Divorce in Pennsylvania
Divorce is a difficult process for all parties involved and can often illicit strong emotions. At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys see divorce differently than many firms, and we seek to help you analyze whether there is a way to keep your family together, even in situations that seem hopeless. Should you find yourself still wanting a divorce, there is important information to keep in mind.
Do I need a divorce attorney?
First and foremost, you may ask yourself whether or not you need a divorce attorney. There are several benefits to hiring a divorce attorney.
- A divorce attorney can help you properly file and finalize your divorce.—Pennsylvania’s divorce process involves many steps, and it can be easy to overlook certain ones when you are in the midst of an emotional time. An experienced family law attorney who is familiar with divorce proceedings can make sure your divorce is processed and finalized correctly.
- A divorce attorney can properly mediate and retitle assets.—Even meager assets must be properly retitled to avoid further disputes down the line. Having a divorce attorney step in and mediate this for you can ensure you don’t have to drag out proceedings any longer than necessary.
- A divorce attorney can draw up new estate planning documents.—After you are divorced, you may wish to redistribute what you are leaving behind in a will and who will act on your behalf should you need a power of attorney. An experienced attorney can help you to draw up new wills, POAs, and other estate planning documents.
- A divorce attorney can write or modify a custody agreement.—Attorneys can help you to write a clear custody agreement, in contract form, so that both parties know what to expect. By doing this, you can avoid future disputes. Attorneys can also help you to modify existing custody agreements to better reflect a change in circumstances.
Terms to Know
Alimony: financial support given by one spouse to the other after a decree of divorce for the support and maintenance of the other party
Alimony pendente lite (also known as APL): a form of spousal support that is paid before the divorce is finalized; it can start from the time a complaint is filed and be paid until the divorce decree is issued
Fault v. No-Fault Divorce
There are two types of divorce in Pennsylvania: fault divorce and no-fault divorce. Both require certain criteria to be met in order to file for the divorce, and both carry consequences after filing.
Fault divorce is a divorce in which one spouse alleges the other is responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. The alleging spouse must prove that the accused spouse is actually responsible. In order to file a fault divorce, one of the following must have occurred:
- imprisonment for two or more years
- domestic violence
- willful abandonment without reasonable cause for at least one year
Fault divorce can often be a lengthier process and may require more time in court. Some other consequences of fault divorce include:
- How your property is divided—The court may divide property unevenly in favor of the alleging spouse if they are proved to be innocent.
- How much alimony is required—Like the division of property, courts may favor the innocent spouse and consider the grounds for the divorce in deciding how much and how long the innocent spouse receives financial support.
- How public your divorce becomes—Fault divorces are made public and can potentially damage both spouses’ reputations.
A no-fault divorce is a divorce in which both parties consent to the dissolution of the marriage. Instead of one spouse proving the other is at fault, both parties must demonstrate that the marriage is irretrievably broken and beyond reconciliation. No-fault divorce can be obtained either by the consent of both parties or after a 90-day waiting period in which one spouse files for divorce and the other does not object.
The consequences of a no-fault divorce vary on a case-by-case basis, but some of them include:
- How your property is divided—In Pennsylvania, the court will divide property based on the equitable distribution laws. Factors such as the length of the marriage and each spouse’s financial resources will be weighed in the division.
- How much alimony is required—The same factors from property distribution may come into play if the court decides to award one spouse alimony.
- How public your divorce becomes—Unlike fault divorce, no-fault divorce is private and can protect both spouses’ reputations.
Mediation vs. Court Proceedings
Depending on the type of divorce you are filing and the details that need to be worked out in your divorce, you may find that mediation is a better alternative to court proceedings. Mediation is a way to resolve disputes, establish custody, and divide assets without taking your case in front of a judge. A neutral third party is hired (often a retired judge or attorney) who helps each party reach a resolution. Court proceedings, on the other hand, involve taking your case before a judge and having that judge make the final decision.
The above chart is meant to give an idea about general pros and cons for mediation and court proceedings. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to divorce. An experienced family law attorney can help you determine which option is best for your case.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements seek to accomplish essentially the same goal. They are a contract between either prospective or married spouses that spells out terms and conditions for finances, property, and other assets in the event of a divorce or separation.
The biggest difference between them is the time at which they are executed. Prenuptial agreements, also known as pre-marital agreements, are formed prior to entering into a marriage. Postnuptial agreements, or post-marital agreements, are formed after a couple has married.
