Surviving on One Income After Separation

Separation from a partner can be financially devastating. This is the case whether or not you have children, and whether or not you were married.

Financially, both partners must usually adjust to surviving on one income rather than two. Rent, mortgage payments, utilities, and vehicles need to be paid for with substantially less money available. Budgeting to pay all of your necessary expenses can seem impossible.

However, surviving this financial burden is possible. You should know what kind of assistance is available to help you while you adjust to your current situation:

  1. 1.       Support: If you were married, or if you have children with your ex-partner, you can look into trying to collect child support, spousal support, or alimony. The number for Centre County Domestic Relations is 814-355-6741. You can also consult with an attorney regarding these issues before filing, so that you know what you may be entitled to, and if you have a good case.
    1. Paying Support: Having to pay child support, spousal support, or alimony can be financial devastation upon financial devastation. Not only are you as the payer of support limited by one income, but you also must pay out extra cash from one income for the support of others. In this case, it is important for you to fully bring to the Court’s attention your financial circumstances. For example, support can be adjusted down due to health care premiums, outstanding loans, or other special financial obligations. By allowing the Court to know and understand your financial circumstances, you may be able to obtain a support figure that you can better afford.
    2. 2.       Public Assistance: If you visit the website for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare at http://www.dpw.state.pa.us/, you can discover what types of public benefits may be available. As an example, it is important to note that there are different income restrictions for food stamps and cash assistance. To learn more about your eligibility, you may want to visit the Department of Public Welfare’s ‘frequently asked questions’ section, which can be found at https://www.humanservices.state.pa.us/compass.web/MenuItems/GeneralInfoFaq.aspx?Language=EN.
    3. 3.       Living on a Budget: Finding ways to reduce the amount of money you spend on items such as groceries, clothing, or toiletries can go a long way. If you have not done so already, you may want to check out “Clothes Mentor”, located on Atherton Street, for used women’s clothing. They even offer professional attire on a budget. Their number is (814) 234-1923.

Additionally, checking out the local Goodwill ((814) 237-8006) or Saint Vincent’s store ((814) 867-3131) can be a great way to save money on needed items. Buying in bulk at the grocery store and clipping coupons is helpful as well. If you have good credit, you may want to try to obtain a credit card that gives you cash back on items purchased. Some credit cards even offer 3% cash back for all gas purchases. Given today’s gas prices, that amount to a savings of nearly 12 cents off of each gallon.

Hopefully these tips help you in preparing for one income. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

Laura Robbins, Esq. is an attorney located in State College, Pennsylvania, who can be reached at 814-234-1550.

 

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Child Support – Issues to Consider

Child Support – Issues to Consider

In these tough economic times, it’s extremely difficult to support two households after a separation, especially when there are children involved. There are daycare expenses, extra-curricular activities, medical bills, and other bills that go along with raising children. When one parent (usually the parent who has the majority of physical custody of the children) sues the other parent for child support, there are important financial considerations to think about, whether you are the custodial or non-custodial parent. Below is a list of financial considerations that frequently impact the amount of a child support order:

  1. Custodial arrangements: Does the non-custodial parent have substantial physical custody rights to the minor children? Do the parents have shared physical custody? Both can impact the amount of child support awarded to the asking parent.
  2. Daycare costs: Is the child in daycare? If so, how much is paid out-of-pocket for daycare? Certainly, if a parent is paying approximately $1,000 each month toward daycare costs, this will have an impact on the amount of child support the asking parent is entitled to.
  3. Disability: Does one of the parents have a disability, rendering him/her unable to work? Is a parent not working, even though he/she is capable of doing so? If a parent is truly disabled, and has evidence supporting the disability, that parent might not be obligated to pay child support or carry an income. If, on the other hand, a parent is capable of working and he/she chooses not to, that parent may be assessed an ‘earning capacity’ which will be considered in determining the amount of the child support order.
  4. Medical Costs: Who carries health insurance for the children? Do the children have any additional medical issues or needs which are not covered by health insurance? What percentage of these needs should each parent be held accountable for? Medical costs will be considered in determining the amount of the child support order.

