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Small businesses are the heart and soul of the economy in Bucks County and throughout the rest of the country. According to the Small Business Administration, approximately 90 percent of all of the businesses in the U.S. are family owned and run. Running a small family business comes with several advantages, like more convenience, flexibility and lower employment costs. However, things can quickly get complicated when the owners of the business decide to separate and divorce.

It all starts with the prenuptial agreement

Before a couple even says “I do,” they should already be planning for their financial future with a prenuptial agreement. This document acts as an insurance policy in case divorce ever becomes part of the equation. One of the mistakes that small business owners often make is not drafting this important document until it’s too late since they previously believed that divorce would never become an option. However, according to Forbes, over 50 percent of married couples in the U.S. eventually divorce so obtaining a prenuptial agreement should be a priority for all married couples, and those that own a business together in particular.

This agreement should be in writing, provide a full disclosure of the business’ assets and liabilities, be executed by both parties and without coercion from one side and documented in a recordable format.

Making it work after the divorce is finalized

Just because a marriage is ending doesn’t mean that the business has to go down along with it. Divorced couples can still stay in business together and be successful if:

  • They are rational and consider compromise.
  • They hire an independent business appraiser as part of the divorce proceedings.
  • They consider how their roles will shift in the workplace after they are divorced.
  • The business stays relatively the same and doesn’t undergo any big changes until after the divorce is finalized.

Although it can be a daunting task to split with a partner and still maintain a business, it can be done with a little work and a lot of communication. For example, according to Businessweek, a divorced couple that owns a bakery in the Boston area worth $2.5 million has been in business together for over 35 years. The couple, who were married briefly from 1979 to 1981, found that although their marriage didn’t work they were able to keep their business going out of admiration for the each other’s business skills.

If you and your spouse are considering divorce and are concerned about the future of your family business, contact an attorney in your area that can work through these concerns and ensure that you and your spouse are able to transition smoothly from being marital partners to business partners. You should also realize that a business has value and a competent attorney can assist in ensuring that both partners get value for the efforts they contributed to the business and find ways to separate while preserving the business.

Discovery is the process of obtaining information from the opposing party in the course of a lawsuit. Discovery is governed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure (Pa. R.C.P.). Rule 1930.5 states that there shall be no discovery in a simple support, custody or Protection from Abuse proceeding unless authorized by court. In order for you to be allowed to send discovery in a support matter, you must get your case deemed complex by the court. An example of a potentially complex support case requiring discovery would be one where one, or both, of the parties are self-employed. Procedure in Bucks County calls for a hearing date on the issue of whether or not discovery should be permitted. If so, the substantive portion of the hearing will be postponed pending completion of discovery as granted.

Formal discovery methods must adhere to the Rules of Civil Procedure and the acceptable methods include interrogatories, depositions, production requests, subpoenas to produce things and/or documents, and/or requests for admission. Interrogatories and production request are the most frequent methods of discovery in family law cases. Interrogatories are a written set of questions for the other party to answer. A production request lists all the documents a party is seeking. Subpoenas are a good tool when it is necessary to get information directly from the source in the instance a party does not have it, will not cooperate in turning it over, or you suspect they may tamper with the documentation. Examples of relevant documentation to seek in a support may include personal and business tax returns, W-2s, 1099 Forms, pay stubs, income projections, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, business ledgers, summaries or appraisals of all assets/property/equipment owned by the business, and statements for all personal and business bank accounts and/or credit cards.

Click here to read more about support.

Bucks County will hold its National Adoption Day, tomorrow, November 21, 2014. The celebration begins at 11 a.m. on the third floor of the main courthouse in Doylestown, PA. The celebration is spearheaded by the Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services Agency as well as the Register of Wills and Orphans’ Court. This year Pearl S. Buck International and Love the Children are being honored for their work in finding homes for children. A brief reception will follow the awards.

November is National Adoption Month. This is the 19th year for recognition of National Adoption Month after President Clinton extended the recognition from a week to the entire month of November in 1995. The week-long celebration began in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan. Pennsylvania participates in presentation of a proclamation every year regarding National Adoption Month pledging its commitment to make sure every child has a place to call home.

Click here for more information.

