After a family member’s death, the first step should be to determine if they had a last will and testament. If so, you will want to locate the original will and make sure it has been properly signed and witnessed. The named executor will need to go to the Register of Wills with the original will, photo identification, and some method of payment to open the estate. If the named executor does not want to act they can sign a renunciation which would allow someone else to take on the role. The Register of Wills will give the executor a short certificate of letters testamentary. This document authorizes the executor to handle the decedent’s estate. If a loved one has passed away without a will, the Pennsylvania laws on intestacy will govern how their estate is handled. The closest kin can apply to the Register of Wills to be designated as the administrator of the estate. They will also be granted a short certificate as proof of their authority to handle the estate.

The executor or administrator has the responsibility for identifying and managing all the assets and debts as well as identifying beneficiaries and their contact information. Notice should be provided to all possible beneficiaries. Notice should also be provided to all possible debtors by publishing notice in the local law reporter as well as a local newspaper of general circulation. The executor or administrator should notify social security, employer(s), banks, insurance companies, retirement plans, etc. regarding the death of the decedent. Ideally within three months of the date of death, the executor or administrator should pay estimated taxes on the estate to get a discount. Taxes for the estate will depend on the size of the estate. A federal estate identification number should be obtained. The executor or administrator also needs to make sure the final individual tax return for the decedent is prepared and filed in addition to the inheritance tax return.

It is not uncommon for grandparents to take on a more active role in the lives of their grandchildren and serve as their primary guardian. Adoption is an option for cases where all interested parties desire to make this arrangement permanent. Some of the statutory requirements for adoption are waived in the case of a grandparent adopting a grandchild. A standard adoption requires a home study to be completed by the local Children & Youth services agency. This process is somewhat expensive and takes a number of months to complete. A home study is not required for a grandparent adoption. Grandparents do need to complete the requisite 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.

Lastly, the rights of the natural parents must be terminated in conjunction with the adoption. The termination can be voluntary if the natural parents are consenting to the adoption and their consents would then be attached to the Petition for Adoption for submission to the court. Alternatively, if lacking written consents, grounds for involuntary termination can be addressed with the petition. Common grounds for involuntary termination include conduct by the parent(s) continuing for a period of at least six months evidencing their refusal or failure to perform parental duties or repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, neglect by a parent that has caused the child to be without essential care, control or subsistence necessary for his physical or mental well‑being. Following successful completion of all the pre-requisites and filing of the Petition for Adoption, the final step is the adoption hearing. Generally, the hearing is just a matter of ceremony and a happy occasion for the adopting parents.

A pre-nuptial agreement is a private contract between the parties entered into prior to their marriage that outlines how assets and debts will be handled if the parties subsequently divorce. A basic and straight-forward pre-nuptial agreement could provide that each party retains anything they came into the marriage with as well as anything they acquire in their own name and that anything acquired jointly during the marriage will be divided equally or pursuant to their jurisdiction’s divorce laws. A pre-nuptial agreement can also be much more specific and detailed in how it addresses pre-marital and marital property, regardless of how it’s titled. An agreement may also address support for a spouse in addition to division of assets. For example, an agreement could provide for an increasing amount of support to a spouse based on the number of years married or number of children produced. It could also act as a waiver to any future support such that neither party could subsequently request any form of spousal support.

A pre-nuptial agreement is a form of contract and must meet several requirements to be valid. One, there must be a full and fair disclosure of the financial resources/existing assets by both parties. If there is not such a disclosure, there must be a provision in the agreement providing that the parties voluntarily and expressly waived the right to disclosure. Two, it must be clear that both parties voluntarily entered the agreement. For these reason, the agreement should be signed well before the wedding to avoid any challenge to the agreement that a party was under duress or felt forced to sign because the wedding date was fast approaching. Finally, steps should be taken to make sure the agreement is not invalidated on the basis of fraud or misrepresentation. Any challenge under the above listed causes of action will result in a fact-based analysis with the standard being a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.

Child support is designed to allow the non-custodial parent to share the financial load for food, clothing, shelter, and other expenses of raising a child. Some parents wonder if it would be easier, wiser, or more beneficial to pay child support directly to the child. In almost every case, the answer is…no.


