Pensions, as well as other retirement plans, are often one of the assets up for division in a divorce. The court will equitably divide the marital portion of a pension plan after considering all the relevant factors in equitable distribution. The marital portion of a plan would be the portion that accrued from the date of marriage through the date of separation. In some cases, the entire pension will be marital depending on the timing of the marriage alongside the start date of the pension plan. The marital portion will also include investment experience on the marital portion that accrues post-separation. It will not include contributions by the employee made post-separation.

A court order is necessary to effectuate a distribution of a pension, or other qualified plan, in a divorce matter. Often called a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO, the court order provides requisite information to the plan administrator regarding the split of the pension. Qualified plans are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the QDROs allow an exception to ERISA’s anti-alienation provisions. QDROs may also be utilized outside of pension plans to allow for a tax-free rollover of benefits. A popular example would be a 401k or other profit-sharing plan. It is important to check with the plan administrator to confirm if a special court order is necessary in the context of a non-qualified plan. In some instances, a property settlement agreement or transcript describing the transfer along with a divorce decree is enough.

Click here to read more about equitable distribution.

A spouse can elect to retake his or her maiden name through the course of a divorce action. In Pennsylvania, pursuant to 54 P.S. § 504, “any person who is divorced from the bonds of matrimony may resume any prior surname used by him or her by filing a written notice to such effect in the office of the clerk of the court in which the decree of divorce was entered, showing the caption and docket number of the proceeding in divorce.” It is also possible to request to retake your maiden name while the divorce is still pending in Bucks County. There is a $9 filing fee payable to the court for the certified copies of the name change decree.

For New Jersey, you may also elect to retake your maiden name in the context of your divorce. Good practice is to include the request to retake your maiden name in the initial complaint. You can amend the complaint subsequently or even request the relief orally at the time of your final divorce judgment. If you are looking to resume your maiden name after the divorce has been finalized, you must file a post-judgment motion with the court. There is a $50 filing fee. This process is still simpler than doing a civil name change. Once you have the certified order, you can proceed to Social Security, Department of Motor Vehicles, banks, etc. to have your name changed.

Click here to read more about name changes.

After your divorce you will have a new life to build. This may include finding a new place to live, transition your children to their new lives between homes, and becoming accustomed to your new home. While your emotions may be running high and you are excited about your future you need to be vigilant in establishing your own credit and gaining financial strength.

1) Know your credit score. Checking your credit score will give you a benchmark of your current financial state of affairs. Your numerical score will show you if you have work to do to increase your attractiveness to lenders. As you go out and apply for credit – a car loan, mortgage or even find an apartment to lease your credit score will be checked. Poor credit can significantly limit your ability to borrow money. In addition to knowing your credit score your credit report will also display accounts are open in your name as well as any derogatory information that might not belong to you so you can work on repairing it.

2) Close joint accounts.

You and your spouse probably had many joint accounts open such as checking and savings, investments and even debt (credit cards and lines of credit). Dividing these accounts will be handled during the divorce process but it is important to make sure that they are closed. If they are left open both parties have the ability to still use them and accrue debt in your name, which could be problematic for your credit.

3)  Open your own credit

You will need to establish your own credit as soon as possible. This can be as simple as low-limit credit card. Charge items and services to this account and make payments every single month. This should have a positive impact on your credit and demonstrate your ability to pay your bills.

4) Create a budget and stick to it

Living on one income can be difficult so it will be important to know how much you are spending. Establishing a budget will help you track your expenses and ensure you do not go over budget. Have a plan to pay down debt, put a bit of money into an emergency savings account and also some money for entertainment if you can afford it. Being responsible now will lead to great rewards for you in the future.

5) Pay down debt
While you may want to put money away into your savings account it is wise to pay down your debt as quickly as possible. There are many options to do this and you can find a plan that is right for you. Try to send in a little more than your monthly payments each month and also cover the cost of interest charges.

Stepping out on your own financially can be an overwhelming experience. We help you set-up your financial future and as you step into the preparation it is important to move wisely to protect yourself. Put professionals around you for guidance and always keep your eye on establishing security for yourself. Most importantly, make wise and prudent decisions to build yourself the security that you need.

