Retirement plans are often one of the significant assets up for distribution in the course of a divorce. Careful attention should be given to the type of retirement plan at issue to avoid tax penalties and/or early withdrawal penalties to the extent possible. Additionally, the type of retirement plan will dictate what will be necessary in terms of documentation or court orders to effectuate the rollover. Non-qualified plans include individual retirement accounts or IRAs. These can usually be rolled over by completion of a form with the applicable institution. You should still do a direct rollover to a similar account to avoid taxes and/or withdrawal fees.

Qualified plans include defined contribution plans such as 401Ks as well as defined benefit plans such as pensions. A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) will be necessary to distribute a qualified plan. A QDRO is a document that identifies the plan to be divided and gives specific details as to how that division will take place and what rights the party receiving the funds, referred to as the alternate payee, will have going forward. Rights of the alternate payee may include receiving cost of living adjustments similar to the plan participant and being able to elect their own survivor beneficiary for their interest in the plan. Both qualified and non-qualified plans will be taxable as distributed. The QDRO effectuates a tax-free rollover of funds to the spouse being awarded a share of the retirement plan in divorce but the spouse will be taxed on it when they withdraw it.

Section 3501 of the Divorce Code sets out what property will be considered non-marital property and therefore not subject to equitable distribution in a divorce case. Any property acquired prior to the marriage that has not increased in value during the marriage is non-marital as well as any property acquired after final separation but potentially prior to the entry of a divorce decree as long as marital property was not used in its acquisition. Any inheritance received is treated as a gift and will also be deemed non-marital so long as it is not subsequently commingled with marital funds. The court will also not look at property that was disposed of in good faith while the marriage was intact. An example would be property sold to a family member for its fair market value. Veterans’ benefits cannot be attached, levied or seized except in the case where a portion of the veteran’s retirement pay was waived in exchange for the benefits. Finally, any payment from a cause of action or lawsuit where the underlying claim occurred before the marriage or after separation. Property acquired prior to the marriage or in exchange for said property is not marital as well as property expressly excluded by valid written agreement of the parties at any time.

Property that is generally considered marital would be all property acquired by either party from the date of marriage through the date of separation that doesn’t fall into any of the above categories. There is a presumption all property acquired during the marriage is marital regardless of how title is held (e.g. individually vs. jointly). It will also include the increase of value of any non-marital property during the course of the marriage.

Every person, regardless of age, must have a passport to travel out of the country. Initial passport applications for children under sixteen (16) years of age must be made in person. Both parents of the child should be present. If one of the parents cannot be physically present, they may complete a parental consent form instead. This form must be notarized and a copy of the parent’s ID must accompany the form. There are exceptions to the requirement of the consent of both parents including court order or proof of sole custody. Additionally, there is an application to obtain passport without the other parent on the basis of exigent circumstances and the unavailability of the other parent. You can visit the U.S. Department of State website for additional details on the requirements to obtain a passport at

If you are a single parent you should make sure your custody agreement is clear about where the children can travel. A good custody order will dictate that international travel may only be by written consent of both parties or court order. Parents should pay attention to which country the other parent intends to travel to with the child and whether that country belongs to the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and would recognize a U.S. custody order if necessary. Additionally, all details of the itinerary and contact information for the child while away should be provided in advance. The Department of State also handles international child abduction if you encounter a custody problem while your child is out of the country.

23 Pa C.S. Section 4321 provides that married persons are liable for the support of their spouse according to their respective abilities to provide and parents are liable for the support of their unemancipated children under 18 years of age. Domestic Relations is the branch of the court that handles support applications. An application for support can be filed with their office in the county where you reside or where the payor resides. An application can also be initiated online through the support program website. Support between spouses is based on the difference in income. 40% of the difference in income can be awarded in a case where there are no children. 30% of the difference in income is appropriate where there is also a child support component. Child support in Pennsylvania is based on statewide guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The guidelines are based on an “Income Shares Model” such that the guideline amount is shared by the parties based on percentage of custody time as well as percentage of income.

Once an application for support is filed a conference is scheduled. Both parties are instructed to bring relevant documentation to the hearing including pay stubs, last filed tax return/W-2, proof of health insurance coverage and costs, childcare expenses, etc. At the conference an officer will use the income information to complete a calculation and advise of the support award. If there are any issues concerning incomes or expenses or the suggested amount of support, the parties have the option to request a hearing for further review. Though it may take several weeks to get to the conference following submission of an application for support, support awards are retroactive to the date of filing so that applicants can receive support for that time despite the wait for a court date.

Most parties pursuing divorce will choose to proceed with no-fault grounds for divorce. A no-fault divorce simply means there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. There are two different ways to establish an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage under the Divorce Code. First, both parties may consent to the divorce after 90 days from when the complaint was filed and served. This is referred to as a 90-day mutual consent divorce. Alternatively, if one party won’t consent, the other party can move forward after the parties have been “separated” for at least one year. This is referred to as a separation divorce. Separation, however, does not mean the parties have to physically live separately. Parties may elect to still reside in the same home but can be considered “separate” based on the definition provided by the Divorce Code. Section 3103 of the Divorce Code defines “Separate and apart” as follows: Cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not. In the event a complaint in divorce is filed and served, it shall be presumed that the parties commenced to live separate and apart not later than the date that the complaint was served.” Accordingly, the date the divorce complaint is filed will generally be accepted as the date of separation regardless of whether the parties continue to live together or not.

The date of separation can be a date earlier than the filing of the complaint. For example, if there is a physical separation the date one party moves out of the marital home is an acceptable date of separation. Alternatively, even if the parties continue to reside together, a date of separation can be established when one party makes it clear to the other party that the marriage is over by stating so clearly or even reducing it to writing. The party alleging separation will have to submit an affidavit certifying the date of separation. The other party has an opportunity to object and a hearing may be held if necessary to determine the appropriate date of separation. Accordingly, be sure that the other party is explicitly aware of your intentions, especially if you will continue to reside together and/or hold off on filing for divorce.

It can be a simple process for a step-parent to adopt their step-child. Some of the statutory requirements for adoption are waived in the case of a family member adopting a child. Specifically, a home study, which is expensive and can take several months to complete, is not required. Instead, the step-parent need only complete the necessary background checks.

Presently, there are three background checks required: (1) Child Abuse History Clearance; (2) PA State Police Criminal Record Check; and (3) FBI Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare.

As with any adoption matter, the rights of the natural parent(s) must be terminated. If the natural parents are consenting to the adoption, their consents can be attached to the Petition for Adoption. You need to wait at least thirty (30) days after the consents are signed prior to filing them with the court since there is a thirty (30) day revocation period. Alternatively, if lacking written consents, grounds for involuntary termination can be addressed within the adoption petition. There is a filing fee due to the county at the time you file the Petition for Adoption. The filed petition and notice of the hearing must be served on all interested parties. Following successful completion of all the pre-requisites and filing and service of the Petition for Adoption and hearing notice, the final step is the adoption hearing. Generally, the hearing is just a matter of ceremony and a happy occasion for the adopting parents and child.