When requesting a name change of a minor, in addition to the publication requirements for all name change petitions, you must also prove service on the non-petitioning parent. If the other parent does not agree with the name change, the court must decide after hearing from the parties. There is no standard in the name change statute as far as what the court should be considering. Instead, a standard has been established through case law on prior name change matters. Similar to custody matters, a name change of a minor should only be granted if it is in the child’s best interests. The party requesting the name change has the burden of proof and must convince the court how the requested change would serve the child’s best interests.

The best interests of a child refer to the physical, intellectual, moral, social and spiritual needs of the child. General considerations in a best interests analysis, specifically in the context of a name change, include the natural bond between parent and child, the social stigma or respect afforded a particular name within the community, and if the child is old enough, whether the child understands the significance of the name change. There should not be a presumption afforded to either parent. The history of patrilineal naming (giving the child the father’s last name) cannot be the sole basis for granting a petition for name change. The court must review each case independently and make a determination in light of the totality of the circumstances.

Click here to read more about name change.

APL is short for alimony pendente lite which translates to alimony while the divorce is pending. Spousal support can be sought when the parties are separated and potentially before a divorce matter is pending. Often, these two terms for support between spouses are used interchangeably. This is due in large part to the fact that they are calculated the same way. Both forms of support are based on the difference in the spouses’ incomes. Pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-4, without children, spousal support or APL is 40% of the difference of the net incomes of the parties. If there is also a child support order, spousal support or APL will only be 30% of the difference of the net incomes. Additionally, both forms of support are generally retroactive to the date of filing. However, the underlying purpose of the support award and potential defenses available distinguish APL from spousal support.

The purpose of APL is to allow the income-dependent spouse to be able to defend themselves in the divorce action. In that regard, marital misconduct is not a factor in an APL award. This may even apply to situations where the party seeking APL is already cohabiting with someone else. In contrast, there are defenses to a spousal support award. Generally, any conduct that would constitute fault for a divorce matter can result in an inability to receive spousal support. It is up to the spouse who is objecting to a spousal support award to prove a fault ground for divorce by clear and convincing evidence. Conduct which takes place after separation is generally not relevant for establishing fault as a defense to a request for spousal support, however, such conduct may be introduced if it will go to show the conduct began before separation. Cohabitation is grounds for termination of a spousal support award.

Click here to read more about spousal support.

Earlier this year a bill was introduced to the Pennsylvania General Assembly which would affect the Divorce Code. House Bill 380 proposes amending Section 3301(d) of the Divorce Code to allow divorce on the basis of separation for a one year period as opposed to the current law which requires a two year separation period. Representative Tara Toohil proposed the bill and cites several reasons for the change. First, reducing the duration for divorce will reduce the turmoil for minor children. There is consensus in the psychological field that continued conflict of the parents is the primary influence on the well-being, or lack thereof, of the children. Second, longer divorces allow for additional litigation and prolonged emotional strain. The third reason offered in support of the bill is the lack of any economic benefit by continuing with a two year separation period. For example, any alimony award will generally be reduced by the period of support received while the divorce was pending such that there is no benefit to a longer separation period.

Finally, Representative Toohil points out that all surrounding jurisdictions already allow for divorce on a shorter time frame. Specifically, New York, Ohio, and Maryland require only one year of separation. New Jersey and Delaware only require six (6) months of separation. The Pennsylvania Bar Association recently submitted a brief to the House Judiciary Committee in support of the bill. The brief also discusses that there has actually been a decrease in divorce since many neighboring states have allowed divorce after only a minimum period of separation. The final assertion is that there is absolutely no benefit to requiring a longer separation period. Instead, a shorter separation period will allow the parties to move on with their lives quicker with less emotional and financial strain as well as promote the best interests of minor children in decreasing the period of uncertainty.

Click here to read the stance of the PA Bar Association.

Parental rights can generally only be dissolved in conjunction with an adoption matter. A biological parent can consent to an adoption, voluntarily relinquish their rights or be subject to involuntary termination. Pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511, there are nine (9) grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights:

(1) The parent by conduct continuing for a period of at least six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition either has evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to a child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties.

(2) The repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal of the parent as caused the child to be without essential parental care, control or subsistence necessary for his physical or mental well-being and the conditions and causes of the incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal cannot or will not be remedied by the parent.

(3) The parent is the presumptive but not the natural father of the child.

(4) The child is in the custody of an agency, having been found under such circumstances that the identity or whereabouts of the parent is unknown and cannot be ascertained by diligent search and the parent does not claim the child within three months after the child is found.

(5) The child has been removed from the care of the parent by the court or under a voluntary agreement with an agency for a period of at least six months, the conditions which led to the removal or placement of the child continue to exist, the parent cannot or will not remedy those conditions within a reasonable period of time, the services or assistance reasonably available to the parent are not likely to remedy the conditions which led to the removal or placement of the child within a reasonable period of time and termination of the parental rights would best serve the needs and welfare of the child.

(6) In the case of a newborn child, the parent knows or has reason to know of the child’s birth, does not reside with the child, has not married the child’s other parent, has failed for a period of four months immediately preceding the filing of the petition to make reasonable efforts to maintain substantial and continuing contact with the child and has failed during the same four-month period to provide substantial financial support for the child.

(7) The parent is the father of a child conceived as a result of a rape or incest.

(8) The child has been removed from the care of the parent by the court or under a voluntary agreement with an agency, 12 months or more have elapsed from the date of removal or placement, the conditions which led to the removal or placement of the child continue to exist and termination of parental rights would best serve the needs and welfare of the child.

(9) The parent has been convicted of one of the following in which the victim was a child of the parent: criminal homicide, aggravated assault, a comparable crime in a different jurisdiction, or any attempt/conspiracy to commit the above.

Grounds for termination can be cited as part of an adoption petition if the adoption is kinship. In a non-kinship matter, the petitions for adoption and termination should be separate. The termination will be scheduled first. If successful, no notice must be given to the former biological parents as far as the subsequent adoption proceedings.

Click here to read more about adoption.