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Victims of domestic abuse may need help from others to get a divorce. It can also help to create an escape plan and seek a protective order.

For countless people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, marriage is a nightmare that they may feel they can never escape. Tragically, domestic violence affects millions of men, women and children every year. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men will be abused by an intimate partner at some point during their lives. The problem is so serious, in fact, that 15 percent of all violent crimes are committed by abusers against their partners. The following questions address some that abuse victims are likely to ask when preparing to end a marriage.

IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ALWAYS PHYSICAL?
In many cases, an abuser physically strikes or otherwise causes bodily harm to his or her victim. However, domestic abuse may be emotional, psychological, sexual or financial. Abusers often resort to threats and manipulation to maintain control over their victims. They may restrict their partners from seeing their family members or friends; prevent them from having access to the phone, Internet or the car; and not allow them to work or have any money. Non-violent abusive relationships do not always escalate to physical violence, but often they do.

HOW CAN I ESCAPE AN ABUSIVE MARRIAGE?
It is rarely easy to escape an abusive relationship; this is why it is important to create an escape plan. The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests implementing the following type of plan:

• Enlisting the help of trusted loved ones

• Keeping emergency cash, clothing and documents in a safe place that the abuser does not know about

• Documenting evidence of physical injuries and keeping a journal of the abuser’s behavior

• Memorizing the phone numbers and addresses of abuse shelters and law enforcement offices

It may also be a good idea at this point to seek a protection order.

WHAT IS A PROTECTIVE ORDER AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
A family law court can issue a protective order to abuse victims that extends certain legal protections. While the order is in effect, the abuser will not be allowed to approach or contact the victims. This may give the victim time to get to a safe place and to begin divorce proceedings. Protective orders are not initially permanent. Both sides will be given the chance to tell their side in court, and a judge can then decide if additional protection is necessary.

You are likely to need professional assistance to leave an abusive marriage. This may include help from law enforcement and abuse counselors. A Pennsylvania family law attorney with experience in domestic violence cases can also be an invaluable ally. Your attorney may be able to help you obtain a protective order, as well as start you on the road to freedom from abuse.

Parents cannot eradicate the upheaval and upset their divorce may cause their kids, but there are things they can do to help them cope.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports that 33,749 couples across the state got divorced or had their marriages annulled in 2016 alone. While the breakup of a marriage may be trying for the adults involved, divorce may be particularly upsetting for the children. Although parents cannot completely alleviate the upset that the end of their marriage may cause their children, there are things they can do to help them adjust to this type of major life change.

Allow children their reactions

Not all children react in the same way or in the same timeframe to the news that their parents are getting divorced. Some may initially express feelings of anger or sadness, while others may seem ambivalent and instead only show concern for how the split will affect their day-to-day lives. This may include asking who they will live with, whether they will have to change schools and how the parenting-time schedule will work. It is important that parents reassure their kids that their feelings are normal, and encourage them to share their emotions as openly as possible.

Consistency, consistency, consistency

Their parents’ marriage coming to an end may make some children feel as though their worlds have been turned upside down. While they may not be aware of it themselves, this may cause them to crave and need structure even more than normal. As such, it is suggested that parents try to maintain their children’s routines as much as possible during and after a divorce. Additionally, they should attempt to keep the same rules in both parents’ homes and stick to them. Relaxing the rules or completely altering kids’ schedules may lead to insecurities, and inhibit, rather than support, their coping and adjustment to the changes.

Keep the kids out of adult matters

As parents work through the issues that must be settled during a divorce, it may lead to adult discussions or arguments. While this is to be expected, it may cause problems for children’s adjustment if it takes place in front of them. Thus, parents are advised to talk about difficult matters, like child support or alimony, over the phone or when their kids are not around. Further, it is recommended that people refrain from talking badly about their exes in front of their children, asking their kids for information about their other parents or otherwise using their children against their former spouses.

