Jennifer Brandt Appears on Law & Crime

Jennifer Brandt, chair of the firm’s Family Law Group, appeared on Law & Crime discussing a top of the news case.

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Jennifer Brandt Appears on Fox 29’s Good Day Philadelphia

Jennifer Brandt, chair of the firm’s Family Law group, was a guest on Good Day Philadelphia discussing ‘revenge porn’ and its role in Congressmember Katie Hill’s resignation.

To listen to Jennifer’s legal take on the story, click here.

 

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The Deductibility of Future Alimony Payments Just Might Depend on the Past

The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated the tax deduction previously allowed for alimony payments effective January 1, 2019.  This meant that alimony payments made pursuant to an agreement executed after December 31, 2018 could no longer be deducted from the income of the party making the payments nor would it be included in the income of the party receiving the payments.  The actual implementation of this change remained unclear, however, particularly for agreements executed prior to December 31, 2018 but modified after that date. Specifically, were these modified agreements still governed by the old law or did the modification subject the payments to the new law? Read more ›

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Posted in Support

Judge to Rule on Parents Who Took Son off Cancer Treatment

Jennifer Brandt was a guest on HLN discussing the Florida parents who seek to regain custody of their 4-year-old son after taking him off of chemotherapy.

To listen to Jennifer’s legal take on the story, click here.

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Posted in Custody

Parents Seeking to Regain Custody After Taking Son off Cancer Treatment

Jennifer Brandt was a guest on Good Day Philadelphia discussing the Florida parents who are seeking to regain custody of their 4-year-old son after taking him off of chemotherapy. They lost custody in May to the child’s grandparents after missing a chemotherapy appointment for the boy, in favor of trying alternative medicine. Watch the video here.

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“Untying the Knot”: Practical Considerations for the Newly Divorced

I was asked recently by a financial advisor in New York, to review and comment on a chart he had put together which was designed to help newly-divorced people in get back on their feet.  The draft document I received covered mostly investment matters, but it got me thinking about all of the practical things people need to think about – and do – when they transition from being a married couple, to being single.  So, in no particular order of importance (in my view, they are all important, or will be at some point) here are some basic things which need to be attended to after a divorce.

Retirement Money Transfers:  Often, a settlement agreement or court decision will call for retirement money to be transferred between parties.  These transfers must be made between retirement accounts in order to avoid taxes and penalties.  Where the account in question is a simple IRA, or a Roth IRA, a call, and a copy of the order or agreement to the fund administrator is usually enough to have the transfer made.  For more complex plans, “qualified plans” as they are known, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (more commonly known as a QDRO) is needed.  A QDRO is an order, prepared either by an attorney or a pension expert, and presented to the matrimonial judge for signature.  Once signed, the order is forwarded to the plan administrator, and the money is transferred tax free into a retirement account designated by the recipient. Read more ›

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Posted in Divorce

Changes to the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines in Response to the New Tax Law

For the past several decades the “alimony deduction” has been available to all divorcing couples. This deduction provided that the spouse making alimony payments could deduct alimony payments from his or her income and the person receiving alimony would claim these payments as taxable income. However, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, all support orders entered after January 1, 2019 will no longer qualify for this deduction.

In response to the new tax reality, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has provided new guidelines under which to calculate support. Under these new guidelines, there are two methods of calculating support, one for orders entered before December 31, 2018 and one for orders entered after January 1, 2019.

Guidelines for Orders Entered Before December 31, 2018

If a support order was entered before December 31, 2018, the old guideline calculation applies. Under this calculation, spousal support/APL is calculated by taking 30 percent of the difference of the parties’ net incomes minus child support, or, if there is no child support order, 40 percent of the difference of the parties’ net incomes. The spousal support/APL figure is calculated after calculating child support. Read more ›

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The Pitfalls of Transferring Assets Into Trust Prior to Divorce

Transferring assets into trust for the benefit of children or others is a common estate planning tool. The party making the transfer into a trust gives up any right to control the property or its distribution.  This also has the effect of removing the property from the marital estate and can significantly lower the amount of money and/or property subject to equitable distribution in the event of a divorce. This becomes problematic when it was done without the knowledge and consent of both parties, and if it was done for a nefarious purpose, such as to deny one spouse their right to share in certain marital assets.

Pennsylvania law provides two main statutory bases to challenge a transfer of property to a trust.  First, Section 3505(e) of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code explains that where a transfer of marital property is made to a third person who paid wholly inadequate consideration for the property, a Court may find that the transfer was fraudulent and declare it to be void.  Transfers to trusts usually do not involve any consideration.  This in itself, can make the transfer within the scope of an attack under Section 3505(e), but the Court is likely to require additional facts suggesting that the transfer was fraudulently made. Read more ›

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Posted in Division of Assets

Figuring Out Who Gets Fido In A Divorce

A new law in California which goes into effect on January 1, 2019 gives Courts the right to determine custody and care of a pet both pending a divorce and as part of a final determination. This is a move in the right direction given that so many couples consider pets part of the family. Despite this, in many States they are treated as property in divorce.

Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey consider pets as property. In New Jersey, if parties reach an agreement regarding the care and custody of their pet, the Court will enforce it. In Pennsylvania, pets are considered chattel, and the Courts will not enforce provisions of a settlement agreement of the parties regarding the custody of a pet.

The landmark case in New Jersey regarding pet custody is Houseman v. Dare, 405 N.J. Super. 538 (App.Div. 2009). In Houseman, the parties had a long-term relationship and had been engaged to be married. They purchased a dog together and were both registered as the owners. When the couple broke up and the girlfriend vacated the residence, she took the dog and its paraphernalia with her. The parties did not have a written agreement about the dog.

Nonetheless, the ex-girlfriend would bring the dog to ex-boyfriend’s residence for visits. At one point, the ex-girlfriend left the dog with her former boyfriend while she went on vacation. Upon her return, the ex-boyfriend refused to give the dog back to her. A lawsuit ensued.

The Court held that when litigants each demand custody of the family pet, and one party asserts the existence of an oral agreement on that subject, (such as bringing the dog over for visits) it is appropriate to conduct a hearing to determine which party had the greater attachment. This hearing is referred to as a “Houseman hearing.” Additionally, the Court held that pets have a “special ‘subjective value’ to their owners.” Because of that subjective value, the Court analogized pets to property such as “heirlooms, family treasures and works of art that induce a strong sentimental attachment.” Houseman at 543 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 360 comment b).

The Houseman v. Dare decision set the following precedent in New Jersey:
1. Pets are still considered personal property, but they have a unique sentimental value that cannot be quantified with a price tag;
2. Pet ownership rulings are based in contract law, not the “best interest of the animal” (in other words, the Court would uphold a pet custody agreement in an Marital Settlement Agreement);
3. New Jersey Courts can issue shared possession orders for family pets.
4. A hearing may be held to determine which party had the greater attachment to the pet if there is an allegation of an oral agreement.

In the case of Mitchell v. Mitchell, 2010 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 188 (App.Div. 2010) the plaintiff claimed that defendant neglected the cat by not taking him for annual checkups with the veterinarian. The Court held that if a pet is being neglected and has suffered some harm, a litigant may be entitled to relief, such as assuming custody, even if the litigant had previously relinquished custody of the pet.

The seminal case in Pennsylvania regarding pet custody is Desanctis v. Pritchard, 803 A.2d 230 (2002). This case involved a couple who divorced in 2000. During their marriage, Wife purchased the dog (Barney). When the couple divorced, they drafted an agreement that stated that the dog was Wife’s property and that Husband would be entitled to visits. However, shortly thereafter, Wife moved away. Husband filed a complaint seeking shared custody of the dog. Ultimately, this case was heard before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which held that the agreement was unenforceable as Pennsylvania law considers dogs to be personal property. The Pennsylvania Court said that the husband was seeking an arrangement that was analogous in law, to a visiting schedule for a table or a lamp. Because a pet is considered personal property, it will be lumped into the “equitable distribution” of all property. The Court held that any terms in the Property Settlement Agreement that provided for shared custody or visitation of personal property were void. This has come to be known as the “Barney Rule.”

With the recent change in California law related to pet custody, there will hopefully be nationwide recognition as to how pets are valued in most families. Time will tell if our local laws change as a result.

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Posted in Divorce

New Developments in Grandparent Custody

On July 4, 2018, two amendments to the Pennsylvania child custody laws went into effect making it easier for grandparents and other third parties to seek custody of a minor child. Specifically, Section 5324 and Section 5325(2) of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relation Code, was amended to expand the ability of grandparents and other third parties to assert standing in custody matters.

This legislation was passed as a reaction to the case of D.P. v. G.J.P., 146 A.3d 204 (Pa.2016), which limited grandparent custody rights by holding that grandparents were no longer able to assert standing solely because a child’s parents were separated for a period of at least six months.

After the D.P. decision, a child’s parents would have had to initiate a divorce proceeding in order for the grandparents to seek custody. This prevented many grandparents from seeking custody of their grandchildren. Under the new law, a divorce action is not required. Rather, grandparents may seek custody of a child when an action for custody has already been initiated. Read more ›

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Posted in Custody
About Family Law Focus
The Family Law Focus blog provides highlights, updates and insights on complex family disputes including divorce, division of property, and alimony; child and spousal support; child custody; domestic violence; pre- and post-nuptial agreements; name changes; and adoption or termination of parental rights.
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The Editor

Jennifer A. Brandt, of Cozen O'Connor's Family Law practice, has represented a wide variety of clients in hundreds of family law cases throughout her career. Jennifer is a regular legal commentator on national and local television outlets such as CNN, Fox New Network, HLN, MSNBC, Fox29, ABC News, NBC and CBS and frequently writes and contributes to articles in numerous publications, including the Huffington Post, Fox Business.com, The PhiIly Post, Avvo.com, Allparenting.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Business Journal, the National Law Journal, and Main Line Today magazine.
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