Child support is a direct agreement between the parents. There are many expenses that go along with raising a child. So, while payments made directly to a child may allow that child to buy themselves clothes and a little food, it would not allow them to pay rent or a mortgage, utility bills, insurance, medical bills and many of the other financial obligations that a parent handles. In most cases, a child is too immature in both experience and financial knowledge to handle child support money on their own. Therefore, it is better left to the parents.


The parent who has primary custody, or has a lower income and has equal custody, is entitled to receive child support.  It is their choice whether to file through the court, in which case the amount will be attached to the payor’s wages, or to have the support paid directly. The benefit of having the court garnish the payor’s wages is that they will keep track of the payments and if any are not paid, they will automatically order a contempt hearing for enforcement after 30 days.  


Despite the ease of wage attachment for basic child support, it may be simpler to have expenses that fluctuate such as tuition, camp fees, and before or after school care expenses paid directly to the provider. In those situations, you will be responsible to file for enforcement if the direct expenses are not paid.

Keep in mind that child support is based on a guideline calculation in proportion to incomes and is based on the total income of both parents.  That is why a lower income household may have a lower amount of support than a higher income household.  

As a family lawyer for Bucks and Montgomery County, we help clients just like you through the complicated process of divorce. When clients walk in our door, they are usually very concerned about paying and receiving alimony and child support and then working out a schedule for their children.  During the initial meetings and discussions, we remind them of the importance of looking down the road a few years to retirement.


Divorce is as much about your future as it is about your past and present. And retirement funds and benefits are a critical component of your financial future. Whether you are trying to protect your retirement accounts, or collect from your spouse’s retirement accounts, dealing with these funds is as important as it is complex.


For many people, retirement accounts and benefits are one of their most valuable assets. In a divorce, these funds are considered marital property and are subject to division. Retirement funds can include 401k money, investment funds, IRAs, and pensions.  Social Security is a benefit and not an asset that is distributed in a divorce but may be considered income for purposes of support. With short and long-term implications for both parties, it is essential to understand the laws and your rights when it comes to divorce and retirement funds. Here are a few points to keep in mind.


Understand how retirement funds are divided

An ex-spouse is entitled to a percentage of the amount of retirement earned during the marriage.  If a spouse has been working for 20 years, and the marriage lasted for the last 12 of those years, the ex-spouse is only entitled to retirement funds deposited and interest earned during those 12 years, not earnings or investment made prior to the marriage or after separation.  Also, since oftentimes the spouse is still working, it is unknown how many years of work they will have. A fraction, known as a coverture fraction, is a formula often used to determine what the percentage will be at retirement. The numerator is the number of years married and the denominator is the total number of years accumulated in the plan (usually TBD).  The percentage the court awards is multiplied by the fraction and the amount of the plan or the dollar benefit to determine what the spouse, called the “Alternate Payee” will receive. It is also important to determine if there are any beneficiary options and whether the spouse will be a beneficiary and whether it has marital value.


How are your retirement funds divided after divorce?  

If your or your spouse’s 401(k) or employer-sponsored retirement accounts will be divided, you need to let the plan administrator know as soon as possible. They will be able to tell you the value of the retirement account on the date of marriage and the value upon divorce – again, this is the part of the retirement account subject to division.  


If you are going to be dividing retirement assets, in many cases, you will need to obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), which is separate from your divorce decree. It will be signed by a judge and will instruct the employer to separate the retirement account into two accounts. This order will allow retirement funds to be withdrawn from the retirement account without penalty and deposited into a separate account for the non-employee. It is important to note that QDROs are not needed when the retirement plan is an IRA and in other types of plans will be a DRO similar to a QDRO.  It is best to hire an expert to draft a QDRO who is familiar with the rules and regulations and plans involved. The cost to draft it is typically around $600 per QDRO and the parties normally share that cost. You may want to check if your plan, however, imposes any of their own fees.


