When it comes to dividing things during a divorce, you may think about assets like investments or real estate, but you may also need to split your debts. Depending on what they are and how much, avoiding getting stuck with your spouse’s student loans may be a bigger financial win than obtaining an investment account or car. 

Americans have about $1.5 trillion in student debt, according to NBC News, so it should not be a surprise that one or both of you have these loans. Payments may be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars each month. Unless you qualify for a program to make your payments or forgive your loans, not even bankruptcy can wash away your liability. 

Usually, the spouse taking the asset takes on the loan paying for it. If you get the car, and it is not paid off yet, you are responsible for the car loan. But education is not a tangible asset. It is a service. You paid for someone to educate you. Part of the plan was probably that your education was an investment that would lead to a higher income than if you went without.  

Depending on your finances, debts, and professional and personal lives, these divorce issues could be very complicated. The more money at issue, the greater your need for an attorney’s help because there is more at stake and more to lose. 

Is the Student Debt Subject to Equitable Distribution? 

The first step is determining if the student loan is a marital or a non-marital debt. If it was incurred during the marriage, it is a marital debt. If the debt arose before the marriage or after your separation, it is a non-marital debt and not subject to equitable distribution (to split fairly amongst the parties depending on the facts of the situation). 

Marital debts are generally subject to equitable distribution. That could mean both parties are equally liable, only one is responsible for the debt, or what they must pay is somewhere in between. 

Issues a Judge May Consider 

Student loans are personal to the spouse receiving the education. The student loan’s benefit is usually obtained by the spouse getting the education. But a student loan could cover living expenses for both spouses. If the other spouse benefitted from the education because of a higher household income, they might be partially responsible for paying it back.  

If the debt is greater than any income increase or the spouses were economically independent of each other, requiring the other spouse to help pay the debt would be unfair. If a spouse is attending college full-time or enough to impact how much the two earn, often the other spouse will have more, if not all, of the burden of earning an income. That may mean shelving their plans for additional education or starting a business, impacting them financially. It would not be equitable for that person to bear these burdens, plus make student loan payments. 

What Is on the Paperwork? 

Whose name is on the loan? If you and your spouse took out the loan together so one of you could attend grad school, both of you are on the hook. If your name is not on the paperwork and you did not co-sign the debt, it is easier to say it is not yours. 

If you co-signed a loan, things get complicated. When you co-sign, you are only responsible if your ex defaults or stops paying for the loan. You would like to think that would only happen if payment is, as a practical matter, impossible. But it can also occur if the debtor stops paying and spends their money elsewhere. The creditor may decide it is easier to get payments from you than pursue your ex. 

You also may have consolidated student loan debt by using a home equity line of credit (HELOC). If your name is on the debt, it is half yours. If the amount is substantial and primarily for your spouse’s education, you may be responsible for paying it.  

The Big Picture 

Like all disputes arising in a divorce, the issue will be litigated if the parties cannot agree, making a resolution far more costly and time-consuming. Couples need to inventory their assets and debts, determine which are personal and which are marital, and come up with a way marital assets and debts can be fairly spread among them. Both sides will probably get a mix of debts and assets. Student loans are just one piece of the puzzle. At Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., we know how to protect our clients from unfairly taking on debts. Contact us today to see how we can help you.

Do you feel that your life or safety is threatened by a loved one, family member, or someone who is close to you?   

If so, a restraining order or a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order requires an abuser, or potential abuser, to stay away from you and leave you alone. If an order is in place and violated, the person can be arrested. It is not a perfect solution to domestic violence, but victims are in a better position when one is in force. 

What is a PFA? 

A PFA is a court order giving protective “relief” to victims (and their children) for up to three years if the order is made final. You can file for a PFA order from the court for yourself and/or your children, but the forms are complicated, so you should seek legal help. The order could make it illegal for the alleged abuser to contact, abuse, or harass you and your children. The abuser could also be ordered to return your personal property.  

Who Must be Involved to Qualify for a PFA? 

