Photo of Holly Filius

On December 5, 2016, the law in Pennsylvania as it relates to the required length of separation in order to establish grounds for divorce reduced from two years to one year.  This reduction was highly contested for many years in our legislature and had been proposed on multiple occasions during the last decade.  While the pros and cons of the reduction in the length of separation were argued multiple times, the legislature finally determined that the reduction was appropriate.

The reduction of the two-year waiting period means that any spouses who physically or legally separate after December 5, 2016 now will only have to wait one year before they have established grounds for divorce unless otherwise established.  In no-fault divorces, there are only two ways to establish grounds for divorce.  The parties consent to the divorce, or complete a separation period which has now been shortened to one year. 
Continue Reading

I think Millennials get a bad rap these days. I recently heard a gentleman who was likely in his late 50’s, early 60’s suggest that Millennials are self-absorbed, lazy, lacked generosity, and were not community-minded. I spoke to this gentleman a little while after his comment telling him that I think his perception was skewed. While it may be true that Millennials are not likely to work for the same company for 30 years, may not want to sit on non-profit boards, and are happy not owning real estate, those characteristics do not necessarily translate into the adjectives he used to describe a generation. Instead, he needs to look outside of his comfort zone and realize that Millennials are self-motivated and loyal, they just may not want to spend their entire career at one company and instead use their time and talent to do good work for multiple entities. They are not necessarily fiscally imprudent just because they do not want to own real estate. Instead, they do not want the ties that bind one to real estate, rather they want the freedom to travel to different parts of the country or the world to experience new things and make their mark. Millennials tend to be community-minded and extremely generous but they may not want to sit on a non-profit board that meets every month and plan a golf outing. Instead, they write a check during the Extraordinary Give or donate to a GoFundMe account.

You are probably wondering what all of these comments on Millennials have to do with your obligation to pay child support. The tie-in is that many Millennials are perceived to have “failed to launch” because they have returned to their parents’ home to reside after college rather than going into the workforce and living independently. However, that does not make them bad people, it just makes them appear more dependent than the greatest generation. So, does this  lengthen the amount of time a parent has to pay child support for their child? In Pennsylvania, parents are obligated to pay child support for their child until she turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. However, that time period can be different depending on other factors like an earlier emancipation date, a child with special needs which extends payment to at least 21, and agreements to pay child support for a child past his 18th birthday or graduation from high school.
Continue Reading

The Pennsylvania Support Guidelines contain provisions with regard to payment of unreimbursed medical expenses when parties have a support order through their local domestic relations office. The procedure for reimbursement of unreimbursed medical expenses by the party not receiving support can vary from county to county in Pennsylvania and for many, the process can be confusing.

In Lancaster County, all support orders contain a provision that the individual receiving support is responsible for the first $250 of any out-of-pocket medical expenses before the individual paying support has any obligation to contribute to unreimbursed medical expenses. This $250 amount is often referred to as “the cash medical deductible.” If you are receiving support and you have incurred an out-of-pocket medical expense, what should you do? First, have you paid $250 out-of-pocket?  All expenses must be submitted to the insurance provider and only what is not covered by the insurance provider is considered out-of-pocket. You must pay $250 in a calendar year to meet the threshold.  Then you are able to request reimbursement of the amounts that exceed $250.

Requests for reimbursement are best made on a quarterly, biannual or annual basis.  Submitting requests every time a bill is received can create an unnecessary hassle.  Typically, I advise clients to keep track of all of the unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed the $250 deductible and request reimbursement from the other party on a schedule that works for your financial circumstances. The request must be made in writing with proof that you have paid $250 out-of-pocket, include the amount that has been incurred and paid above the $250 amount and then include the calculation of what the other party owes according to the terms of your support order. For example, your support order would say Payor (the person paying the support) is responsible for 53% of all unreimbursed medical expenses and Payee (the person receiving the support) is responsible for 47% of all unreimbursed medical expenses. Those percentages are then applied to the unreimbursed medical expenses above $250 to determine the amount which should be reimbursed to you.
Continue Reading

I have been fortunate to finalize many adoptions for amazing adoptive families over the years and I always tell them that I get to do the fun part.  In the wonderful and sometimes crazy world of adoption, getting to the finish line to finalize an adoption can be a long, difficult, and often emotionally draining experience. Families who adopt children through the foster care system have varying experiences relating to legal risk, the length of time a child remains in the system attempting reunification, and for some, appeals to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. But when all of that is said and done, I am lucky enough to sit down with families and tell them the finish line is near.

