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 firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.