On September 27, 2016, the House and Senate finally signed off on House Bill 380 which reduces the separation requirement for divorce in Pennsylvania from two years to one year. This version of the bill had been in the works for nearly two years with its initial introduction to the House occurring in early 2015. The House passed the bill by November 2015. The Senate finally passed the bill on September 26, 2016 after having received it for consideration last November. The bill is presently waiting for signature by Governor Tom Wolf. Once signed, the new law be effective in 60 days. Some parties contemplating divorce may want to consider waiting until the new law is effective prior to filing for divorce to be able to finalize their divorces quicker in the absence of mutual consent.

Pennsylvania will join neighboring jurisdictions who already have shorter waiting periods for divorce. 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) played a significant role 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.

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Minors may not be able to receive assets left to them due to their age. In that scenario, a guardian for the estate of the minor must be appointed. A parent cannot be the sole guardian of a minor’s estate. A co-guardian must be named or a corporate fiduciary alongside the parent. If the appointment of a guardian is not contested, this can be accomplished without a hearing in Bucks County. An inventory of the minor’s estate must be provided to the court however yearly reports are not necessary. Additionally, the guardian or co-guardians must post bond based on the value of the estate coming into their control unless the court feels it is unnecessary. Corporate fiduciaries are exempt from the bond requirement. Disbursements may be made for the minor’s support and education as deemed reasonable by the guardian without further court order.

In some circumstances, it is not necessary to have a guardian of the estate appointed. Specifically, if the minor stands to gain less than $25,000 the court rules permit distribution to a restricted access account. The parent of the child can oversee this type of distribution. The court would order the funds to be deposited into a savings or investment account in the child’s name. Withdrawals are not permitted except by court order. The child then takes control over the account once they are 18 or older.

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Gone are the days when prenuptial agreements are viewed as contracts on a marriage or a guarantee on divorce. While some religions and cultures still do frown upon them, they can be a great way to talk about finances and strengthen your marriage with clear expectations. If you have children from a previous relationship and significant assets to protect, a prenup can also make everyone feel more comfortable.

What is a prenup? A prenuptial agreement, also known as an antenuptial agreement here in PA is a formal agreement entered into before marriage in which the future spouses agree to provisions for equitable distribution of assets, debts and spousal support in case they divorce in the future or if they wish to provide for what happens to assets in the event of death by waiving a spousal election which is provided for in each state under the state law. In this document you can discuss current financial positions and how finances are going to be handled during the marriage, and whether you wish your will to control in the event of death.

The general purpose is for future spouses to think about and decide, prior to a marriage, their rights and duties concerning financial issues. These agreements can be especially helpful because putting one together forces the parties to discuss financial issues, a topic many of us avoid and is a common reason for divorces. If one or both parties have a substantial income, assets or debts these agreements may be a good option.

If one of you has significant assets or had to pay handsomely in a previous divorce, a prenuptial agreement can put one’s mind at ease that the less well-off party is not marrying for money.

In case a divorce does happen and if the agreement is valid, the issues agreed to in the contract are settled. Whatever issues not included in the agreement need to be worked out or failing that, litigated.

What makes a prenuptial agreement valid?
It is important to note that a prenuptial agreement’s validity is only determined when it comes into question in either a divorce or estate proceeding. This is why the writing of a prenuptial agreement must be done by an attorney who has significant experience in this area. There are a few general requirements to which make a prenuptial agreement valid:

· The agreement is in writing,

· Signed by both spouses, and notarized.

· Accompanied by a statement of assets for both parties and includes an estimated net worth as well as previous tax and salary information.

· The agreement cannot be the result of fraud or duress. It is a good idea to complete the prenuptial agreement and signing far before the wedding to rule out the appearance that it was forced on one party by the other.

· The parties understood and accepted the terms and conditions of the agreement, agreed to it voluntarily and had enough time to think about it prior to signing it. This includes the opportunity for both parties to consult with their own attorneys and make changes to or discuss points in the document.

· The agreement is fair and not “unconscionable,” which it may be even if what one spouse receives is small or disproportionate compared to what the other spouse receives, as long as one spouse is not left destitute.

Prenuptial agreements, like any contract, can be changed with the agreement by both parties.

A valid prenuptial agreement should shorten if not prevent disputes over financial issues if a marriage ends or a spouse dies, but issues they don’t cover are child custody and child support which can be especially contentious depending on the parties. If they can’t reach an agreement these issues would be decided in court, which can be a long, expensive and emotionally painful process.

