The divorce is final. No more deadlines to meet, papers to file or waiting time for all of it to be over. Now that the hard part is behind you, it is time for a fresh start. However, there might be a few things remaining for you to do before you can officially move on to the next chapter.

The following is a checklist of things that you might still need to do after your divorce is finalized:

  • Review your divorce decree and create a list of things that you and your former spouse still need to satisfy. It could help if you create a calendar to visualize when certain things are due such as alimony/child support payments or when certain things are scheduled to terminate.

  • Divide investment assets and retirement plans according to the terms of the divorce settlement agreement. Dividing a 401(k) or pension will require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). A QDRO is a court order telling the administrators of the retirement plan or the 401(k) how to divide the account. Most QDROs need to be drafted by an attorney or a CPA, signed by you and the former spouse, filed with the court and signed by a judge. If you are the recipient of a portion of your former spouse’s retirement account and you need the QDRO, it is imperative that you follow-up with your attorney to ensure the implementation of the QDRO is done in a timely fashion.

  • Update all beneficiary designations with your workplace retirement plans, investment accounts, retirement accounts, trusts, annuities, life insurance, bank accounts, credit cards and any other place you might have listed your former spouse as a beneficiary.

  • Obtain your own insurance coverage for your health, automobile, home and life insurance.

  • Review your credit report to cancel any joint credit cards and close any joint accounts. Also, look through your credit report for any joint debts that you were not aware of.

  • Update your estate planning documents including your will, any trusts, durable and health care power of attorneys.  If you never had a will, this is a good time to consider making one.

  • Change your emergency contacts with your workplace, doctors, health club, etc.

  • If you changed your name back to your maiden name, you will need to notify different agencies. Most importantly, you will need to change your name on your social security card, passport and your driver’s license. You should also consider changing your name on your social media accounts. 

  • Consider changing your passwords to any emails or online accounts (i.e. Paypal, Facebook, etc.) that you might have shared the access information with your former spouse.  Confirm that your spouse isn’t either a signer or authorized user on any of your online accounts.

  • After the divorce, your financial circumstances have likely changed. You should consider developing, by yourself or with the help of a professional, a new financial plan for your new life.

Getting these things done might seem a burden now, after all you have been through, but it is necessary to avoid trouble later on.  It is better that you go through this checklist and handle these issues as soon as your divorce is finalized to prevent possible future complications.

Once these things are done, you get to close that chapter and enjoy your new life with no worries about unhandled matters left over from the divorce.

Published in AMM Blog

 

Going back to school can be an exciting and overwhelming experience for children and parents alike.  For divorced or separated parents, this time can be fraught with challenges which cause stress and conflict for all involved, most importantly children.  We advise our family law clients that it is important to make a conscientious effort to put their differences aside and co-parent in the best interest of their children.  Successful co-parenting, including communication between parents, is critical in helping children succeed in school, and contributes to their overall sense of well-being and security – a win-win for everyone.   

Parents who exercise shared legal custody of their children must agree on school selection and extra-curricular activities prior to enrollment.  Before the first day of school, parents should develop and implement a unified parenting plan to provide their children with stability, consistency, and routine.   The unified parenting plan should include the following:  

  • Create and synchronize a parenting calendar, such as Google Calendar, to share important information, including the custodial schedule, the school schedule, and the extra-curricular activity schedule.
     
  • Complete and/or update the school enrollment paperwork, the school emergency contact list, and the school portal registration, and include both parents’ names and contact information.  This will ensure that both parents receive school notifications and school records, including report cards with grades.

  • Share the responsibility and the cost of all back-to-school related expenses, including clothing and supplies.

  • Attend all school related activities, including back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences.

  • Meet with the teachers, the principal, the guidance counselor, and the coaches and inform them of the current custody order and schedule.

Working together to co-parent and demonstrate a united front will require patience, tolerance, compromise, and coordination, but, in the long run, the joint effort will greatly reduce back to school custody issues which can be costly, frustrating, and painful for children and parents.

Published in AMM Blog

In my prior installment of this series (Family Law Tip #2), I discussed the substantial reduction in the allowable amount of mortgage interest which is now tax deductible on any mortgage taken out after December 15, 2017.   The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the deductible amount by $250,000 on homes purchased after the cut off date - capping the allowable interest deduction to mortgage principal of $750,000 (reduced from $1,000,000 prior to December 15, 2017).  Beyond the lower mortgage cap, another big change is that, in general, the interest on home equity lines of credit is no longer deductible (with some very limited exceptions). This is true regardless of whether the home equity line of credit was taken out before or after the change in tax law.

These changes to the allowable mortgage interest deduction will have a bearing on the decision of divorcing parties as to whether to keep their second residence post-divorce.  In the past, people often kept the second residence, in part knowing that they were able to deduct the mortgage and home equity line of credit interest on their tax returns and the maximum amount of $1,000,000 in indebtedness allowed for flexibility.  In the advent of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, some will have to rethink this decision.  If the expenses related to their vacation homes cannot be deducted, the cost to maintain the home will be higher.