Although this list is not meant to be exhaustive of the issues considered in determining a child support order, it hopefully gives you some indication of how a child support amount is determined. Obtaining a fair child support order is in everyone’s best interest, especially the children’s best interest.

This article is not intended to be used as legal advice for any specific legal problem. 

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If a Protection From Abuse Action has been filed against you

Disagreements in a relationship often lead to discord.  Discord sometimes leads to a filing of a Protection From Abuse action against the alleged abuser (Defendant), by a family member or dating partner (Plaintiff).  This can result in the Defendant having to stay away from the Plaintiff for up to three years. However, it is important to note that the Defendant’s other rights can be affected when a such an Order is granted by the Court, besides the ability to associate with the Plaintiff. Some of these rights are:

  1. The Right to Parent Your Child:  The Court has the authority under 23 Pa.C.S.A. Sec. 6108(a)(4) to award the Plaintiff temporary custody of your minor child, for whom you co-parent with the Plaintiff.  This doesn’t necessarily have to include provisions for partial custody or visitation by the Defendant. The Court also has authority, under 23 Pa.C.S.A. Sec. 6108(a)(1),  to grant a Protection From Abuse order on behalf of minor children against the Defendant. In either case, the Defendant would have to pursue a separate custody action in order to attempt to expand custodial rights, if he/she is prevented or limited in visiting with the children under these orders.
  2. The Right to Live in Your House.:  The Court can give the Plaintiff ‘exclusive possession’ of a house, Under 23 Pa.C.S.A. Sec. 6108(a)(2).  This means that the Court can specifically exclude the Defendant from living in his/her residence, yet allow the Plaintiff to live in the house, even if the Defendant owns the house (certain limitations apply). The Court can also find that the Defendant has a duty to support the Plaintiff and/or the children in Plaintiff’s care.  Therefore,  the Court can Order the Defendant to provide suitable ‘alternative’ housing to the Plaintiff.
  3. The Obligation to Pay Child or Spousal Support : The Court has broad authority to determine what amount, if any, a Plaintiff should be awarded. This can mean money awarded by the Court to the Plaintiff, for temporary support (medical, spousal or child support) or money for damages.
  4. Second Amendment rights:  The Defendant can be ordered by the Court to relinquish all firearms, weapons, ammunition, if it is alleged that there were weapons involved in the perpetration of abuse. The Court can also prevent a Defendant from possessing new firearms for the duration of the Protection From Abuse Order.
  5. Possibility of Imprisonment. If a Court finds that a Defendant violated a temporary or Final Protection From Abuse Order, as punishment, the Court can fine the Defendant up to $1,000.00 and can the Defendant can be imprisoned for a period of up to six months.

This article is intended only to provide a general, non-specific overview of one particular area of law and is not served as providing legal advice for any specific legal situation.

 

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Can I Really Get Custody, if we still Live Together?

Pennsylvania’s Child Custody Act recently underwent major changes, affecting any new child custody action filed in Pennsylvania on or after January 24, 2011.  One of the ways these changes will affect Pennsylvania residents in child custody cases is that one can now clearly sue for custody of a child while living in the same residence of the child’s other parent/caregiver. 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 5323(h) allows an individual with ‘standing’ to seek custody of a child and to sue someone living in the same household provided that the parties are living separate and apart (e.g., living ‘separate lives’). The custody order won’t go into effect until the parties begin living apart or one of the parties is awarded ‘exclusive possession’ of the residence. However, these changes allow a person to get the ball rolling sooner, since he/she can file the Custody Complaint and/or other custody motion, serve them on the co-resident, and await the conference or hearing.

