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FAQ’S: FILING FOR CHILD SUPPORT

FAQ’S: FILING FOR CHILD SUPPORT

By Elizabeth J. Billies | Esquire

1. How do I begin a support action?

In order to initiate a support action, a party must file a Complaint for Support and an Application for Support Services at the appropriate Domestic Relations Office.  Those forms are generally available on the appropriate Domestic Relations Office’s website.   Parties may file a Support Complaint in person or by mail. Make sure to check the website to see if there is a filing fee.  The other party must be served with the Complaint as well as notice of the support conference date. It is best to serve the other party quickly after filing, as they will begin to receive notices from Domestic Relations whether or not they have been served.

2. What happens at the support conference?  

 In all counties, the support action will first be addressed at a Domestic Relations Support Conference before a Domestic Relations Support Conference Officer.  Conferences are scheduled before the Officers (who are not attorneys) approximately four to six weeks after the filing of the Complaint. At this level, the parties may appear with their attorneys or without counsel. The Conference is relatively informal, with the Support Conference Officer reviewing the documents and data submitted by parties.  Counsel and the Officer may also ask relevant questions regarding the income and expenses of the parties and needs of the children, particularly if one party doesn’t bring the information required. 

3. What do I need to bring to the conference?                        

Both parties should bring the following documents, if applicable. Remember, if you don’t bring verification of an expense it may not be considered! Also be sure to bring at least three copies of all documents, one for you, the other side and the officer to review. 

  • Completed Income Statement form which is provided by Domestic Relations with the conference date notice;
  • Most recent federal income tax return with W2's and 1099's;
  • Six months of pay-stubs;
  • Medical insurance documentation;
  • Verification of child care, tuition, and summer camp expenses;
  • Mortgage, real estate taxes and homeowners’ insurance documentation;  
  • Documentation relating to any social security derivative benefits received on behalf of the children and/or;
  • Any other information relating to any deviations being requested (i.e. multi-family deviations or shared custody adjustments).

4.  What happens after the Officer looks at the documents? 

After reviewing all of the information provided, the Officer will enter the data into the PASCES support calculation software and share his/her verbal recommendation with the parties.  The Officers will also generally show the parties their calculations so that the parties can understand how the recommendation was calculated.  The Conference Officers strongly encourage the parties to reach an agreement.

If the parties agree to accept the recommendation, or some other amount is agreed to, the Officer will prepare a Support Order for the parties to sign and the support proceeding is complete.

5. What if we can’t come to an agreement?

If a final agreement cannot be reached, the Officer will enter a temporary Order and the matter will be scheduled for a hearing before a support master or judge, depending on the county. That hearing is generally scheduled before the parties leave the Conference, so be sure to bring your calendar.  The Conference Officer will also provide payment instructions to the obligor and direct deposit information to the obligee at this time.

KIDS DON’T DECIDE THEIR OWN CUSTODY AND FAULT DOESN’T MATTER

KIDS DON’T DECIDE THEIR OWN CUSTODY AND FAULT DOESN’T MATTER

*This article was written and originally publish by Judy Malmon on SuperLawyers.com and can be found in its original form here.

By Judy Malmon

Divorce is ubiquitous. Many of us know someone who’s been through the process, or have been divorced ourselves. Stories of divorce are on TV, social media, the internet—nearly everywhere you look. Despite this, there remain a surprising amount of misconceptions.

What you think you know about divorce isn’t necessarily true.

Kids Don’t Choose

Lansdale family law attorney Elizabeth Billies, of Dischell Bartle Dooley, says that one of the most common errors she encounters is the belief that children over a certain age (usually 12 or 14) can decide their own custody arrangement. I have so many people that come in and say, ‘My kid can decide where they want to live.’ And I have to tell them, ‘No, that is not what the law says.’”

Pennsylvania custody law outlines 16 factors that go into a judicial determination of custody based on finding what would be in the best interest of the child. Within these factors is one that takes into account a child’s “well-reasoned preference.” But this is only a factor, not dispositive in itself, and is considered in light of their maturity and judgment.

Billies shares a story from early in her career to illustrate the rationale behind this law: “In one memorable case I worked on, the girl was 15 or 16, back when MySpace was popular. The dad lived out of state, and he found evidence in his daughter’s MySpace postings that she was hanging out with guys who were 19 years old and drinking. They showed in the custody trial that mom was trying to act like a friend, not like a parent, and exercising poor judgment. In that case, custody was transferred to dad, and the child had to move. Obviously, that was not the child’s preference, but it was in her best interest, and is an example of why preference can’t rule the day. Because why should a 12 year-old know what’s best for them?”

No Fault Means Exactly That

Another common misconception Billies sees regularly has to do with property distribution under no-fault divorce. “People think if someone cheated on them, abused them, was not good with money, that should really count for something in the division of property. And it just doesn’t.”

In a no-fault divorce there is no examination of the behavior of the parties related to the dissolution of their marriage. “When it comes time to divide up assets, I tell my clients to look at it as a dissolution of a business,” says Billies. “It’s a business transaction. That makes the emotional piece really different.”