Whether or not you signed a prenuptial agreement and your marriage is heading for a divorce, contact our office so we can talk about how mediation could bring an end to the disputes between you and your spouse, allowing you to start a new chapter in your life without the emotional and financial trauma that a divorce can inflict.

Section 5325 of the Domestic Relations laws sets out the circumstances under which grandparents and great-grandparents may petition for partial custody/visitation. One of three conditions must be met: (1) a parent of the child is deceased; (2) the parents of the child have been separated for at least six months; or (3) the child has lived with the grandparents or great-grandparents for at least 12 consecutive months provided a petition is filed within six months after the child is removed from the home. In a decision from September 9, 2016, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for the Western District, held that Section 5325(2) intruded on the constitutional rights of the parents.

In D.P. and B.P. v. G.J.P. and A.P., No. 25 WAP 2015, the parents to three children had been married and subsequently separated, but did not institute divorce proceedings. The grandparents filed for partial custody under Section 5325, where the parents of the child have been separated for at least six months, after the parents mutually agreed to end contact with the grandparents. The court ultimately ruled that just because the parents were separated did not mean they could not still make sound decisions regarding their children. Parents have a fundamental interest in rearing their children as they see fit. Any law that seeks to impede on that natural right must pass the test of strict scrutiny, meaning the it must be “narrowly tailored to further a compelling government interest.” The court held that Section 5325(2) did not pass the strict scrutiny standard and hence the grandparents were not able to ask for custody. I suspect that there will be challenges forthcoming from parents that have initiated divorce proceedings but feel they can still make mutual decisions for their children without the grandparents being able to interfere.

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Fall is on its way and the school year has begun. Now is a good time to review your custody agreement to ensure a smooth school year. Your schedule may have changed from the summer and you should make sure you and your children are familiar with the new schedule. If you have shared legal custody, you will need to consult with the other parent regarding any decisions concerning the children’s schools. If you have sole legal custody, you may still be under an obligation to keep the other parent informed and should refer to your custody order to double-check. It is generally a good idea to have a consensus about extracurricular activities for the children as well. If practices and games will occur on the other parent’s custodial time, you will need their cooperation in getting the children to their events.

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Decisions regarding healthcare should also be made with both parent’s involvement in a shared legal custody scenario. Physicals are often needed for participation in sports and both parents should be made aware of any scheduled doctor’s appointments. Ideally, both parents should be able to attend the children’s school events, such as back-to-school night, concerts, games, etc., however, if it there is a lot of discourse between the parents you should plan ahead as to which parent will attend which events to avoid unnecessary confrontation. It is a good idea to give your children’s school a copy of the custody agreement if you anticipate any issues with the other parent, such as trying to pick the child up from school if they are not authorized to do so.

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This is an expensive time of year for parents with school-aged children. Back-to-school shopping bills can run high from clothes to backpacks, pencils, and notebooks. When you are divorced and have children who pays these expenses should have been negotiated during your divorce. Your child support payment may have been calculated with these expenses in mind or your agreements should have clearly stated who is going to pay for which items. Sometimes parents simply agree to share all reasonable expenses with one doing the shopping and keeping track of receipts.

Here is a little more information on child support payments here in Bucks and Montgomery County, PA.

Child support in Pennsylvania is based on guidelines established by the state Supreme Court. They are intended to make sure that similarly situated parties are treated similarly. The amount of support is meant to provide for expenditures for food, housing, transportation and other necessary miscellaneous items on behalf of the children.

The guideline amount will be based on the combined net monthly income of both parties. There are circumstances which may warrant a change in the amount including having a special needs child. Raising a special needs child may result in additional education costs due to specialized education. The Rules of Civil Procedure covering child support matters allow for deviations from the guideline amount so you could have a support order requiring these costs be covered by the parties depending on their income, the cost to raise a child, tuition, and extra-curricular activities of the child.

In most cases both parties come to an agreement on which parent pays how much for child support. Educational expenses need to be considered when drawing up these agreements though as circumstances change changes in the agreement are often negotiated.

The person who doesn’t play a role in deciding who pays for what is your child. Like every other issue that may divide former spouses, using children as pawns in a power game will not help you. It will harm your child, your relationship with your child and a judge in a future matter may take your manipulation into account when making a decision.

If you have questions about child support or feel you may need legal representation in a child support matter contact our office so we can talk about your situation, how the law may apply and what can be done to protect your interests and those of your child.