Friday, February 29, 2008

Next Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day has come and gone -- but click here for an idea for next year (a humorous take on a Valentine favorite) if you do not have a special someone.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

April 15 - Just Around the Corner

QUOTATION: Death and taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them!

ATTRIBUTION: Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949), U.S. novelist. Scarlett O’Hara, in Gone with the Wind, vol. 2, pt. 4, ch. 38 (1936).

For divorced and separated individuals, tax time presents several different issues. Who is going to claim the dependents? Who is going to claim mortgage interest? Can I file separately or am I considered head of a household?

These questions should be addressed to a qualified tax professional, who is familiar with your particular situation. However, to familiarize yourself with the rules, you may want to review the IRS’s excellent publication: Publication 504 - Divorced or Separated Individuals, for use in preparing 2007 returns. Click here to view a copy in Adobe Acrobat form.

Filing taxes when you are divorced or separated usually requires at least some cooperation with the other party. Accordingly, if you have not already done so, you should begin to review your information and prepare a draft tax return. That way, if you need information from the other party or an agreement on a certain issue, you have time to negotiate that prior to April 15. If you are missing any documents, such as Forms W-2 or Forms 1099, which may have gone to a previous residence, you should contact the issuer now in order to obtain another copy.

Finally, consult with your attorney regarding your particular situation. Besides the federal statutes and treasury regulations, there are other regulations, court orders or agreements in your particular case may affect your tax status.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

(Step) Parents

It's easier to get a marriage license than a driver's license. A driver's license requires passing a test. In the case of getting married - the entire marriage is the test.

Perhaps there should be some type of test before we enter into a marriage because a failed marriage can wreak havoc not just on the couple - but also on the children. A divorce invovling children usually means custody negotiations and support questions. Sometimes, just when everyone is getting used to being divorced, a step-parent enters the picture. Making this relationship work involves hard work, patience and lots of love.

Click here for a touching essay by Inquirer Columnist Alfred Lubrano from this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer on some of the issues facing today's blended families.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Identity Theft

More and more criminals search dumpsters or other garbage areas to find valuable financial data, send phony emails to obtain information, steal your physical information by stealing a wallet or a purse and divert your information to another address by filling out a phony Change of Address Form. Accordingly, you should do everything you can to safeguard your information.

Changes of Habit That Can Help Deter Thieves

1. Protect your social security number by only giving it out when absolutely necessary.

2. Do not give out your personal information unless you absolutely know that the person receiving it is safe. Accordingly, if someone calls you or sends you an email, verify their identity before responding.

3. Change your passwords frequently and do not use an obvious password. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, be careful about the clue questions included in most accounts that require a password. Although these were originally set up to identify you and send you your password in case you forgot, many thieves can use this service to change your password and therefore shut you out of your own accounts. Accordingly, try to use obscure answers to the questions, and change them frequently. An example of a security question would be your mother’s maiden name or your high school. Often, a thief can obtain that information and access your data. Try to use more obscure clues.

4. Always shred any financial document or any piece of paper that contains personal information.

Monitoring

1. You should know at what date during the month that your bills normally arrive. If you do not receive a bill at its appointed time, call the company.

2. If you receive a call or a letter about an unfamiliar purchase or bank transaction, immediately follow-up.

3. Inspect your credit report to make sure that no one is obtaining credit in your name.

4. Review your credit card statements and bank account statements regularly to make sure that there are no unauthorized charges.

Defending Against Identity Theft

1. Call the major credit reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This way, potential creditors must follow procedures before opening new credit. This will possibly alert you to fraudulent activity.

2. Close accounts where you suspect tampering.

3. If you find that you have been the victim of identity theft, immediately file a police report. This may help you establish the occurrence with a creditor.

Nationwide Consumer Reporting Companies

There are three (3) major consumer reporting companies. You can call any of these companies to obtain a credit report or place a fraud alert on your account. Some services may require a fee.

1. Equifax- 800-525-62852.
2. Experian (formerly TRW) - 888-397-37423.
3. Trans Union - 877322-8228 or 800-680-7289

To learn more about identify theft you can visit the following website: www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

If you are going through a divorce or separation or other type of domestic relations matter, you should take special care regarding your identity. Change your passwords frequently, change your hint questions frequently and monitor all of your accounts.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

GPS - Great When You Are Lost -- but also Great at Catching a Philandering Spouse

Suspicious spouses can place GPS systems in automobiles to track the movements of their husband or their wife - are they really going where they claim? If you are the title owner of the car (or the person who signed the lease), placing this type of system in your car is legal - after all - it is your car.

