What Women Needs to Know About Divorce: Second Saturday Workshop

This popular workshop offers non-biased financial, emotional and legal divorce advice to women by Montgomery County professionals seeking to inform and enlighten during trying times.

This Saturday’s workshop marks the 5-year anniversary of this specific event that provides women with the knowledge, support, resources and trust that they need to survive the divorce process. Armed with this information the presenters hope to enable attendees to move forward with confidence toward a new life.

Presenters:

Elizabeth C. Early, EsquireHigh Swartz – Norristown, PA. – Ms. Early is adept in reaching amicable resolutions whenever possible and has served as a court mediator in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Liz currently serves as a court appointed arbitrator for the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. When litigation is required, she is prepared to argue skillfully for her client’s rights.

Rita DeMaria, PHD, LMFT, CST – Council for Relationships, Blue Bell, PA. – Maria is an experienced, individual and couples therapist who works with people at the brink of break up or divorce. Her goals are to revitalize, strengthen, renew and transform relationships and provide individualized coaching and support.

Tim SeidersOne Stop Financial Services – West Point, PA – Tim is a Certified Financial Planner® and Investment Advisor Representative. Tim works in a friendly and consultative manner to help all clients regardless of the size of their need to deal with each of the financial transition one needs to make in the course of their life.

Saturday, November 9, 2019
8:30 a.m. registration through 12:30pm
$20 at the door (cash or check)
All are welcome

Montgomery County Community College
340 Dekalb Pike
Parkhouse Hall Room 128
Blue Bell, PA 19422
215.699.6993

Full Tort vs. Limited Tort Auto Insurance

It’s tempting to try to save a few dollars up front by choosing what is known as “limited tort” instead of “full tort” insurance. Here’s why saving 15% or more on your car insurance could cost you a whole lot more.

No one likes to pay for auto insurance; it’s expensive and it’s one of the few purchases we all make that all of us hope to never use. Insurance companies tell you that you can save up to a quick 15% on your yearly premium just by checking the “limited tort” box on the application or insurance renewal form and then signing it. So you might think, “I’m a good driver, I haven’t had any accidents, why not save 15% on something I probably won’t use anyway?” But, as with many deals that look too good to be true, in the long run choosing limited tort over full tort insurance can cost you a whole lot more than 15% of your yearly car insurance premium.

There are two types of damages in any auto accident.

Let’s pull back the curtain a bit. If you are injured in an auto accident, your damages fall into two general categories. One category is called economic damages.  Economic damages refers to compensation for objectively verifiable monetary losses like lost wages, medical bills, damage to your automobile or other personal property, and similar out-of-pocket expenses.The other category of damages are called non-economic damages. Non-economic losses are not objectively verifiable; these can be damages such as pain and suffering, emotional shock or loss of enjoyment of life. While non-economic damages cannot be objectively measured, they can often be the largest element of a personal injury claim. Few of us would think that time spent in a hospital or going to medical and physical therapy appointments is enjoyable.We do not want to be fearful every time we are in a car, recalling the time  a careless driver was texting, missed a stop sign, and rammed our vehicle. None of us want to miss out on participating in family events or doing the activities we love because of injuries sustained while another driver was being inattentive. These non-economic damages can be considerable, and insurance companies dislike paying them because they mean the insurance companies make less profit.

What does Tort mean?

Tort refers to a civil misdeed or wrongful act, whether intentional or accidental, from which injury occurs to another. It’s important to understand that Tort covers both ends of the spectrum – whether the act was intentional, or a completely by accident.

Auto Insurance companies WANT you to go with the cheaper option.

The limited tort option was created over insurance company concerns that there were too many lawsuits in Pennsylvania where the injured parties sought and received compensation for non-economic damages. In other words, limited tort insurance was created largely to protect insurance company profits. To avoid paying out too many premium dollars to alleviate pain and suffering, insurance companies encourage Pennsylvania drivers to choose limited tort.With full tort insurance, you can always sue for your “full” damages. However, with limited tort insurance, your ability to recover your full damages is “limited” to when you can prove that you have sustained what is called a “serious injury.”

