News

50/50 Custody and Your Child Support Obligation

There appears to be a common understanding among participants in custody litigation that the parent having primary custody—that is, the majority of overnights with a child—will be eligible to pursue child support on behalf of the child.  That understanding is generally correct.  Many of those same participants believe that the eligibility of the primary custodial parent to pursue child support ends if the parties equally share physical custody of their child.  That understanding is not always correct.  Here is what you should know:  

In the case of one parent having primary custody of a child, the child support guidelines in Pennsylvania have been established to consider that the child spends 30% of overnights annually with the partial custodial parent.  In other words, the guidelines assume that the partial custodial parent has expenditures for the child while the child is in his/her custody, and the guideline amounts have been adjusted to consider those expenditures.  This is true even if the child spends less than 30% of the overnights—or no overnights—with the partial custodial parent.

If the number of overnights with the partial custodial parent reaches 40% during the year, a presumption arises that the partial custodial parent is entitled to a reduction in child support.  In general terms, the reduction will be 10% of the support amount, with that reduction “increasing incrementally to a 20% reduction at 50% parenting time.”  See Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-1.  

In a situation in which parents equally share physical custody (i.e., 50/50) of a child, it is important to know that the guidelines may permit the entry of a support obligation depending on the income of the parties and the child-related expenses paid by either party.  For example, a support obligation may be entered against the parent with higher income by applying a 20% reduction as discussed above, with care taken to ensure the support obligation does not result in the parent receiving support having a larger share of the combined income.  Further, a support obligation may be entered against a parent with similar income or lower income level to cover child care costs, health insurance premiums, private school tuition, and unreimbursed medical expenses.  

The formula for calculating child support can be found in Pa.R.C.P. 1910-16-4, but often times the support guidelines can be complex and nuanced.  If you have questions regarding child support matters, please contact us at 717.299.7342 to meet with one of our Family Law Attorneys.        

~Jeffrey C. Murse, Esquire      

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BEWARE – School is Back in Session!

Bus stops, school zones and increased traffic have been slowing down your morning commute.  You have probably noticed police presence in and around schools as a reminder to SLOW DOWN.  Be alert and be cautious!  School-related traffic offenses in the vehicle code are summary offenses in Pennsylvania, but have serious consequences. Violating Pennsylvania’s school-related traffic offenses could cost you a lot of money and could result in a suspension of your driver’s license! 

Many of us pass school speed zones during our morning or afternoon commute.   The speed zone in a school zone is marked by an official traffic-control device at the beginning and end of each zone.  The speed limit for marked school zones is 15 MPH.  Speeding in a school zones greater than 5 MPH carries higher fines and if you are cited for speeding in a school zone greater than 11 MPH over the limit, you face a fine of at least $500.  

What about bus stops and approaching buses with flashing “amber” lights?  If you see a bus approaching with the yellow flashing lights, you are to proceed past the bus with caution but be prepared to stop when the yellow lights are flashing.  However, if you see the red lights flashing and the stop arm activated, you must stop!   Also, be aware that if a school bus is stopped at an intersection with flashing red lights, you must also stop at that intersection until the lights are no longer activated – regardless of which way you may be turning or which way the students may be walking.  And, if you encounter an approaching school bus on a multi-lane road, yes, you guessed it – STOP!  A driver is only exempt from stopping for an approaching bus when the bus is on a “separate” roadway (such as a divided highway).  

A violation for failing to stop for a school bus in any of the above scenarios will result in a fine of $250, five points being assigned to your driver’s record and a 60-day license suspension!  

What this means for you:  If you have been cited for a violation of the school-related traffic offenses or ANY traffic-related offense, we can help! Many traffic offenses carry fines and suspensions that are unknown to the common motorist.  Make Pyfer Reese your choice!  Call 717.299.7342 to schedule a consultation with Attorney Adams before entering a guilty plea to any traffic-related offense. 

~Heather L. Adams, Esquire

 

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Linda F. Gerencser, Esquire, joins Pyfer Reese Straub Gray & Farhat PC

Ms. Gerencser has joined Pyfer Reese Straub Gray & Farhat PC and brings with her an excess of 30 years of legal experience. She will practice in the following areas: Social Security Disability, Unemployment Compensation, Workers’ Compensation, Wills and Estates, and Family Law.  

