Prenuptial and Antenuptial Agreements The premarital agreement has received some better "PR" lately - not just for celebrities, this document is an agreement signed prior to marriage that sets forth specific terms in the event that the parties seek a divorce. The agreement stipulates how the dissolution of the marriage will occur and covers customized areas of concern such as dividing property, any trusts or estates, etc. If you have signed a prenuptial agreement, we must know of this prior to commencing work on your case. This document can be deemed unenforceable if certain conditions are met, so be sure to procure any copies. Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania Since the 1980s, no-fault divorce has dramatically changed the ease of obtaining a divorce. Pennsylvania sets forth the grounds that must be proven in order to be granted a divorce, which are still inclusive of fault-based grounds. The language "3301(c)" and "3301 (d) divorce" are the most common terms we hear in connection with divorce cases in Pennsylvania. Filing under 3301 (c) means the marriage is irretrievably broken, more than 90 days have elapsed since the action was started, and affidavits have been filed by both parties which affirm that both consent to the divorce. "D" divorce, known as "irretrievable breakdown", includes the fact that the parties have been separated for two years. Sometimes this is referred to as a "two-year divorce", (so do not take this to mean that your divorce will take two years!). There are other aspects to the two-year divorce, which can vary based on the situation. Whether or not the other party wants to be divorced and complies with signing the paperwork can alter the path of the process. Let us know if you think the other party is willing or able to sign divorce paperwork - it could mean a different approach to filing. Legal Separation In Pennsylvania, there is no law surrounding this notion. In short, there is no such thing as "legally separated". You are either married or divorced under the law. Separation has its own set of concerns and should not last too long if possible. The longer you and your spouse are "separated" and not seeking counseling, the more prolonged and confusing the eminent divorce will be. Throughout that period of time while separated, you were married in the eyes of the law. This can make equitable distribution a nightmare; division of any large purchases, retirement accounts, custody arrangements become much more convoluted and add a lot of unnecessary bitterness to the equation. Let us know if you have been living "separate and apart" for a period of time - this could be useful at a later point in the divorce process even if you haven't reached the two year mark. Filing under "d" before the expiration of two years will at least ensure the clock starts ticking in the event that your spouse does not consent to the divorce. Even if you are under the same roof, it is possible to be considered living separate and apart - this should also be brought to our attention. Annulment An annulment is not the same as divorce; it is difficult to obtain and thus a very rare occurrence. The difference between an annulment and divorce is proving that the marriage was never valid in the first place. There are certain grounds that must be proven to be granted an annulment which should be discussed up front at your first consultation. For example, if you and/or your spouse were underage without parental consent, the marriage could be voidable. A caveat of obtaining an annulment: proving a marriage was not valid therefore eliminates any property rights or shared assets that accrued over the relationship. Filing It is often asked if there is any advantage to filing first. Short answer - no. Longer answer - there are no legal advantages to being the Plaintiff. Your case and the facts will not be treated any differently and with no-fault divorce, there is virtually no reason to feel compelled to be the first to get something filed against your spouse. The procedure for filing a divorce complaint in Pennsylvania requires you to fully disclose any relevant information to your attorney. Living situations, custody demands, support, alimony, and so forth should all be clearly communicated to your attorney. Your divorce lawyer will help you make those decisions and construct the complaint with counts. You can have as many counts as are necessary and relevant; not every case will have a custody count if the couple doesn't have kids, and not every case will have a claim for spousal support if the plaintiff has a much higher salary than the defendant. The counts are decided at the advisement of your attorney. We don't expect you to know which counts you need - just tell us the facts and we will compile the full divorce package for filing with the Prothonotary. If you have never seen the word, "prothonotary", this is the extension of the court that files and handles documents in the Bucks County Courthouse. Other counties may have a clerk, but the job is the same. You will receive time-stamped, filed copies from us once we get them back from the court to ensure you remain in the loop on your case. Once your 3301(c) divorce is filed, there is a 90 day "cooling off" period. This is a time for you and your spouse to obtain counseling and perhaps withdraw the case. Once that has passed, the remaining affidavits and waivers may be processed. Residence Requirements To file for divorce in Pennsylvania, you or your spouse must be a resident of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to the filing of an action. You do not have to file for divorce where you were married and you do not have to be living in the same county in Pennsylvania to file for divorce. You and your spouse can decide which county is easiest/cheapest/most efficient. Proof of residency includes voter registration, license, etc. The court rarely asks for the proof but a case can and will be dismissed if the residency requirements are not met. Discovery Discovery is the process of obtaining any information required to fully and truthfully complete the divorce process. This is not a necessary component of every divorce, but is often requested to ensure that both parties are fully apprised of each other's status financially, physically, emotionally, and so forth. Interrogatories are often served with 30 days to respond. They can be a few questions to several dozen pages of probing queries into your life. A Request for Production of Documents can also require a respondent to provide copies of paperwork such as tax returns or bank statements. Having an attorney lightens the burden of these requests. Considering the 30 day timeframe to respond and the intensity of the questions, lean on a divorce lawyer to assist in completing everything properly. Domestic Violence and Abuse All too often, divorce cases start out with requests