What is considered a serious injury in Pennsylvania?

It is the requirement to prove a “serious injury” before an accident victim is entitled to any pain and suffering damages that saves insurance companies so much money.  “Serious injury” is defined as “death, significant deformity, or impairment of bodily function.” In practice, this means that if you are not dead, disfigured or crippled, your insurance carrier is likely to deny your claim for pain and suffering.This bears repeating:
If you are not dead, disfigured or crippled, your insurance carrier is likely to deny your claim for pain and suffering if you have limited tort insurance.
Insurance carriers have denied that broken bones or even herniated spinal discs amount to “serious injuries.” Maybe you can prove in court that your particular injury was “serious” within the limitations of the law, but it is likely you will not be able to carry this heavy burden of proof.

The money you save on limited tort insurance will quickly disappear.

At minimum, your insurance company will likely use your status as a limited tort policy holder to significantly reduce any settlement offer to you. The cost of proving that you sustained a “serious injury” will quickly exceed the few dollars you saved in insurance premiums.  Further, in light of the extra burden of proving a “serious injury,” many lawyers will decline to represent limited tort policy holders except in exceptional circumstances.

It’s not just about you.

Be aware that the choice of limited tort insurance by the owner of a vehicle in a household can bind resident relatives, such as spouses and children, to the limited tort choice. Accordingly, selecting limited tort insurance can limit not only your right of recovery, but those of your family.Like all insurance, cheaper is better until you have to use it.  But the 15% you might have saved on your premiums with limited tort will likely be but a tiny fraction of your losses should you be unfortunate enough to be in a bad car accident that was caused by the fault of another driver.The emotional pain and physical suffering of being an auto accident victim is difficult enough without your formerly friendly insurance company telling you that your injuries aren’t “serious” enough to justify full compensation, but that you can sue them if you disagree.   The money you saved will be small solace when lawyer after lawyer tells you that they probably could have helped you obtain a better recovery, but that your status as a limited tort insured means that it is not economically feasible to take your case.Don’t be fooled by the small upfront savings of limited tort insurance.  Know that the substantial rights you are giving up by selecting limited tort insurance are exactly the ones you are most likely to need should you be injured in an auto accident.  Don’t be victimized twice; once by a negligent driver of another vehicle, and again by an insurance company that has charged you 85% of the premium that could have purchased adequate, full tort insurance but instead sold you inadequate insurance called limited tort.
Ask yourself, “would my insurance company be offering me a 15% upfront discount on my auto premiums if I select limited tort, if the insurance company ultimately did not save much more money in the long run by not providing me with full tort insurance?”
Please consider the fact that insurance is a for-profit business; insurance companies would not offer limited tort insurance if it was not ultimately more profitable to them to do so.

In so many words: Adequate vs. Inadequate.

You are encouraged to think of full tort as “adequate” insurance and limited tort as “inadequate” insurance.  Don’t wait until after an auto accident to learn the hard way the valuable rights you have given up by opting for limited tort over full tort insurance.If you have limited tort insurance, you are urged to call your insurance company today and ask to be sent the paperwork necessary to switch to full tort.  Fill that paperwork out, sign and date it, and please keep a copy.  Or, when your insurance policy renewal comes around, switch to full tort.  You and your family will be glad you did should an auto accident occur.The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.

School Choice and Custody Issues

“School choice” cases, as those cases are typically referred to by Family Law Attorneys, are difficult, fact-laden, and emotional.

School Choice cases are made more complex if the change in school, due to logistics of school hours and location, impacts the other parent’s ability to be an active member of the school community or even impacts that parent’s ability to exercise their custodial time.Every spring and summer, Pennsylvania custody attorneys and the custody courts see a drastic increase in the amount of cases brought to the court for consideration regarding where the parties’ children will attend school in the next year. I’ll answer many of the important questions parents typically have below.