Billies recommends working on emotional issues with a therapist or friend, while keeping the legal end of things more practical. This also helps keep the legal bill down, as fighting with your ex through your lawyer can be very costly.

Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, meaning that property between divorcing spouses is not divided evenly in half, but apportioned according to what a judge considers fair in light of factors such as relative income of each spouse, anticipated retirement income of each, duration of the marriage, and other factors deemed relevant (but not fault-related behavior). Assets that were owned prior to the marriage or a gift or inheritance are generally not part of the marital estate.

Prevalent misinformation can leave you with incorrect assumptions about your divorce or custody situation. Talk to an experienced family law attorney to make sure you have the best information and advice.

The Expanding and Evolving American Family

The Expanding and Evolving American Family

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

"What do you call, for example, your stepmother’s son’s live-in girlfriend’s 11-year-old son?" inquires Ben Steverman of Bloomberg. This question gets to the heart of a consideration many family law litigants and practitioners may be encountering more and more.

Us family law practitioners are mostly consumed with what occurred during our clients' marriages, what is taking place during the pending litigation, and protecting our clients' future financial prospects. However, though we may wish our clients well and love to receive updates, we don't always know how their families evolve and grow after the completion of their family law matter. 

With many American families reconfiguring through divorce and remarriage, there is no doubt that many families expand in unexpected ways. Perhaps taking the complexities of post-divorce families into consideration is an important part maintaining familiar relationships. 

The New High Tech Trend in Hiding Marital Assets in Divorce

The New High Tech Trend in Hiding Marital Assets in Divorce

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

It's hard to read or see the news  these days without running into mention of bitcoin, the crypto-currency that has exploded onto the scene and exponentially increased overnight. Even so, most of us are left scratching our heads when it comes to understanding how it all works or what it all means. 

For family law litigants and practitioners, the prospect of a "bitcoin divorce" is even more of a puzzler. Are bitcoin divisible in equitable distribution? If so, are these asset in the nature of currency or personal property or stocks? Are bitcoin transactions traceable and able to be regulated? Perhaps most importantly, can bitcoin and/or other crypto-currency be withdrawn or sold for actual dollars?

There are currently few definitive answers to these questions. However, we are already seeing the impact of the electronic cash system on divorce matters as some appear to be using the currency as a high-tech method of hiding cash

If you or your partner own crypto-currency, consult with an attorney regarding the best way to deal with this new type of asset. 

Tax Reform Bill Takes Aim at Adoption and Alimony

Tax Reform Bill Takes Aim at Adoption and Alimony

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

The recently-released House Tax Reform Bill has seemingly sent analysts and experts in all kinds of field scrambling to determine how the proposed changes may impact the rest of us. 

Family law practitioners, litigants, and policy-makers are no exception. Indeed, the Bill would eliminate certain deductions and exemptions many of our clients rely upon. Some family law veterans are concerned about the Bill's plan to eliminate the adoption tax credit. Others debate the choice to eliminate the alimony deduction used by many litigants and attorneys alike to negotiate as mutually acceptable deal in their divorce. 

As the House and Senate continue to debate the merits of the new Bill, it is important to consider how these changes may impact your case, if your matter is still pending. Be sure to speak with your attorney regarding the possible tax implications of your family law matter.

Understanding Prenuptial Agreements

Understanding Prenuptial Agreements

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

When we hear the words “prenuptial agreement” or “prenup,” most of us think of wealth, celebrities, or even unreasonable demands we’ve seen in the movies. Prenuptial Agreements have had the misfortune of being seen as unromantic, fatalist, and unseemly. However, a prenuptial agreement – or a contract entered into before marriage that outlines the rights and obligations of both spouses in the event of divorce – can prove to be useful for individuals in a variety of financial circumstances.

Many clients wonder, “Why do I need to know about a prenuptial agreement now that I’m going through a divorce?” The answer is simple: A prenuptial agreement can help you reduce conflict in a future relationship and can serve as valuable financial planning tool.

You may be aware that Pennsylvania’s Divorce Code provides for a process, called equitable distribution, by which marital property is divided. In addition, our divorce and support laws provide for support remedies such as alimony pendente lite and alimony in the event of divorce. In the absence of a prenuptial agreement, these laws largely govern what happens to your finances in the event of divorce. Unsurprisingly, many of us are not too keen about how these laws are applied to our lives. A prenuptial agreement can help you predetermine how your financial circumstances will be resolved in the event of divorce.