Ask for help

Given time and the support they need, many children rebound from their parents’ divorce and move forward. In some cases, however, kids may need additional help dealing with their feelings and the changes. Should children show signs of distress or seem to otherwise be struggling to cope, parents may consider using the services of a professional, such as their kids’ pediatrician or a counselor. It may also be helpful for people to clue their children’s teachers in to what is going on so that they can aid in monitoring how they are adjusting.

Without contention or complications, Pennsylvania divorces may be challenging enough for families to get through and move on from. However, when the process is drawn out, it may be even more traumatizing for those involved and cause lasting fractures within the family. Therefore, those who are considering a divorce or whose spouses have already filed may find it of benefit to consult with an attorney. A lawyer may not only explain their options and the legal process, but also aid them in negotiating and resolving their cases.

Victims of domestic abuse may need help from others to get a divorce. It can also help to create an escape plan and seek a protective order.

For countless people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, marriage is a nightmare that they may feel they can never escape. Tragically, domestic violence affects millions of men, women and children every year. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men will be abused by an intimate partner at some point during their lives. The problem is so serious, in fact, that 15 percent of all violent crimes are committed by abusers against their partners. The following questions address some that abuse victims are likely to ask when preparing to end a marriage.

IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ALWAYS PHYSICAL?
In many cases, an abuser physically strikes or otherwise causes bodily harm to his or her victim. However, domestic abuse may be emotional, psychological, sexual or financial. Abusers often resort to threats and manipulation to maintain control over their victims. They may restrict their partners from seeing their family members or friends; prevent them from having access to the phone, Internet or the car; and not allow them to work or have any money. Non-violent abusive relationships do not always escalate to physical violence, but often they do.

HOW CAN I ESCAPE AN ABUSIVE MARRIAGE?
It is rarely easy to escape an abusive relationship; this is why it is important to create an escape plan. The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests implementing the following type of plan:

• Enlisting the help of trusted loved ones

• Keeping emergency cash, clothing and documents in a safe place that the abuser does not know about

• Documenting evidence of physical injuries and keeping a journal of the abuser’s behavior

• Memorizing the phone numbers and addresses of abuse shelters and law enforcement offices

It may also be a good idea at this point to seek a protection order.

WHAT IS A PROTECTIVE ORDER AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
A family law court can issue a protective order to abuse victims that extends certain legal protections. While the order is in effect, the abuser will not be allowed to approach or contact the victims. This may give the victim time to get to a safe place and to begin divorce proceedings. Protective orders are not initially permanent. Both sides will be given the chance to tell their side in court, and a judge can then decide if additional protection is necessary.

You are likely to need professional assistance to leave an abusive marriage. This may include help from law enforcement and abuse counselors. A Pennsylvania family law attorney with experience in domestic violence cases can also be an invaluable ally. Your attorney may be able to help you obtain a protective order, as well as start you on the road to freedom from abuse.

Divorce is hard on everyone, but it can be particularly difficult for the children. Young children especially have a difficult time understanding what is going on during divorce and may even feel as if they did something wrong. It is also hard for parents to get used to being away from their children sometimes. In many cases, there will be times when the children will be spending time, maybe even weeks or months, with the other parent. This is why it is important for parents to understand how custody laws work and what their options are. Generally, Pennsylvania law governs child custody and visitation when Pennsylvania is the child’s home state.

How is custody decided in Pennsylvania?

There are two main types of custody in Pennsylvania. Legal custody refers to the authority to make major decisions for the child including religious, educational and medical decisions. Physical custody refers to where the children will actually live. State law also allows for partial custody, which means the right to have the child reside with the noncustodial parent away from the custodial parent for a specific period of time.

Custody may be shared, meaning that both parents have legal or physical custody of the child. This will allow the child to have continuing contact with both parents. If parents do not have shared custody, the other parent may have visitation rights. If a parent has visitation rights, that parent has the right to visit the child but not necessarily the right to take the child from the control of the custodial parent.

