Estate Planning For The Rich And The Not So Rich

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There are very few of us that have the wealth of Gates or Buffet, so our estate planning will probably be vastly different from theirs. In fact Bill Gates is giving most of his fortune away to charity. However, just because you may not have amassed the kind of fortune these two will leave behind, doesn’t mean that your estate planning is less important or less complicated or that you aren’t worth being scammed.

A few estate planning terms you should be familiar with:

  • Probate: When an executor files a will with the Register of Wills at the courthouse to make sure it is valid. All wills must be probated.
  • Trust: An agreement to hold legal title to property by a person for the benefit of himself or another.
  • Living Trust: A trust created for the trustor (you) and administered by you or another person during the trustor’s lifetime and used to distribute property after your death. The trust can be revocable (you can remove some or all the property from the trust) or irrevocable (you cannot cancel the trust and can receive only the funds or property allowed by the trust agreement).
  • Beneficiary: The recipient of funds, property or other benefits from an insurance policy, trust or will.
  • Trustee: One that holds legal title to property in a trust in order to administer it for a beneficiary.
  • Will: A legal declaration of how a person wishes his or her possessions to be disposed of after death.

Tips to Avoid Estate Planning Fraud

    • First and foremost, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
    • Don’t assume that because your estate isn’t huge that people won’t bother trying to scam you.
    • If you are feeling pressured to sign something, this should send up a red flag not sign it.
    • If you don’t understand what you’re signing, absolutely do not sign it.
    • When you’re not dealing with an attorney for your estate planning, you shouldn’t get any push back if you ask to take your paper work to an estate planning attorney for review

Errors in Estate Planning

According to Forbes contributing author, Rob Clarfeld, there are several mistakes commonly made when
planning your estate.

1. Straight up not having a plan at all. This allows intestacy laws to prevail upon your death.

2. A DIY will or trust is a uniquely bad idea. If you are not a family law attorney, you really don’t have any idea what you’re doing and these generic forms aren’t going to put your wishes in a
well thought out and organized plan that reflects your unique set of circumstances.

3. Not reviewing beneficiary designations and the proper titling of accounts.

4. Failure to consider the estate and gift tax consequences of life insurance.

5. Not maximizing annual gifting limits.

Really it doesn’t matter how little or how large your estate is or you hope for it to be, estate planning is essential. It’s a confusing process, requires much advice from knowledgeable individuals. The attorneys at Knight and Moskow are very familiar with Family Law in Pennsylvania. We can create an estate plan that reflects your desires upon your passing. We’re knowledgeable about how to protect your assets from some taxes. We can advise you how to accomplish exactly what you want after you’re no longer here to do it yourself. Contact us to put an estate plan into action.

Do I Need A Will?

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Estate planning is important to everyone. None of us really know how long we will live. At every stage of life, past the age of 18, your will you should be either created, if you don’t have one, or it should be reviewed with your attorney.

What is a Will?

Basically a will is a legally binding article in which you express your wishes upon your death. This may include assets, funeral wishes, or guardianship of minors among other things specific to your needs. Generally speaking most, most states have laws with regards to how your assets are divvied up among your heirs, should you expire not having a will. The state’s determination may be completely contradictory to your wishes, so you should consider creating a will.

Why do I need to make a will?

Essentially everyone should have a will except minors of course. Whenever you experience a life change, a marriage, divorce, birth, retirement for example, your will needs to be reviewed with your attorney. You may want to change the executor of a will, or create a living will or trust.

Those who truly need a will:

  • If you have minor children. You should write a will in order to appoint guardians for your minor children, and trustees to manage their property.
  • If you have no children. In some states, those who pass without a will, the state grants the living spouse mostly everything, but in some states the family, parents, and siblings also receive consideration.
  • If you have a large family. All of your heirs will become co-owners of every asset you own upon your death. With a will, you could leave specific assets to specific heirs, or put one heir in charge as trustee for the others. Either way, writing a will would save your heirs significant hassle and expense. For some families, having to follow a will is also a more peaceful process than the feud
    that can ensue.
  • If you own real estate. In the absence of a will, real estate is likely to be inherited by numerous co-owners. In which case, all the co-owners must all agree on the sale of the real estate, as well
    as they are responsible for any property taxes and the management of the property.