If both of the children’s parents/caregivers are agreeing to a separation and want custody arrangements in place beforehand, this may be a good idea to pursue. They may want to obtain a custody order while living together so that the children know the arrangements, before the separation.  This may potentially ease the anxiety of the children and also that of the parents/caregivers, informing them how much access to their children they will receive after the separation.

It is my understanding that the purpose of Section 5323(h) is to help curtail a parent from removing a child from a residence to the exclusion of the other parent, thereby unfairly setting up a new ‘status quo’ for the child’s living arrangements, before a custody proceeding is brought before the Court. However, I don’t think it’s always wise to sue the other parent/caregiver for custody while living in the same residence.

There may be other potential legal ramifications to a parent/caregiver should he/she chose to pursue this route. The other parent/caregiver may react very negatively to being served with a Custody Complaint and/or other custody motion.  This could lead to the filer becoming a victim or perpetrator of a crime (specifically a violent crime), or becoming a Defendant in a Protection From Abuse action.  In either instance, such charges or proceedings could greatly affect the outcome of the custody case. Such an action can also affect the children. If there is a ‘lawsuit’ hanging over a household, that can negatively affect the environment in which the children would be living during the pendency of the lawsuit.

I think it’s nice that parents/caregivers have an option to obtain a custody order while living in the same household, but there are very few circumstances in which I would advise it.

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How to Keep Yourself and your Children Safe During a Separation from Your Spouse/Significant Other

How to Keep Yourself and your Children Safe During a Separation from Your Spouse/Significant Other:

Most domestic violence occurs after separation from batterers.  In fact, about 75% of the calls to law enforcement for intervention and assistance in domestic violence occur during this time. (Barbara Hart, Remarks to the Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, April 1992). This shows that domestic violence increases when a victim decides to leave an abuser.

Many victims of domestic violence are forced to repeatedly interact with their abuser after the separation, resulting in further problems. This is generally because the victim and abuser have children to co-parent. Therefore, it’s vital for the victim of domestic violence to learn techniques to deal with an abuser after their separation, especially during custody exchanges. Below are a few helpful hints:

  1. Meet in a Public Place: Certain situations make it often unsafe to meet the abuser at home (yours or his/hers).  You may ask to meet in a public place for a custody exchange. One “safe” place may be your local police station, ensuring that you check the hours that officers or civilian staff will be on duty. It’s always best to do an exchange when staff would be available to assist you. If the abuser will not agree to this, you can attempt to obtain a Court Order requiring both of you to meet at a designated public place.
  2. Have a Witness Attend the Custody Exchanges: Having a witness attend custody exchanges can serve several of purposes. Primarily, one is less likely to cause abuse when there is a witness present.  If there is inappropriate behavior towards you or your children, the witness can corroborate dates and times when it occurred. This may assist you if criminal charges are pressed against the abuser or you decide to try and modify your custody order. A witness can also help keep you and your children remain safe by providing an extra set of hands to assist you.
  3. Have a Substitute do the Exchanges for you: In extremely difficult cases, it can be helpful to have another person with whom your children are familiar conduct the custody exchange, whereby you avoid the abuser all together. Often the abuser will rebel against this idea, insisting that you attend the exchange, or else he/she will not return the child. In this case, you can request a Court Order allowing a substitute to complete the exchanges. By eliminating yourself from the equation, you may be able to provide for a more peaceful custody exchange for your children.
  4. Ask about the ‘Child Access Center’: Centre County has a ‘Child Access Center”, providing a safe environment for the exchange of your children. The parents do not see each other in this situation, since each parent uses separate entrances to the building. However, the center is generally open only at certain days and times. To use such a place, you would likely need to obtain a Court Order directing both parents to utilize these services. If you are interested, I would suggest that you consult an attorney to inquire about this option.

Please note that there are several other techniques a victim can use to keep himself/herself and his/her children safe after separation from an abuser. It is always helpful to consult with an attorney, legal advocate, or counselor who has experience dealing with domestic violence to discuss your specific situation.