To determine how custody is awarded, the court will look at the best interests of the child. The parents may come to an agreement themselves, but the court will always look at the best interests of the child before approving the agreement. The best interests of the child include such things as the physical and mental fitness of the parents, insofar as they affect the child, the ability to allow the child to continue to maintain a relationship with the other parent’s extended family, the preference of the child if the child is mature enough, opportunities for visitation and whether there is a history of abandonment or domestic violence. The court will look at each family as the individual unit that it is.

Can custody be modified?

Custody orders can be modified, but the court must be presented with evidence as to why the order should be modified. The parent wishing to modify the order must prove to the court why it has to be modified. The court generally favors stability for the child, and the parent must show that there is something in the home environment that negatively affects the child’s wellbeing. There must be a substantial change in circumstances and the best interests of the child that should require a change in custody.

Anyone dealing with child custody issues in Pennsylvania should contact an experienced family law attorney. These issues are hard to deal with on one’s own, and the resolutions of the issues are of utmost importance. An attorney can help parents dealing with child custody matters achieve their goals.

When going through a divorce, people should be aware of the differences between marital and separate property.

Filing for divorce in Pennsylvania or anywhere across the country for that matter is not always a simple process. There are many issues that must be negotiated before the final divorce settlement is created and approved. One of the most difficult tasks for people to accomplish is that of dividing the marital property. Determining who is entitled to what after years of marriage can be hard, as there may be strong emotional ties to certain items. It is important for people who are entering into the divorce process to understand the differences between marital and separate property so that they are more likely to receive everything they are entitled to in the settlement.

A look at marital property

In addition to the family home, vehicles, furniture and other basic items, marital property includes a wide- range of items, including any assets and property that were amassed throughout the marriage. Marital property also includes, but is not limited to the following:

· Lottery tickets winnings and income tax refunds.

· Memberships to exclusive country clubs and golf courses.

· Collections, such as antiques, cars, coins, stamps, art and books.

· Intellectual property, such as trademarks, copyrights, patents and royalties.

· Term life insurance

· Gifts given to one another during the marriage.

Furthermore, if one spouse lent money to someone during the marriage, that money is subject to division once it is paid back.

Not everything is marital

In some cases, people may have separate property, which is not eligible for division in a divorce settlement. Separate property includes items that were owned by either party prior to becoming married, such as real estate or assets. Any inheritance money, gifts given by a third-party or personal injury compensation that was awarded to either party before, during or after the marriage is also considered separate property.

There are some instances where marital property may be divided between a couple. For example, if the title of a property was in the original owner’s name, but he or she had it revised to include the other spouse’s name, it is no longer considered separate property. Similarly, if separate money belonging to one spouse is deposited into a joint bank account with the other spouse’s name attached, that money may become marital and eligible for division.

Upholding your rights

Going through the divorce process can be extremely emotional, making it difficult to make decisions that will affect your future. An attorney may be helpful in answering your questions, giving you essential information and assisting you throughout the divorce process.

Some people going through a divorce in New Jersey may attempt to hide assets to prevent a spouse from receiving them in the split.

Any divorce in New Jersey presents a myriad of decisions that must be made: perhaps it has to do with how property may be divided or who will have custody of the children. Though the details of each case may differ, there is one constant: each party should be honest in disclosing any information that would be pertinent to making these decisions.

In fact, New Jersey laws require parties to complete and submit a “family case information statement” within a timeframe set by the court. The statement details family information, employment and income.

When it comes to property division, having a complete picture of each spouse’s assets is critical to ensuring the equitable distribution of those assets. Unfortunately, some people attempt to obscure items in an effort to prevent the loss of them. Here are some signs that this may be occurring:

Large purchases

Cash tends to be king, as it has a concrete value and is easily divided. However, cash is easily spent. When one spouse starts making large purchases – such as with expensive artwork, cars or taking big trips – it may be in an effort to prevent the other spouse from getting that cash. In other words, the cash is being converted into physical assets – and the spouse could even attempt to underreport the actual value of those assets.

