In the age of HGTV and the ever-fluctuating real estate market, it can be difficult to reconcile how real estate is valued for purposes of divorce litigation versus what a homeowner believes their real estate is worth. Let’s face it, we all believe that our personal residences are probably worth more than they actually are because our homes are personal to us. We live there, we raise our children there, we take care to ensure that our homes are well maintained, decorated nicely, safe, located in a good school district, and so on. The care that we take to make our real estate a home, combined with the personal memories that are made there, often skew one’s perception of what real estate is worth.

For purposes of divorce litigation, the value of real estate is defined as its “fair market value” (FMV). What does fair market value mean? It is the amount a buyer is willing to pay on the open market without any requirement to buy. So how do you figure out FMV for your marital residence? For some, a value for marital real estate can be agreed upon because the parties are familiar with the real estate market in their area, there are comparable homes in and around the area in which their home is located and the parties are sophisticated enough to be reasonable about what their home would sell for. Others look to Zillow and other similar internet resources for value. I often caution my clients to ensure that any value they are agreeing upon, or that they are relying upon based on internet research, should have a second look either informally by a licensed real estate agent who can perform a Comparative Market Analysis, or through a real estate appraisal performed by a licensed real estate appraiser.
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Whether you are making the choice to consider separation or divorce, or your spouse has made that decision and you are scrambling to make sense of it all, making the most of your initial divorce consultation with a divorce attorney is vital. Initial consultations are called initial consultations for a reason: you only get one. Some firms will offer free initial consultations, and others will charge a lower flat fee than an attorney’s typical hourly rate. As such, you are getting either free or discounted legal advice one time and should take advantage of that.

First and foremost, choose local counsel who is experienced in family law. Don’t call your father’s business attorney, your best friend’s bankruptcy lawyer, or your hairdresser’s personal injury guy. Family law cases are often decided on specific nuances that exist only in your case, and often cases are presented with local judges’ preferences, unwritten local rules, and consideration of the temperament of opposing counsel in mind. So, local counsel is a must. Experienced family law lawyers are easy to investigate, and ones who come with personal recommendations from prior clients are always the best option. There are many marketing tools that attorneys can use to hold themselves out to the community as experts in certain fields of practice, and some who assert they are rated “super-lawyers,” “best in their field,” etc. While those lawyers may, in fact, be “super-lawyers” and “best in their field,” those rating systems are not necessarily indicative of an attorney’s experience level, expertise or reputations, but may be purchased marketing items. Going with a locally known, respected, and personally recommended attorney is always best.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.


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When spouses separate and wish to divorce, there are many issues they must address before receiving a divorce decree. If spouses have acquired property during their marriage, that property must be divided between them before a divorce decree can be entered. If not, the property becomes the sole possession of the titled spouse post-divorce and any jointly titled property must be divided pursuant to a separate legal action called “Partition.”

So how do spouses divide their property (equitable distribution)? Quite simply, they either agree how it will be divided, or they don’t. If they don’t, the Court will hold a hearing to determine what property or portions of property each spouse will retain. If they do agree, a written contract between the parties is required to memorialize their agreement and ensure the enforcement of that agreement in the future if one of the parties does not comply with the terms of their agreement. That contract is often referred to as a Postnuptial Agreement and can also be called such things as a Marital Settlement Agreement, a Property Agreement, a Divorce Agreement, etc. Regardless of the name of the document, it is a legally binding contract enforceable under contract laws in the state of Pennsylvania.
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When families consider adoption, they have many choices and many decisions. Families can utilize a private adoption agency, where they can provide information to be included in a profile for birth parents to review and determine if that family should be the adoptive resource for their child. Private agencies charge a fee for their services. Families can also adopt through local social service agencies were children are placed because they are dependent. In those cases, no fees are paid to these social service agencies and instead, when children are placed for foster care, and/or adoption, often subsidies are paid to the family for the care of the child placed in their home. Both options result in adoption opportunities for many families, but it is always best to have a full understanding of the process. Whether a child is placed with a family for adoption privately, or through a local social service agency, here are ten questions you should ask at the beginning:
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In my previous post I discussed the steps leading up to the adoption hearing.  In this post I will talk about your testimony and completing the finalization of your adoption.