Linda F. Gerencser graduated from Boston College, Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English. Following completion of her undergraduate degree she obtained a position working with disabled children at St. Agatha Home in New York.   After working there for two years, Ms. Gerencser attended Villanova University School of Law.

After she completed her law degree, she served as a Judicial Law Clerk to the Honorable Richard A. Powers, III, who was a Judge Magistrate for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, at the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia.  After completing her Clerkship, she married her husband John and moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She and her husband went on to have three children together: Steven, Susan and Nicholas. 

After moving to Lancaster County, Ms. Gerencser initially worked for a small general practice law firm.  She subsequently joined the Lancaster County Public Defender’s Office.  While serving as an Assistant Public Defender, she represented clients at preliminary hearings before District Justices and in court hearings before Judges in the Lancaster Court of Common Pleas.  Ms. Gerencser also represented clients in appellate proceedings before the Pennsylvania Superior Court and Pennsylvania Supreme Court.     Ms. Gerencser later served as a court appointed attorney in child dependency proceedings. 

Ms. Gerencser worked at another area law office for twelve years where she practiced administrative law, primarily Social Security Disability,  Unemployment Compensation, Workers’ Compensation, and Estate Planning.  She has also served as a court appointed Guardian Ad Litem. In addition, she taught  Business Law classes at the Penn State, Lancaster Campus and Harrisburg Area Community College. 

Ms. Gerencser is active in her community, and enjoys serving as a volunteer in various capacities.   She has served on the Board for the Arc of Lancaster County. She was Vice President of the Warwick Track and Field Parents’ Association for six years.  She volunteers regularly at her church, and is on the planning committee for the annual 5K running event that the church sponsors.

In her spare time, Ms. Gerencser enjoys spending time with her husband, children, and dogs, as well as extended family and friends.  Her hobbies are jogging, biking, reading, gardening, and journaling.      

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Tax? What tax? We’ll Help You Unravel the Mystery.

Unlike Federal Estate Tax which is only assessed if the value of an estate exceeds 

11 Million Dollars, Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax applies regardless of the size of an estate.  Pennsylvania’s Inheritance Tax is a transfer tax on the property that a beneficiary will receive from your estate.  The tax amounts vary based upon your relationship to the decedent and the value of the property you will be receiving.  In Pennsylvania, the inheritance tax rates are as follows:

—  Parents, children, grandchildren and stepchildren, are taxed at a rate of 4.5%.

—  Siblings are taxed at a rate of 12%.  

—  Nieces, nephews and unrelated individuals are taxed at a rate of 15%.  

If a child under the age of 21 dies with assets, the assets passing from the child to the parent or stepparent will not be taxed.

Charities are exempt from Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax, as are assets which are owned by spouses with the right of survivorship.

At the time counsel for the Executor or Administrator prepares the Tax Return, the tax is not  imposed on the gross value of the estate.  The outstanding debts are deducted, as are the funeral expenses and other estate settlement costs.  There is also a $3,500 family exemption deduction for relatives with whom the decedent resided.  

Some types of property are entirely exempt from taxation.  Typically, a husband and wife own their property jointly.  Upon the death of the first spouse, there will be no Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax due.  If one spouse owns property in his or her name alone, then it would be taxable; however no tax would be owing because the spousal tax rate is set at zero percent.

Life Insurance proceeds and certain types of retirement plans are exempt from Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax, as are family owned businesses that meet the qualifications set forth in Act 52 of 2013.  Farms may also be exempt if they are passing to a child, grandchild or sibling.

In addition, certain bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other securities can be designated as “pay on death” or “transfer on death” to make for a smoother transfer of those assets upon your death; however, they are still subject to the applicable tax.  It is also very important when designating assets in this way that you make sure you are not contradicting the terms of your Will.

If a parent gifts their home or other assets to a child but does not survive for a period of one year thereafter, the gift would be subject to the 4.5% inheritance tax if it had a value in excess of $3,000.  Likewise, when gifting a home to a child, but reserving a lifetime right to reside in the home, upon your death, the value of the home would be taxed.

