Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Do not read your spouse's emails

Quite simply, the risks are not worth it -- especially if you are breaking the law.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Recycle those Christmas cards!

Here at the Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC, we receive quite a few Christmas cards every year - from clients, other lawyers, businesses, politicians, friends and family.

This year, rather than simply throwing them in the recycling bin at the end of the season (we shred and recycle all paper in the office), we will be boxing them up to send to St. Jude's Ranch for Children.  This organization cares for abused abandoned and neglected children.

You donate your used cards and the children make new cards by removing the front and replacing the inside/back cover of the card.  They then sell them and the children benefit from the proceeds.

You can donate your cards by sending them to:

St. Jude's Ranch for Children

Recycled Card Program
100 St. Jude's Street
Boulder City, NV 89005
877-977-SJRC (7572)

For more information and tips on how to donate, click here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Becoming Your Own Financial Detective

In a divorce proceeding, if you are not completely familiar with your marital estate, you must obtain a comprehensive financial picture of both you and your spouse, individually and together, in order to achieve a fair resolution. After all, you need to understand what is available to divide in order to calculate your fair share.  However, when your adversary proves to be less than forthcoming, developing a picture of the assets and debts of the estate can be challenging.

Obviously, you can engage an expert such as a private investigator, forensic accountant or asset search service, in addition to your attorney. However, retaining outside help can be expensive and you may save yourself both time and frustration by first performing some of the basic work on your own. That way, you may find what you need without outside help. If you do need an investigator you will have to be able to point the professional that you retain in the correct direction.

Establishing an outline of your marital estate means gathering information. Some assets are easier than others when it comes to establishing their value. For example, a retirement account, bank account, stock or investment account should have documentation in the form of statements and summaries. Usually, the value is printed directly on the statement. A retirement account holding $100,000 is obviously worth $100,000 (of course minus any tax effect or other arguments regarding actual value).

However, some assets are not that easy to trace or value. These less trackable items tend to be physical objects, such as jewelry, cash, collectibles, art work, precious metals or automobiles. If your spouse owns a physical object that could be valuable, such as a collection of musical instruments, there is typically no statement sent every month similar to what your bank sends out to apprise you of what is in your account. However, you can utilize tools available to the general public to attempt to track down these items.

When attempting to find or trace assets, the first thing that you must remember is that an asset, like you or me, is an actual tangible item that has a life span. The asset must be created at some point and then obtained by someone whether by purchase, gift, inheritance or otherwise. Once someone has an asset in their possession, the person may take any of the following actions: insure,  maintain, appraise, repair, store or transport it. Often, an asset will be taxed in some way. Depending on the type of asset, many people like to discuss their possessions so it will be rare that someone will be silent about an asset, especially something unique or precious like an expensive car, valuable jewelry or exotic art work. At some point, people may dispose of an asset by donating it to charity, gifting it to someone or selling it and, at this stage in the life of an asset, there is usually some type of advertisement or publicity about it. Accordingly, when attempting to trace assets in your own marital estate that you suspect that your spouse may be hiding or otherwise keeping from you, remember the various stages in the life of an asset and this will assist you in tracing it.

Once you understand the potential life span of an asset, think logically how to investigate each phase.  Here are some examples and tips for each stage of an asset’s life:

1. Obtain: Purchases may have a receipt or a charge on a credit card bill.  A gift, if it is expensive, may have resulted in a gift tax returns.  Additionally, the occasion may have been marked by photographs.  An inheritance is designated in a will – which is filed as a public record.

2. Maintain and Store: Look for evidence of storage facilities or safety deposit boxes, as well as receipts for work such as cleaning or refinishing (depending on the type of assets).

3. Appraisals: These are often obtained for the purpose of insurance policies so look for insurance riders.

4. Repair: Look for bills or invoices.

5. Tax: Review tax returns for capital gains or losses with regard to disposition of assets and even evidence that an asset has been stolen - there will generally be a casualty loss deducted on the return.

6. Disposition: If the asset was donated - people will generally deduct the value on Schedule A of their tax return.  A Sale may have been advertized or otherwise publicized and may result in a capital gain or loss.

As with all aspects of a divorce, you must perform a cost-benefit analysis on your investigation.  Make sure you are not spending more time and energy to find an asset and prove its existence than the asset is actually worth.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

This is the image from my office's Christmas card this year.  Being a proud Philadelphian, I like to incorporate the LOVE statue in my Christmas card.  Hopefully, I am able to remind people that even though you may go through difficult times, things do get better.

