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Family Law

Click Here to File for Divorce

Click Here to File for Divorce

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

These days, you can complete nearly any task from your digital device. Purchase groceries? Done. Print photos? Yep. Design your perfect bedroom and purchase furnishings? Absolutely. Send a payment to a friend for last week's lunch? In seconds. 

File for divorce? In China, you can now do this, as well. 

The Chinese app WeChat, which is used by one billion active users worldwide, rolled out a new function permitting its users to schedule appointments with their local divorce registration office. In addition, the app permits users to enter information regarding themselves and the spouse they intend to divorce and store personal documents. Indeed, WeChat is so widely used across China for a multitude of purposes that in one case a woman was contacted via WeChat during a court proceeding when she failed to appear in court. 

Swipe right to file for divorce? Read more here

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.

Five Years of Client Satisfaction!

Five Years of Client Satisfaction!

For the fifth year in a row, DBD Family Law attorney Elizabeth J. Billies was honored as one of the 10 best Family Law Attorneys for Client Satisfaction in Pennsylvania by the American Institute of Family Lawyers. Congratulations Liz!

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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.

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.

Your Family Law Case and Counseling

Your Family Law Case and Counseling

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

For better or for worse, mental health and counseling are frequent topics of conversation in the offices of family law attorneys and in family law courtrooms. It comes as no surprise. As a family dissolves and possibly reconfigures in the process of divorce and/or custody, the stability of the all involved takes center stage.

For many clients, however, it can be difficult to differentiate the various mental health terminology and services referenced in their case. Below is a guide to the types of mental health services and counseling you may encounter in your family law matter:  

  1. Marriage Counseling. Marriage counseling, sometimes also referred to as couples therapy, is a type of psychotherapy. Many clients attend marriage counseling prior to separating. Clients are often surprised to hear, however, that the Divorce Code permits the Court to order marriage counseling upon the request of either party (when the no-fault grounds for divorce, as well as the fault ground of indignities, is asserted). Marriage counseling is often provided by licensed therapists known as marriage and family therapists. These therapists have graduate or postgraduate degrees — and many choose to become credentialed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
  2. Anger Management Counseling/Treatment. In the context of custody litigation, litigants  at times assert that their co-parent has anger management issues. An evaluation by a mental health professional is necessary to truly determine whether those claims are correct. If necessary, Anger Management counseling refers to the process by which a person learns how to identify stressors, take necessary steps to remain calm, and handle tense situations in a constructive, positive manner. The purpose of this type of individual counseling is to help a person learn how to control reactions and respond in a socially appropriate manner. 
  3. Co-parenting Counseling.  Co-parenting counseling is by far the most prevalent type of therapy considered and ordered by our family court judges. Communicating and working cooperatively with the other parent can be difficult, particularly in the stressful and oft-contentious process of a pending divorce. Co-parenting counseling allows parents an opportunity to talk about the best interests of their children in a neutral environment, voice concerns and/or issues and, when appropriate, to get input and advice from a professional who is experienced in working with children and families of divorce. Issues ranging from custody schedules to day-to-day parenting can be discussed. Co-parenting counseling may be short-term or long-term, as the litigants may agree or as may be ordered by the Court.
  4. Reunification Therapy/Counseling. Sometimes a child can lose contact with (or be resistant to such contact) a parent during the challenging and confusing process of separation and divorce. Reunification therapy is often sought to reunite an alienated parent with his or her child(ren). The primary goal of the therapy is to reestablish the relationship between the parent and child so that they can resume a healthy parent-child relationship. The process of reunification and the role of the reunification therapist can be complex and much depends on the source of the alienation. 

While not a form of counseling/therapy, many custody litigants will encounter the term "custody evaluation." This assessment is conducted by a mental health professional and strives to analyze the 16 custody factors for the Court prior to a custody hearing. Mental health and psychological evaluations, as well as interviews with the parents and observations of the family dynamics, are utilized. The process is short term but may take several months to complete. It may be agreed-upon by the parties but must often be ordered by the court. 

Speak with your attorney if you believe any of the above forms of counseling can be helpful to your family. 

When It Comes to Custody, Hard Circumstances and Choices Abound

When It Comes to Custody, Hard Circumstances and Choices Abound

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

Courts and legislatures across the country are grappling with the question of what to do when the parent seeking custody has committed an egregious act in the conception or birth of that child. 

In Maryland this week, a legislative bill that would prevent a man who impregnated a woman through rape from seeking custody of the child conceived and born of the rape has fizzled out. The bill, which had support on both sides of the political isle and the state's governor, lost traction and left Maryland as one of a handful of states without such legislation. In another state, Washington, a 19 woman who threw her newborn child into a trash compactor is "on track" to regain custody rights of her son. After receiving a six-month sentence for felony abandonment, she was recently awarded supervised visitation with the child and is expected to see her time increase if she continues to follow the court's instructions. 

These shocking circumstances beg the question: In these drastic situations, what is really in the best interest of the child?   