Pyfer Reese is here to assist with your estate planning and to help you navigate through the complex  estate administration process.  Our experienced attorneys can provide you with an individualized plan to ensure your beneficiaries receive the maximum net amount possible from the inheritance you leave for their benefit.  Contact us today at 717-299-7342 for a convenient appointment with one of our attorneys.

~Christopher C. Straub, Esquire

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What do you mean I can’t do that?

Most parents assume that when their child–who is a senior in high school or a freshman in college– gets sick, they [the parents] can take their child to the doctor or hospital and approve medical treatment.  Further, the parents may assume they want to obtain information regarding their child’s treatment.  In either circumstance, the parents may be shocked or surprised  to know they do not have a right to do either.

As of the age of 18, a parent no longer has the right to make decisions or obtain information regarding the child.  The same actions that the parent has been doing for 18 years are suddenly prohibited under the law.  

Physicians cannot give medical information to the parent without the 18-year-old “child’s” permission.  Parents cannot sign documents for their 18-year-old children. One simple solution to this problem is to have your 18-year-old child sign a “power of attorney” and a “health care power of attorney” on their 18th birthday or as soon as possible thereafter.  This will ensure that you can assist your “child” with their medical and financial decisions as long as the Power of Attorney remains in place.  Your child can revoke the Power of Attorney as long as proper notice is given to the parent or agent.  For the health and safety of your child, have a Power of Attorney prepared for their 18th birthday.  The child cannot sign until their 18th birthday.  Pyfer, Reese, Straub, Gray & Farhat has several attorneys that can assist you with your child’s next step into adulthood and give you peace of mind for their future.

As a reference, see generally Code Section 20 Pa CSA §5601-5604 Powers of Attorney.  Specific Powers, Life-Prolonging Acts, include the ability to authorize admission to medical facility and enter into agreements for principal’s care and to consent, arrange, and authorize medical and surgical procedures including administration of drugs.

~Gerryanne P. Cauler, Esquire

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Have a Personal Injury, Workers’ Compensation, Social Security or Unemployment Compensation Matter?

Personal Injury

Do I Have a Case?

That’s the first question that most people ask when they suffer an injury that’s severe enough to disrupt their lives, and the answer is not always clear. Every injury and the circumstances surrounding it are different, so your best step is to call Pyfer Reese Straub Gray & Farhat for a consultation with Attorney Farhat. She will examine all the factors involved in your injury, and if she believes that your case merits legal action, she will represent you and seek just compensation for your injuries.

Attorney Farhat has successfully represented many clients,* and her mission is to protect you when you are most vulnerable. When you or a loved one is hurt on the job, on the road, from a dog bite or slip and fall or anywhere else, you need a personal injury lawyer who is dedicated to assuring that the life you and your family lead will continue as normally as possible.

As Lancaster County’s premier personal injury attorneys, Pyfer Reese Straub Gray & Farhat PC and Attorney Farhat are committed to assisting you in a critical time of need. It is not easy being the victim of negligence or recklessness that results in personal injury, but experienced legal representation by Attorney Farhat will be your assurance that everything possible will be done to bring you justice and fair financial compensation for your injuries.

*Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum Member (Established in 1993, the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum is one of the most prestigious groups of trial lawyers in the United States.  Membership is limited to attorneys who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements.)*

Workers’ Compensation

By law, you are financially protected when you suffer an injury at your place of work. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires every employer to maintain insurance to compensate you in the event that the unexpected happens. However, many workers’ compensation insurance programs leave you with a battle of red tape. The job of our team of workers’ compensation lawyers is to cut through that red tape and to get you your rightful compensation. That is where Attorney Farhat steps in to help ensure you receive satisfactory care and fair compensation to aid in your recovery.

Social Security

Social Security pays disability benefits to you and certain members of your family if you have worked long enough and have a medical condition that has prevented you from working or is expected to prevent you from working for at least 12 months or end in death. As Lancaster, PA’s first choice for representation in Social Security disability cases Attorney Farhat will be able to facilitate and prepare the necessary claims to support your case. 

Unemployment Compensation

For both employers and employees, employment law matters can be complicated and often have costly consequences. The Lancaster employment law lawyers at Pyfer Reese Straub Gray & Farhat P.C. and Attorney Farhat can provide you with skilled guidance and strong advocacy in a wide-range of employment law areas including Unemployment Compensation.