Family Law in Pennsylvania is not any less complicated than other states. There are specific laws that deal with those who pass without having a will. It’s important to talk with an attorney to ensure that your wishes are carried out. The attorneys at Knight and Moskow can provide you with the guidance you need to construct a will, trust, power of attorney, a health proxy or any other type of family law need you are facing. Contact us and discuss your needs.

Collaborative Family Law FAQ

In many cases collaborative law is very desirable for all parties involved. You might not have even realized that you could settle legal matters outside of a litigious court room, but it can be.

The Basic Collaborative Law Process
You and your attorney agree to meet with your spouse’s party out side of the court, to resolve conflicts you have. In fact, there may not be any conflicts at all; it may simply be a matter of settling the matters at hand and finalizing the agreement.

Collaborative family law differs from divorce litigation in the parties involved have more control of the outcome. In family law litigation, your side argues your case and their side argues theirs and the court decides the outcome.

Collaborate law also differs from mediation, in that you have an attorney present advising you as to what to accept. In mediation, the two parties involved meet with a third party who merely facilitates open communication between the opposing parties so that they may reach an agreement.

What Are The Benefits?
First and foremost, both parties have more control of what happens. A court may not find in your favor, even if your spouse might have been willing to negotiate some of the points imposed by the court. Furthermore, entering into the court often times create an “adversarial” situation that might not have existed prior to litigation.

Do I Need A Special Attorney?
Yes, you should to be represented by an attorney with specific training in collaborative family law. The communication skills, problem solving strategies and conflict resolution techniques demonstrated and taught by the attorneys in collaborative family law are a result of specific training and enable successful results.

Does The Collaborative Law Process Cost Less Than Litigation?
Not necessarily is the short answer to this. Obviously there are fixed costs, like filing fees are the same regardless of how a divorce is handled. Generally speaking, most family law attorneys charge a retainer fee and charge hourly for their services, regardless whether they represent you in a courtroom or a negotiation room, so those charges are the same as well. That being said, a collaborative law proceeding generally takes less time and that is where there could be a financial savings.

What If We Can’t Reach An Agreement?
While this is a real possibility, your attorney and your spouses attorney will try everything to prevent this from happening, after all, it’s not in your best interest and that’s why you’ve got an attorney; too look after your best interest. However, if an agreement cannot be reached, you and your spouse can try mediation to facilitate better communication or you have the option of instructing your family law attorney to proceed with litigation through the court system.

Why Do I Need A Child Support Lawyer in PA?

Child support in Pennsylvania is rarely as cut and dry as one might think. It can become very complicated; particularly if the parent you’re seeking the support from is a reluctant participant in the process. This is why you need a child support attorney, to insure adequate child support is provided.

Pennsylvania provides specific guidelines with regards to what is included in “net income”. Based on the following:

• Wages
• Salaries
• Overtime pay
• Commissions
• Bonuses
• Interest
• Rental income
• Retirement income
• Social Security retirement or disability payments
• Workers’ compensation
• Unemployment compensation
• Income from an interest in a business
• Entitlements to lump sum awards such as lottery winnings

These are pretty straightforward types of income, however, there are other things that maybe considered as well. For instance:

• Unreported income such as “tips” or “under the table” incomes. These types of wages can be difficult to get included without having a child support attorney.
• Assets also can be included. Typically this is associated with high-income situations. This type of “income” inclusion can also be difficult, but certainly should be included.
• Potential earnings are also considered when there is no “net income”. For example if the parents are unemployed, but capable of working. Said parent may be assessed with an earning capacity that is equivalent to what that person could earn given their education, skills and prior employment history.

These are all types of income that are typically difficult for inclusion in the “net income” of the parents, especially without a child support attorney.

In addition to what you might think of as “classic child support” there are other considerations, such as:

• Medical expenses. This often gets ugly and complicated. Who carries the coverage? Who pays the deductibles and co-pays? What if there is no coverage available? All of these considerations are decided upon by the courts. Without a family law attorney in PA, you may be solely responsible for this additional financial burden.
• Birth related expenses can also be included, both for the mother and the child. This is of particular concern for those who are not married and can be complicated when paternity must be established.