Adoption finalization is a relatively simple process when you are working with experienced caseworkers and knowledgeable attorneys. The coordination between the placing agency, the families, and the adoption attorney allows families to finalize their adoptions with the completion of certain documentation. For families who have been through a long adoption process, it is difficult for them to believe that once they meet with me, the majority of the work is done and in most cases, their adoption will be finalized in a few weeks. Agency caseworkers ensure that all of their legal requirements are complete and they work with the adoption attorney to ensure that the legal requirements of the family are completed, including such things as State Police Criminal Background Checks, Childline Clearances, and in some cases, FBI Checks. The agency adoption workers then provide me with the information necessary to prepare an Adoption Petition. I prepare the Petition and meet the families (hopefully including the adoptee). That is the best part of my meeting, when I get to meet the children who are receiving permanency and witness their interaction with their forever family.
Continue Reading

Pennsylvania removed the restrictions on legally enforceable open adoptions via legislation referred to as Act 101. As many adoptive families and individuals know, Act 101 provided for Post-Adoption Contact Agreements, known as PACAs. These Agreements essentially established legally enforceable open adoptions in Pennsylvania. Under certain circumstances, adoptive parents and certain categories of birth relatives could enter into a PACA and allow for contact between adoptees and certain birth relatives post-adoption. PACAs could provide for any type of contact that was agreed upon by the parties.

Act 101 was welcomed with open arms by many families involved in relative adoptions, private agency adoptions where birth parents had indicated their preference to allow their child to be adopted by a family who would agree to contact with the birth family post-adoption, and even step-parent adoptions. However, the application to and effect of Act 101 on adoptions through the foster care system was not so great.  Children in the foster care system had often already suffered significant loss as a result of the circumstances under which they entered the system.  With the implementation of Act 101, these children’s adoptive parents often had to reiterate to their adopted child that it was not a good idea to have contact with their birth family. Or, in other cases, adoptive parents had to determine what type of contact would be appropriate with birth family members while still protecting their adopted child from the potential additional trauma of having contact with some birth family members, but not the biological parents.
Continue Reading

November is National Adoption Month in the United States and has been so since 1995 when President Clinton expanded what had been a National Adoption Week initiated by President Reagan in 1984. Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas Orphans’ Court judge, the Honorable Jay J. Hoberg, has celebrated National Adoption Month each year by establishing a full day of adoptions in November. While Judge Hoberg finalizes many adoptions every month, the November Adoption Day is an extra special day in his courtroom. The day is typically reserved for children being adopted through the foster care system and often includes balloons and celebrations in what is often referred to as “Happy Court.”

The Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon is an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in learning the history of adoption in the United States.  I will try to summarize some of the information they have compiled but please visit their website to learn more about important people, organizations and events that have influenced the history of adoption. 
Continue Reading

During the holidays, we all become nostalgic about the things in our lives that have touched us, have changed us in some way or has simply been a blessing.  When I think of those things at this time of year, I immediately go to the blessings of my family and dear friends.  For so many of us family is the most important part of our lives, and I have been so lucky to have had the pleasure of being part of adding to many of my clients’ families over the last 20 years. 
Continue Reading

Like most married couples, my husband and I argue occasionally.  Fortunately, we don’t have the knockdown, drag out, name calling kind of arguments, and we try not to argue in front of our kids.  However, we are not perfect parents, and at times, tempers will flare, patience will be lost, and we will have an argument in front of our kids.  Recently, one such argument occurred in front of my eight-year old son.
Continue Reading