An annulment proceeds similar to a fault-ground divorce in terms of procedure. First, it must be established that an annulment is appropriate. Pennsylvania acknowledges annulment for void and voidable marriages. Under 23 Pa C.S. 3304, void marriages include those where (1) one of the spouses is still in a former marriage, (2) the parties are too closely related, (3) either of the parties was incapable of consenting to the marriage, usually due to mental disorder, or (4) either of the parties was under 18 if claiming a common law marriage. A void marriage is one that is invalid because it violates some public policy. In contrast, a voidable marriage is presumptively valid unless a party challenges it.

23 Pa C.S. 3305 lays out the grounds for annulment of a voidable marriage. Grounds for voidable marriage include: (1) where either party is under 16 without court approval, (2) where either party is 16 or 17 without court approval or parental consent, (3) where either party was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the ceremony impacting their ability to consent, (4) either of the parties is incurably impotent, or (5) there was fraud, duress, coercion or force to secure the marriage. There is a sixty day time limit to pursue an annulment from the ceremony date for several of the voidable grounds. Additionally, regarding void and voidable marriages, the right to annulment is lost if there is subsequent confirmation of the marriage after becoming aware of the potential grounds for annulment. Where an annulment is to be granted, equitable distribution and potential support claims may proceed just as in a divorce action.

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Pennsylvania has a mixed approach to divorce in that it still allows fault grounds in addition to no-fault grounds. 23 Pa CS 3301(a) lists the fault grounds for divorce as follows: (1) willful and malicious desertion, without reasonable cause, for the period of one or more years; (2) adultery; (3) cruel and barbarous treatment; (4) bigamy; (5) imprisonment following conviction 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.”

Procedurally, when a fault ground is alleged the first step is to establish the fault has occurred. A motion for appointment of a master would need to be filed to enable a master to hear testimony on the claims. There are defenses or bars to fault grounds which could be raised. Recrimination is a defense on the basis that there is no innocent spouse and both spouses are guilty of faulty behavior. Provocation occurs where the “innocent” spouse provoked the other spouse into the faulty conduct. Comparable to provocation, connivance is a defense where it is alleged the “innocent” spouse helped to manufacture the fault grounds which are being sought. For example, on a claim of adultery, the innocent spouse hired a prostitute for their spouse. Finally, condonation is a claim that the fault ground has already been forgiven by the innocent spouse and the marital relationship resumed after the offense. After the fault grounds are established, the divorce matter can proceed on other ancillary claims such as equitable distribution.

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International parental kidnapping occurs when a child is removed from the United States with the purpose of interfering with the other parent’s custodial rights. The federal law governing this issue, 18 U.S.C. §1204, defines child as a minor less than sixteen (16) years old and specifies that parental rights includes any custody rights (sole, joint, visitation) whether existing by court order, prior agreement or operation of law. There are affirmative defenses under the law which would consider if removal is pursuant to a court order, for the purpose of escaping domestic violence, or of a temporary emergency nature. Sanctions for parents found to be guilty of international kidnapping include imprisonment for up to three years.

Return of the child may be arranged through the Hague Convention of the foreign country is a signatory to the convention. Otherwise, the U.S. Department of State will try negotiation with the foreign country in an attempt to secure return of the child. With regards to U.S. custody orders, it’s good practice to provide that international travel may only be by written consent of both parties or court order. Parties should pay attention to which country the other parent intends to travel to and whether that country belongs to the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and would recognize a U.S. custody order if necessary. Additional information on international child abduction is available through the U.S. Department of State website below.

U.S. Department of State: International Child Abduction

Questions regarding insurance policies often come up in the context of a divorce. Married couples may have commingled auto insurance policies, health insurance plans, and/or life insurance policies with their spouse as beneficiary. Technically, there are no rules on maintaining certain policies that existed at the commencement of the divorce in the sense that there is no automatic punishment or sanction for dropping these policies at separation. On the other hand, the courts have the power to order certain policies be maintained through their general equity powers in the period between separation and divorce. Perhaps, the most prudent action is to maintain all policies until finalization of the divorce or other mutual agreement or seek the advice of an attorney first to avoid the potential of additional fees that may be incurred if you are ordered to reinstate any policy and/or be responsible for any liability incurred while the other party was uninsured. Additionally, as it relates to health insurance specifically, it is routinely ordered as part of a support action and unreimbursed medical expenses, which can be substantial if there is a lapse insurance coverage, will also be shared.

Section 3502(d) of the Divorce Code provides that the court can order the continued maintenance and beneficiary designations of certain policies or even the purchase of new policies as part of equitable distribution. For example, life insurance policies may often be utilized as part of an equitable distribution award to ensure the receipt of ongoing support obligations such as alimony. If there is no agreement or Order on life insurance policies post-divorce, the insured should update their policies immediately to reflect their desired beneficiary. Pennsylvania estate law does provide that post-divorce the ex-spouse is no longer entitled to receive payment on the policy even if the beneficiary designation on the policy was never updated. However, this will only be the end result for a private policy. Policies sponsored by an employer are governed by federal law and under ERISA, the proceeds must be paid per the plan documents regardless of the termination of the marriage.

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Discovery is the process of obtaining information from the opposing party in the course of a lawsuit. Discovery is governed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure (Pa. R.C.P.). Rule 1930.5 states that there shall be no discovery in a simple support, custody or Protection from Abuse proceeding unless authorized by court. In order for you to be allowed to send discovery in a support matter, you must get your case deemed complex by the court. An example of a potentially complex support case requiring discovery would be one where one, or both, of the parties are self-employed. Procedure in Bucks County calls for a hearing date on the issue of whether or not discovery should be permitted. If so, the substantive portion of the hearing will be postponed pending completion of discovery as granted.

Formal discovery methods must adhere to the Rules of Civil Procedure and the acceptable methods include interrogatories, depositions, production requests, subpoenas to produce things and/or documents, and/or requests for admission. Interrogatories and production request are the most frequent methods of discovery in family law cases. Interrogatories are a written set of questions for the other party to answer. A production request lists all the documents a party is seeking. Subpoenas are a good tool when it is necessary to get information directly from the source in the instance a party does not have it, will not cooperate in turning it over, or you suspect they may tamper with the documentation. Examples of relevant documentation to seek in a support may include personal and business tax returns, W-2s, 1099 Forms, pay stubs, income projections, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, business ledgers, summaries or appraisals of all assets/property/equipment owned by the business, and statements for all personal and business bank accounts and/or credit cards.

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