If you have any further questions about how to keep yourself safe at custody exchanges, or how to keep yourself safe in general, it may be a good idea to call your local Women’s Resource Center or Domestic Violence Hotline.

This article is not intended for the purposes of providing legal advice for any specific legal problem. 

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Protection From Abuse

Protection From Abuse/Bullying

Unwanted contact from someone can cause a lot of intimidation and aggravation.  This can be cause by excessive e-mails, bullying text messages, or stalking and can be unnerving. You will likely want the harassing contact to stop, and look towards Pennsylvania Law to get it to stop.

In Pennsylvania, there is something called the “Protection from Abuse Act”, which may protect you without having to file criminal charges.  This Act is meant to protect victims of family or relationship violence. However, if the person harassing or abusing you is not a family member or a prior intimate relationship, then you generally can’t get protection under this statute. Additionally, there are certain requirements in the Protection From Abuse Act that the contact from the other person was physically abusive or put you in ‘reasonable fear of serious bodily injury’.

Sometimes all you need to do is simply call the police and ask them to talk to the person harassing you. If that doesn’t work, you may send the harassing person a ‘no contact letter’.  Such a letter basically states that you are specifically directing the harasser to not contact you in any way, shape or form, either directly or indirectly. Be sure to send this letter certified mail, restricted delivery, with return receipt requested.

 

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Unfortunately, going into debt during the holidays can be a reality for many.  Credit cards are an often an ‘easy fix’ for buying something, for which we really don’t have the money, when we really want to purchase a gift for a special person.  Many people promise themselves to pay it off by the end of January, but that’s not always financially possible.

This debt may have other consequences besides having to dole out extra cash due to a high interest rate.  You could be faced with other fees such as late charges and a potential lowering of your credit score, if you’re late on or miss a payment altogether.   A lowered credit score can affect your ability to obtain a great deal on a purchase down the road, of which you may be in great need, such as a new car or new home.  It may also prevent you from obtaining future credit altogether.

I would like to provide a few helpful tips to those finding themselves smothered in credit card debt. This list does not include all remedial options, but is meant to cover common issues which I have come across in my practice of law:

  1. Call your creditor : If your credit card bill is spiraling out of control, you may be able to work out payment arrangements directly with your credit card company. The bottom line is, your creditor wants the money that you owe. If negotiating with you will help them get their money, many will do it. You might negotiate a lowering of your interest rate or even an elimination of a late fee (this one usually only works for those who have a decent payment history with their creditor). Creditors might close your account at your request, freeze any interest on the account, and/or allow you to pay off the debt in monthly installments. Be aware that this option can still have an effect on your credit; however, it will not have as severe of an effect as having the creditors themselves close your account. You can even try to negotiate down the debt and offer a lump sum in exchange for debt elimination.
  2. Consolidate your debt : You may be able to find a company that offers a lower interest rate than your current credit card company.  If you have decent credit, you may be able to obtain a credit which will consolidate all of your debt onto one card.
  3. Refinance debt : You might want to renegotiate some of your debt in order to better be able to pay it off.  You could refinance your car loan, or, in some cases, your house. It probably wouldn’t hurt to speak to a financial advisor if you feel you have debt that can potentially be refinanced. This option can really save you money in the long run.
  4. Beware of some loan consolidation programs: When you are in over your head with debt, it’s important to make smart decisions.  There are companies that offer to ‘settle’ your debt with creditors for a fraction of your debt amount.  It can be very tempting to enter into a contract with such a company in the hopes of avoiding severe debt and credit consequences. However, beware of this solution.  There are some companies whose are so exorbitant that your first few (or more) monthly payments actually don’t even begin to pay off your debt. In some situations, your bills aren’t even addressed until the debt consolidation company receives a significant portion of their money for services, through your monthly installments.   This can and will put your unpaid credit card amounts into a severely delinquent status.  With that being said, there are probably some great debt consolidation companies out there – just be sure to review the terms and conditions of their plans very carefully.
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