WHO picks the school for my child?

The Pennsylvania custody statute defines legal custody as “the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical decisions, religious and educational decisions.” See http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/23/00.053..HTM for the child custody statutes. Education decisions include where your child attends schools. Most parents share legal custody and both get an equal vote in educational decisions.

WHERE will my child go to school if my child’s other parent and I do not agree on school choice?

If you have shared legal custody, and you cannot agree on school choice, your only remedy is to file formal paperwork with your court asking for the court to stand in as the tie-breaker and select which school your child or children will attend.

WHY would my child’s school selection be in dispute?

There are a wide variety of situations that can lead to a dispute in where a child or children should attend school. The most obvious reason would be one parent moving to a new school district. However, sometimes the school originally selected jointly by a child’s parents is not the best fit for the child over time. Poor academic performance, bullying, or a need for special academic or disciplinary accommodations are all common reasons for parents to take a step back and reconsider whether the school that their child attends or will attend is truly the best fit for that child.

WHEN do I need to file to change my child’s school?

When you should file will depend on the facts of your case, but, generally, you should be thinking about filing as soon as you know that you do not agree on a school selection. You do not want to wait until the very last minute to ask the court to intercede or you run a very real risk that you will not be scheduled before the court until after the school year commences. Depending on your county, your wait time to get in front of the court could be lengthy. A local attorney who handles these matters regularly can give you guidance on when and how to file.

WHAT evidence will the Court hear about my preferred school?

There are a plethora of resources available on the schools across Pennsylvania, both public and private, which include standardized test scores, crime rates, and curriculums offered at the school. There are professionals who dedicate their careers to analyzing those data sources to provide recommendations on the best fit for your child (at a price, of course).The court will also want to hear from the parents on their positions and possibly school professionals from each school. It is possible the courts may even want to hear from the children involved, if they are of an appropriate age and maturity. “School choice” cases can involve numerous witnesses and heavy amounts of evidence due to the fact-driven nature of the case. At the end of the day, the court has to decide which school will serve your children’s best interests.

HOW do I find a “School Choice” attorney?

Litigation over where children will attend school is a specialized area of the custody law. You should consult with attorneys who regularly handle these cases in your area to gain a thorough understanding of what your case would entail and your likelihood of success.All of the custody attorneys at High Swartz, LLP handle school choice matters and are well versed in the nuances of this small corner of custody litigation. If you and your child’s other parent do not agree on school choice, a consultation with a member or members of our team can help you analyze the facts of your case and formulate a strategy for future action. If you have any questions, please contact Elizabeth C. Early at 610-275-0700 or eearly@highswartz.com.The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.

High Swartz is Legal Counsel for Affordable Housing Finance Award Winner

Highland Hall Senior Housing has been chosen as the seniors housing winner in Affordable Housing Finance magazine’s 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards.

The Highland Hall Complex, located in the Borough of Hollidaysburg, Blair County, Pennsylvania, was completed in January 2018 and provides 53 units of senior affordable housing to the residents of that community. The Development team was led by S&A Homes from State College, PA. The developer will be in attendance at the AHF Live conference in November, in Chicago, where they will formally receive their award.

“Developments like Highland Hall require a great team”, relays Robert Poole, CEO of S & A Homes. “Led by Andy Haines, we had important political support from Former Congressman Bill Shuster, Governor Tom Wolf, State Representatives Judy Ward, Jim Gregory, and former State Senator John Eichelberger. This was a development everyone wanted to happen.”

The design team was led by Upstreet Architects, Keller Engineers, with Arnold Heller and William F. Kerr of High Swartz as the legal counsel, Poole Anderson Construction as General Contractor, and NDC Management as the post construction property manager.

highland hall interior
Highland Hall Interior. Photo credits: Gatesburg Road Development.

