Family Law FAQ

1. What are some of the issues that need to be sorted out when spouses separate?

Most often, spouses have accumulated property during the course of their marriage which might include things like a home, vehicles, retirement plan funds, household goods, etc. Many couples will also have amassed some debts during the marriage as well such as credit card debt, home loans, vehicle loans and the like. With few exceptions, all property and debt acquired during the course of the marriage is considered marital and will need to be divided in some way between the parties. This tends to be one of the most important and most challenging parts of a divorce.

Another major aspect of many divorces is child custody. Of course, if you have all been living together as a family up to the time spouses separate, this will be a tough transition for everyone. There are many factors considered when making determinations on who will receive custody and how much custody time. Use this link to learn more (URL link to question #2). The process can also be lengthy is spouses can’t agree.

An experienced attorney can ensure that your property rights are protected and that you obtain the best outcome possible with regard to the custody of your children. Contact us today!

2. How is custody determined in Pennsylvania?

Custody determinations in Pennsylvania are made using a 16-factor test, the cornerstone or key factor of which is the best interest of the child. Some of these factors include the parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child, the need for stability in all aspects of child’s life, such as education and community, which party is likely to encourage frequent and continuing contact with the other party, the impact of sibling relationships and availability of extended family, etc. For a full list of applicable factors used in determining custody, click here

An experienced attorney can help you navigate the challenging and often confusing custody process. Contact us today!

3. How long does a divorce take?

If both spouses are willing to consent to a divorce, a divorce decree can be obtained as quickly as 90 days after the defendant spouse is served with the divorce complaint. If, however, economic issues such as the distribution of marital property are not handled prior to the entry of a divorce decree, you may lose your right to address them altogether. So, while it is possible to secure a consent-based divorce within 90 days of service of the complaint, it often takes a while longer to resolve all marital issues.

With a non-consent divorce, parties must have been separated for at least 1 year if the date of separation occurred on or after December 5, 2016, and must be separated for at least 2 years if the date of separation was prior to December 5, 2016. Again, even if these waiting periods have been satisfied, there may be other property/economic issues that need to be addressed before a divorce decree is entered.

An experienced attorney can walk you through all the issues and challenges that may arise during your divorce. Contact us today!

4. How is marital property divided in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, marital property is divided via what is called “equitable distribution.” This means that each spouse will receive an “equitable” share of the property acquired during the marriage. What constitutes an equitable share is based on a number of factors such as the length of the marriage, the education level of each party, each spouse’s ability to earn a living going forward, the sources of income available to each party, whether one party is the primary custodian of any dependent children, etc.

Because these factors are somewhat subjective and there is no hard and fast rule for how property will be divided, it is crucial to engage an attorney who can protect your property interests. Contact us today!

5. How is child support calculated in Pennsylvania?

Child support is calculated by using a very specific mathematical formula under Pennsylvania law. The formula uses the income of both parties, the amount of custody time each party has with the children and certain other expenses when applicable, to determine the amount of child support the filing party might receive. There can be deviations from the amount awarded under the formula, but only for very specific reasons. An experienced attorney can help navigate the often complex issues involved in the child support process. Contact us today!

6. If I move out of the martial home, is that abandonment?

33 Pa. C.S. § 3301(a)(1), defines this particular fault-based ground for divorce as having been committed when a spouse engages in “willful and malicious desertion, and absence from the habitation of the injured and innocent spouse, without a reasonable cause, for the period of one or more years.” Leaving the marital home because you believe your marriage has essentially ended is not abandonment. It is often just the natural course that separation and divorce eventually takes.

Many issues can arise, however, such as with custody and finances at the time of separation that require the engagement of a knowledgeable attorney to navigate these complex matters. Contact us today to discuss your particular circumstances and develop the best plan for moving forward. Contact us today!

7. How do I receive spousal support if my spouse makes more money than I do?

There are two types of support a lower-earning spouse can receive while the parties are still married. The first is spousal support. This is something that the lower-earning spouse can file for after the parties separate, but before either has filed for divorce. The other is called alimony pendente lite or APL. This term is Latin for “alimony pending the litigation.” It is awarded to the lower earning spouse during the pendency of the divorce once the divorce has been filed.

Unlike alimony that is awarded after the divorce, both of the above types of support are calculated using a specific mathematical formula based on the incomes of both parties. While these types of support awards are determined using a specific formula, there are still lots of nuances that can affect the amount of support a spouse is awarded. An experienced attorney can help navigate the sometimes complex issues involved in the support process. Contact us today!

8. Does it matter which spouse files for divorce?

It is truly of no consequence which party is the Plaintiff and which is the Defendant in a divorce. It may be beneficial for one party to file to “get the ball rolling” if the other spouse is unreceptive or refuses to do so, but being the party to file the divorce offers no distinct advantage.

9. Do I still have to wait a period of months/years to get a divorce if my spouse and I have been separated for a while?

To request a divorce without the consent of your spouse based on the fact that you have been separated for a period of time, spouses must have been separated for at least 1 year if the date of separation occurred on or after December 5, 2016, and must have been separated for at least 2 years if the date of separation was prior to December 5, 2016. Even if these waiting periods have been satisfied, there may be other property/economic issues that need to be addressed before a divorce decree is entered, as it is possible to waive your rights to such things as the division of property if a decree is entered before you address such issues.

10. What is the difference between physical custody and legal custody?

Physical custody refers to just what it sounds like: what party physically has custody of a child at a given time. There are various types of physical custody such as primary, shared and partial. Legal custody refers to the party or parties who have decision-making ability with regard to such matters as the child’s education, medical care and religious upbringing.