23 Pa. C.S. 5322 defines all the different variations of custody. Physical custody is defined as “the actual physical possession and control of a child.” Physical custody can be supervised if warranted. Generally, the court is considering if the welfare and safety of the child necessitates supervision. If supervision is deemed to be necessary, you have to establish who would supervise the custody time be it an agency of the court, one of the parties involved, or a third party. If using a third party, that person should acquire an understanding of the responsibilities of serving as a supervisor and what types of behavior are not permitted.

Philadelphia County provides for court-sponsored supervision in the Family Court building located at 1501 Arch Street. Parties may utilize the program on Sundays. Parties must bring their court orders for each scheduled visitation. Bucks County has two independent programs that provide supervision for custody matters: Kids First and the Assurance Group. Both programs offer professional supervision for a fee. This would eliminate the need for parties to pick other family members or friends as supervisors when they potentially don’t want to be involved in the custody matter. The programs are also helpful in that reports are generated detailing what occurs at the visits which can be referred to in future custody proceedings.

Click here to read more on custody.

Last November the House voted for the passage of Bill 380 which 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. Presently House Bill 380 is in the Senate and still pending a decision as of May 2016. There are several reasons for reducing the waiting period for divorce according to supporters of the Bill. 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.

At this point, Pennsylvania has one of the longer waiting periods for divorce on the basis of separation. 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 (PBA) has played a major rule in pushing for the passage of the bill. According to the PBA, there has actually been a decrease in divorce since many neighboring states have allowed divorce after only a minimum period of separation. Additionally, 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 more about divorce.

When you are getting a divorce and own a home with your spouse, you have a few options. One of you may decide to keep the marital home or you can sell it and both move on purchasing or renting another residence. You may love your home, your neighborhood, and want to keep it to provide consistency for your children. Before making any final decisions or trying to negotiate to keep the home for yourself, think about this list of questions:

  1. Can you buy out your partner? As your divorce moves forward your house will be appraised, and the equity you have in the home is up for equitable distribution. If you would like to keep the home you will have to “buy out” your spouse giving them an amount of cash (or equivalent) or negotiate in a unique way.
  2. Refinance the mortgage – can you get a mortgage on your own. You will have to prove that you can so your ex will be removed.
  3. Can you afford the monthly bills? As you know, owning a home can be expensive and goes beyond the monthly mortgage payment. When you factor in taxes, homeowners insurance as well as association fees, cable and power you may be beyond your budget.
  4. Can you afford to maintain the home? When something in your home breaks, the roof starts leaking or a toilet overflows you may need to call in a professional to fix it. These can be costly. In addition to the major repairs all homes require minor repairs every now and again and you must have the funding. Not keeping up with repairs will cause your home to repreciate in value.
  5. Lastly, can you handle it? Maintaining a home with a partner is one thing, what about on your own? If you have significant financial resources you can certainly hire professionals to help you maintain it, but if you have to do it on your own do you have the time, know-how and ability?

Many times parents feel an emotional tie to keep the marital home for the stability of their children. They know their kids are going to go through a bit of an upheaval and feel guilty. In many ways keeping the marital home can cause significant problems if you are unable to financial or physically handle the required maintenance. While you may be emotionally tied to your home it is important to make this decision with an eye on finances as well.  And remember, having financial stability for yourself provides stability for your child.  

Now that warm weather is here and the school year is coming to a close, you may want to review your custody agreement to prepare for the summer months. Your standard schedule may change when the school year is over and you should make plans for that adjustment to go smoothly. If you have shared custody, you will need to consult with the other parent regarding what the children will do for the summer, for example, a certain camp or summer program. Additionally, summer is a popular season for vacations. Often, you must provide advance notice of any scheduled vacation to the other parent. Another scenario to consider is if one party likes to travel during the holiday season and therefore intends to schedule a vacation during that time. Holiday and vacation time will generally supercede the regular custody schedule, however, be sure any custody order makes clear whether the holiday schedule or vacation provision takes top priority.

You should refer to the specific provisions of your custody order as it relates to how many weeks of vacation each party is entitled to per year, how the weeks may be exercised, what type of notice should be given, and what additional information should be provided. Parents should also be careful with planning international travel. Often, express written permission of the other parent or court approval is necessary for travel outside of the country. Both parents would need to sign off on any passports for minor children unless there is a court order.

Click here to read more on child custody.