In some cases, a child support order may be combined in an order with an amount payable for spousal support, APL, or alimony and may also include provisions regarding payment of the mortgage on a marital home and/or health insurance. If a combined order for child and spousal support, APL, or alimony is entered, there may be significant federal tax consequences if an unallocated order is entered by the court. For this purpose you will want an family law attorney to fight against an unallocated order.

The Advantages and Abuses of Powers of Attorney

Powers of Attorney are legal documents whereby the maker of the document (the “Principal”) authorizes another (the “Agent”) to act for him under circumstances that can be narrow or broad, depending upon the language of the Power of Attorney. There are Powers of Attorney governing financial affairs and Powers of Attorney governing medical affairs.

Such Powers of Attorney are executed by elderly individuals in need of assistance managing their affairs either due to a permanent or temporary disability and/or by individuals as part of an “Estate Plan” that anticipates the need of such assistance in the future. Such anticipatory Powers of Attorney become effective only upon the disability of the Principal.

Powers of Attorney are also made by individuals who will be unavailable for a specific period of time. For example, a military member who is facing deployment might execute a power of attorney in favor of his spouse so that his affairs may be handled in his absence. Similarly, an individual relocating for employment may execute a power of attorney giving a friend or family member the authority to sell the Principal’s residence.

Powers of Attorney for Financial Affairs may be general or limited. General Powers of Attorney are very broad and allow many types of transactions, including the sale of real estate. Limited Powers of Attorney convey to the Agent the authority to handle a specified task, such as attending and signing documents at a real estate settlement, or selling and transferring title to a vehicle.

Anyone 18 years of age and older can execute a Power of Attorney in Pennsylvania, but the Principal must have legal capacity at the time that he/she reads and signs the document. If the Power of Attorney is “durable”, it remains valid even after the Principal no longer has legal capacity, perhaps due to an injury or an illness such as Alzheimer’s disease. All Powers of Attorney in Pennsylvania executed since 1993 are durable unless otherwise stated.

Powers of Attorney for Medical Affairs delegate to the Agent the power to act on the Principal’s behalf regarding medical issues and decisions in the event the Principal is unable to make those decisions himself. The agent under a health care Power of Attorney may authorize the principal’s admission to a medical, nursing, residential or similar facility, enter into agreements for care, and authorize medical and surgical procedures.

For all Powers of Attorney there are a few things to consider to help protect yourself against fraud:

• Choose the right person to act as your agent under a Power of Attorney. Make sure that the individual is someone you trust will make decisions on your behalf in accordance with your wishes and to your benefit when your wishes are not known.

• Be careful what powers you give to an agent under a Power of Attorney. Make sure you read every word and understand what powers are included in any Power of Attorney before you sign the document. Powers of Attorney can be broad or narrow, allowing a full grant of authority to act for the Principal or providing only a limited Power of Attorney for a particular event or situation, i.e. Power of Attorney for the sale of real estate.

• Consider appointing an alternate person to act as your Agent in the event your primary Agent is unavailable for some reason.

• In some limited circumstances, you may consider appointing two persons to serve simultaneously. While this may be more cumbersome and less efficient, it may provide a process of checks and balances in that your agents must agree on decisions and actions. This could be especially true if you are unable to name a person you trust completely and fully.

• Prevent premature use of the Power of Attorney by your agent, you can withhold the document until it is needed or require that a non-agent hold the document with full instructions for release to the agent.

• Ensure that a Power of Attorney can only be used if and when you become disabled by including language requiring that the Agent also present a letter from your physician stating a diagnosis of incompetence.

• You may require your agent to account periodically to a disinterested third person.

• Your Power of Attorney should only be written by your lawyer, pursuant to your specific instructions.

The attorneys at Knight & Moskow, P.C. are well versed in the preparation of Powers of Attorney and can provide invaluable advice concerning these important documents. To discuss your family law needs in Delaware County, Chester County, Philadelphia County or Montgomery County, call our office at (610) 565-8210, or contact us via email at inquiries@knightandmoskow.com to schedule a consultation.

Why Is Creating A Will In Pennsylvania A Good Idea?

Perhaps the most compelling reason to make a Last Will and Testament in Pennsylvania is that you are ensured your exact wishes being carried out upon your death. The execution of a Will is especially necessary for individuals with minor children or disabled dependants, those with specific burial wishes, and individuals with specific estate administration requirements.

