Huge Change to PA Divorce Law Reduces Waiting Period

On October 4, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a dramatic change to the Pennsylvania No Fault Divorce Code. Specifically, the new law, 2016 Act 102, provides that the length of time required for a divorce under the “Irretrievable Breakdown” section of the Divorce Code from TWO years to ONE year. This effectively cuts in half the mandatory period of separation in order for grounds for divorce to be proven to the court. Many have said that the two year waiting period has contributed to cases being unnecessarily dragged out, particularly in instances where one party is paying a significant amount of support to the other or is covering the other party on health insurance. Most importantly, this can bring some relief to the children of divorcing parents so that the amount of time their parents spend embroiled in litigation is shortened significantly. To find out how this new law may effect you and your rights, contact us today for a free initial consultation!

Can my divorce or custody case be settled out of court? Should we try?

When clients come to visit me and ask whether their case can be settled, the answer is always “It depends…”  Depends on what?  Well, it depends on a lot of things, but to name a few:

  • You. It depends on your position that you take in the case.   If you want to settle the case, then the best thing that you can do is manage your expectations.   If you have unrealistic expectations, then it is unlikely that they will be met by your ex, which makes a settlement highly unlikely.
  • Your ex. Just like you, your ex also has to have reasonable expectations for a settlement. Also, sometimes (especially if your ex is unhappy about the divorce) the other party can force the case to be litigated in order to punish you.
  •  The attorneys involved. It is an unfortunate reality that there are some attorneys who do not actively pursue settlement of cases. If reaching an out of court settlement is a goal, everyone must make sure the attorney who is hired will devote their efforts to settling the case.
  • Third parties. Whether it is a new partner, parents or even the children, other people’s opinions can pressure people going through a divorce to pursue

Even if your case appears to be one that is unlikely to settle, it is always a good idea to try.  First, if it can settle, it will save you the stress, time and money that litigating a case can cost.  Additionally, if nothing else, conducting settlement negotiations can give you insight into your spouse’s position, which (if nothing else) can help you be better prepared to put the case in front of the Judge.

In my firm, I pride myself on always pursuing a settlement before going to court.  Additionally, I will provide you with realistic expectations of what your entitlements are so we can make your case as likely to settle as possible.
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Dating During Divorce: Is it Safe?

Whether or not the divorce was idea, at some point you will feel as though you are ready to get back out there into the dating scene again.  As a divorce attorney in Reading, PA, the question I get from my clients is whether it’s safe to start dating again.  First, I’ll start with the good news.  For the most part, who you choose to spend time with, and become romantically involved does not concern the court.  That being said, you need to proceed with caution, particularly if you have children with your ex.  You want to be careful about who you choose to date, particularly because the custody laws require that you disclose whether anyone in your home has been convicted of certain criminal offenses, and the court may take any such convictions into account in creating a Custody Order.  So first and foremost, do your homework to make sure you know who it is that you’re becoming involved with.  Then, take your time with the relationship and make sure that this person is someone you could become serious about before introducing them to your children.  You don’t want to risk your children becoming attached to someone, and then your children experience another loss when you break up.  Lastly, be extremely cautious before you begin living together with your new significant other.  Living with someone with whom you are romantic can have a drastic impact on your economic rights in divorce and you should be sure to discuss this decision with your attorney beforehand to determine whether you should take this important step.
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Social Media In Divorce

Inevitably, divorce is a period of change.  What many people don’t consider is how their activities on social media can affect their divorce and custody disputes.  Photos and posts displayed on social media can very easily turn into fodder for the opposing side if you aren’t very careful.  I’ve had cases where one (or both of the parties or their significant others) has posted hostile or otherwise inappropriate information on their page regarding the other spouse.  While it may feel good to vent in the moment, keep in mind that when that post falls into the wrong hands, it can come back to haunt you.  These posts can make you seem bitter, vindictive and unwilling to co-parent with the other spouse, which just makes you look bad.

Photos can be just as damaging.  I’ve had cases where a father missed custodial time because he had to “work”, then mother saw on Facebook that he and his girlfriend were posting pictures of each other on a romantic date during the time he was supposed to be visiting his child.

Photos of yourself or your kids that you think are cute or funny can very easily be taken out of context.  For example, too many pictures of you holding a glass of wine or cocktail can be used to portray you as someone with a drinking problem who is more interested in partying than taking care of your kids.  That cute picture of the huge mess your toddler made with him sitting in the middle of it can be twisted to portray you as a lazy, inattentive parent.  Even if you have your privacy settings set so that only your friends can see your pictures, you can never know if any of your friends could share these photos with others who could use them against you.

The easiest way to prevent yourself from giving the other side this kind of ammunition is to delete your Facebook, Instagram and any other accounts where other people can have access to your photos until the divorce has been resolved. Keep in mind though that, even if you have a final custody order, custody orders are always modifiable, so if you decide to reactivate your social media accounts, proceed with extreme caution.