Another way to minimize the amount of cash available in a divorce is to overpay a credit card or other debt. Perhaps one spouse decides to start putting extra money into the house payment. Sometimes, people create “fake” debts, such as money owed to a friend, in order to “pay off” the debt so the person essentially holds on to the cash until the divorce is final. This should raise a red flag.

Questionable statements

It is always critical to monitor statements from credit card companies and investments. But what happens if those statements suddenly go missing? Or perhaps have unexpected transactions on them? It could indicate that a spouse is trying to keep his or her other half from accessing assets.

People going through a divorce should also keep an eye out for new statements from banks or credit card companies that may be new. While it is not illegal for someone to open a new account during this time, it is essential that they disclose that information during the divorce proceedings.

Underreported income

Even with the financial disclosure statement is submitted, both parties should thoroughly review it for accuracy. Some people may try to underreport what they make. Though a W-2 or other tax form could easily dispute this, it is not always as easy with people who are paid in cash.

Uncovering assets

Fortunately, with a little work, these hidden assets may be uncovered. Experts suggest hiring a forensic accountant or other specialist who can do a deep dive into a couple’s assets. This process may require providing names, addresses and Social Security numbers of family members.

Anyone who has concerns about this issue should speak with a family law attorney in New Jersey.

Prenuptial agreements offer blended families a way of estate planning as well as protecting spouses in the event of a future divorce.

Anyone in Pennsylvania who has been prematurely widowed or divorced at least once knows that sometimes a marriage does not last as long as originally hoped or planned. Many people choose to get remarried and often question whether they need a prenuptial agreement for various reasons.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers noted in a 2016 survey that the prior three years had seen a jump in the number of prenups created.

Protection in the event of another divorce

The possibility of a divorce always exists and that can spell financial disaster for some. In addition to salvaging some assets, U.S. News and World Report notes that a prenup might even help protect one spouse from getting stuck with the other person’s debt.

Many people go into second or third marriages with children (or grandchildren) from previous relationships whom the parents or grandparents want to protect financially in case remarriage ends in divorce.

In divorce, separate property that belongs only to one spouse because he or she owned it prior to the marriage or received it as a gift or inheritance that continues to be held in that person’s name alone normally remains the property of that spouse, however, the increase in value becomes marital. This can be sheltered by a prenuptial agreement so that the increase in value can also be protected. Marital property, meaning assets accumulated during marriage by either spouse or by them jointly, is divided equitably or fairly in divorce unless a prenuptial agreement determines what assets are distributed and in what percentage. A prenuptial agreement also may be used to determine the level of spousal support or alimony or if there is a payment at all to the other spouse.

In a prenuptial agreement, the parent of a child from a prior relationship could negotiate that part of future marital property go to that child. For example, the parent might want to direct the marital part of his or her retirement accounts or part of the equity in other accounts or assets go to support or benefit the child, rather than becoming part of the marital property subject to division.

If the child has disabilities, the parent might want certain assets of the marriage to go into a special needs trust to protect the child’s future.

A prenuptial agreement entered into before the marriage can set forth the course of what will happen in a divorce and eliminate doubts on motives of the spouse.

Lifestyle provisions

Trying to include some lifestyle provisions might not be reasonable, such as how one spouse should wear their hair. Other matters may well be included in a marital contract. According to Time, use of social media is a topic often referenced in these documents nowadays to prevent one person from publicly humiliating or denigrating the other during or after a divorce.

A prenuptial agreement might also designate who will get the family’s pets if the couple divorces.

Estate planning assistance

Fidelity Investments explains that a prenuptial agreement can aid in a couple’s estate planning, especially when one or both spouses has children from prior marriages.

People may understandably want to take care of their spouses after they die. They also might want to make sure that their children or grandchildren from previous relationships receive certain assets or family heirlooms.

