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Frequently asked questions about divorce in Pennsylvania

1. How do I get started with the divorce process?

Meeting with a divorce and family lawyer to educate yourself about the divorce process is a good first step. Schedule a consultation with an attorney whom you have received a referral, or you have researched.

2. What are the divorce procedures?

In PA there is no fault divorce and fault grounds divorce. You can file against your spouse in court or you can meet with a mediator or collaborative divorce attorney.

A divorce on fault grounds requires that the plaintiff prove that he or she is the innocent and injured spouse and that the other spouse is guilty of one of six categories of marital misconduct.

A divorce based on no-fault grounds must assert that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

3. Should I try mediation?

Mediation is an excellent option if you want to stay out of court and your spouse think you can reach an agreement.

4. Do I really need to hire an attorney?

It is not uncommon for spouses to file the paperwork with the court to initiate a divorce. If there are not significant marital assets to divide this may be an option. However, in most marriages, one spouse has a better understanding than the other regarding finances. Divorce can also result from distrust in the marriage which inhibits the ability to communicate about marital assets and the divorce. If you are concerned you are not getting the full story, you should hire an attorney.

5. What is Collaborative Divorce?

Collaborative Divorce process is a way for couples to go through a divorce in a more respectful and amicable manner. The couple must agree to use an interest based negotiation approach and pledge to stay out of court. The couple must sign a Participation Agreement. The agreement acknowledges the couple will negotiate in good faith. Once a couple establishes that Collaborative Divorce is right for them, a team is assembled including an attorney for each spouse, financial advisors, divorce coaches, and other professionals as needed.

6. I am interested in Collaborative Process but I am not sure how to tell my spouse?

At the initial consultation we discuss your divorce option and often times we also talk about how to bring this information to your spouse. We provide information to our clients to take after the consultation as well. The information can be shared with the spouse.

7. What is a divorce coach and why would I need one?

Divorce is difficult and often fraught with tension. A divorce coach can help manage emotions through the process. The divorce coach meets with both spouses before the first team meeting, helping to manage expectations and to deal with the challenges. They keeping the process on track in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere.

8. Do I have to go to Court?

No. You can finalize a mutual consent divorce in Pennsylvania in three to four months. If you properly file and serve all of your court documents and agree on the terms of your settlement, a judge will grant the divorce and you will not have to appear in court.

9. Should I move out of the house?

If you move out temporarily, you still have a claim in equitable distribution on the house because it is marital property. You do not relinquish your property interest in the home by moving out. However, you may have certain responsibilities and obligations to maintain the property even if you do not live there. Based upon the income disparity a court could order a mortgage contribution be paid to the party still living in the house.

10. My spouse does not know I’m meeting with a lawyer, should I tell them?

Your meeting with any attorney is confidential. You have no legal obligation to share that with your spouse.

11. Do I give up rights to see my children if I move out?

No. While it may become more difficult to see your children daily as you did when you lived at home with them, your legal and physical rights do not change unless and until there is a legal agreement or custody order.

12. How much will I get in child support?

That depends on your incomes and the amount of time you have custody. Child support is a payment that one parent makes to the other upon a separation and/or a divorce to help cover a child’s basic food, clothing and shelter needs in a household. Payment amounts are determined in Pennsylvania based on the PA State Guidelines which apply both the relative incomes of both parents as well as the physical custody arrangement the parents have with their children. Child support is modifiable by law based on a change in circumstances.

You are not bound by guidelines. Often times in mediation or collaborative cases parents negotiate a non-guidelines amount that most realistically suits the basic needs of their children.

13. Am I entitled to alimony?

In Pennsylvania, maintenance is available to the financially dependent spouse at different stages of the divorce proceedings. Prior to the divorce being filed it is termed “spousal support.”

After filing and during divorce proceedings, support is termed “alimony pendente lite,” a Latin phrase meaning “alimony pending litigation.”

•After the entry of a final divorce decree, support is available in the form of “alimony.”

14. Can I get alimony for life?

There are several factors that a court can consider in deciding whether or not to award alimony. Some of those include: the relative earnings and earning capacities of the spouses, duration of the marriage, contribution of one spouse a homemaker, contribution of one spouse to the education of the other, the standard of living during the marriage, age, and physical and mental health of the parties.

In many PA county courts, there is an unspoken rule of thumb, not a law, that a recipient should receive one year of alimony for every three years of marriage.

15. How long will it take before the divorce is final?

In Pennsylvania, a simple, one-count divorce with no ancillary issues will still take a minimum of three months to finalize. A 90 day cooling off period is statutorily required. More complex cases will obviously take even longer.

Additionally, Pennsylvania employs a trifurcated system, meaning that divorce & equitable distribution, custody and support can be handled at different times. If your case involves all three, it will most likely take longer and be more expensive to litigate.

16. How much does it cost to get a divorce?

There are many factors that go into answering more definitely this question. Generally higher conflict and emotionally-charged cases are most costly.

Negotiated settlements and mediations are most cost effective.

In contested divorce in Pennsylvania (where you and your spouse each hire your own divorce lawyers), the legal fees can cost in excess of $25,000. It is not unheard of for cases to reach $150,000 or more. Financial experts say that a divorce can reduce one's net worth up to 75%. Custody evaluations, custody trials, contested alimony payments, and paying a spouse's legal fees are often the biggest expenses in the divorce process.

Legal options such as collaborative divorce and mediation provide emotional guidance and can reduce significantly reduce legal fees.

17. How long do I need to be separated from my spouse?

A spouse will need to wait only a year before obtaining a divorce without the other spouse's consent.

18. What should I bring to the consultation?

An open mind and a list of questions. There are many divorce options and our attorneys are trained to education about the options best suited for you and your family. We will also provide you with and intake for so we can find out more about you. It is helpful to have a tax return, marriage certificate, any documents which have been filed with the court.

19. Do my children have to have contact with their other parent?

If a parents rights have not been terminated they will be permitted to have contact. If there are criminal charges, a protective order from Children and Youth or through a Protection for Abuse Order (PFA) visitation may be supervised.

If there is no custody order, both parents have an equal right to custody, and either can lawfully take physical possession of the child at any time.

20. How is filing for custody different than filing for child support?

Custody determines where the child will stay and support determines what amount will be paid.

21. What does it mean to be legally separated?

Separation for legal purposes means that one spouse conveys the intent to the other that he or she no longer desires to remain married. ... As stated, in some circumstances parties can be separated while residing in the same household.

22. Can I change my name at the time of divorce?

Yes. Written notice of resumption of a prior surname may be filed in the divorce case during the divorce process or after entry of final decree.

23. What if my spouse does not want the divorce?

A spouse will need to wait only a year before obtaining a divorce without the other spouse's consent.

24. What are the changes to alimony since the tax reform of 2018?

In Pennsylvania, prior to change in the tax code, alimony was deductible to the spouse making the payments and included as income on the taxes of the spouse receiving the payments.

In a bill passed on December 20, 2017, alimony payments will no longer be deductible for the payor, nor taxable for the recipient. The provision of the bill that changes the taxation of alimony will come into effect after December 31, 2018. This means that those divorce and separation agreements signed after December 31, 2018 will operate under this new law.

25. What is marital property?

Generally, it is any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage, regardless of how the property is titled.