The incidents must involve: 

  • Family or household members 
  • Sexual or intimate partners  
  • Parents of the same child or children 

They can be: 

  • Married or divorced  
  • Domestic partners who never married 
  • Current or former sexual or intimate partners 
  • Same-sex partners 
  • Parents, children, or siblings 

If your situation does not involve these individuals, other orders may help: 

  • Adults and minors could ask a court for a Sexual Violence Protection Order if a stranger, acquaintance, or co-worker committed a sexual assault.  
  • A Protection From Intimidation Order can help minors if they are stalked or harassed by a non-relative like a neighbor, coach, or someone known by the family who is 18 or older. 

In addition to these orders, if a crime happened, the police can be called to the scene, and the abuser may be arrested. If the incident is in the past, a police report can be filed, which may also lead to an arrest. 

What Situations May Lead to a PFA? 

If you are going through these circumstances or have recently, you should consider getting a PFA: 

  • The person caused or is trying to cause you physical injury. 
  • You are in fear of imminent serious bodily injury. 
  • You are the victim of sexual assault or rape. 
  • The person is stalking you. This is engaging in conduct or repeatedly communicating to another in circumstances showing an intent to put the person in reasonable fear of physical harm or cause substantial emotional distress.  
  • Your child suffered physical or sexual abuse. 
  • The person is interfering with your freedom of movement. 

Please call our office if you have any questions or doubts about whether your situation is severe enough to qualify for a PFA. 

How to File for a PFA in Bucks County 

The Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Domestic Relations Division in Doylestown is the right place to file a completed PFA form if the county is where: 

  • You work or live (It must be where you live if you are asking the court to order the abuser to leave your home.) 
  • The abuser works or lives so they can be served court filings 
  • The abuse took place 

If it is an emergency and the court is closed, there are time-limited orders that a District Justice can grant. 

You will get a hearing date in Doylestown. The judge may have additional questions and may grant your request for a temporary court order. The abuser is served with the order, and another hearing will be scheduled with both parties to determine whether it should be made final with a term of up to three years.  

Often the parties will negotiate terms of an agreement which the judge may make part of the final order. If there is no agreement, both parties will give their side of the story, and other testimony and evidence may be submitted. The judge would decide whether to extend the PFA and, if so, under what conditions and length. Attorneys can represent both parties. 

What if the Abuser Violates the PFA? 

You should contact the police. If enough evidence shows the order was violated, officers can arrest the person who would be charged with indirect criminal contempt. If those charges go to trial, you may need to testify. 

Like most arrests, the abuser will probably be released from custody after being processed. If you feel you may still be in danger, you should contact a domestic violence advocate to discuss what you can do to protect your safety. 

Is My PFA Order Valid in Another State?  

Your order is valid across the state and in every other state, and on tribal lands. If you travel or move, you should have a copy of the order certified by the court (it has the court’s seal) and others with you in case it becomes an issue. 

If you think you will need a PFA, or you want legal representation because you have been served with one or have a PFA hearing, contact Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., Attorneys at Law. We can help protect your rights and safety and those of your children. 

Denying custody is generally viewed as a drastic step but, depending on the circumstances, possibly a justified one. Often these situations involve a parent who cannot care for and make decisions for a child. They might be incapable of caring for themselves due to a severe physical or psychological illness, substance abuse, or involvement in criminal activity. There is a legal presumption that a child should have both parents in their life, but that can be overcome with evidence if it is not in the child’s best interests. 

What is Custody? 

There are different types of child custody. The status of each can be determined by the parents’ agreement (subject to a judge’s approval) or court order: 

  • Legal: This is the ability to make crucial decisions for a child (legal, educational, health, and other issues impacting their fundamental well-being). Legal custody is either shared or one parent has it. It is not split based on the subject to be decided, such as one parent deciding on issues related to education while the other is in charge of healthcare. 
  • Physical: The right to have your child live with or spend time with you. This could include sole, primary (the child lives primarily with you), shared, or partial custody. 