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Old Credit Card Debt and the Statute of Limitations

It can seem like old credit card debt never goes away and never dies.  Many firms purchase old credit card debt from banks and then take action to collect whatever possible from the account holder.  Typically, the collection process starts with a letter and several telephone calls.  During such collection calls the account holder is invariably prevailed upon to make some sort of payment towards the account.  The process can end up with legal action being filed against the account holder.

Many older credit card obligations may be uncollectible under Pennsylvania law.  The Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations for credit card debt is four (4) years.  This means that unless legal action is filed within four years from the date of the breach of the credit card account contract, then a court likely will dismiss any legal action due to the case having been filed too late.

As is typical with the legal system, things are not always so cut and dry.  If a credit card account holder makes a payment towards the past due account, then that payment restarts the four year time period under the Statute of Limitations.  The desire of the account holder to do the right thing or improve his or her credit can actually hurt his/her case.

The Statute of Limitations is what is classified by the law as an affirmative defense, which means that the defense must be raised by the Defendant in a court case, or that defense is waived.  The applicability of the Statute of Limitations is just one of several issues that can impact your liability for credit card debt.  If, during a collection call, a customer relations representative attempts to cajole you into making payment on an old account, then it is best to stop and consider the relevant time frames before making that payment.  If legal action is filed against you, then please consult an attorney whose practice includes civil litigation.  

What this means for you:  If you have questions about debt collection or legal actions filed against you or potentially to be filed against you, we can help you. Make Pyfer Reese your choice. Call 717.299.7342 to schedule a consultation with Albert J. Meier.

~Albert J. Meier, Esquire

 

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Medical Marijuana Act

 

The Pennsylvania Legislature recently enacted the Medical Marijuana Act, allowing patients suffering from certain serious medical conditions to obtain a prescription for medical marijuana from an approved practitioner.  Patients can then physically obtain the marijuana from a licensed dispensary.  By the beginning of April 2018, there were 7,000 approved medical marijuana cardholders across Pennsylvania. 

Although the medical marijuana available to those who qualify is not quite the same as marijuana being sold on the streets, medical marijuana does contain varying levels of the active compound THC.  THC is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under Pennsylvania laws and Federal laws.  Possessing a medical marijuana identification card allows you to possess and use medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.*  However, possessing a prescription card for medical marijuana DOES NOT excuse someone from Pennsylvania’s Driving Under the Influence laws. 

It is a crime in Pennsylvania for ANY individual to operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle when there is ANY amount of a Schedule I controlled substance or metabolite of a Schedule I controlled substance, including THC, in an individual’s blood.  While there are minimum levels of the controlled substance that must be present for prosecution purposes, those levels are very low, especially for those who may be taking medical marijuana on a regular basis.   

Again, beware that possessing a medical marijuana card does not excuse you from abiding by the zero tolerance DUI controlled substance laws in Pennsylvania.  If you are receiving medical marijuana from a licensed dispensary, think twice before getting behind the wheel.  A DUI conviction comes with possible jail time, costly fines, as well as a suspension of your Pennsylvania Driver’s license and other penalties. 

What this means for you:  If you have questions about the Medical Marijuana Act or a DUI in general, we can help you. Make Pyfer Reese your choice – visit www.pyferreese.com or call 717.299.7342 to schedule a consultation with Attorney Heather Adams.


*Medical marijuana is still illegal to possess under the laws of our federal government. 

 

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The Pennsylvania Wiretap Act

 

In custody and divorce matters, it is common for attorneys to advise clients to keep detailed notes and/or diaries of conversations that may be relevant to their case.  These notes and diaries are useful to review prior to a hearing or other court appearance as a way to refresh a client’s memory about the specifics of significant conversations between the client and ex-spouse or ex-partner.  Of course, your notes and diary entries may not capture the emotion of the conversations, and it can often be difficult to convey through testimony the disrespectful tone or attitude of indifference expressed by the other party.  I have been asked:  Would it not be easier to simply record conversations with an ex-spouse or ex-partner, with the intent of introducing the recordings as evidence in custody or divorce litigation?  My response:  Proceed with caution.  