If you choose not to execute a will, Pennsylvania has a system of laws for an intestate estate that will provide the framework for distribution. (20 Pa. C.S. §2102, 2103) This distribution may be contrary to your wishes, but without a Pennsylvania will, this is the framework that will be used:

STATUS DISPOSITION
Married, no surviving children or parents Spouse receives the entire estate
Married, no surviving children but one or more surviving parents Spouse receives first $30,000.00 plus one half of the estate
Married, surviving children of the decedent and spouse Spouse receives first $30,000.00 plus one half of the estate
Married, surviving children of the decedent only Spouse receives one half of the estate
Single, with children Children receive the entire estate
Single, no surviving children but one or more surviving parents Parent(s) receive the entire estate
Single, no surviving children or parents but one or more surviving siblings Siblings(s) receive the entire estate
Single, no surviving children or parents or siblings but one or more surviving grandparents Grandparent(s) or their descendants receive the entire estate, one-half to each side of the family
Single, no surviving children or parents or siblings or surviving grandparents or grandparent’s descendants Grandparent(s)’s siblings receive the entire estate and their descendants

If the estate does not meet any of the above criteria, the estate will pass to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Often we associate wills with assets and the division of property or inheritance. While these things are important, executing an estate plan is even more important for individuals with minor children and disabled dependants. Through the execution of a will, trusts can be established to provide financial stability for your loved ones, and a guardian can be nominated to provide the kind of care you desire for those dependants left behind. Making these desires known through your last will and testament is perhaps the most important thing you will leave for your dependants.

Navigating through the estate planning process doesn’t have to be a daunting process. With careful guidance from the attorneys at Knight & Moskow, P.C., family lawyers located in Media, Pennsylvania, an effective estate plan can be established, and all contingencies will be discussed and addressed. This plan could include any, or all, of the following:

• revocable or irrevocable trust
• real estate trusts
• living wills/advanced directives for health care decisions
• durable powers of attorney for financial affairs
• durable powers of attorney for medical affairs
• pet trusts

Depending on your individual requirements and desires, a very specific estate plan can be established for you. It is important to plan as much as possible for the unexpected, however difficult the contemplation of such events may be. A well-prepared estate planning will serve to put ease your mind, and those of your loved ones.

To discuss your family law needs in Delaware County, Chester County, Philadelphia County or Montgomery County, call our office at (610) 565-8210, or contact us via email at inquiries@knightandmoskow.com to schedule a consultation.

What Guardianship in Pennsylvania Means To You and Your Loved Ones

When an individual reaches the age of 18, regardless of any functional limitations or disabilities, he or she has the legal right to make decisions on his or her own behalf. However, when the individual is incapacitated and the decisions they make, or may make, are not in their best interests, an interested party may file a petition for guardianship, requesting that the Court appoint a guardian to make decisions for that person.

Although family members are often appointed as guardians for their loved ones, they are not the only persons who may be appointed. Frequently, family members are unwilling or unable to serve as guardians due to a variety of factors, including their own health, distance from the loved one, or other family responsibilities. Alternatives to family members serving as guardians should be discussed with your Family Law attorney.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania defines the following as an incapacitated individual for whom guardianship may be requested:

[A]n adult whose ability to receive and evaluate information effectively and communicate decisions in any way is impaired to such a significant extent that he is partially or totally unable to manage his financial resources or to meet essential requirements for his physical health and safety.

20 Pa.C.S. § 5501

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania defines the following persons/entities as eligible for appointment:

Any qualified individual, corporate fiduciary, non-profit corporation, or county agency may serve as guardian.

20 Pa.C.S. §5511(f)

If the person requesting guardianship for a loved one is not seeking his own appointment, and has no one to nominate for the appointment, the Court will appoint a guardian from a list of pre-qualified individuals. This appointee may be an attorney experienced in this area of the law, or an agency whose competence and integrity are known to the Court.

In some circumstances, the Court will give preference to the person requesting that a guardian be appointed, or to someone he recommends. However, this is not always the case. For example, the petitioner will not be appointed if it is found that there has, in the past, been a hostile relationship between him and the incapacitated person, or if it is shown that the petitioner has taken financial advantage of the incapacitated person. In fact, the Court requires the petitioner to give notice of the guardianship hearing to all interested persons in order that any such person may attend the hearing and give testimony regarding the suitability of the person to be appointed guardian.

