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Berks County Divorce Law Blog

How substance abuse can affect child custody

Pennsylvania parents who have ex-spouses with alcohol or drug dependences may have justifiable child custody concerns. While it is important that parents comply with court-mandated child custody scheduling and visitation, there are certain steps they can take to protect their kids from a parent suffering from substance abuse.

A parent's substance abuse may be addressed at a child custody hearing or when allegations regarding the abuse are reported to the state. The court will typically act if the substance abuse impacts how well the parent is able to care for their children or if the parent presents a threat to the well-being of the children.

Child support skirted by voluntary impoverishment

Parents in Pennsylvania may find it increasingly difficult to enforce child support agreements due to a practice called voluntary impoverishment. The process relies on the strategic manipulation of the system through under-reporting payments and earnings to the IRS to avoid child support obligations.

This issue makes it difficult for parents collecting child support, forcing them to settle for less assistance than they may be entitled to receive using an income-based formula. A parent making more money may be able to shield their earnings through underreporting methods where they are able to avoid being on the hook for the entire amount of child support they would otherwise be required to pay.

You can ask for a prenuptial agreement without causing trouble

It's natural to believe that asking for a prenuptial agreement will lead to an argument with your fiancé.

Although the potential for trouble exists, there are steps you can take to ease the tension and make it easier for both individuals to move forward in the best way possible.

About visitation rights

Parents in Pennsylvania who are not granted child custody are usually given visitation rights. In the majority of cases, the courts prefer to have both parents actively involved in the lives of their children even if they determine that the children may be better served residing with one of the parents for the majority of the time. However, parents who are denied custody should understand why and what type of rights they have regarding visitation.

The primary focus of the court is the make decisions that are in the best interests of the children. If the court determines that one parent cannot have custody, it does not always mean that the court believes their home is not suitable. The courts tend to favor awarding physical custody to the parent who has acted as the children's primary caregiver. They may also determine that it would not be in the best interest of the child to be constantly shuttled between two locations.

Public assistance agencies place priority on child support

A parent in Pennsylvania pursuing a separation or divorce might hit financial hard times. This is especially common when one parent was financially dependent on a spouse. Loss of income due to separation or divorce might prompt someone to apply for public assistance. Government agencies, however, will want details about child support payments before awarding benefits like food, housing, or childcare assistance. If child support payments have not been officially set up through a court, a public assistance agency might seek to collect the support money to offset taxpayer expenses to the dependent child or parent.

An agency will typically look at a child's birth certificate to identify a parent who should be paying child support. If a birth certificate lacks a second name, then an agency might rely on who an applicant says is the other parent. In cases of divorce involving same-sex partners, agencies will look for a legal agreement that establishes both parties as co-parents. Without this documentation, an agency might not impose a child support obligation on a person who does not have a biological connection to the dependent child.

Understanding more about child support payments

When Pennsylvania parents split up, child support can be a key issue. These funds can be critical for providing for a child's needs, including educational, medical and personal expenses. Many people across the country have little understanding of child support statistics. However, it can be very important for people going through the process to learn more about what they may expect.

The U.S. Census Bureau tracks statistics about child support in the United States, including how many parents have a support order in place and how much is owed and actually paid under this system. As of the Census Bureau's 2016 report, there are 13.4 million single parents across the country who have custody of their children. However, less than half of those parents actually have a legal or even an informal support agreement; only 48.7 percent have a child support order or agreement. Of the parents who have established support, 89.8 of those agreements were made through the court or a relevant state agency while 10.2 are through informal arrangements.

Considering remarriage and child support payments

People in Pennsylvania who go through a divorce may wonder about the impact that remarriage can have on child support. In many cases, people who remarry may seek to have more children in the future as part of their new marriage. In other cases, people marry other single parents and take on at least some of the financial responsibilities for raising their children. It can be particularly important for divorced parents to understand the impact that different scenarios can have on their child support entitlements and obligations.

In general, the custodial parent's remarriage is unlikely to affect the child support obligations of the non-custodial parent. Even if their new spouse is wealthier than the birth parents, the child is their responsibility, and the state is unlikely to change a child support order for this reason. In addition, some custodial parents may want their new spouse to legally adopt their child. However, this is unlikely unless the non-custodial parent has agreed to terminate their own financial rights.

More divorced women are paying alimony

In the past few decades, there have been great changes in Pennsylvania's workforce. More wives are now working and out-earning their spouses than ever before. As a result of this, more divorced women paying alimony to their former husbands.

Attorneys nationwide have commented on the new situation. At least half of the family law attorneys in a recent survey have witnessed an increase in the number of women required to pay alimony. Many of these women are shocked to learn they may be obligated to an ex-husband for payments after the divorce.

How to manage college costs during a divorce

Couples in Pennsylvania are finding that divorce can have a devastating impact on a family's finances. Since divorce is prevalent, all people are encouraged to consider every aspect of their finances when in the process of a divorce or dispute. This is especially important because the household's finances become divided into two separate homes. One of the most important considerations is how the student's financial plans will be handled in the event of a devastating divorce.

A couple's primary concern is often the well-being of the minor children. Both parties must somehow manage the immediate financial needs of the children. The couple's plans for their children's education may take a backseat because there may be less money to go around. Having a financial plan in place to address the child's educational needs is as important as discussions on marital property and pensions. Making college affordable can encompass a tuition savings plan such as a 529 account, scholarships, grants, and legacy student tuition rates. What couples find in a typical divorce scenario is that while their hopes for a higher education for their children may be a priority, opinions may diverge on how to pay for it.

How to terminate child support orders in Pennsylvania

Noncustodial parents are generally required to pay child support to help custodial parents raise a child. However, it is possible that a parent who is receiving support can request that those payments be stopped. This generally occurs when parents choose to get back together after a separation or divorce. If the parents are back together, there is no reason to mandate a certain level of support.

If the parent who is paying child support experiences a change in circumstances, that parent could choose to ask to modify an existing order. In some cases, the custodial parent could agree to stop receiving payments altogether in an effort to help that person. Conversely, the custodial parent could find him or herself coming into an inheritance or otherwise having more money at his or her disposal. This could result in that parent asking to put an end to support payments.

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