Family law practice is not for everyone. Many attorneys are uncomfortable handling divorce or child custody cases, because they can be emotional and upsetting. For me, it is a favorite area of practice because I see it as an opportunity to help people make the best of an imperfect situation so they can move on with their lives. Because it is an emotional area, family law practice takes a special skill set. Much of my job when handling a family law case is guiding my clients through their emotions, to make the right choices necessary to accomplish their goals. It is an area of law requiring patience, compassion, psychology, and strong negotiation skills. It is an area where my strengths have given my clients very good results over the years. My goal is to get my clients through the process to the result that will make them happiest, not just to end up with the most money or the fastest divorce. My clients’ long-term happiness, and the happiness of their children, is my sole focus.
Below is a general discussion of divorce and child custody law. If you are in need of legal help in either of those areas, the information may prove informative. For more information specific to your case, contact me.
Divorce Law in Pennsylvania:
First a note about cheap, do it yourself divorce. If your assets are small and you are confident in your abilities, a do it yourself divorce can make sense. In the end, I don’t know what the actual savings are, but to compare, a simple divorce with all filing fees included costs about $1,800 in my office. In my experience, not many divorces are simple from start to finish. Be very careful when deciding to go the DIY route. Sometimes the decision to save a few dollars here can cost thousands somewhere else.
When a married couple decides to separate, a sort of pre-divorce period occurs. There is no legal separation in Pennsylvania. While separation has no legal meaning as far as the marriage is concerned, it is important in two ways if the divorce filing is made later. It establishes a date where the couple stopped living as a couple, which is important if a divorce filing is contested, and for property split purposes. It is important to note that separation does not mean you live in different places, or even sleep in different beds. What matters is whether the couple is still living as husband and wife, or they have decided to stop living as husband and wife.
The divorce process-
Divorce filing: The divorce process officially starts with one spouse filing a Complaint for Divorce against the other. The filing is a lawsuit which may or may not need to be answered by the other spouse. With the filing, the spouse is asking for a divorce to be granted, and may also ask for the court to split the marital property, grant financial support, child support and/or child custody. If one or more of those items is not asked for by the filing party, it can be requested by the other spouse in an answer to the complaint.
Waiting period: After the divorce complaint, there is a mandatory 90 day waiting period during which nothing happens. The reason for this is that many couples decide to try and work things out, and the state wants the situation to cool down before moving forward, to see if the marriage can be saved. It should also be noted that by law, both spouses have the right to force the other to attend marriage counseling sessions.
After the waiting period: The case moves forward, and the issues raised need to be addressed. The most important issue is establishing grounds for divorce. In the old days, a person wanting a divorce had to prove their spouse did something wrong. Today, we have no-fault divorce, which in almost every case is the appropriate way to file. No-fault divorce simply means the marriage is irretrievably broken, and it needs to end. There are two types of no-fault divorce, consent, and non-consent. Consent means that both spouses agree that the marriage is done, and they file affidavits of consent with the court saying so. Non-consent means one spouse will not agree that the marriage is over, and if that happens, the filing spouse can be forced to wait 2 years from the date of separation to move the divorce forward on their own. That is why the date of separation can be important for grounds purposes. If the divorce was filed as a fault divorce, the fault will need to be proven in order to establish grounds. Once grounds for divorce are established, this main part of the divorce is finished and the other issues in the case can be dealt with.
Other issues: The divorce will not be final until all issues raised by either party are resolved. The trickiest issue is usually the split of property acquired during the marriage. When a couple is married, they become one person under the law, and everything they earn during the marriage is both of theirs, regardless of which spouse earned it. Property division law, called equitable distribution, is complicated, but in general, each spouse keeps what they had before the marriage and splits what they earned during the marriage, up to the date of final separation. The split can be anywhere from 50/50 to 70/30 depending on a variety of factors. If there isn’t enough money to split large items like houses, courts will often order properties to be sold to satisfy the split requirements.
Alimony and spousal support is another financial matter that often is asked for in a divorce. These monies are often awarded to the spouse who earns less money than the other. It doesn’t last forever like it did in years past. Alimony can start at the beginning of the suit in cases where a spouse is unable to support themselves on their own.
Child issues can also be made part of a divorce case, or they can be handled privately by the spouses. It is always best when parents can cooperate and reach custody and support agreements that provide for the best care of the children. If they can’t reach agreement, the court will hear both sides and decide for them. It should be noted that while the rest of the divorce settlement is usually permanent once agreed to, child support and custody are always able to be modified. A court will always be willing to hear arguments related to the best interests of the children.
When all issues are resolved, the court will issue a divorce decree several weeks later. That should end the process, but there are times when a spouse fails to meet their court ordered obligations, and they need to be cited for contempt of court to make them do what they need to do. A lawyer can help with this process. Divorce is a difficult process, but the right lawyer can make it much smoother and easier. If you have a divorce issue,contact me to discuss the specifics of your case.
As a father of three wonderful kids, I am deeply concerned with the welfare of children. When a client comes to me with a child custody issue, I review the situation and decide whether my opinion is in line with my client’s. At times, I am not the right fit for the situation and when that happens, I let the client know that. I will not take a case where I feel that my client’s demands are detrimental to their kids’ best interest. Luckily that has only happened once, but it does happen.
In cases where I’ve represented parents in custody matters, the issues to be decided have to do with time spent with each parent, religious and school decisions, transportation, and any number of issues related to co-parenting. As an experienced and skilled negotiator, I am very well suited to achieving good results for my custody clients. If you have a child custody matter, contact me for a free consultation, because I can help.
DIVORCE AND FAMILY LAW
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