Because the appointment of a guardian involves the denial of basic human rights, the Court looks very closely at all evidence presented by the petitioner prior to rendering a decision. The petitioner must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” – the highest burden in civil matter – that the alleged incapacitated person is in need of guardian. Further, the alleged incapacitated person has the absolute right to be represented by legal counsel. If he cannot afford an attorney, the Court will appoint one for him.

20 Pa.C.S. § 5511(a)

Once a guardianship is in place, the guardian must report to the Court annually to advise of the welfare of the incapacitated person. These reports are filed with the Court and are available to all interested individuals. If an interested person has concerns regarding the guardian’s treatment of the incapacitated person, he may file a petition with the Court to have that guardian removed and another appointed.

The Court is the ultimate protector of the incapacitated person, and looks closely at any and all concerns that an interested party may have. At a hearing to examine the actions of a guardian, the Court will examine all the information presented to it and will determine what is in the best interest of the incapacitated person. The guardian in question may be admonished and, in some cases, replaced.

The attorneys at Knight & Moskow, P.C. have extensive experience in this area of the law. If you have a loved one who can no longer make good decisions for themselves, we will assist you in making these hard decisions. Call us at (610) 565-8210 or e-mail us at inquiries@knightandmoskow.com and schedule an appointment.

What Are The Differences Between Open and Closed Adoptions In Pennsylvania?

Under Pennsylvania’s law on adoption, the adoption process cannot begin until the rights of the natural or birth parents have been terminated, either by the consent of the parent, or involuntarily. Therefore, a petition for the termination of parental rights is the first step in any adoption. In most adoptions, the biological mother has sought to have her child adopted, so the termination of her rights is usually voluntary. The biological father’s rights are often terminated involuntarily, or without his knowledge when his identity or whereabouts are unknown. The Court will involuntarily terminate a parent’s rights if it is shown that the parent has, “… evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to the child and has… refused and failed to perform any parental duties for the child. 23 Pa.C.S. ‘ 2511(a)(1).

The biological parents’ consent to the adoption must be in writing and must be dated at least 72 hours after the child’s birth. According to Pennsylvania laws on adoptions, such consents become irrevocable thirty days after signing.

Once the rights of the biological parents have been terminated, the adoption process may begin. The adopting parents must obtain federal (FBI) and state (PA State Police) clearances, and must also be cleared from the Child Abuse Registry. In addition, they must submit to a home study conducted by a licensed agency, which will recommend to the Court that the adopting parents will be able to provide a healthy and happy home for the child.

There are two types of adoptions: open adoptions and closed adoptions. The most common of the two is a “closed” adoption, where all adoption records are sealed by the Court and, thereby, unavailable to public scrutiny. Once sealed, the records can only be by Court Order. Although, certain non-identifying information, such as the medical history of the biological family, must be made available to the adoptive parents at the time of the adoption, names and contact information of birth parents, adoptive parents and the child are typically not shared among the parties.

Once the adoptions are finalized, the birth parents have no right to contact the child and cannot obtain information about the child while he or she is growing up. The biological parent likewise has no obligation to support the child.

The adopted child is issued a new birth certificate that names the adoptive parents as the child’s parents. The child’s name and birthplace are typically changed to reflect the surname and location of the adoptive parents.

Open adoptions, although less common, are available in Pennsylvania. In an open adoption the adopting parent(s) and the birth parent(s) agree to share certain information about the child (pictures most typically), usually on an annual basis. An open adoption is sometimes in the best interests of the child, especially where he is old enough to know his birth parents. Until recently, such arrangements have been informal. However, the Pennsylvania adoption laws now provide for a written agreement between the birth and adopting parents which is enforceable by the Court. The adopting parents are now required by law to inform the adopting parents of that such an agreement is now available, and such notice must be given prior to the termination of their parental rights.

The open adoption agreement might include the birth parent a right to contact the child or birth parents periodically, as well as the disclosure of information, such as:

• Sharing of first names
• Sharing of first names, last names and contact information
• Sharing of letters, e-mails and phone calls
• Sharing of information about the child between the adoptive parents and the birth parents

Much like in a custody agreement, the agreement may also include a schedule of visits with the child, either annually or upon certain life events, such as birthdays or graduations.