Caution must be taken, however - - proof of an affair/adultery/philandering will most likely have no bearing on equitable distribution of assets. Therefore, before you resort to this type of subterfugem consult with an attorney to determine if this type of endeavor is owthwhile.

Click here to view a news video on the subject.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Ring is FAKE! (But the Prenup is Real)

Knowledge of your own assets and debts -- as well as a complete understanding of what the other party owns -- is essential to a prenuptial agreement (as well as negotiating a fair divorce settlement).

Read a newspaper article here about a Pennsylvania case that has been winding its way through the court system for years. The wife is now claiming that she did not know that her diamond engagement ring is a fake (an almost worthless cubic zirconium rather than a priceless diamond). The wife unsuccessfully attempt to have the prenuptial agreement declared invalid.

Social Security and Divorce

When you divorce, your ex-spouse may qualify for social security benefits based on your work record when you reach the age of 62. Generally speaking, you must have been married for at least 10 years, your spouse must reach the age of 62 and remain unmarried and your spouse must not be eligible for an amount of benefits equal to or higher based on their own social security record. Click here to review the Social Security website’s page on benefits for divorced spouses.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Happy President's Day (2)

"I hope you're a Republican. "

Speaking to surgeons as Ronald Reagan entered the operating room following a 1981 assassination attempt . . . To which Dr. Joseph Giordano replied, "We're all Republicans today."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy President's Day

AUTHOR: Abraham Lincoln (1809–65)

QUOTATION: Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.


AUTHOR: George Washington (1732–99)

QUOTATION: To be prepared for War is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.



AUTHOR: Ronald Reagan (b. 1911), U.S. Republican politician, president. Remark, March 30, 1981, to Nancy Reagan.

QUOTATION: Honey, I forgot to duck.
(After John Hinckley III’s assassination attempt. Reagan was echoing the celebrated excuse boxer Jack Dempsey made to his wife after losing a title fight in the 1920s.)



AUTHOR: Ronald Reagan

QUOTATION: Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy Valentine’s Day

Trivia: The human heart beats approximately 100,000 times a day. I hope your heartbeats are happy today and throughout the year.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Religion and Custody

Click here for an article from today's New York Times about how religious issues invade custody questions across the nation.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Some Marriages Do Last

Click here for a sweet and tender essay from the New York Times on Sunday about a long lasting marriage, in honor of Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Budgets, Budgets, Budgets

Divorce or separation usually involves a re-evaluation of your financial picture.

If you are moving, you must decide how much of a mortgage or lease you can afford. You may also need to consolidate debt. Additionally, you may need to re-evaluate your investments.

Many banks provide online financial calculators to assist you with this type of planning. Click here to access the many financial calculators provided by Commerce Bank.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Custody Definitions in Pennsylvania - Straight from the Statute

The following is a list of common custody terms in Pennsylvania, right from the statute. It is a good idea to become familiar with the terminology. This statute has been interpreted by appellate courts and trial courts as well as rules, local procedure and policy and legislative comments. Accordingly, consult with an attorney regarding your specific situation. This statute provides you with an extremely basic outline of how things are defined.

Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes and Consolidated Statutes
Title 23 Pa.C.S.A. Domestic Relations Part VI. Children and Minors
Chapter 53
Custody
Subchapter A General Provisions
5302. Definitions

The following words and phrases when used in this subchapter shall have the meanings given to them in this section unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

"Child." Any unemancipated person under 18 years of age.

"Legal custody." The legal right to make major decisions affecting the best interest of a minor child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.

"Partial custody." The right to take possession of a child away from the custodial parent for a certain period of time.

"Physical custody." The actual physical possession and control of a child.

"Shared custody." An order awarding shared legal or shared physical custody, or both, of a child in such a way as to assure the child of frequent and continuing contact with and physical access to both parents.

"Visitation." The right to visit a child. The term does not include the right to remove a child from the custodial parent's control.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Surrogacy, Paternity and Legal Advice

I received an anonymous request regarding a situation wherein a woman was hiring a surrogate to give birth to her baby. Although the contracts are signed, the woman is worried that the surrogate mother could change her mind, they could lose custody and then her husband, who is the biological father of the child, could end up paying child support. As with many issues when I am only provided with a limited amount of facts, I cannot possibly give advice in this situation.

