Following are the topics we most receive questions about here at our Pennsylvania practice, but everyone’s situation is different. Feel free to use this page as a starting point, and if you want to learn more about a particular topic, visit our Media & Resource Center for more in-depth information, or you may contact us directly at 610-275-0700.
The Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse (PFA) Act protects spouses and children from physical abuse or imminent harm. In some cases, the provisions of the Act have been "abused" by clients and/or their lawyers who have falsely alleged physical abuse in an effort to exclude a spouse from a marital home without justification. If a situation exists involving abuse or threats of abuse to you or your children, do not hesitate to inform us and we will discuss with you the requirements for filing a petition seeking appropriate relief. Part of that relief is the discretionary right of a court to exclude the abusing spouse from the marital residence for a period of up to two years, and removing any weapons from the home.
Communication is critical to the attorney-client relationship. In order to expedite our communications among people in the firm, with you and with other participants in this matter (including their counsel), we may use email, and we may attach documents to emails that are otherwise confidential and/or privileged. It is wise to send financial information protected by encryption, while we will endeavor to use reasonable and appropriate measures to protect the integrity of email transmissions, please understand that transmissions over the internet, through email can be compromised. If you use your work email, your employer has the right to view all emails sent or received, never use an email address if it is possible your ex knows your security codes or could gain access to your computer’s hard drive.
Advise your attorney promptly if you have been using social media. We urge clients at a minimum to significantly reduce usage. If there are any photos of you, your children or comments on your spouse, realize that anything you wrote, or choose to write, can be shown in court. You should also restrict the use of social media by children and warn family and friends. You don’t want posts you make, or related to your case, to put you in a poor light. It is best to stop using social media. In any event, discuss this with your attorney and print out any pages that could come back to haunt you.
Reconciliation efforts are always encouraged by lawyers and courts. Sometimes, a relationship or marriage breaks down and after reconciliation efforts the relationship or marriage is restored and grows stronger in the years ahead. Sometimes, professional counseling may be helpful to work out the problems of a couple or family. If you believe that your relationship or marriage is worth saving, we encourage you to take every step to keep it together. If you have resolved, however, that there is no hope of reconciliation, we will accept your decision and will proceed accordingly.
In Pennsylvania, both parents are obligated to support their children in accordance with their respective abilities. The obligation to support one's child continues until the child is emancipated, which is presumed to take place at age 18 or when a child graduates from high school, whichever is later, unless the child has significant special needs at that time.
If spouses are separated, and one's income is greater than the other, there may be an obligation for one spouse to contribute to the support of the other spouse. A request for spousal support or for alimony pendente lite (i.e., interim support pending divorce litigation) will be filed. The amount of the support can be agreed upon voluntarily, usually based on Pennsylvania guidelines. You should consult with counsel prior to agreeing to accept or pay a specific amount of support. The toughest issues are determining the earning capacity of an underemployed spouse or the true income of a self-employed spouse.
Even if parents cannot easily communicate, we always urge our clients to be considerate of the interests of the children. They are often the innocent victims of the parents marital problems. It is always best for the parties to work out their custodial arrangements on an amicable basis, sometimes with the help of a qualified professional. Whether the parents have 50-50 physical custody or a partial custody, for one it will be difficult to follow a specific schedule. We encourage our clients maintain a degree of flexibility whether they are the primary, partial or shared custodial parents, keeping the children's best interests paramount.
Generally, marital property is identified as of the date of the final separation between the parties. However, the dates for valuing marital property may vary, and broad discretion is given to the court in determining what valuation date to use for each item of marital property. Many asset values are determined at the date of separation and at date of settlement or trial. The most logical value will depend on the reasons for change in value. As an illustration, publically-traded stock acquired during marriage and owned as of the date of final separation will usually be valued as of the date of the final hearing or settlement as the change in value is outside the control of either spouse. The Divorce Code specifically addresses the valuation and distribution of retirement assets. You will provide details to your lawyer who can address the caselaw on date of valuation.
To prove the date of separation, the divorce statute defines "separate and apart" as the "cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not." The law presumes separation no later than the date a party has served the other with a filed divorce complaint. The date of final separation is critical for identification of marital assets, and is considered for valuation. It is very important for the attorney to have precise information as to when you and your spouse were finally separated.
After the 1980 Divorce Code and the 2016 amendment passed, Pennsylvania recognized “no-fault” divorces, which are granted on one of two bases: mutual consent or one-year separation (beginning after December 5, 2016). There is no need to prove that the breakdown of the marriage was one spouse's fault. If no-fault grounds exist, the court will not proceed with fault divorce litigation.