for information on a PFA or protection from abuse order. Domestic violence still plagues many households, and the divorce process can fan the flames. If there is domestic violence in the home, we have to discuss the nature of what is going on and the safety of your family right away. A PFA can be filed and if granted by the court, the abuser will be forced to stay away from the home. If you are up against claims of abuse and are being accused of domestic violence, it should be presented to us at your first consultation. False accusations will likely continue throughout the divorce process as a mechanism to get you away from your family - we need to collect any and all proof to shut down any mudslinging. If you truly have committed an act of domestic violence, you may be required to obtain counseling and further measures to ensure the safety of your family. Violence and abuse are obviously not tolerated; be sure to remain truthful and cooperative throughout any proceedings in this regard. Injunctions and Motions for Special Relief The time during the pendency of the divorce can be difficult to navigate. Separated, but not technically divorced, many find themselves skeptical and leery of their estranged spouse. These feelings are sometimes warranted - a spouse can easily abscond with the family checking account balance or liquidate assets before they can be distributed (meaning, take the money and run). Valuables can be sold to friends for safekeeping until the process completes, and items can be removed from the home with ease. To prevent or stop these types of things from happening before the problem is resolved with a divorce decree, the court allows for motions to be filed that provide temporary or permanent relief from these threats. For example, there can be a temporary freeze on assets or accounts to prevent a spouse from taking all of the money. A motion for exclusive possession of the marital home is another example of injunctive relief. These can also be ex parte, whereupon your spouse is not present in the proceedings and the results are temporary. Depending upon the nature of your concern, we can determine if it is advisable or plausible to get this kind of relief. Contempt Many conflicts or failure to comply with orders can be discussed and resolved; this could include minor infractions or slip ups with a custody agreement for example. When repetitive failure to comply with a court order occurs, a party may be held in contempt. We would explore every option to first induce compliance before resorting to the courts, but if the behavior is ongoing and intentional, it could mean fines or jail time. Other serious violations can involve PFA orders that require a party remain a certain distance away or refrain from entering your home - these are threatening and should be discussed with your attorney right after any violation occurs. Equitable Distribution of Marital Property Property division is often the most arduous aspect when parties cannot communicate with one another. Pennsylvania is not one of the "50/50" states, where all marital property is split without much other thought as to value or entitlement. In Pennsylvania, we are to closely assess and value of both assets and liabilities, then determine who is responsible for what and in what proportion. Factors involved in equitable distribution include: ? The length of the marriage. ? Any prior marriage of either party. ? The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties. ? The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party. ? The opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income. ? The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits. ? The contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker. ? The value of the property set apart to each party. ? The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage. ? The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property is to become effective. Additionally, tax ramifications for each asset are considered as well as any expenses incurred to effect the sale or transfer of an asset. These can be explained more thoroughly based upon your case; certain thresholds in capital gains can alter the tax implications. With respect to life insurance, the court can direct that existing policies be maintained. The court can also direct that a policy be purchased. We can help you understand your individual policies and beneficiary designations as well as how to update them after the divorce is finalized. These will be addressed officially in the Marital Settlement Agreement (see number 26 for more on this.) Most importantly, be open and forthright with information about assets and liabilities. Student debt, or any increased values of property can play major roles during this phase. Hiding or inflating information for the sake of some kind of financial gain will be caught at some point in the process, if not by discovery, by a judge. Do not surprise your divorce lawyer in court with some new information on a 401K plan you attempted to dust under the rug. Spousal Support & Alimony Financial security of the kids can be handled with child support, but usually there can be difficulty for the spouse who was financially dependent during the marriage. Over the course of the marriage, a certain lifestyle evolves - perhaps a spouse was a homemaker while the other was the primary earner. For this reason, spousal support, alimony pendente lite and alimony exist in Pennsylvania. These three types of support have different meanings. Spousal support is intended to provide a reasonable living allowance to the lesser earning or dependent spouse and payments run the course of separation through finalization of the divorce. Alimony pendente lite and spousal support are similar, as both allude to payments that are temporary. The main difference is that APL is only effective from the time a divorce action is commenced, whereas support can be awarded post-separation. Alimony on its own refers to support payments that are paid after the divorce is finalized for a period of time or indefinitely as determined by the court. Calculating spousal support or alimony in Pennsylvania is a rather simple calculation. No children: 40% of the difference between the paying spouse's net income and the payee spouse's net income. Children: 30% of the difference between the paying spouse's net income and the payee spouse's net income, less the child support payment which is calculated with the child support guidelines and discussed in greater detail in the next section. Discussing incomes with a Pennsylvania divorce attorney will make it more clear as to whether or not you or your spouse are entitled to support. For households with a dramatic difference in salaries, spousal support can be a greater expense - we can help negotiate those cases. Keep in mind that child support cannot be negotiated.