While there was some back and forth in the various drafts of the tax code revisions, ultimately the deductions for the mortgage interest apply to both the primary residence and a second home as well.  However, as stated above, the $750,000 cap makes it more likely that parties will not be able to deduct all of the interest on the mortgages for the primary residence and secondary residence when those amounts are combined.  Consulting your attorney and accountant will help you to determine the actual increase in the cost of maintaining your vacation home so that you can make an informed decision.

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Although the weather is just starting to change to cooler temperatures, the holiday season is fast approaching.  Holiday displays are up, holiday music is already playing and even the pre-Black Friday sales have started.   It seems that with the warmer temperatures well into the fall, the holidays have snuck up on us all.  While it is easy to get wrapped up in the spirit of the  season, if you have minor children and a custody agreement or order, it is time to take a look at your custody documents  and give some thought to what lies ahead in the next several weeks.
 
Before you make plans with your children, it is important to see what the holiday schedule is for this year.  Which days of the holidays are your children with you, what times are they with you, and who is responsible for transporting the children?  It is important that you know the answers to all of these questions.  Take out your custody agreement or order now and look through the schedule for Thanksgiving through New Year’s.  If you have questions, now is the time to ask your attorney, not on Thanksgiving morning.  We all know that a lot of advance planning occurs for the holidays, and family gatherings are scheduled.  If it is important to you that your children celebrate with you and your extended family, you want to be sure to make your plans around when you have physical custody of the children.  Knowing the details of the holiday schedule now will enable you to make plans based upon the custody schedule and keep everyone happy, which should result in a more peaceful holiday for you.    

Published in AMM Blog

Prior to Pennsylvania legally recognizing same-sex marriages, other states did offer same-sex marriages or civil unions. A problem for couples who entered into an out-of-state marriage or civil union was that if they later decided to divorce, they could not do so in the Pennsylvania family courts.  This was because Pennsylvania did not recognize those marriages or civil unions as legal.  In June 2013, in United States v. Windsor, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act’s (DOMA) defining marriage as between one man and one woman was unconstitutional, but the Court limited the impact of their decision.  In May 2014, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled in Whitewood v. Wolf that Pennsylvania’s definition of marriage and refusal to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages were unconstitutional.  Then, in June 2015, the United Stated Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges ruled that same-sex couples must have the right to marry.  This decision applies to every state.

While these decisions expanded rights to same-sex couples, a lot of questions were left unanswered.  One of the big questions was whether civil unions entered into in other states prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage would be recognized by Pennsylvania.  If the civil unions were not recognized as legal marriages, then Pennsylvania courts did not have to grant divorces, divide the assets and liabilities through equitable distribution or address support issues There were potential child custody ramifications as well.  This left Pennsylvania same-sex couples who legally entered into out-of-state civil unions without the ability to divorce or deal with the economics related to their marriage through the family courts in their home state. 

On December 28, 2016, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed this question in Neyman v. Buckley.  The Superior Court of Pennsylvania ruled “that a Vermont civil union creates the functional equivalent of marriage for the purposes of dissolution.”  In this case, the parties, Pennsylvania residents, entered into a Vermont civil union in 2002 and separated later that year.  From 2014 through 2015 the parties unsuccessfully sought a divorce in Pennsylvania and appealed their case to the Pennsylvania Superior Court arguing that the Pennsylvania family court should have jurisdiction to dissolve their Vermont civil union and that the Vermont civil union should be treated as a legal marriage in Pennsylvania.  It is important to note that Vermont intended same-sex couples that entered into civil unions to have the same rights and access to the family court system as those who were married.  The Superior Court of Pennsylvania used this reasoning to “conclude that the legal properties of a Vermont civil union weigh in favor of recognizing such unions as the legal equivalent of marriage for purposes of dissolution under the Divorce Code.”  This decision allows same-sex couples who entered into out-of-state civil unions the same rights as if the civil union were a marriage.  It also allows these couples access to Pennsylvania family courts to address those issues permitted under the Pennsylvania Divorce Code.

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 "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
- Dan Millman, “Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives”


People make resolutions to start off the New Year, such as dieting, giving up smoking, saving money and making more money. As we begin 2017, a common resolution on the minds of many is to get a divorce.

Oftentimes, this “resolution” was made earlier in the year, but there was a decision, or even a discussion, to not do anything until after the holidays. 

Making the decision to end your marriage is the first step.  Then, there is the actual process.  The next step is to get yourself organized.  If you have access to records regarding your assets, liabilities and income, get them.  You should photocopy them and keep them somewhere safe.  (The safest place is in the home of a friend or somewhere your spouse does not have access.)  If you do not have access to that information, do not panic.  You will be able to obtain the information during the divorce process.

After you are organized, get legal advice from an attorney in the area in which you live.  Do not rely on the advice of friends and family.  In particular, do not rely on information about divorces on the internet.  There is a lot of misinformation on the internet.  Divorces and their outcomes tend to vary from person to person based upon their circumstances.  Get advice tailored to your circumstances.

Lastly, be reminded that you are not the only one in your divorce.  It involves your spouse, your children, your in-laws, your friends and neighbors.  You will find yourself in unfamiliar territory.  However, if you remember that you are making this resolution for a reason, you will manage your divorce with dignity, and soon find yourself on the other side.

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