With no prenup directing assets to people outside the marriage, a spouse might automatically inherit certain assets when the other person dies even if there is a will in place as a spouse can elect to take against a will. The surviving spouse could live for quite some time longer in which case there may be little to nothing left of the estate to pass on to the deceased spouse’s children. The surviving spouse might also leave remaining assets to their biological children only and not the children of the spouse who died first. A prenuptial agreement can be used to waive that elective share and allow the will to control in the event of death.

Family businesses

Oftentimes there may be a family business that a spouse wishes to keep separate in the event of death or divorce. The spouse and his or her family may desire to keep the business intact and in the hands of family members or other owners or to avoid expensive and intrusive evaluations of their records. A prenuptial agreement can aid in easing the mind of other family members and creating a better family environment without the threats that may otherwise occur.

Otherwise, if the other spouse has an interest in the business in divorce or as an heir, the business might have to be sold or take on significant debt to pay the other spouse his or her share. In addition, if the business becomes embroiled in a court proceeding, the discovery process to determine its size, value and ownership can be expensive.

Legal assistance

Anyone contemplating remarriage should contact an experienced attorney prior to walking down the aisle for the second time. This will give him or her the insight of a professional to help make decisions about a prenuptial agreement. At a minimum, no potential spouse should sign a prenup before talking to a lawyer about its implications.

The family lawyers at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C, represent people approaching remarriage in Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including providing advice about, reviewing, drafting and negotiating prenuptial agreements. The are available for consultations by phone prior to coming in to the office to determine if you would benefit from a prenuptial agreement.

Careful estate planning may help people prevent inheritance disputes between their new spouses and their children from prior marriages upon their passing.

It is fairly common for people in Pennsylvania to remarry after a divorce, and often, one or both spouses may have children from a previous relationship. While these blended families offer people new opportunities to love and live, they can pose some challenging estate planning and inheritance issues. Therefore, having a carefully thought out estate plan that takes into account their new spouses’ needs, as well as those of their children’s, may help people prevent family disputes following their deaths.

Review beneficiary designations

The way people list their beneficiaries on retirement accounts, life insurance policies and other such accounts will affect how these benefits are disbursed upon their deaths. For example, it is common for people to update their beneficiary designations to their new spouses upon getting remarried. However, if they name only their new spouses, then they are able to specify their own new beneficiaries. This means that the original policy holders’ children may be bypassed altogether.

As such, people should make their intentions clear when designating their beneficiaries. They may name who the accounts should pass to after their spouses’ deaths or indicate specific percentages that each of their beneficiaries should receive.

Designate specific property separately

People often have family heirlooms or cherished personal property that they intend to pass on to certain children. Without a carefully designed plan, however, AARP points out that their new spouses may be entitled to claim up to half of the assets in people’s wills. Thus, it may be helpful if people leave a separate list of this property, sometimes referred to as a personal property memorandum. This list should describe each item to be gifted in detail and provide specific instructions as to who should receive each item upon their passing.

Consider inheritance timing

For couples who have not previously been married, inheritance timing is somewhat easy. People often leave their assets to their spouses, and their estates are passed on to their children after their spouses pass away. When it comes to second or subsequent marriages, however, withholding distributions of their children’s inheritances until after the death of their new spouses may create hostility and impatience. Therefore, people may consider establishing trusts or outright transfers that occur at the time of their deaths in order to accommodate the needs of both their surviving spouses and their children.

Working with an attorney

In the ideal situation, people in Pennsylvania could rely on their spouses and their children to work out inheritances to all their benefit after they pass away. However, even in long-term second marriages, new spouses and children from prior marriages may have drastically different ideas of what they are entitled to. As such, it will benefit people who have remarried or who are planning to get remarried to seek legal guidance. An attorney can explain their rights, including establishing wills and trusts, and help them set up a plan that provides for the needs of both their current spouses and their children from prior marriages.

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.

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.