Central PA Law Offices
The attorneys in our office are experienced in helping you navigate the difficult, and often contentious, areas of divorce, custody, support, equitable distribution, protection from abuse, adoption and prenuptial agreements. We also offer alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation, arbitration and collaborative law.
In Pennsylvania a party can file either under fault grounds (adultery) or no-fault grounds (irreconcilable differences). More and more divorces in Pennsylvania are being filed under no-fault grounds. If both parties want the divorce and equitable distribution can be agreed upon, you can ask the court to enter the Divorce Decree 90 days after service of the Divorce Complaint. If one part wants the divorce and the other does not, the parties must wait one year from the date of separation before they can move the divorce and equitable distribution forward. A party is not divorced until the court issued a Divorce Decree.
There are two types of custody: legal custody which is the ability of a party to stay actively involved in major life decision of the child or children at issue; and physical custody which is the schedule under which the child or children are with one party or another. Physical custody of the child or children is determined by what is in the child’s best interests which is now defined by 16 statutory factors that the court must consider.
All support in Pennsylvania is determined by a formula. Child support is based upon an income-shares model which means that Domestic Relations will look at each parent’s net monthly income (as if the parties were still living together in an in-tact family) to determine the amount of child support due for the specific number of children at issue. Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite (which are not available simultaneously) are calculated at 40% of the difference of the parties’ net monthly incomes (if no children) or 30% of the parties’ net monthly incomes (with children).
In Pennsylvania, equitable does not necessarily mean 50/50. The court will look at a number of factors to determine how to equitably divide your marital property and debts. These factors include things like: age, length of marriage, health of the parties, actual earnings of the parties, earning capacity of the parties, potential inheritance, and others. If the court decides that the marital estate is insufficient to make a party whole, it may award alimony as a secondary remedy. There is no formula for alimony.
Protection from Abuse
If a party is imminent fear of bodily injury the court can offer that party a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA). If a final PFA Order is granted it can last up to three years. PFA’s can exclude one party from the marital residence and can require them to relinquish their firearms.
There are few happier proceedings that take place in the courthouse than adoptions. The adoption process happens through the Orphan’s Court in a closed and private proceeding. These records are sealed for privacy purposes. However, adoptions are not limited to adults adopting minor children (although that is certainly the more common area of practice). There are certain situations where adult individuals may wish to adopt an adult individual as their child and heir. This can have tremendous positive effects on the family unit, such as when a step-parent wants to adopt an adult child of their new spouse to unify the family. It can also have significant impact on estate planning purposes, and we work closely with the attorneys in our office who focus in estate planning to determine if an adult adoption will benefit those plans.
Prenuptial agreements are contracts that are entered into between prospective spouses to settle some or all of their financial issues before the marriage takes place. A well-drafted prenuptial agreement can be negotiated prior to the marriage, and can give both prospective spouses peace of mind that their financial affairs are settled ahead of time. A prenuptial agreement can settle issues pertaining to estate planning and division of property in the event of divorce, and can significantly limit, if not eliminate entirely, the need for resource consuming litigation during a divorce or administration of an estate.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Options
Some people desire to settle their disputes outside of a courtroom. This is especially true when dealing with sensitive issues such as divorce and custody. Mediation is a method by which a trained mediator facilitates discussion between the parties and assists them in coming to a Memorandum of Understanding. The mediator does not offer legal advice and does not represent either party. Arbitration is a method by which the parties vest the arbiter with the authority to make either binding or non-binding decisions on their behalf. The amount of the authority given to the arbiter is pre-determined by the parties; however, the arbiter does not represent either party. Collaborative law is a method wherein both parties are represented by collaboratively-trained attorneys. Both parties agree, at the beginning of the process, that they will not litigate and they sign a participation agreement memorializing their commitment to the collaborative process. If either party leaves the collaborative process, the collaborative attorney and their respective firms are disqualified from representing the parties in the litigation. For more in-depth information on the collaborative process please visit: www.collaborativelawpa.com