A prenuptial agreement can assist you with:

  • Financial Planning – A prenuptial agreement is a vehicle by which you and your future spouse can determine for yourselves what kind of property is and will remain separate, and what kind of property, if any, will be marital. It also permits the spouses to designate whether income earned during the marriage remains the separate property of the person who earned it, whether and to what extent retirement accounts may be marital, and who gets what in the event of divorce. By clearly establishing these understandings prior to the marriage, you may be able to better gauge what your financial picture may look like upon divorce.
  • Estate Planning – A prenuptial agreement can be a critical estate planning tool, particularly if you have children from a previous relationship. Designating your spouse’s ability to inherit from your estate, and to what extent, can help you provide for your spouse, children from a previous relationship, and/or other family in your desired manner.
  • Debt Allocation – In a divorce action, the court will distribute and divide marital debts in addition to marital property. Many clients are frustrated by the idea that they must assume a portion of marital debts that may have been incurred solely by the other spouse. A prenuptial agreement can be an effective way of shielding you from debts incurred by the other spouse during marriage.
  • Support – Our support law provides for alimony during and after the pendency of a divorce, with factors and guidelines that often prescribe how income and support are calculated. A prenuptial agreement allows individuals the freedom to determine some of these support issues for themselves. However, it should be noted that issues of child support and child custody are not binding and are always modifiable.

Are You Entitled to a Child Support Raise?

Are You Entitled to a Child Support Raise?

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

Whether you are paying child support or receiving it, a new revision in the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines may impact the child support amount in your case.

Child support in Pennsylvania is calculated according to state guidelines. The guidelines are based upon a statistical model that seeks to measure the portion of household income that parents in intact families spend on their children. Our laws then apply these models to divorced, separated and/or otherwise unmarried parents based on the idea that children in separate households should receive approximately the same resources as children in a single, intact-family household. The guidelines are revised every four years to keep up with the realities of our economic circumstances and the cost of living.

The most recent revision, which goes into effect on May 1, 2017,  results in a modest increase in the child support amount at most income levels, though it is not the same at all income levels. For example, in a family where both parents earn approximately $4,000 net of taxes per month, the increase due to the guideline revision may be approximately $30 per month.

It is important to remember that Pennsylvania Courts do not automatically adjust child support Orders to reflect this change when the guidelines are updated. Instead, a parent must file a petition to modify support to obtain a new Order. Though the petitioner (the person seeking a new support Order) must demonstrate that a change in circumstances has occurred that warrants a modification, a change in the guidelines qualifies as such a change if it results in a material change in child support.

Speaking with your attorney before filing a petition to modify is essential. While the revision may entitle you to a slight increase in support, it is crucial to remember that this change in the law is not considered in a vacuum. Once a petition to modify is filed, the court can consider changes to the each parent’s income, healthcare costs, extracurricular activities, childcare costs and/or any other circumstances of the family. It is possible that changes in these variables may offset any increase you might other see due to the guidelines revision. Furthermore, the cost of potentially litigating a child support modification case may outweigh the increase to which you might be entitled.

Discuss the new guidelines revision with an attorney to address the pros and cons of a  possible support modification in your specific circumstances. Having a full understanding of the possible outcomes of your case can help you make the best decision for your family.

The IRS is Paying Close(r) Attention to Your Support Order

The IRS is Paying Close(r) Attention to Your Support Order

By Elizabeth J. Billies | Esquire

According to a recent article by Insight Financial Strategists, those claiming payment or receipt of alimony/spousal  support are at a higher risk for audit by the IRS. The agency is increasing it is auditing filters and developing additional strategies to catch reporting discrepancies between alimony payments that are claimed vs. alimony payments that are received. 

If you are claiming a deduction for support payments or declaring receipt of support income, it is crucial that accurate numbers are reported.  This may require speaking with your ex-spouse to make sure the amount paid vs. received match and that you both understand what is considered alimony/spousal support and what is not.  Although working with your ex may not be something you look forward to, it may be more favorable then speaking to an IRS auditor.  To read the Insight Financial Strategists article, click here.

How NOT Paying Your Child Support Obligation Can Cost You

How NOT Paying Your Child Support Obligation Can Cost You

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

According to Jefferson Parish, Louisiana court records, Former Saints and Chargers receiver Robert Meachem will serve 30 days in jail after failing to pay almost $400,000 in alimony and child support to his ex-wife, Andrea Rhodes. The former NFL player may only be released once at least $100,000 of the owed amount is paid. 

Meachem's predicament is not unusual. When a parent fails to pay his or her child support obligation, state and federal enforcement mechanism can set in quite quickly. It is important for payor parents to understand the consequences of missing and/or failing to make timely support payments. Enforcement mechanisms can include:

  • automatic deduction of child support from the parent's paycheck
  • withholding of the child support directly from the  parent's unemployment payments, Worker’s Compensation funds, Social Security benefits or Veteran’s Disability benefits
  • garnishment of wages and income
  • attachment of a lien against real property, such as a home
  • seizure of bank accounts
  • seizure of a personal injury settlement
  • restriction or revocation of an occupational or professional license
  • restriction or revocation of a driver’s license and passport
  • restriction or revocation ofa recreational licenses, such as a fishing license
  • interception of federal or state tax refunds
  • interception of lottery winnings
  • reporting of the child support debt to credit reporting agencies, resulting in a negative credit report.
  • Jail time. 

Ultimately, failing to make payments may cost you more than just the amount of your monthly obligation.