Visitation allows a parent to spend time with a child but not have legal or physical custody. Visiting can be supervised by a third party if a parent is especially troubled. It must be an extreme situation for a judge to deny child custody and visitation to a parent. A parent unable or unwilling to support a child may voluntarily give up these rights. 

How Does a Court Decide Who Should Get What Kind of Custody? 

When deciding child custody, a court determines what is in “the best interest of the child” and creates an order to accomplish that. There is a presumption both parents should share legal custody as long as both are considered competent caregivers. 

What Are Some Reasons a Parent Should Not Have Child Custody? 

This issue can arise during an initial custody dispute or after a custody order goes into effect. If conditions change after the order is in place and you fear for your child’s well-being, you can request the court modify the order, or if it is an emergency, you can file a petition for special relief. 

If you can show a risk of imminent harm to your child, issues that may persuade a judge to grant you sole physical and legal custody include: 

  • Substance abuse: Simply having this problem may not be enough to deprive a parent of custody rights. If this is an issue, both parents may face drug tests, and if one tests positive, they will probably be required to undergo periodic testing and treatment. 
  • Serious, untreated mental health problems: If the parent can show they are being treated and following their healthcare provider’s instructions, they may maintain custody. If they refuse to be seen for a possible psychological issue and or will not accept treatment, they risk losing custody.
  • Domestic violence: If a parent’s history of abuse is documented with medical or psychological records, police reports, criminal convictions, or child welfare reports, the parent may lose custody rights. These rights may be regained if they show they are in treatment and no longer engage in these episodes. 
  • Debilitating physical disabilities: If your spouse is severely disabled and that seriously affects them physically and mentally, they may be denied custody.

Like every legal issue, evidence is critical. No matter the problem, it must be documented with notes, witness testimony, photos, and videos. The more mature your child is, the more impact their testimony will have. You should keep evidence securely away from the other parent and your children, physically and or electronically. 

Records from law enforcement and healthcare professionals are also critical. Both sides may hire experts to give their opinions if the issue is physical or psychological. The same may be true of the alleged emotional or psychological impacts on your child.  

False Claims Could Backfire 

If you make allegations but lack evidence to support your claims, the other parent could accuse you of abusing your child by needlessly putting them through the dispute and abusing the court process. As a result, your ability to maintain custody could be challenged. 

The lawyers at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., can protect you and your children if the other parent is unfit to be in their lives or you are facing baseless claims that you should not have custody. Contact us today to see how we can help. 

Closing an estate means that the work of administering the estate is done. This situation is reached only after the estate is properly inventoried, taxes are paid, all debts and other obligations are satisfied, and the remaining assets have been distributed via probate or other methods.

Estate executors in Pennsylvania must take one of two actions to close an estate. Find out more about what those actions are and when an estate is ready to close below, and learn how a probate lawyer may help with the process.

When Do You Close an Estate in Pennsylvania?

The first step in moving toward closure for an estate is finding any will left by the decedent. The decedent is the person who passed away. A will should name an executor and provide some details of how the decedent wanted his or her assets distributed among heirs. 

The executor should then complete tasks that include:

  • Probating the will. The will, death certificate, and other documents must be brought to the appropriate Register of Wills office. The documents are then entered into the register’s digital filing system.
  • Gathering assets. The executor works to discover all the assets of the estate and begins to create an accounting, or inventory, of those assets. That includes cash on hand and in accounts, real property such as homes, and other property like cars or personal effects.
  • Sending and publishing notices. The executor may need to publish notices in local newspapers and send notices to beneficiaries.
  • Conducting estate accounting. In some cases, the executor may need to file for tax ID numbers for the estate, open accounts in the estate’s name, and pay bills and debts from the estate.
  • Filing the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return. Someone will need to file the Rev-1500 form and pay the applicable Pennsylvania inheritance tax.
  • Distributing remaining assets. Once all debts and other obligations of the estate are handled, the remaining assets can be distributed to heirs according to the will and probate laws of the state.

