If there is a question as to the validity of a marriage, Section 3306 of the Divorce Code discusses how either party may file for declaratory judgment with the court at any time. The court will declare the marriage valid or invalid based on the proof presented. 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.

Under 23 Pa C.S. 3305 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. A voidable marriage is presumptively valid unless a party challenges it. 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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Montgomery County has a different procedure regarding grounds for divorce and equitable distribution matters. Once grounds are established and discovery is complete, the moving party should file a Motion for Entry of Grounds and Appointment of an Equitable Distribution Master. The moving party will now have to pay a $400 fee at the time the Motion is filed. The Motion must certify that all discovery is complete. A list of all the assets and debts at issue along with their corresponding values must also be included. Finally, the initial pre-hearing statement should be attached including a completed Inventory and Appraisement. Once the Motion and all its required accompaniments are filed, a copy of the same should be served on the other party. A Certificate of Service should then be completed and filed with the court.

The non-moving party has forty-five (45) days from the date of service to file their own pre-hearing statement and Inventory and Appraisement. Similarly, a copy should be served on the moving party and a Certificate of Service should be filed with the court. The non-moving party must also certify that all discovery is complete and include a list of all assets and debts with values as of the date of filing the certification. The failure of either party to comply the Rule may result in sanctions such as barring testimony or prohibiting introduction of certain evidence at the equitable distribution proceedings from the party that failed to comply. Where equitable distribution, alimony or counsel fees is not at issue or has settled by agreement and grounds have been established, the moving party can file a standard praecipe to transmit the record for divorce decree.

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Mortgage payments may be considered in the course of establishing a support award. Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-6 covers adjustment to basic support awards and allocation of additional expenses. Under sub-section (e) mortgage payments, real estate taxes, and homeowners’ insurance may need to be considered. Second mortgages, home equity loans and other obligations secured by the marital residence may be considered but are within the discretion of the court and addressed on a case-by-case basis. The expenses to maintain the marital residence can be considered if the total expense exceeds 25% of the obligee’s (party receiving support ) or obligor’s (party paying support) income. If the obligee is in the marital residence and paying the mortgage, the court would look to see if the mortgage payment exceeds 25% of the obligee’s income after considering the basic support award. If the mortgage is still more than 25% the court can direct the obligor to assume up to 50% of the excess resulting in an increased support award.

Obligors can also receive assistance with the mortgage if they are the party in the marital residence and are responsible for the payments. The basic support award is subtracted from the obligor’s net income first. If the mortgage payment is more than 25% of the remaining net income available to the obligor, the court may make a downward deviation in the basic support award. The mortgage deviation is only applicable prior to final equitable distribution in the divorce matter. Additionally, the courts are more likely to allow for a mortgage deviation in cases where the home is ultimately going to be sold as opposed to a case where one party intends to keep the residence post-divorce.

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Pensions already in pay status at the time of separation require additional considerations in a divorce matter. The pensions can still be divided as a marital asset however the method of valuing the total value of the pension for distribution is altered. This is because often elections for survivor benefits are made at the time the benefits commence and are usually irrevocable. Accordingly, any survivor benefit should be valued separately and set against the value of the pension itself. Pensions in pay status also present a unique issue when it comes to support.

Based on the case law established in Pennsylvania it is impermissible to use a monthly pension benefit as income available for support and also divide the pension itself as an asset in equitable distribution. This was made clear in Cerny v. Cerny, 440 Pa. Super. 550 (1995) and reiterated in Rohrer v. Rohrer ,715 A.2d 463 (1998). This same rule extends beyond just monthly pension benefits as evidenced by the fact pattern in Cerny. There, Husband had received a lump sum payment from his employer following termination. The lump sum was split as an asset and the figure received was also the basis for income available with respect to the support award. Husband was successful in appealing the decision such that the payment was only considered for support purposes and deemed a separate asset for equitable distribution purposes.

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