Whether the adoption itself is “open” or “closed”, the adopting parents and the adopted child have the same rights and obligations toward each other as if they were biologically related. They can inherit from one another, they have a duty of financial support and, should an illness befall the child, the parents are legally obligated to care for them. There is no provision in Pennsylvania law to unadopt a child.

Adoption is a complicated procedure that requires the advice and assistance of an attorney well versed in the applicable law.

The attorneys at Knight & Moskow, P.C. have extensive experience in this area. If you are seeking to expand your family through adoption, or is a pregnant woman looking for a good home for your expected child, call us at (610) 565-8210, or e-mail us at inquiries@knightandmoskow.com to schedule an appointment.

The Basics Of Child Custody Laws In Pennsylvania

 

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In matters related to child custody, Pennsylvania family law requires the Court to rule in the best interests of the child or children involved.  Parents, too, desire to serve their children’s best interests; however, they often disagree on the methods to be used.  Who should be the primary physical custodian?  Who should make decisions regarding a child’s health, education, and religious practices?  It is most important to remember that resolving custody issues need not be a “battle”.  Amicable resolutions can be reached that satisfy both parents’ desire that their child’s best interests are met.

Although you certainly may prepare and file a custody complaint on your own, it is not an easy task.  Navigating the labyrinth of legal mazes and fully understanding the terminology is difficult. When it comes to your children and their wellbeing, relying on your limited legal knowledge and ability is not a good idea.

That being said, here are some basic things about the Pennsylvania custody laws that you should be aware of:

What is the difference between “legal custody” and  “physical custody”?

  • Legal custody is the right to make the major decisions that affect your child. Typically this includes educational, religious, and medical decisions. It can either be sole or shared, but under normal circumstances such decision-making responsibility is granted equally to the parents.
  • Physical custody is the actual, physical possession and control of a child; where they live. This physical custody can be “sole”, meaning the child lives with one parent on a permanent basis, or “shared”, meaning the child lives with each parent for a significant period of time (sometimes, split evenly) on a regular basis.  One parent could also be awarded “primary” custody, meaning the child lives with that parent the majority of the time and the other parent has  “partial” custody or what is often referred to as “visitation”.

Why obtain a custody order, my children live with me?

  • Some people choose not to obtain a custody order simply because they don’t want the family court involved with the matter.  Others think they simply don’t need one because they have “control” of their children and there is nothing the other party can do about it. This could not be further from the truth.  In the absence of a custody order setting out the custodial rights of each parent, both parents have unlimited custodial rights.  This means that either parent could take the children out of state, temporarily or permanently, without the consent of the other parent.  Therefore, it is vitally important to obtain a custody order which sets out the rights and responsibilities of each parent.  Obtaining a court order that sets out the custody practices already in place need not be nasty – or costly – especially if both parents agree.  Obtaining a court order that names you the primary custodian of your children when the other parent is an absent or disinterested parent may also be done easily and at little cost.  Such an order also safeguards your children’s wellbeing should the absent parent ever re-surface and make unreasonable demands.

Do I get child support if I have physical custody?

  • Pennsylvania considers child support and child custody to be separate legal issues.

May I obtain a custody order for my grandchildren?

  • Yes.  Grandparents are often awarded visitation rights to their grandchildren.  However, grandparents may only seek custody of their grandchildren under certain circumstances.

How do I file?

  • Your county determines the actual steps and procedures for filing and each county may differ.

What if a custody order is already in place, can it be changed?

  • Custody orders are always modifiable and either parent may ask the Court to change some or all, of its terms. The best interests of the subject child are always the criteria for any change.

How much weight does a child’s wishes have when it comes to custody?

  • It primarily depends upon the maturity level of the child, but usually the Court will give the greatest weight to wishes of a child over the age of 12 years.

The most important thing you can know about Pennsylvania child custody law is that the Court’s decisions are based on the “best interest of the child”, and the best interest of the child is determined on a case-by-case basis.

The attorneys at Knight & Moskow, P.C. are exclusively devoted to the legal needs of the family, and are very experienced in representing parents, grandparents – and children – with child custody issues.  If you are concerned that your children’s best interests are not being met, or want to secure their interests through a custody order entered by the Court in DelawareCounty, ChesterCounty, PhiladelphiaCounty and MontgomeryCounty, call our office at (610) 565-8210, or contact us via email at inquiries@knightandmoskow.com to schedule a consultation.

Divorce In Pennsylvania – Knight & Moskow, P.C., a family law firm that will work hard for you.

demo - divorce decree

Going through a divorce is one of life’s most stressful experiences, bringing with it emotional strain and, hopefully, eventual emotional relief.  The stress experienced in divorce is largely due to the arguments that ensue over child custody, child and spousal support, the distribution of marital assets, and the allocation of marital debt.  If the divorcing couple cannot come to an agreement on some, or all, of these issues, then they are resolved by a third party, usually a judge or master appointed by the Court.  The judge or master will make decisions effecting the divorcing couple and their children after a hearing often lasting less than five hours, which is hardly enough time to know what the family’s needs really are.  However, the master or judge will consider the arguments from both sides and apply the pertinent provisions of Pennsylvania family law to resolve the disputed issues.  The resulting Orders issued often result in a resolution that is unacceptable to both parties.

Whether you are the spouse wanting the divorce, or the spouse being forced to defend the divorce, it is wise to seek your own legal counsel.  In fact, it is unethical for one attorney to represent both divorcing parties, since it is his obligation to vigorously defend his client’s interests and divorcing clients have conflicting interests.  It is, therefore, foolish and short-sighted to allow your spouse’s attorney to prepare a settlement agreement that you then sign without legal counsel of your own.  Limiting the costs of a divorce may seem like a good idea; however, having your own attorney, whose only goal is to safeguard your best interests will be money well spent.

You should also know that according to Pennsylvania family law, if your divorce becomes final before you have asked the court, in writing, for a property settlement or alimony, you will absolutely lose the right to request a property settlement or alimony. A divorce attorney can explain these issues more fully and advise you on what to request and when to do so.

A divorce cannot be filed in Pennsylvania unless at least one of the spouses has maintained residency for at least 6 months,  Further, there are two types of divorces filed in Pennsylvania, “fault” and “no fault”.

A no-fault divorce may proceed through the Court once the parties have lived separate and apart for two years, or if both parties have consented to move the divorce forward prior to the expiration of the two-year period.

“Living separate and apart” does not mean that the parties cannot live in the same household.  However, they must have stopped acting like husband and wife for the full two year period, and must hold themselves out to friends and family as being separated, with no hope or intention of getting back together.  If the parties disagree that they have been separated for the full two year period, a hearing is held and the matter resolved by the Court.

After the parties have consented, or they have been separated for two years, the Court upon either party’s request will assign a Master to oversee the divorce proceedings.  Typically, your attorney, with direction from you, will work with your spouse’s attorney on a written settlement agreement. This agreement can include issues related to child custody and support, alimony, the distribution of marital property, and the allocation of marital debt.  Once all issues are agreed upon, the final agreement will be submitted to the Court and made part of the parties’ final Divorce Decree.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement on some, or all, of the issues, a hearing is held before the Master who then submits recommended resolutions to the Court.  If either party is unhappy with the Master’s recommendations, he or she may ask that a Judge be assigned and a trial on all matters be scheduled. At the conclusion of the trial, the Judge will rule on all issues presented, which ruling is only appealable to the Superior Court, and only under certain conditions.

The less common “fault divorce” requires an initial hearing to determine whether one of the conduct of one of the spouses has, in fact, committed indignities against the other spouse.  If fault is found, then the divorce may proceed without the consent of the party at fault and without waiting the two years otherwise required.  Proceeding with a “fault divorce” is rare because there are really only two advantages:  (1) the innocent spouse may immediately proceed; and (2) even if otherwise entitled, the spouse at fault will not be awarded alimony if adultery is proven.

The attorneys at Knight & Moskow, P.C., are experienced Pennsylvania divorce lawyers, and they work very diligently to resolve all issues so that their clients may avoid unnecessary court hearings.  Clients are best served when settlements are reached rather than risking a court hearing that results in a ruling that fails to satisfy either spouse.  However, if all else fails and a hearing or trial is required, the attorneys at Knight & Moskow, P.C. will vigorously represent you and defend your rights and interests.

To discuss your family law needs in DelawareCounty, ChesterCounty, PhiladelphiaCounty or MontgomeryCounty, call our office at (610) 565-8210, or contact us via email at inquiries@knightandmoskow.com to schedule a consultation.