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Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Family Legal Blog

New and upcoming changes to PA child custody laws

According to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Act 21 of 2018 allows grandparents to fill in as legal guardians in certain situations. One of the biggest reasons for this in the state is the sweeping effects of the opioid crisis. Statistics from last year claim that 103,000 children in Pennsylvania live with a relative other than their parents. Meanwhile, 88,000 grandparents are caring for their grandchildren.

The change in law makes it easier for grandparents to seek temporary or permanent custody of children. However, many grandparents are still unaware of this. To help educate more of these guardians about their rights, the PBA and more than two dozen county bar associations launched a campaign.

Requesting a child support modification

The court orders you to pay child support when your marriage ends. They base it on your income and the child's needs. For the first few years, you make every single payment.

Then your financial situation changes. Maybe you start a new family and have additional expenses. Maybe you lose your job and see significant income changes. Whatever happens, it's clear that you cannot make the payments that the court ordered back when your marriage first ended. Now what?

Women can no longer expect alimony even as homemakers

It is natural for a woman who gave up her career to tend to the home to believe she will get spousal support after a divorce. After all, she lost a significant amount of income and perhaps gave up her peak earning years in Pennsylvania to care for the family. Even without a family, she may have followed her husband across the country or around the world for his work, making it almost impossible for her to hold down one of her own.

However, Forbes notes that stay-at-home moms should no longer expect alimony, regardless of the circumstances. Many states are revisiting their old laws on spousal support, many of which have not been updated since earning potential has increased for women in the workplace, and since some women have out-earned their partners. Today, three-quarters of women participate in the workforce and there are more women with college degrees than men.

Planning for child support during a divorce

When couples divorce in Pennsylvania, many are able to work out amicable arrangements without court orders. The non-custodial parent agrees to make regular contributions to expenses and parents work out who gets the children at various times of the month or year. However, this is not always the case.

For other couples, a child support order may become necessary. Forbes notes that the amount of money the noncustodial parent will need to pay as child support may depend on the income of both parents. The court may also factor in the following considerations:

  •          Who pays for school expenses, childcare and health care
  •          Percentage of time the children spend with each parent
  •          Amount of money also being paid for spousal support

Parents who remarry risk disinheriting their children

When parents remarry in Pennsylvania, they may accidentally disinherit their children if they do not update their financial accounts and estate planning documents. This can happen on both sides, since the spouse remarrying may have kids of their own as well.

CNBC notes that failing to update account beneficiaries is one of the most common ways parents disinherit their children. For starters, whatever remains in the 401(k) will go the current spouse unless they agree to let someone else become the beneficiary.

How to protect assets in a divorce without being selfish

When couples go through a divorce in Pennsylvania, it is natural for people to begin to start grasping at assets in the relationship. The longer a couple lived together and remained married, the more assets they accumulate together. If one person made significantly more than the other, then this can also create a complicated situation when it is time to divide up the spoils.

Keep a clear head and focus on compromise. It is easy for pending divorcees to only think of themselves, but divorce does not happen independently. It is the wrapping up of an agreement that previously existed on the premise of a permanent arrangement. So, here is how to protect assets while keeping that former commitment in mind.

Your child's best interests: The life they deserve

The court does not make child custody decisions lightly. Contrary to popular thought, the court also does not make these decisions with the primary focus on the parents.

Say that you and your spouse decide to get divorced after a decade of marriage. You have two young kids together, and you both want custody of them. It's natural to assume that the court is simply going to decide "who wins" and give custody to one of you. It's easy to view it as you vs. your ex, as if solving that question is the court's primary goal.

Alimony may cost you even more because of tax law changes

In 2018, many divorcing couples in Pennsylvania rushed to finalize their divorce before new tax laws took effect on January 1, 2019. Why was this? CNBC notes that at the start of 2019, alimony payments were no longer tax deductible under the tax reform. In contrast, the person receiving the income no longer has to claim it as taxable income.

This may at first present a favorable situation for women, who are usually at the receiving end of alimony payments. Closer inspection says otherwise. The payer may be more reluctant to provide higher alimony payments if they will not be tax deductible. This may create a financial crisis for the homemaker in the family who may have set their careers aside to move with their spouse, take care of the home, raise the children or all of the above.

Modifying child support is possible in some cases

One of the most long-lasting financial effects of a divorce is often the child support order. Pennsylvania state law provides clear instructions for the custodial and noncustodial parent in terms of child support payments. In most cases, child support orders last until the child is 18. However, the state may require payments to continue if the child has mental or physical conditions that require additional support. While there are state guidelines that help a court determine child support amounts, it is possible to modify the payments in certain circumstances.

According to FindLaw, Pennsylvania courts may calculate child support based on factors including both parents' monthly income, child care expenses, extracurricular activities and medical costs. The child's living arrangements and any relevant Social Security benefits may also affect the calculation of child support payments. In cases where the child is not in either parent's custody, both parents may have to make child support payments.

When should I update my estate plan?

Creating an estate plan is really only half the battle. There are also times when you'll need to update your will to ensure it continues to meet your needs, or your family could be subject to serious issues after you're gone. Wise Bread explains a few of the times when updating your will is an absolute must. 

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