Highland Hall, originally built in 1867, is listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being a significant structure in the Hollidaysburg Historic District. The stone building is Italianate style with Classical Revival/Second Empire elements. The limestone for the building was quarried on the property. Situated near the top of a hill overlooking its 4-acre site, Highland Hall is architecturally dominant as well as being a prominent part of the community visible from many areas throughout the neighborhood. This site is so revered in the community it has its own zoning district.

Prior to its current restoration, the building was vacant for 15 years and was in a state of disrepair with serious structural problems. The property has served the community as a County Courthouse Annex and home to several schools including a radio school during World War II, a girl’s school, and a seminary school. The previous property owner had requested a permission to demolish the property before being approached by S & A.

Numerous challenges were overcome so that S&A’s vision for this building could be brought to fruition. In designing the structural changes, preservation of the buildings central historic façade was paramount while simultaneously constructing two new building additions that would complement the historic fabric of the original building. Financing the Highland Hall renovation required perseverance by the development team as it took three attempts over several years in a competitive financing environment to secure the capital needed to complete the restoration. The financing package for the redevelopment of Highland Hall was complex and involved multiple sources of capital. Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency provided a low interest loan of $1.5 million and an allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits. These tax credits were in turn purchased by CREA LLC in exchange for equity to use in funding the complex. Citizens Bank provided a bridge construction loan and also served as a sponsor of an Affordable Housing Program funding via the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh.

The complex leased up to full occupancy in 5 months and has maintained full occupancy ever since. The development is one of 22 developments with LIHTC by S & A Homes, which started developing affordable housing in 2000 and continues to this day, focusing on Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

This article was adapted from a press release by Gatesburg Road Development. Photo credits: Gatesburg Road Development.

For more information regarding Affordable Housing, contact our real estate attorneys here at 1.833.LAW.1914.

Termination of Child Support in Pennsylvania

Termination of child support payments and when is a substantial and nuanced question we often receive as family lawyers.

Child support payments contribute to a variety of expenses that fall to the custodial parent. These can include medical fees, children’s school and activity expenses, and food and clothing necessities. These court-ordered payments commonly end when a child reaches the “age of maturity” but do parents know exactly when that age is in PA? And, are they adequately preparing for the termination of the order?

When a family is going through divorce, the court aims to keep the children’s best interests in mind, as do most attorneys. There are legal orders in place to protect children— custody orders seek structure for children’s new living arrangements and child support orders ensure the noncustodial parent contributes financially so the children’s lifestyle is sustained as much as possible.

What is the “Age of Maturity” in Pennsylvania?

The end of the child support order often catches parents by surprise, especially considering the order may have been in place for years. State law dictates when support orders should end. Most states, like Pennsylvania, will end the child support order when the child reaches the “age of maturity” which is typically when the child turns 18 or graduates high school – whichever comes later. In some states the “age of maturity” is 21.

Can a Child Support Order be Terminated Early?

The order can be terminated earlier if the child becomes emancipated. Through a court process, a child can be emancipated because they are able to support themselves. This can coincide with the child leaving the home, joining the military, or getting married.

Can a Child Support Order be Extended?

Alternatively, the order can be extended past age 18 or 21 to provide child support while the child is in college or in cases where the child has special needs.

So, the Termination of Child Support Happens Automatically?

Even though the child support order may include a termination date, it does not end automatically. You must take specific steps to terminate the agreement. Until the order is actually terminated, the noncustodial parent is obligated to continue payment.

What Do I Need to Do to Terminate the Child Support Order?

To anticipate the termination, the parent making payments should file a modification petition a few months in advance of the expected end date. In cases with multiple children, this must be done individually for each child.

What if Child Support Money is Still Owed?

When the time comes to terminate a child support order, there may be a past due balance of payments. Money that is still owed is referred to as “arrears.” Arrears are owed even after the support order is legally terminated.

Can I Get Child Support Owed Reduced?

Best practice is to try to get the arrear balance reduced prior to termination. The court will typically provide options such as making lump payments when possible, or reducing the amount of each payment to prevent skipping.