Merry Christmas
Happy Holidays
Happy New Year

Linda, Elizabeth, Liz, Helen, and of course, Stormer.

Photograph by Dominic Episcopo.

Monday, December 20, 2010

And the stockings were hung (by the desk) . . .

We are getting ready for Christmas here at the office.  We will be closed on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve but open during the rest of the week.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

You register for wedding gifts -- now you can register for divorce gifts

A website now offers you the convenience of registering for gifts so their friends know what they can need and how they can help through the divorce process.  The site includes helpful hints and tips including "get started right away" and "don't hold back."

Realistically speaking, I am not sure many friends and family members are willing to buy material gifts during a divorce.  I am not even sure these types of gifts would materially help the situation.  Divorcing people need emotional support -- and that is something that money cannot buy.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Monitor your internet presence!

Facebook continues to change --- which means the information highlighted on your page can also change.  Here are some links to interesting and informative articles:

6 things you need to know about Facebook's latest changes

Also -- putting too much information on Facebook can make you an identity theft target.  There are 6 things never to post on Facebook.

Of course -- Facebook and divorce often go hand in hand.  Click here for some important things to know about divorce and Facebook.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Changes to custody law in Pennsylvania

The General Assembly recently enacted changes to Pennsylvania's custody statute, which was approved by the Governor on November 23, 2010 and will become effective in 60 days.

Changes include a framework for child custody relocation cases as well as the requirement that litigants submit detailed parenting plans.  You can read the entire bill here.  For tips on how to read a bill, click here.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Firms that bankroll your divorce -- for a slice of the pie

Today's New York Times featured an article about firms that invest in divorces for a cut of the eventual settlement.  Caution:  if someone else bankrolls your divorce, you may also be giving up decision making authority.  Read the article here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Pets after divorce in Pennsylvania

It is undeniable that Americans are attached to their pets with 77.5 million dogs owned as pets in the United States according to the Humane Society ( Research done by the American Veterinary Medical Association shows that about half of all pet owners consider their pets to be family members ( With such a large amount of our population owning pets and treating them as additions to their family, it is natural that the ownership of a pet can be a significant source of conflict during divorce proceedings.

            Pennsylvania law treats dogs as property, and not as family members, despite the personal feelings of the owners (3 P.S. 459-601(a)). Courts have affirmed this viewpoint ruling that pets are personal property and belong to the party receiving that property under the divorce. Just like furniture or art, pets are not subject to custody or visitation agreements (Desanctis v. Pritchard, 803 A.2d 230 (PA 2002)).

            Other states, however, have taken a different approach than Pennsylvania. Our neighboring state of New Jersey has decided that an oral agreement regarding dog ownership between a former couple could be subject to specific performance, a remedy that is usually reserved for items that have a unique special value to the parties (Houseman v. Dare, 405 N.J. Super. 538 (N.J. Super 2009).  Although this decision did not clarify exactly how pets should be handled during a divorce dispute, it did acknowledge the special sentimental value that pets hold beyond the strict property law approach that Pennsylvania has taken. Virginia and New York have taken a drastically different approach and have ruled on possession of animals by looking at the best interests of the pet (Kotloff, Eric, All Dogs Go to Heaven…or Divorce Court: New Jersey Un”leashes” a Subjective Value Consideration to Resolve Pet Custody Litigation in Houseman v. Dare, 55 Vill. L. Rev. 447, 458 (2010).  However, the vast majority of states continue to adhere to the idea that pets are property and will be governed by property laws (Dewitt Gregory, John, Pet Custody: Distorting Language and the Law, 44 Fam. L.Q.35, 41 (2010)).

            So what are your options in a divorce? You are free to contract who will retain possession of your pet; however, Pennsylvania courts have thus far refused to enforce custody arrangements with pets and continue to adhere to a view of pets as property. Unless Pennsylvania courts decide to adopt the views of the few states who have moved beyond a strict property approach to pet ownership, you will not be able to argue in court for custody of your pet, regardless of how much you consider them a part of your family.  Your other remedies, if you cannot bear to part with your pet, are to have your spouse agree that you will retain possession, but be prepared to give up other “property” during the distribution process in order to have your desire fulfilled. 

Written by Elizabeth Early, law clerk with the Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns.