition should be brought in the county where the property is located and must include all co-tenants as parties. The complaint must also include a description of the property along with each co-tenant’s interest in the property.

Following the filing of the complaint and a court order on the partition, a court officer called a “master” is usually appointed to oversee the action. This usually includes an appraisal of the property to obtain an accurate value and setting up the sale of the property, be it private or public. The parties to the partition action are responsible for splitting all fees incurred during the partition proceeding as well as compensating the master. The parties can resolve at any time to settle the matter amicably amongst themselves.

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Last month the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional as it violates the Fifth amendment in failing to provide due process for all. DOMA was initially enacted in 1996 and provided that the federal government could refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under state laws. This resulted in same-sex couples being denied federal marriage benefits available to heterosexual couples including, but not limited to, insurance benefits for government employees, social security survivors’ benefits, evaluating financial aid eligibility and filing joint tax returns.

While the federal government will no longer discriminate against same-sex couples who have been married in a state recognizing same-sex marriage, there may still be unique issues as it relates to divorce. For one, only states granting same-sex marriages will be able to do the divorces. With divorce there is often a residency requirement of six months or more meaning one of the parties may need to relocate and establish residency in a state that can preside over the divorce action before it can proceed. Further, if same-sex couples have children and subsequently separate, there are issues they can run into as far as custody. For example, PA custody laws state exactly which persons are eligible to even apply for custody rights and limit that group to the parents, grandparents, or third persons standing in loco parentis. Accordingly, if the non-biological parent hasn’t already adopted any children thereby making them a parent, they could run into issues establishing standing for custody. To date, PA does not recognize same-sex marriages. The ACLU did file a lawsuit to allow same-sex marriage in PA following the decision on DOMA.

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Many clients going through family law matters will have questions regarding how they can/should file their taxes as well as what tax consequences may arise in their situation and the answers vary depending on if it’s a divorce, custody, or support matter. To start with divorce, while married parties can choose between married filing jointly and married filing separately. Generally speaking, it is more beneficial to file jointly. If the divorce finalizes by December 31st, parties can then opt to file single or head of household for that year. The head of household status may also be available while still considered married if you’ve been separated for at least six months, have paid at least half the cost of maintaining your own residence, and can rightfully claim any dependent children. In dividing property as part of a divorce, it is possible to rollover some assets (namely retirement accounts) to avoid immediate tax penalty. Also, certain transfers in the context of a divorce matter are exempt from being taxed such as transfer of real property.

Speaking of claiming dependent children, this leads right into considerations in custody. The primary custodial parent has the right to claim minor children on their tax return. To be the primary custodial parent you must have a greater number of overnights. It is however possible for the non-custodial parent to be able to claim the exemption if the custodial parent completes IRS form 8332 waiving their right to the exemption. The number of deductions claimed or filing status can impact a support award as it can alter the net monthly income of the parties which is used to calculate support awards. Alimony is deductible from the party paying alimony and taxed as income to the party receiving it. It is always a good idea to confer with a tax expert for the most sound advice on addressing your individual tax matters.

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Finally receiving the divorce decree is an accomplishment for divorcing parties, however, it does not always mean the end of the matter. If custody and support were issues were raised as part of the divorce, even though an initial resolution may have been met, both are issues which can be revisited based on change of circumstances. Additionally, in either a court order on equitable distribution or a settlement agreement reached between the parties, there may be provisions which carry additional obligations to be fulfilled even after the divorce has concluded. Support and custody issues always carry a continuing obligation to either pay a certain amount per month or follow a certain custody schedule. There are also several scenarios when dealing with marital property that can create a continuing obligation.

For example, when a marital residence is being kept by one party, there will likely be a provision granting the party a certain number of days to refinance the property and buy the other party out for their share of the equity. If the refinance does occur, a deed will probably be needed to place the title into only one party’s name if not already done. If the refinance does not occur in that time frame, the alternative is usually to put the house up for sale and split the proceeds. If the parties cannot agree about selling the house, selecting a realtor, setting a price, etc., either party may seek assistance from the court. This would involve a Petition for Contempt and Enforcement of the court order or agreement. Most well-drafted agreements will include a provision that the party defaulting on their obligations will be the party responsible for any additional legal costs incurred to enforce the agreement.

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