If you are adopting a child that is not related or not within the categories of relation qualifying as a kinship adoption, you will need to have a home study completed as part of the adoption process. You should have your requisite background checks completed prior to or in connection with requesting your home study as the reports will need to be reviewed by your social worker. In Bucks County, you can apply for a home study by filing a request for a preplacement home study. There is a filing fee due at the time of filing the request. Presently, it is $650.

In Montgomery County Children and Youth will only conduct home studies for adoptions through their foster care program. If you are doing a private adoption outside of the foster care system, you will need to complete the home study through an authorized social worker. A list of social workers authorized to conduct home studies for the county is available through the Orphan’s Court. The time to complete the home study is likely a few months. Cost for the home study can vary but averages close to $1,000. Montgomery County usually requires two post-placement visits as well which can be at a separate cost than the initial home study. Presuming your home study report is positive and supports the adoption, you can move forward with the final adoption hearing.

Pet owners who anticipate their pets outliving them should know the essential facts about pet trusts to be able to decide what is right for their situations.

Estate planning in Pennsylvania involves a lot of different considerations, including drafting a will, selecting an estate administrator, planning for the probate process and setting up any trusts. One kind of trust that people often overlook is a pet trust. A pet trust is a great way for pet owners to ensure that their animal companions will receive the optimal level of care necessary for them to have happy lives after their owners’ deaths. Knowing the answers to some common questions about pet trusts can help pet owners to decide if a pet trust is right for their estate plans.

What exactly is a pet trust?

A pet trust is a legal arrangement to ensure that a pet will receive the proper care and maintenance it needs after its owner passes away. While typically used for animals with longer lifespans such as parrots and horses, a pet trust can be set up for any animal and will last for the duration of the animal’s lifetime. When it is set up, a designated caregiver is set up as a “trustee” who will be given a set amount of funds that is determined by the grantor of the trust, based on what the pet’s needs are anticipated to be. This may be done in whatever manner the grantor specifies in the trust, but it is usually done as a disbursing of funds at regular intervals.

How is a pet trust different from putting a pet in a will?

There are limitations to what can be put in a will, and when someone inherits money from a will, he or she is not necessarily going to be monitored as far as what he or she spends the money on. A pet trust instills in the trustee a legal obligation to utilize the designated funds exclusively for the care of the specified pet. A pet owner can also specify the expected standard of care for the pet to receive for the remainder of its life. Another benefit to a pet trust is the option to designate a remainder beneficiary. In the event that the pet passes on before all of the funds of the pet trust are exhausted, this beneficiary will receive anything that is left over in the trust.

The decision as to whether or not to go with a pet trust can be a complex matter. There are many details to be worked out, especially if there are multiple pets involved. It may be prudent for someone who is considering this option to discuss the matter with an attorney in the local area who practices estate planning law.

We wrote a recent blog about children’s student loans and divorce. But what about children’s scholarships? How are those handled?  

Unlike other states, parents in PA do not have a financial obligation to pay college tuition.  However, to reduce conflict, you may want to negotiate tuition payments as part of your divorce process.  The effect of scholarships on college costs should be part of the negotiations before settlement. A “motion to modify” can be filed afterwards, but this can be a difficult and time-consuming process, so it is best if all contingencies are considered before the divorce is settled. Here we will consider several possible scenarios.

GI Bill

A parent who has been in the military is able to transfer his or her Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to a spouse or child, under certain circumstances. If the military person is the father, for instance, he may negotiate that this will cover his portion of college expenses for several children, or perhaps decrease child support payments. But since the transfer can be revoked at any time while he is still on active duty, a settlement or final judgment must either prohibit the revoking of the transfer or provide for compensation in the way of payment, alimony, or another benefit of equal or greater value.

Parent works for a university

Universitites often offer significant tuition discounts to their employees’ children. This should also be part of the settlement. Contingencies must also be included in case the parent leaves the university, changes universities, or the child does not wish to attend that university where their parent works. In these cases, what is each parent’s responsibility? And will the discount reduce just that parent’s educational responsibilities, or will the benefits be spread between the two parents? These and other questions need to be considered and answered in the settlement.

Other scholarships

Additional scholarships are available as well, including many scholarships for the children of divorced parents. The divorcing couple needs to decide how this will impact the final amount each one is responsible for. If one parent works diligently with the child to find as many scholarships as possible and the other parent does nothing, do the scholarships benefit just the parent who worked so hard or do they reduce the responsibility of both parents?

There are no set laws regarding division of the benefits of scholarships, therefore this needs to be carefully reviewed and defined in the divorce settlement. We at Ulmer Law have extensive experience helping parents navigate all the intricate details involved in creating a settlement that provides for their children as best they can while covering their own assets. Contact us for a consultation.