How Can You Close an Estate in Pennsylvania?

Once all the matters associated with the estate are handled and there’s nothing else for the executor to do, the estate can be closed. This is done via one of two methods.

Via a Formal Account and Audit

The executor, who is also known as the personal representative in Pennsylvania, prepares a formal accounting of the estate and how it was administered. This includes a statement detailing how the assets and liabilities of the estate were handled and administered.

A formal notice must be sent to all potentially interested parties, such as creditors and beneficiaries of the estate. That notice must indicate when the formal report will be presented to the court. This provides time for any interested parties to object to the closing of the estate. When objections are received, they are dealt with via hearings on each matter.

If there are no objections—or if all objections are resolved—the estate can be closed.

Via a Family Settlement Agreement

If the formal method of closing an estate sounds like a lot of work and a bit daunting, don’t worry. There’s an informal method that is generally preferred by many families.

This method involves the executor or personal representative creating a document called a Family Settlement Agreement. This document should also include an account of the assets and liabilities of the estate and how they were handled, but it doesn’t need to be as formal and stringent as the formal account and audit in the above method.

Ultimately, the Family Settlement Agreement is a contract. The heirs of the estate sign it, indicating that they agree with how the estate was settled and also agree that it can be closed.

In many cases, other provisions are included in the contract. The personal representative can include a clause indemnifying them, which means the heirs agree not to hold the person responsible in the future if any honest errors are uncovered about the estate. The agreement might also detail payments to be made to the executor for their work on the estate.

A Family Settlement Agreement is an easier and less expensive way to close an estate. It doesn’t involve courts and hearings and allows the estate to be closed quickly. In many cases, the only reason to move to a formal audit is because the personal representative can’t get all the heirs to sign an agreement—for whatever reason. It may be that someone has refused to do so, for example, but it could also be that the executor has been unable to locate a specific heir or get them to respond to communication efforts.

Get Help From a Probate Professional

When a loved one dies, families can deal with a lot of emotion and stress. Piling complex estate administration and probate tasks onto an already difficult situation can create more stress and additional challenges. Yet, letting an estate sit without attending to it can also lead to issues.

If you find yourself in this conundrum, consider reaching out to an experienced professional for assistance. Contact Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., attorneys at law, today to find out how we can remove some of the burden from your shoulders.

Not to sound like a lawyer, but that depends. If you feel unsafe or your spouse drives you crazy, you should move, but you should be aware of and prepare for the negative consequences. If you can still tolerate each other and be civil, you’re probably better off staying in the home, at least until you reach a divorce agreement. 

Moving out makes the most sense when: 

  • You’re earning an income that will pay for both homes’ expenses 
  • You don’t have kids or, if you do, you aren’t interested in having primary custody 
  • You (and your kids) must leave an abusive situation 
  • You’re not interested in owning the house when marital assets are divided 

Should you stay or should you go? You have to consider the issues: 

  1. Would Moving Impact a Custody Dispute? 

If you have kids, do you plan to move out with them, or will they stay with the other parent? Moving out of the home while your kids remain will likely impact your custody claim, so if that’s a priority, stay where you are. 

Unless you’re involved in an abusive relationship, it’s usually in a child’s best interests to stay in the family home during a divorce because it should minimize the potential disruptions to children’s lives.  

  1. How Would Moving Affect Your Finances in the Short and Long Term? 

Moving means two households and possibly twice as many expenses. Leaving your marital home doesn’t mean you no longer need to worry about its bills. If you share the title and a mortgage to a house, you must keep up the payments. You’ll have your new expenses, plus your old ones. Can you swing that? 

Your house may be the most valuable asset the two of you own. Though it’s no guarantee, when it’s time to decide who will get the house, the spouse living in or maintaining it can have a stronger claim than the one who moved out or who isn’t helping to maintain it.  

If you want the house when marital property is divided, remaining in it may help protect your interests. Leaving is not a big deal if you don’t want the house and would rather have your share of it paid to you in cash or some other asset. 