Preparing for Your Family Law Matter

Preparing for Your Family Law Matter

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

We know that initiating a family law matter is generally a last resort for our clients. The process is often stressful, emotionally wrought, and can be costly. However, when the last resort becomes the only option, preparing in advance can be helpful. Being prepared can make an otherwise seemingly-daunting process a little less so. Here are some things you can do to prepare for your family law matter:

  1. Create your own "case file." Mastering the nuances of your own circumstances is a crucial first step in preparing for a family law matter. Create a chronology of events and/or a list of important facts. Create a record of important family circumstances and/or points to discuss with your attorneys. You are a wealth of information about financial, logistical, and historical aspects of your family. Maintaining a list of important points, conversations, schedules, locations, transactions, events, and/or other information will help you remain organized and will ensure that your attorney is aware of the complete picture.
  2. Gather your paperwork. Our clients are often unaware of many aspects of their financials and/or familial circumstances. When this is the case, family law litigation (whether divorce, custody or support) and the rigors of providing "evidence" to the court are often overwhelming and difficult. Thinking (and preparing!) ahead can help keep the process manageable. If you are preparing for a divorce matter, make sure to gather a copy of current bank, retirement, credit card, and/or mortgage statements. Gathering documentation regarding the property owned by you or your spouse is crucial to any divorce matter. If you are preparing for a support matter, gather complete copies of your tax returns, W-2s and 1099s, pay stubs, and/or employment benefits. If your believe you will be a litigant in a child support matter, make a list of the activities in which your child participates and gather documents (such as invoices, receipts, payment confirmation, etc.) evidencing the cost of those activities. In custody matters, preparing information about your child can be crucial. If you have specific concerns about your child or your child requires extra considerations (such as in the case of special needs children, kids with health needs, and/or educational and therapeutic needs), collect as much information as you can about the issue. Past and current report cards and school records can also be helpful in custody matters. 
  3. Understand your financial situation. Once you gather all the necessary paperwork, it is helpful to get a sense of your assets versus your debts. It is important to understand the nature of your finances and keep looming expenses in mind. Understand when bills are due, whether deadlines for any important decisions are coming up, and/or whether financial changes are on the horizon. Understanding your finances can assist you in deciding when and how to initiate your family law matter.
  4. Figure out your living expenses....now and after the start of a case. One of the most important planning tools for our clients is a monthly budget. Understanding the carrying costs of your life under your current circumstance, as well as how they might change when you initiate a family law matter, is essential. For example, your attorney may ask you whether you can afford to stay in the family home or whether you can afford to move out. The fear of being unable to maintain living expenses can be one of the most distressing aspects of litigation. It is therefore important to consider how income is currently being used and what changes can/should be made if the need arises. 
  5. Don't make any sudden moves. If you believe litigation is on the horizon, making big purchases and/or changes can have a negative impact on your future case. Preserving the status quo will give you an opportunity to discuss any possible changes with your attorney to determine the viability and advisability of the decision. For example, avoid purchasing a new car or new home if you are contemplating a divorce. If you believe a support matter is in your future, discuss any possible changes in your employment and/or income with an attorney before committing to the change. In custody matters, changing your child's residence, school, medical providers, etc. can be detrimental to your future case. In short, check in with your lawyer before making a big decision. 

Divorce and Taxes

Divorce and Taxes

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

It’s that time of year again.

The time of year you may be asking yourself how to file your taxes if you’re going through or contemplating a family law matter. Going through a divorce or other family law matter can be a trying process all its own so it’s no wonder that most of us often forget that our legal case may have tax implications. So, what do you need to consider?

  1. Choose the right filing status. While you may consider your marital relationship to be over, the IRS will continue to treat you as a married person so long as you are still legally married on December 31st.  In most circumstances, you have only two filing options available to you while going through the divorce process: (1) Married Filing Jointly and (2) Married Filing Separately. Speak with your attorney about the advantages and disadvantages of each status in your case. 
  2. Talk about who claims the Children (and do it early). If you intend to file a separate return, consider who will claim the dependent exemption for the children. Joint custody arrangements may lead to confusion regarding which parent is entitled to claim the exemption and whether the exemption may be used as a bargaining chip in the litigation. Discuss these options with your attorney and your accountant.
  3. Don’t call it Alimony (unless it is). Beware of support payments “alimony/APL” on your tax return. Any payments an individual makes or receives before the divorce is final are not considered alimony/APL by the IRS unless they are made pursuant to a court order and specified to be alimony/APL. Confirm with your accountant and attorney whether payments you make or receive qualify.
  4. Consult with an attorney AND an accountant. A family law attorney can help you learn about the potential tax consequences of your legal action and can provide a strategic approach to get you the most tax-effective result in your case. However, while your family law attorney is certainly familiar with tax considerations involved in your matter, he or she is likely not an expert on the calculations, nuances, and in-depth institutional knowledge necessary to offer you tax advice. Speaking with an attorney and a tax professional is always the best practice.