Pennsylvania is unusual among states in that it still has both no-fault and fault divorce options on the books. The many issues regarding divorce in PA are defined in Pennsylvania Statutes Title 23 Pa.C.S.A. Domestic Relations, Part IV.

Uncontested Divorce

There are two no-fault, or uncontested, options: Mutual Consent and Irretrievable Breakdown.

Mutual Consent: In Mutual Consent Divorce, both spouses file affidavits requesting a divorce. There is a 90-day minimum waiting period, and then if they still both agree, the divorce can be finalized.

Irretrievable Breakdown: When a marriage has severely deteriorated, under the “irretrievably broken” grounds for divorce, spouses must live “separate and apart for a period of at least one year.” After separation, only one party needs to file an affidavit, indicating the date at which the separation began and that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” The affidavit must be filed in court and served to the spouse, who has 40 days to contest or to argue for economic relief. If the served spouse does not respond in time, the divorce can be finalized by only one party.

Contested Divorce

Pennsylvania Law cannot force a spouse to sign divorce papers. If a spouse contests the divorce or denies separation, then the other spouse may be forced to file a “fault” divorce. The grounds under which such a claim can be made in Pennsylvania are defined in 23 Pa.C.S. § 3301(a) and (b):

1.       Willful and malicious desertion

2.       Adultery

3.       Cruel and barbarous treatment, endangering life or health of injured and innocent spouse

4.       Bigamy

5.       Imprisonment for more than 2 years

6.       Intolerable and burdensome indignities to spouse

7.       Institutionalization in a mental institution at least 18 months prior to and

expected subsequent to filing

If your spouse will not leave the family home and thus initiate the separation, under 23 Pa.C.S. § 3502(c)  you can file for exclusive possession of the family home.

Talk to a trusted advisor who is an expert in divorce and family law to help determine what steps you need to take. We help people every day to get through this difficult process and start fresh. Call us for a consultation.

Digital technology has advanced at such a rapid pace and has permeated so many aspects of our lives that you don’t realize how many ways you’re dependent on it until you have to separate your digital world from the partner with whom you’ve shared it.

Chances are, you’ve disclosed much or all of your personal information to your spouse, and you two have many shared accounts. You need to do several things, ASAP.

  • Change the passwords on your personal accounts, and choose more unusual identifying questions. Your spouse probably knows your mother’s maiden name or the street you grew up on. Destroy any password lists you may have made, whether on your computer or on paper.
  • On accounts that you share but can easily be divided, create your own separate accounts or remove your spouse’s ability to access them.
  • On accounts that you may need to continue to share, set up separate access information. List shared accounts that primarily belong to your spouse or that may have monetary value and give it your attorney. If your spouse locks you out and you feel you should have access, your attorney will have the necessary information.
  • Transfer your own sensitive data from your home computer and shared gadgets, then permanently delete it. You may need to wipe those files from the machine. If you must continue to use that machine, create your own personal username and keep the password secret.
  • Secure your gadgets and those of your children, if you have custody. Remember, whatever your children have access to, your spouse may also have access to, especially when they are visiting. Make sure there are no spy apps or keyloggers on your gadgets, and turn off the “Find My Friends” tracking system. You can also back up all of your information on your gadget and do a full factory reset.  
  • If you’re connected with your ex on any of your social media accounts and you don’t want him or her to see your accounts anymore, make sure you block him or her.

Here is a partial list of the kinds of digital shared accounts you may need to consider:


  • Financial accounts, such as bank, credit card, investment, taxes, and retirement accounts (You may need to talk to an attorney about how to handle these.)
  • Insurance accounts (home, car, life, medical)
  • Access to your children’s schools’ parent portals or student portals
  • Medical records
  • Online storage, such as iCloud, Google docs, iTunes, photo storage, computer backup accounts
  • Online rewards, such as frequent flyer miles or credit card points Online entertainment services, such as Netflix, Hulu, ebooks on Kindle, etc.
  • Family email and social media accounts
  • Shared household accounts, such as phone service, amazon account, food delivery service, and any other services with whom you’ve contracted
  • Google calendar
  • Virtual property

Again, this is only a partial list. We try to go over the most common shared accounts with our clients and encourage quick action, but look closely at your digital activity and try to find all the ways you use digital space. Take action on those joint accounts that are clearly yours, and talk to us about the best way to handle the rest.

Consumers in Pennsylvania who are in need of debt relief assistance may benefit from filing for bankruptcy, but they should understand the two primary forms of consumer bankruptcy – Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 – to make the right decision for their needs.