Adoptive parents testimony is typically a recitation of the information contained in an Adoption Petition, and is simply comprised of each parties’ own biographical information, including your name, address, date of birth, age, place of birth, occupation, religious affiliation, racial background, date of marriage, and the first names and ages of any other biological or adoptive children.  The adoption then requires confirmation of additional information, which I always refer to as “the silly questions.”  They are silly because they are obvious, but the law requires that they are affirmed on the record. Those questions include the following:

  1. Have you received the medical history information with regard to your adoptive child, and is there anything in that information that would cause you to not proceed with this adoption?
  2. Does the proposed adoptee own any property of value? (toys don’t count)
  3. Is it your desire to continue the parent-child relationship you have established with the proposed adoptee, and if so, are you willing to assume the parental duties with regard to this child?
  4. Do you understand that if the Court grants your Petition today, the proposed adoptee will have all the rights and obligations as if they were your biological child? (duh – everyone knows that there is no distinction in the law between adoptive children and biological children)
  5. Have you had any out-of-pocket expenses related to this adoption that would not be reimbursed to you?
  6. This one is my favorite – What name would you like the proposed adoptee to assume?


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Many of my families who are fostering to adopt children through the Dependency System spend months to years waiting for the day when their foster child is legally free for adoption. Many of those families have experienced pain, turmoil, disappointment, frustration, and always, the joy of raising a beautiful child. However, when they meet with me to move forward with the finalization of their adoption, they simply cannot believe that the process of doing so is as easy as I tell them that it is.

So, when you finally get to that magic moment when your foster child is legally free for adoption and your caseworker says now it is time to proceed to a finalization hearing, here’s what you can expect:

Many County adoption workers will provide the information necessary for me to prepare your Adoption Petition. Each County varies a bit, and when a County Agency and an affiliated Agency are involved, we all work as a team to get the information necessary to prepare your Petition. That can include information provided from your County caseworker, from your affiliated Agency caseworker,  and directly from you.  Once all the information I need to prepare the Adoption Petition has been provided, I prepare the Petition and schedule a time to meet with you to review the Petition and discuss the finalization process.  Fortunately, that process is relatively simple when considering what many families have already been through to get to the place where they are sitting down with me to review and sign their Adoption Petition.
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  • 5329. Consideration of criminal conviction. 

(a)  Offenses.–Where a party seeks any form of custody, the court shall consider whether that party or member of that party’s household has been convicted of or has pleaded guilty or no contest to any of the offenses in this section or an offense in another jurisdiction substantially equivalent to any of the offenses in this section. The court shall consider such conduct and determine that the party does not pose a threat of harm to the child before making any order of custody to that party when considering the following offenses:

23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5329 and § 5330 address a number of criminal offenses that may give rise to additional custody proceedings under certain circumstances in addition to participation in a custody conference.  Those enumerated offenses, in addition to an involvement with a County Children and Youth Agency or the Protection From Abuse (PFA) system, are required to be addressed under PA law prior to a Court entering a Custody Order.  Many County Courts have struggled with the best way to address this requirement when considering the timeliness of custody decisions, the cost of prolonged litigation, the additional strain on the calendars and resources of the Court system and, most importantly, the effect on children and families.
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Gone are the days of the Tender Years Doctrine where it was presumed that a child under a certain age (3) should be in the primary care of his or her mother as a mother is best able to meet the needs of a child from birth to 3 years. The so-called Tender Years Doctrine fell by the wayside in the law several years ago, but many believe the theory behind it holds true. That is, by anatomical default, a mother has a more significant bond with a child born to her and from her body thereby placing her in a better position to continue that bond and meet a young child’s needs. However, that thinking to many people is antiquated and the role and importance of a father’s bond with their children at the moment of birth going forward has gained popular consideration and is now being recognized by courts.
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The short answer is that it is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order,  however, QDRO (pronounced KWAH dro) is a quick and easy abbreviation.  No matter how you say it, this Order is used to document and execute future distributions of retirement benefits after a divorce.  For those of you who like details or just want to have a better understanding of the process used to divide different types of retirement benefits, read on for the long answer.
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With the implementation of the changes to the Federal Tax Code proffered by the Trump Administration, alimony payments post-December 31, 2018 will look a little different. Actually, a lot of different. In fact, the tax ramifications are gone.

Pre-December 31, 2018, alimony payments were taxable income to the recipient and deductible by the Payor. These tax ramifications were often vital tools in negotiating settlements in divorce matters where tax consequences were important to the parties and could be used as leverage in negotiation. While parties were free to agree to something other than alimony payments being taxable income to the recipient and deductible by the Payor, court ordered alimony awards were taxable income to the recipient and deductible by the Payor.
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