Anyone contemplating surrogacy should consult with a lawyer who is familiar with this area of law so that they understand all of the risks and rewards. Each situation is unique and requires specifically tailored legal advice.

I received several emails this week from persons facing paternity issues. As these situations can be complicated, and the effects longstanding, anyone involved in a paternity issue, whether you are the mother attempting to establish paternity, or the putative father attempting to deny it, should consult with an attorney. Tens of thousands of dollars in child support, as well as the well-being of a child, could be at stake. Whether to voluntarily submit to a paternity test, altogether, is a decision that should be made with your legal counsel.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Did Heath Ledger Have A Will?

What happens when a young, unmarried father dies without a Will? Generally, assets pass by something called “intestate succession.” This is a statutory scheme that directs the disposition of assets upon death. Intestate laws vary from state to state.

Heath Ledger had a two year old daughter named Matilda. He was also not married at the time of his death. Had he resided in Pennsylvania when he died, pursuant to intestate laws, his entire estate would pass to his daughter. Because his daughter is a minor, someone would have to be appointed to manage the funds, as a child cannot own and manage property.

If Heath Ledger had been married at the time of his death to someone who was not the mother of his child, then his surviving spouse would receive one-half of the estate and his child would receive the other half. If he had been married to the mother of the child at the time of his death, then his spouse would have received the first $30,000 of his estate plus one-half of the balance and the child would receive the rest.

These rules of succession are in place for persons who do not have Wills. Obviously, if someone wants to direct his assets in another manner, a Will would have to be written. Because Heath Ledger undoubtedly had a significant amount of assets, it would have been in his daughter’s best interest for him to have a Will. That is because, without a Will, she will receive all of the funds outright at the time she turns 18. Generally speaking, when there is a significant amount of assets involved, most parents do not want their child to receive those assets at the age of 18. By writing a Will, and setting up a trust, a parent can have more control over when those funds are distributed or for what they are used, such as college. Additionally, a Will can appoint someone to manage the funds, rather than leaving it up to chance.

Wills are especially important for divorced and separated individuals who have children. Consult with an attorney, experienced in this type of law, in order to make sure your children are protected.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Marital Strife, Tony Soprano Style

How Do You Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce? Take a cue from Carmella Soprano.

If you are married to a sociopathic murderer, choose a public place.

If you cannot see the video below, then your computer is not equipped with the appropriate player. You may be able to view it directly from the youtube site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dg4yYhd_pfE


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Credit and Divorce - What Steps Should You Take?

Divorce involves the unscrambling of extremely intertwined financial affairs. Decisions made during the marriage (and your separation) could affect your credit for years to come. Click here for an article from the Federal Trade Commission addressing general issues involving credit and divorce.

Your first step should be determining what debts (or credit lines) are in your name, either jointly or individually. Search your own financial records but also obtain a credit report on yourself. You can do that here.

Friday, February 01, 2008

ETREND!

My beautiful, intelligent, creative and kind niece, who will be eleven years old this month, publishes her own magazine, ETREND. She interviewed my friend, G-Love, of G-Love and Special Sauce and he posted the interview on his website and myspace page so I thought I would link to it here.

Some Random Questions Answered

The following are some questions I received through my website and blog:

QUESTION: I live in the state of NJ and I had a son in 2001. The father signed the birth certificate at the court house, because he had missed the lady at the hospital. and now seven years later, he wants to get a generic (sic) test done after he waived his rights doing (sic)the child support hearing. Can this be done

Linda'a Answer: The Father in this matter is free to ask the court for a paternity test. However, the court may decline to order it, as so much time has past and this child may have bonded with him as his Father. Accordingly, the court could find that this Father waived his right.

QUESTION: I heard that this month there is a new opinion in the PBA about a child over 18 and the custody order to continue until the child graduates High School. Love to hear more, to me this is directly opposite of all other opinion and definitions. Thanks!!

Linda's Answer: Actually, I believe there was a court case wherein a child failed to graduate on time from high school and therefore, stayed for his senior year, well past his 18th birthday. The Father attempted to have his child support terminated, on the basis that it was the child's fault that he had not graduated. The court denied the Father's requests, finding that the child was not yet emancipated. Generally, as long as a child has not graduated from high school, there will still be a support obligation. This inquiry is completely separate from custody.