 

The Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act (Wiretap Act) creates civil and criminal penalties for anyone who “intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept any wire, electronic or oral communication[.]”  There are also penalties for anyone who “intentionally discloses or endeavors to disclose to any other person the contents of any wire, electronic or oral communication, or evidence derived therefrom, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained through the interception of a wire, electronic or oral communication[.]”  

In general terms, this means that you place yourself at risk for civil and criminal penalties if you make an audio recording of your ex-spouse or ex-partner (or anyone else) when that person had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time of your conversation and when that person does not have knowledge and does not consent to the recording.  In many circumstances, the recording of cell phone conversations and the recording of conversations in the home will violate the PA Wiretap Act when the audio recordings are done without the other person’s consent.  It would also be a violation of the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act to then disclose those recordings to third parties and/or the Court during custody and divorce hearings.   

It is important to remember that the presentation of testimony and evidence in custody and divorce matters can be complex.  It is also important to be sure that you gather evidence and prepare for litigation in an appropriate manner.  If you have questions regarding custody or divorce matters, or if you have questions about the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act, please contact us at 717.299.7342 to speak with one of our attorneys. Our Firm handles both domestic and criminal matters and we have attorneys that handle each area of the law.  

~Jeffrey C. Murse, Esquire 

 

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Education Law – What Parents Need to Know About Social Security for Children

Children with qualifying disabilities are entitled to receive SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits so long as their household resources are under a limit set by the Social Security Administration.

Many people are familiar with the concept of Social Security benefits for adults, but are you aware that disability benefits are available to children as well? The Social Security Administration offers multiple benefits to students, including benefits available to students whose parent is deceased, or even college students who became disabled before age 22 and whose parent is deceased or collecting benefits. These benefits are based on the parent’s status, and do not necessarily have a limit for financial resources available to the student’s family. For today’s purposes, though, we would like to talk with you about benefits available to disabled children in low-income households.

Who qualifies as a disabled child? For Social Security purposes, a “child” is one who is under age 18 (or under age 22 and a student regularly attending school). When the child turns 18, though, the Social Security Administration will evaluate the disability according to the adult disability standards. A child may be eligible for SSI benefits as early as birth; there is no minimum age requirement. “Disability” means that the child has physical and/or mental impairment(s) which result(s) in marked and severe functional limitations and has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months or be expected to result in death. There are special definitions for disability if a child is blind (it is the same standard as for blind adults), and there is no duration requirement for SSI blindness benefits.

Essentially, the Administration is looking to see if the child’s disability limits his or her ability to function in school and initiate and sustain activities in daily life. In most cases, the Administration looks at six “domains” to determine whether an impairment is limiting enough to meet the definition of disability. The medical and school records must demonstrate a “marked” limitation in two (2) domains or an “extreme” limitation in one (1) domain. These domains are:

1.     Acquiring and using information;

2.     Attending and completing tasks;

3.     Interacting and relating with others;

4.     Moving about and manipulating objects;

5.     Caring for yourself; and,

6.     Health and physical well-being.

The Social Security Administration does have a “Compassionate Allowances” list. For more information, you can read our blog post here. The conditions on this list meet the standards for disability benefits and so, the evaluation process is shortened.

What income or resources does the Administration consider? Generally speaking, the Administration will look at the income of the parent(s) with whom the child lives, including stepparents. A portion of the parents’ income and resources will be considered available to the child. Deductions are made for other children living in the home, and the remaining amount is considered to determine whether the child meets the income and resource requirements.

What about medical benefits? In most states, including Pennsylvania, if a child receives SSI benefits he or she will also be eligible for Medicaid. For more information about Medicaid, you can look on the Internet on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services webpage at http://www.medicaid.gov/index.html. Children living overseas with an active duty military parent are not eligible for Medicaid, but may still receive SSI benefits.

What this means for you: At Pyfer Reese, we know that parents are fighting hard to ensure their children receive the education and benefits they deserve. We want to team with you to make sure your child receives the best benefits possible. If you have a question about your student’s entitlement to Social Security benefits, we can help. Attorneys Gabriella H. Farhat and Lauren E. Martin are authorized representatives with the Social Security Administration, meaning they can advocate for you or your child to receive benefits.

Make Pyfer Reese your choice! Call 717.299.7342 to schedule a consultation regarding your education law and or social security needs. 

 

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