What If They Won’t Pay the Owed Child Support?

That’s where Custodial parents may need the help of a family attorney. They may land in a situation where they need legal assistance to collect the balance. In these cases, they may have to file a separate civil action to recover the credit.

Congrats, Parents

Try as we might to stop time, children eventually grow up. In the rush that goes along with experiencing a big moment in your child’s life – turning 18, getting married, or graduating and going off to college or the military – pausing to accomplish your associated parental duties is just as important as taking time to enjoy the moment. For divorced parents, determining the future of the child support order is likely one of these duties. As a both a parent and a family law attorney, I hope this article provides guidance to separated parents.

What Happens to Debt When You Die?

A common concern of clients during the initial estate administration process is what happens to debt when you or a loved one dies. This is a valid concern for next of kin and estate beneficiaries, and we’ll delve into it below.

Estate clients often wonder, who is responsible for paying off the debts of a loved one? Can the debt of the deceased be forgiven? What happens if the deceased estate does not have enough money to pay the debts? The answers to these questions can be found in case law, the Internal Revenue Code & Regulations and Pennsylvania statutory laws.To make it easier, let’s answer the questions through the lens of a hypothetical estate.Ester’s estate. Ester, a Pennsylvania resident, died with $50,000 in credit card debt, medical expenses from her final illness, and various utility expenses associated with her West Chester Borough home. Ester’s assets are her home, and funds of $25,000 held in her checking and savings accounts. Ester’s children are the beneficiaries of her residuary estate per her Will.Pennsylvania law, 20 Pa.C.S.A. Section 3381, states that Ester’s debts don’t just disappear at her death. If the debts don’t disappear, who pays? Only Ester’s Estate is responsible for payment of her debts unless a third-party (family member, neighbor, etc.) co-signed a loan or credit card with Ester.For now, let’s assume no one co-signed any loans with Ester. Ester’s credit card debt, her final medical expenses and her various utility expenses will be paid by her estate from the assets that pass pursuant to the terms of her Will. These assets are Ester’s home and the $25,000 funds from her checking and savings accounts. Ester’s Executor will need to sell the home and use the proceeds from the sale to pay off the credit card debt, final medical expenses and utility bills.It’s possible that Ester’s estate could fail to pay her credit card debts due to insolvency (inability to pay one’s debts). And it’s possible that the Executor’s attempts to have the credit card discharged fail as well.What happens if the estate can’t pay the debts? If you recall, Ester has used her credit cards to purchase items worth $50,000. The borrowed funds used to purchase items are not included in Ester’s gross income because at the time Ester borrowed the funds, she also created a corresponding liability to pay back the funds to the credit card companies. Ester’s overall net worth has not increased. Courts have consistently held that borrowed funds are not included in taxpayer’s income. The IRS has consistently agreed with this treatment.So, it would be logical to think that if the credit card companies forgive the debt, the debt should disappear, right? WRONG!!!!! The general rule under the IRS Rules & Regulations states that the cancellation of a debt for less than adequate consideration causes the debtor to recognize ordinary income in the amount of debt that was forgiven. Section 61(a)(12) of the Internal Revenue Code states that gross income includes “[i]ncome from the discharge of indebtedness.”  No matter how you slice it or dice it… “cancellation of indebtedness”, “cancellation of debt”, “discharge of debt”, and “forgiveness of debt” converts to ordinary income!The credit card companies report the forgiveness of deceased debt to the IRS by using a 1099-C – Cancellation of Debt form. Even if the credit card company fails to issue a 1099-C form, the cancellation of debt income is still reportable on the estate fiduciary income tax return.The $50,000 of credit card debt has been converted into income, which must be reported on the estate’s federal fiduciary income tax return, Form 1041 – US Income Tax Return for Estate and Trusts.  Here, at the very least, Ester’s estate has $50,000 in reportable income to the IRS.  If an estate has reportable income, it likely has income tax to pay unless the estate’s deductions wipe out income.But what if Ester’s estate is insolvent (unable to pay the taxes)? Section 108 of the IRS Code provides exceptions for which Ester’s estate may be eligible. Section 108(a)(1)(B) excludes from gross income the cancellation of indebtedness of an insolvent debtor, but only to the extent of the amount of the debtor’s insolvency immediately before the debt was forgiven. Section 108(a)(3). So if Ester’s estate is insolvent prior to the debt being forgiven, the estate may exclude the cancellation of debt using IRS Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of IndebtednessIt’s important to note that only assets that pass through probate are considered for determining insolvency. Recall probate assets are those assets that pass pursuant to the terms of a decedent’s Will. Here, probate assets would be Ester’s West Chester Borough home and the funds held in the checking and savings accounts. An estate with cancellation of debt  (COD) income and very few probate assets will be insolvent if all assets pass directly to beneficiaries through beneficiary designations (life insurance, IRAs, 401(k)). Designated beneficiaries who receive these kinds of assets are not liable for paying a decedent’s debts.To recap, an estate is responsible for paying the decedent’s debt. If the debt is forgiven, it becomes ordinary income reportable on the estate’s fiduciary income return regardless if a Form 1099-C was issued by the creditor.  If the estate is insolvent, it may be able to exclude the cancellation of debt under Section 108(a)(3) of the IRC.Before undertaking an estate administration without an attorney, remember the law is complex because
  1. there are usually exception to the rules,
  2. the law changes frequently, and
  3. multiple areas of law can impact an estate, such as IRS Rules & Regulations, Pennsylvania statutory and case law.
If you have questions regarding debts and estate administration, please contact our Estates Department at 1-833-LAW-1914 or submit our contact form. Our Wills, Trusts & Estates attorneys have a thorough understanding of the tax laws and provide comprehensive legal services to assist you in all estate administration matters.The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.