Bucks County has several upcoming “Wills for Heroes” events. This is a program in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Bar Association that provides free wills, living wills, and powers of attorney to first responders and their spouses/significant others. Appointments are required and can be made on the Pennsylvania Bar Association website. Each appointment is for one hour. At the conclusion of the appointment, each participant will have their final, notarized documents to take home with them. If a spouse or significant other is also participating, their appointment will be immediately following that of the first responder. The program is made possible through the time of volunteers including attorneys, reviewers and witnesses.

Upcoming dates and locations for events in our area are as follows:

Saturday, April 5, 2014 – Bucks County Public Safety/Emergency Services Training Center in Doylestown, PA

Saturday, April 12, 2014 – Northeast Regional Campus of the Community College of Philadelphia

Saturday, April 26, 2014 – Community Fire Company #1 in Riegelsville, PA

Saturday, May 17, 2014 – Richlandtown Fire Company in Bucks County, PA

Click here for more information on Wills for Heroes.

The Court Conciliation and Evaluation Service, or CCES for short, is a program in Bucks County that conducts custody evaluations for pending court cases. Parties to a custody matter would participate in a series of sessions with an assigned evaluator. The goal of the program is to facilitate an ideal co-parenting relationship that provides for the best interests of the child(ren) involved. The end result of the program is either an agreement on custody or a full clinical report including a recommendation which is then provided to the court. In addition to the parents and the children, additional parties can be interviewed as part of the CCES process based on their role in the parties’ lives or unique insight they may be able to provide. On average, it takes 6-8 weeks for the process to be completed with the report due to the court within 45 days of the final session. An expedited evaluation which is completed in a matter of days is possible only in emergency situations or when one or both of the parties live out-of-state.

As far as procedure, parties are generally referred to CCES following the initial custody conference if the parties are agreeable; otherwise, the parties may be ordered to participate following a hearing. A referral form is completed which includes contact information for both parties as well as case information. This form is submitted to CCES. Both parties are responsible to submit an application fee directly to CCES prior to the start of the sessions. Parties are each responsible for the fee for the evaluation at the first meeting with the evaluator. Parties should also bring any documents they want the evaluator to review to the first meeting. The CCES report is a confidential document and cannot be dispersed directly to the clients based on the sensitive information it contains. Represented parties can view the report at their attorney’s office. Unrepresented parties can make arrangements to view the report at the custody master’s office. A custody hearing can be requested after the report is received instances where an agreement could not be reached during the process.

Click here to read more about CCES.

A U.S. Court will recognize a foreign divorce decree under the doctrine of comity so long as the party has established domicile in the foreign country. As discussed in Hilkmann v. Hilkmann, [c]omity is a recognition which one nation extends within its own territory to the legislative, executive, or judicial acts of another. It is not a rule of law, but one of practice, convenience, and expediency. Although more than mere courtesy and accommodation, comity does not achieve the force of an imperative or obligation…Comity should be withheld only when its acceptance would be contrary or prejudicial to the interest of the nation called upon to give it effect. 2003 PA Super 25 (2005). A U.S. Court will invoke comity by its discretion and will usually look at two factors: whether the foreign court had jurisdiction, and whether fair procedures were used.

A U.S. Court will look to domicile as a basis for establishing jurisdiction. In Commonwealth v. Doughty, the court held “[i]t is an established and familiar principle that judicial power to grant a divorce is founded on domicile. In the absence of domicile by at least one of the parties to the action, the Court has no jurisdiction over the cause and its decree will consequently, not be endowed with extraterritorial effect.” 187 Pa. Super. 499 (1958). Accordingly, “[a]n absolute prerequisite to judicial recognition of an out-of-state divorce is that the plaintiff must have resided in the state or country for a minimum period of residency as determined by local authority and that the residency be accompanied by domiciliary intent, i.e., an intent to remain the foreign jurisdiction.” Sargent v. Sargent, 225 Pa. Super. 1 (1973). These principles extend beyond divorce and hold the same for other family law court orders as well as contracts.

Click here to read more about divorce in Bucks County.

Our area is still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The storm’s strong winds and rain caused widespread damage over a large area of the nation. Specifically, southeastern Pennsylvania is still dealing with power outages due to downed trees and wires. Many government offices, schools and local courts were forced to close Monday and Tuesday of this week. At this point, all local courts in southeastern PA are open and may be contacted as far as any matters that need to be rescheduled. Our office hopes everyone has remained safe during the storm. We will continue to work hard to assist you in all your family law needs as our communities continue to recover from the aftermath.