While these are not a requirement for marriage, they can provide helpful protections in the event of a divorce. An experienced attorney, like the ones at Cornerstone Law Firm, can help you to draft a fair and reasonable pre or postnuptial agreement, and can see that it is enforced should a divorce or separation take place.
Don’t go through your divorce alone. Contact Cornerstone Law Firm for help with mediation, court proceedings, and any other matters related to your divorce.
Along with divorce, deciding and finalizing custody of your children can be another difficult process. Ultimately, the goal should be determining what is in your child’s best interest. There’s not always an easy solution, and compromising may feel like a loss, but it is vital to protect your child’s sense of safety and belonging.
Physical vs. Legal Custody
There are two forms of custody to take into account. Physical custody is the actual, physical care and supervision of the child. Parents who have physical custody must provide care, establish routines, and provide for day-to-day needs. Legal custody is the right to make decisions on behalf of the child, such as those related to education, health care, and religion. In joint custody arrangements, both parents share physical and legal custody.
Improving Custody Outcomes
It may never feel like you’ve “won” when it comes to custody arrangements. There are, however, some ways to improve the outcome of your custody case. They include:
- Establishing healthy communication with your co-parent—Healthy communication may look different for each set of co-parents. One good way to keep communication amicable and clear is to stick to written communication. Writing will slow you down and help you to maintain a thoughtful and informative tone to avoid conflicts. It can also provide you with a record that you can show a judge in the event of a communication breakdown.
- Keeping your expectations realistic—It’s important to go into a custody arrangement with an understanding of what the worst-case and best-case scenarios may be for your case. An attorney can keep you informed of the variety of outcomes you can expect, and this can alleviate some of the stresses involved in determining custody.
- Treating your co-parent with class—This may be one of the hardest aspects of working out custody. Heightened emotions can lead to poor decisions both in and out of the court room, but it is important to maintain civility in the midst of your case. People who behave well in custody cases look better to judges, maintain better relationships with their children, and establish healthier relationships with their co-parent.
Ask for Help
Custody is a difficult and distressing process for anyone. Hiring an experienced family law attorney from Cornerstone can ease some of the burden you may be feeling during your case. An attorney can keep you informed of your rights, provide counsel on how best to communicate with other parties involved, and can fight to get you and your children the best outcome possible. Call Cornerstone Law Firm today!
Additional Resources: In some cases, divorcees want to establish who gets custody of the family pet(s). If you’d like to read more about that, check out our blog post on working out pet custody.
When it comes to claiming child support, many parents feel overwhelmed. The process can feel intimidating, and sometimes threats from the other party add to the fear of moving forward. At Cornerstone Law Firm, our family law attorneys are here to help you navigate the process. Here are a few things to keep in mind in the process of pursuing child support.
First, the duty of support is an absolute duty of both parents. Child support is intended to cover basic expenses of the child or children, including, but not limited to, nutrition, shelter, child-care expenses, and medical expenses. The amount of support is calculated based on the relative income of the parties. The cost of health insurance premiums for the children will be allocated between the parties.
In Pennsylvania, each parent is financial responsible for a portion of the amount listed in the Statewide Child Support Schedule found in Pa.R.C.P 1910.16-3. A family law attorney at Cornerstone Law firm will help you consider whether an upward or downward deviation would be appropriate in your case.
At the initial support conciliation, there are three courses of action available. The parties can 1. Reach an agreement, 2. Accept the PA state guideline amount, or 3. Request a hearing for deviation from the guideline amount. Support Orders are modifiable and should be reviewed every three to four years, or earlier, if time there is a change in employment that affects ones ability to pay support.
The “best interests of the child” are always the key
You’ll hear this phrase throughout the process of both custody and child support, but the Berks County Court of Common Pleas will ultimately seek what is “in the best interests of the child” in making a final determination. The Court is challenged under Pennsylvania law with determining this, and the factors the Court can use in making this decision are broad. It is strongly recommended to have a good attorney help you in navigating this process.
Child support can’t be “waived” by agreement
It is not uncommon to hear from clients that they’ve made an agreement not to pursue child support, sometimes in exchange for something else. Perhaps you agreed to forgo child support if the other party agreed to let you keep a car, or something like that. But these agreements are generally unenforceable under Pennsylvania law.
If you’re seeking child support in Berks County, it is vital to have a good family law attorney on your side. Call Cornerstone Law Firm today to speak with one of our attorneys to learn what your rights are in the custody and child support processes.