Mary Cushing Doherty presents at AFCC-AAML Conference

Mary Cushing Doherty, Head of High Swartz’s family law practice was a co-presenter and educator at the recent AFCC-AAML Conference in San Diego. The joint conference brought together leading experts in Family Law to address the most difficult issues many in the profession face.

The AFCC (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts) and the AAML (American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers) teamed up to bring an advanced-level training opportunity to the Family Law community. Programs during the 3-day conference, September 19-21, 2019 included topics like parent/child contact problems, psychological testing in child custody evaluations,, de-biasing strategies, personality disorders and affluence’s effect on child development.

On Thursday, Mary taught alongside Dr. Larry Fong, a psychologist from Calgary, Alberta, Canada regarding Parent relocation dilemmas.

About the presentation:

Relocation cases increase the myriad complications confronting post-separation families. They also create significant challenges for attorneys, custody evaluators, and judicial officers. Each of these professionals may have different approaches to addressing the conflict that arises when one parent wishes to relocate, and the other parent believes that the move will upset the child’s familiar surroundings and disrupt their own relationship with the child. This session will present the views of an experienced attorney and psychologist who will provide the nuts and bolts of the law, and the components and reasoning behind a custody/access assessment addressing relocation.*

mary cushing doherty and Dr. Larry Fong speak at AFCC AAML conference in San Diego 2019
Mary Cushing Doherty standing alongside Dr. Larry Fong during their presentation in San Diego.

Mary also taught a program on Saturday regarding Analysis of Risk and Pre/Post Separation Problems. She was joined again by Dr. Larry Fong, as well as Gordon D. Cruse, Esq., of CFLS in San Diego.

About the presentation:

Attorneys, mental health professionals, and others require criteria that assist in determining the management of risk with their own clients or others. Risk management in the field of negotiations, alternate dispute resolution, and in analyses of clients, are of concern to everyone in the field. Presenters will discuss the HCR-20, a structured professional judgment assessment, and other tools, in light of how these criteria assist professionals in making better determinations of risk.*

*Summary from AFCC/AAML Conference brochure.