  1. Might Remaining at Home Push the Divorce Process Along? 

Emotionally, moving out can be a mixed bag. In the short term, the two of you are physically away from a source of stress which should improve your peace of mind. This reduced stress takes some pressure off and makes finalizing the divorce less urgent. Therefore negotiations may drag out longer. If you share the same household, the two of you may be more motivated to get the divorce over and done with. 

Don’t Make a Move Without Talking to Us 

Moving out of your marital home may have far more consequences than you realize. You may see living on your own as a major goal that shouldn’t wait for a finalized divorce. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to achieve that with minimal impact on your interests. It may also be a significant financial stretch that can impact your ability to get custody of your kids and your house as part of the division of assets. 

Should you move during your divorce? Like all other issues, that depends on your goals, situation, and the law’s impact. If you’re thinking about getting divorced and how that’ll impact where you’ll live, contact us here at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., so we can answer your questions and discuss how we can help you.  

A properly executed, valid agreement made before or after a couple marries should simplify divorce proceedings. Prenuptial (or in Pennsylvania, premarital) agreements are better known and, generally, easier to enforce. A contract made after a marriage takes place (a postnuptial agreement), though different, can accomplish many of the same goals and be very useful if you divorce. 

What Can a Postnuptial Agreement Cover? 

Postnuptial agreements can cover critical issues, so you should have legal representation when one is negotiated and executed. Without a lawyer’s help, you may agree to a one-sided contract that can severely disadvantage you if you divorce. A red flag would be if your spouse is represented by an attorney, but you’re not. 

Postnuptial agreements can lay out what happens to the couple’s assets and debts if they divorce, ideally shortening the divorce process and simplifying it. A wide range of issues can be covered, including what happens to a business that one or both parties own. They can also set down rules on what will happen to assets if a spouse engages in destructive habits like infidelity, substance abuse, or squandering the couple’s resources. 

What Must a Postnuptial Agreement Have to be Enforced By a Court? 

There are many potential issues concerning the enforceability of Pennsylvania postnuptial agreements: 

  • They must be in writing. 
  • There should be full disclosure by both parties of income, assets, and property, but that can be waived by one or both parties.  
  • A postnuptial agreement, ideally, should be fair, but that’s not a requirement. Courts interpret these agreements by using contract law. Its focus is more on the fairness of the process and less on the outcome, though a court wouldn’t approve of a spouse being left destitute. 
  • Both parties must voluntarily and fully agree to the agreement’s terms. A spouse may claim their agreement was the result of fraud or duress, so it shouldn’t be enforced.   

If you’re going through the time and expense of this process, you should make sure what you want becomes a reality. Legal representation should prevent enforcement problems before they happen.  

When Only One Spouse Wants a Postnuptial Agreement 

Agreements can be very helpful from a legal perspective, but creating one may not excite your spouse as much as your lawyer.  

  • Both of you may have fundamental disagreements about how assets would be handled through a divorce 
  • One may fear the process of creating a postnuptial agreement will needlessly add stress to your relationship  
  • If one of you earns much more than the other, the one making less may fear an agreement will put them at a disadvantage 

If these are issues, the two of you should have open and honest discussions. If creating an agreement is important to you, but your spouse refuses, contact our office so we can talk about this and the best way to move forward. 

If you have any questions about postnuptial agreements or want help negotiating and drafting one, please contact us here at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C. We can discuss your options and how we can help you.

Divorce is a frustrating experience, though actually having a divorce granted is often a great relief. But not every divorce is the same. Some are based on faults, some are based on irreconcilable differences, and others yet are hard-fought battles in order to achieve freedom.

If you are considering a divorce, then you already know that you are going to be going through a rough experience. But what you might not know already is how long it will take. That’s a question that’s a little harder to answer than you might have thought.

The reason it’s hard to answer is that it depends on the circumstances of the divorce itself. To get a sense of how long your divorce may take, we’ll look at the different kinds of divorce there are. We’ll see how long it takes when there is no fault, how long it takes when there is fault, and how long it takes when the divorce is contested; that way, you can have a sense of how long yours will take.

How Long Does a No-Fault Divorce Take?

A no-fault divorce can be one of the quicker ways to achieve a divorce. The idea of a no-fault divorce is that nobody involved was at fault, the relationship between the spouses has hit some irreconcilable differences, and therefore the only way to move forward is separately.

Because nobody is at fault, these divorces can often move forward rather quickly. However, it’s important to note that the divorce could be contested and this, in turn, would greatly lengthen the process. However, we will be discussing contested divorce in more depth below, so for the purposes of this discussion on no-fault divorce, we will assume that it is uncontested.

There are two ways to get a no-fault divorce, and they take vastly different amounts of time. The first way, which is the shortest, is for you and your spouse to both consent to the divorce. When this is the case, you could have the divorce finalized 90 days after filing. This is the mandatory waiting period in Pennsylvania and so you won’t be able to speed that up.

The other way to get a no-fault divorce requires that you and your spouse be separated for at least two years. This would mean then that this approach could get a divorce finalized two years and three months later. Clearly, the faster route is to both agree to a no-fault divorce, otherwise you’ll have to wait.

How Long Does a Fault Divorce Take?

A fault divorce is different in that it is directly stating that one of the spouses is at fault for the divorce. Legally this means that the at fault individual is guilty of:

  • Adultery
  • Abandonment (for at least a year)
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Bigamy
  • Or they were convicted of a crime that would see them behind bars for two years or more

Divorces of this nature can be long and costly. You can’t just say that your spouse is guilty of one of these, you need to prove it. While this is easiest when they are convicted of a crime, it can be much harder to prove extreme cruelty or adultery. It takes time to gather evidence and build a case that will prove the allegations.

Thankfully, though, if your particular case is easy to prove then it could move quite quickly. A fault divorce is not subject to the three month waiting period discussed above. This means that if you already have enough evidence, this type of divorce should, in theory, be faster. 

How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take?

A contested divorce can take a very, very long time to resolve in some cases. A contested divorce is simply a divorce wherein the two parties disagree on different parts of the divorce agreement. So it could be a loveless marriage that both individuals want out of, but because of a disagreement on the divorce agreement it could be dragged out for years.

Disputes typically arise in regards to the distribution of assets of the marriage, as well as child-related issues such as the amount of child support or the custody of the children. These fights can become quite intense.

One thing that often helps to speed up the process is to work with an attorney as a mediator. A mediator acts as a neutral third party to engage the fighting parties in a structured resolution-focused discussion in order to try to come to agreeable terms. A mediator isn’t a couple’s therapist; they aren’t going to try to make you like each other. Their goal is to bring the conflict to an end.

This is often the best way to bring a contested divorce to a close. If issues continue to long, and especially if they are negatively impacting the children of the marriage, then the courts may make decisions for the couple in order to bring an end to the ordeal. This may resolve any conflicts that were still open, but it removes control from the parties involved. This means that the resolution isn’t necessarily going to be agreeable to either individual.

The reason that we mention children of the marriage specifically is that the courts really do pay special attention to how the process is affecting them. They also want to ensure that the decisions the couple makes or outcomes they fight for are appropriate. So one parent trying to gain sole custody only to deprive the other of their children would be looked at negatively by the court and almost certainly never get the request granted. But a spouse seeking sole custody to protect the children from an abusive parent would be a whole different story.

Is There Any Way to Speed Up My Divorce?

If you are looking to get divorced, then one thing that could help speed up the process is to attain the services of a qualified and experienced divorce attorney. They can file paperwork on your behalf to start the divorce process, or they can help you to build a case for a fault divorce prior to filing.

Should the divorce go forward smoothly, then you won’t need their services for very long. But if your spouse contests the divorce, then your attorney is in the right position to get a quick start on whatever legal challenge comes your way.