When facing serious debt problems, many consumers can feel stuck and as though they have nowhere to turn. They can be afraid to answer their phone, read their email or get their physical mail for fear of being hounded by yet another debt collector.

The thought of filing for bankruptcy can be hard for some Pennsylvania residents to swallow in part because it can be difficult to know which type of bankruptcy to file for. Understanding how a Chapter 7 bankruptcy works and how a Chapter 13 bankruptcy works can help a person make the right choice for their situation.

Bankruptcy basics

Both types of consumer bankruptcies, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, allow debtors to retain some assets as both plans identify a threshold for exemptions and items valued below the set level may be kept out of the bankruptcy process.

Another important point to understand is that both bankruptcy plans will evaluate a consumer’s income and expenses. Any money left after basic living expenses are paid may be deemed to be discretionary income.

Consumers should also be aware that some debts are not dischargeable via bankruptcy. Credit Karma explains these include spousal and child support, and some taxes.

Chapter 7 overview

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a person’s nonexempt assets may be seized and used to repay creditors. Debt relief from this type of bankruptcy is achieved relatively quickly once the filing has been made, often within a few months. Any debt included in a Chapter 7 plan is discharged.

Chapter 13 overview

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy does not automatically discharge all included debts. Instead, it is more like a structured repayment plan in which the debtor makes monthly payments to a trustee for 36 to 60 months. Those payments are used to repay at least some of the money owed to creditors.

A person must have sufficient disposable income to qualify for this type of plan. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy may also give a homeowner the ability to avoid losing their home, but it is important for them to know that their mortgage would not be part of their bankruptcy plan. They must be able to catch up on any past due amounts and remain current with mortgage payments going forward while they are also making their Chapter 13 monthly payments.

Legal help is recommended

People who need guidance on how to get the right level of help for their debt relief needs should contact an attorney who is experienced in consumer bankruptcy. This will allow Pennsylvania residents to make educated choices that are in their best interests.

Establishing paternity can be as simple as the father executing a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form. The acknowledgment indicates the father is waiving his rights to any genetic testing or trial on the issue of paternity. An acknowledgment acts as conclusive evidence that the person who signed the acknowledgment is in fact the father of any subject child(ren). Once an acknowledgment of paternity is signed, it is very difficult for a father to then try to allege the child is not his. 23 Pa. C.S. Section 5103(g) discusses grounds for rescission of an acknowledgment. It can be revoked within the first sixty (60) days of signature. After 60 days, it can only be rescinded by court order following a hearing. A hearing can be requested by filing a Petition with the court.

The party challenging paternity must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that there was fraud, duress or material mistake of fact when signing the acknowledgment. Even if a party believes they can prove one of the above, there is a second hurdle based on the concept of paternity by estoppel. Paternity by estoppel acts to impose an obligation on the party who holds themselves out as a father to the child and supports the child to continue to support the child even if there is no biological connection. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that the purpose of paternity by estoppel is to protect the best interest of the child by shielding them from claims of illegitimacy and, potentially, a broken family. The courts have refused to order genetic testing to revisit paternity if a party has been acting as a Father under this legal principle. You should never sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity if you have any doubts about the actual parentage of the child. Instead, you should file for genetic testing right away before assuming the role of parent, caring for the child, and building that relationship.

Act 101 was signed into law in 2010 to allow certain post-adoption contact by agreement of the parties. Specifically, a birth relative by blood, marriage or adoption can contract with the new adoptive parents in terms of continued contact with the adoptee. In each adoption case, the parties should sign to acknowledge they received notice of the options available under Act 101. If the parties do not sign an acknowledgement, then proof that they were served with the notice should be provided to the court. A sample of the Act 101 notice is included below.
Please click below to read more.


23 Pa. C.S. §2731-2742

This is to inform you of an important option that may be available to you under Pennsylvania law. Act 101 of 2010 allows for an enforceable voluntary agreement for continuing contact or communication following an adoption between an adoptive parent, a child, a birth parent and/or birth relative of the child, if all parties agree and voluntary agreement is approved by the Court. The agreement must be signed and approved by the Court to be legally binding.

A birth relative is defined only as a parent, grandparent, stepparent, sibling, uncle or aunt for the child’s birth family, whether the relationship is by blood, marriage or adoption.

This voluntary agreement may allow you to have continuing contact or communication, including, but not limited to:

Letters and/or emails

Photos and/or videos

Telephone calls and/or text messages; or

Supervised or unsupervised visits.

If you are interested in learning more about this option for a voluntary agreement, contact your attorney.