Consider Alternatives

In some situations, the parties may negotiate a settlement that avoids the splitting of retirement funds. For example, one spouse may offer the other a buy-out such as stocks, bonds, investments, or property of equitable value in exchange for keeping all of their retirement funds intact. In order to do this, however, you must know the dollar value of the marital portion of the retirement plan. In pensions, this will require an appraisal.  In 401(k) plans you will need all the statements after separation as well the statement at the time of separation in order to determine what is marital.


Get Professional Help

A qualified attorney will know your rights in regard to protecting or collecting retirement benefits and funds. A certified accountant can help you explore the short-term tax implications and long-term financial ramifications of dividing retirement funds.


Divorce presents an incredible challenge – making decisions that have far-reaching impacts at a time when you are the most emotionally and mentally stressed. Allowing a compassionate professional to provide guidance can help ensure not only a brighter future but a more financially secure one as well.

Alimony is support paid to an ex-spouse following the divorce decree. The amount of alimony is based on the incomes of the parties but may also be affected by the distribution of other marital assets, if any. The length of alimony is directly attributable to the length of the marriage. For example, a party may expect approximately 1 year of alimony for every 3 years married. For marriages of over 25 years, an indefinite term of alimony may be appropriate. Unless otherwise stated by agreement, alimony may be subsequently modified due the changed circumstances of either party. The changes must be substantial and of a continuing nature. Parties to a private agreement may stipulate that alimony is non-modifiable in amount, duration, or both.

If a court is making a decision on an alimony award they must consider the factors listed in Section 3701 of the Domestic Relations statue. The factors to be considered by the court include: (1) The relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties; (2) The ages, and the physical, mental and emotional conditions of the parties; (3) The sources of income of both parties including but not limited to medical, retirement, insurance of other benefits; (4) The expectancies and inheritances of the parties; (5) The duration of the marriage; (6) The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party; (7) The extent to which it would be inappropriate for a party, because said party will be custodian of a minor child, to seek employment outside the home; (8) The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage; (9) The relative education of the parties and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment; (10) The relative assets and liabilities of the parties; (11) The property brought to the marriage by either party; (12) The contribution of a spouse as homemaker; (13) The relative needs of the parties; (14) The marital misconduct of either of the parties during the marriage; however, the marital misconduct of either of the parties during separation subsequent to the filing of a divorce complaint shall not be considered by the court in its determinations relative to alimony. Adultery can serve as a bar to alimony.

Section 5337 of the Domestic Relations statutes sets out the procedures and standards for relocation requests. All parties to a custody action are required to follow the procedures outlined in Section 5337 if they are moving to a distance which would make any existing custody arrangements difficult or impossible to follow. E.D. v. M.P., 2011 PA Super. 238, was one of the first cases to apply the new relocation law. In E.D. v. M.P., Mother appealed after the lower court granted Father’s relocation on the grounds that Father didn’t comply with the provisions of Sec. 5337.

The first error cited was Father’s filing of a petition and Mother’s filing of an answer. Under Sec. 5337 (c) regarding notice of relocation, the initial step procedurally is for the party requesting relocation to send notice to all other interested parties by certified mail, return receipt requested a certain number of days prior to the date set for relocation. Included with the notice should be a counter-affidavit that the opposing party can complete indicating whether or not they agree or disagree with the relocation and/or the modified schedule. If there is any opposition, a hearing will be needed. The counter-affidavit evidencing opposition should be filed with the court and served on the party requesting relocation in the same manner as received; by certified mail, return receipt requested. The next error relates to Sec. 5337 (g) which calls for a hearing to occur before relocation unless exigent circumstance exist. In E.D. v. M.P., the lower court granted Father’s request to relocate immediately without any finding or allegation of exigent circumstances.

Further, Sec. 5337(h) outlines ten (10) factors to be considered before a relocation is granted.

The party proposing relocation has the burden of establishing that the relocation will serve the best interests of the child. Each party has the burden of establishing the integrity of that party’s motives in either seeking the relocation or seeking to prevent it. The Superior Court agreed with Mother that the lower court failed to consider all the factors under Sec. 5337(h) in reaching its decision.

Ultimately, the case was remanded to the lower court for further proceedings applying the applicable laws. The decision indicates that the Superior Court will be diligent in scrutinizing decisions to determine if they have followed the provisions for all relocation matters.