Pennsylvania law does allow for workers’ compensation awards to be distributed as marital property. The key factor is if the right to receive the award accrued during the marriage. Pennsylvania generally defers to the timing of the receipt of assets as opposed to the method in which it was obtained for classifying what will be presumed marital property. In that regard, the purpose of the award is not relevant in determining the marital status. However, the court still has the discretion to consider the purpose of the award and other equitable considerations when determining what percentage should go to each spouse in distributing the marital estate.

Drake v. Drake, 725 A.2d 717 (1999) is one of the cases that explains Pennsylvania’s stance on workers’ compensation awards. In the opinion, the court rejects the analytic approach which only allows an award to be marital if it’s intended to replace lost wages during the marriage. The award would be separate property if it is intended to replace future lost earnings extending beyond the end of the marriage. In Drake, Husband had sustained an injury in 1985. By 1989 he had entered an agreement with his employer to receive a lump sum commutation award. The parties did not separate until 1993. The court held that surely the right to receive the award had accrued during the marriage and was accordingly, marital property subject to equitable distribution. Focht v. Focht, 990 A.2d 59 (Pa. Super. 2009) confirmed the decision in Drake and also held the same rule applies as far as date of accrual for personal injury awards and lottery settlements.

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It is a good idea to record your interest in any real property with the Recorder of Deeds as soon as possible. In a divorce matter, if one party is keeping the home, a new deed may need to be drawn up to indicate the sole ownership of the property. Transfers of real property incident to a divorce are exempt from the standard realty transfer taxes. On the other hand, you may need to put a lien on real property to protect your interest in the home’s value or as leverage for other sums due to you. In Philadelphia, an Affidavit of Interest in Real Property should be completed and submitted to the Recorder of Deeds. A copy of the current deed for the home is necessary to refer to the legal description of the property.

In Bucks County, parties can file a lis pendens. A lis pendens serves the same purpose in that it will pop up if a party tries to dispose of the property. A lien might also be put against a home for other unsecured debts. Often, at the time of settlement on a home, many of the debts would need to be paid off first. These unsecured debts are in addition to debts secured by the property such as mortgages or equity lines of credit. Failure to document your interest in real property could result in the home being transferred or sold without notice to you potentially eliminating your ability to recoup your share.

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Chapter 1900 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure discusses the appropriate method in pursuing a Protection from Abuse (PFA) matter. The first issue addressed is venue and outlines where a PFA action can be initiated. Under Pa. R.C.P. 1901.1, a PFA may be filed in the county where the Plaintiff resides, where the Defendant resides or may be served, where the abuse occurred, or if exclusion from a residence is desired, in the county where the residence is located. The complaint should be filed at the Prothonotary’s Office of the local courthouse during business hours or at the local district court if after-hours or on weekends. There is no filing fee payable by the Plaintiff.

Once the complaint is filed, any temporary order and notice of the final hearing should be served on the Defendant. The Sheriff is able to effectuate the service. The Rules provide that the final hearing should occur within ten (10) days of the petition being filed. The Plaintiff must prove abuse beyond a preponderance of the evidence. Abuse is defined as attempting to cause bodily injury, placing another in fear of imminent bodily harm, false imprisonment, child abuse, or a course of conduct placing one in fear of harm (e.g. stalking or harassment).

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The general rule on hearsay is that any out of court statement being offered for the truth of the matter cannot be admitted unless it meets one of the exceptions for hearsay. An additional loophole separate from the hearsay exceptions addresses minor children. The policy of the Commonwealth is to promote procedures to protect children witnesses. These procedures are outlined in 42 Pa C.S.A. 5981 – 5988. For the purposes of the provisions in these sections, child is defined as an individual under sixteen (16) years of age. Per Section 5984.1, the court may direct that a child’s testimony be recorded for subsequent presentation in court so long as the method accurately captures all information presented during such testimony.

Similar to the allowance for recorded testimony, Section 5985 allows for the child to testify in a room other than the courtroom with the testimony being transmitted by contemporaneous alternative method. The court should first determine if the child would be subject to serious emotional distress if they had to testify in an open forum and/or before the defendant. Section 5985.1 allows statements that would otherwise be considered hearsay to be permitted if the child is under twelve (12) years of age and the testimony relates to certain offenses.

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