Social Media in Divorce – Reading, PA


Ways to Protect Yourself if Divorce is Coming

Divorce in Reading, PA: Ways to Protect Yourself if Divorce is Coming

You think you see a divorce is coming on the horizon.  Whether it’s your idea or not, use this time to protect yourself in case the worst case scenario becomes reality.

  1.  Get acquainted with the household finances.  This is especially important advice if there is one of you exclusively handles the household finances.  Take an interest in what the bills are, you can start by checking the mail, looking at the bank statements to see what money is coming in and what money is going out of the house.  Too often I meet with clients who are terrified and confused and have no idea whatsoever how much money their spouse earns, how much is owed on their mortgage and whether they have any investments.  If you can use this time to become well-informed, it will save you a lot of money in attorney’s fees and will limit the other spouse’s ability to hide income or assets from you.  Remember, knowledge is power.
  2. Gather a support network around you.  This is important in any case, but is of crucial importance if there are children involved.  Kids feel the effects of divorce in ways that we could never expect and if they are surrounded by family and friends who care about them, this will help them to feel safe and secure.  Additionally, it will help you in making the transition into single-parenthood.  Even if you don’t have children in the house, having a network of family and friends around you can help you through the difficult time as you navigate through the divorce process.
  3. Keep the lines of communication open with your spouse.  Even if things are difficult in the home, it is important that you attempt to keep communication with your spouse civil.  If you can keep those lines of communication open, then you two may be able to sort out your differences and avoid divorce altogether.  If that doesn’t work, then keeping communication with your spouse will undoubtedly help to minimize the hostility between the two of you and will promote reaching an amicable resolution.

There is no way to be prepared for every twist and turn in the road that may be headed your way.  What you can do is prepare yourself as best you can for the journey that you are about to take.

Dividing marital assets – what about assets that are in one party’s name only?

Here is a very common scenario – due to financial concerns, such as one spouse having bad credit or no credit the marital home is purchased in the name of only one party. Many people facing divorce fear that this means that the home belongs to the person whose name is on the Deed. Not true. In Pennsylvania, marital property is property acquired by either spouse from the date of marriage until the date of separation, regardless of how it is titled. Therefore, if the marital home was purchased after the date of marriage, but prior to the date of separation, it is a marital asset.

What if the marital home was purchased shortly prior to the date of marriage? Then it becomes somewhat more complicated following the divorce or separation However, there are certain instances in which the court will allow a pre-marital asset to be divided in equitable distribution. The first is when an asset is purchased in contemplation of marriage. Basically, if a spouse purchases a home immediately before the marriage with the idea that the home will be used as the marital residence, then a claim can be made that the home is marital property making it subject to equitable distribution in the divorce. Even if the court determines that the home was not purchased in contemplation of marriage and is excluded from marital property, the other spouse is still entitled to a portion of the appreciation of the home that occurred during the marriage. This will be determined by examining the value of the home and the amount of the mortgage as the date of separation. The difference between these amounts is the appreciation that can be included as marital property.

Have more questions about marital assets and divorce or separation in PA? Contact us with the form on the right. We will help you earn fair marital assets distribution.

Race to the courthouse – does it matter who files first?

In Pennsylvania , there is no negative connotation assigned to being the Plaintiff or Defendant. That being said, there may be some advantages to commencing the action rather than waiting for the opposing party to do so. Having a divorce action pending before the court grants both parties the protections of the court system which may be a very important factor where there are property and custody rights in question. Additionally, the sooner a divorce action is opened, the sooner the process can begin and, ideally, be brought to a swift resolution. The Plaintiff in a divorce or custody action can, to a certain extent, set the pace of the case. Lastly, the Plaintiff in a divorce or custody case has the opportunity to testify first, thereby telling his or her side of the story to the judge, thereby having the opportunity to make the all-important first impression on the decision maker.

Can I still get divorced if I don’t know where to find my spouse?

Yes. First, we will discuss your situation to see if we can locate your spouse. Through a little research, most individuals can be located.

Records can be retrieved through the internet, from friends and family, former places of employment, the post office and various other resources. The courts require that we must make a diligent, “good faith” effort to locate the other spouse. Then, if the other spouse still cannot be located, the court can approve a request to serve by publication. This would mean that notice of the impending divorce action would be served by publishing notice in the local newspaper of general circulation and the local legal periodical. Once this has been done, an Affidavit of Publication will be filed with the court and the other party will then be considered to have been served. Once this has transpired, the court will require that the party seeking the divorce establish grounds for the divorce, which in this instance, will most likely be granted under Section 3301(d) of the Divorce Code, relating to a period of continuous separation for at least two years.

Relocating with children

Recently in Pennsylvania, Former Governor Rendell signed Act 112 of 2012 into law. Now commonly referred to as Pennsylvania’s “New Custody Law” it addresses new requirements that must be met in order for one parent to relocate with the children.

First, the parent who wants to relocate with the children is required to provide advance written notice to the other parent or any other party who has custody rights to the child(ren). There are very specific requirements for this notice, which among others, include notice of the proposed new address, names of individuals with whom the children will be residing, name of the new school they would attend, and a proposed new parenting plan. This notice must be given before the move takes place. Failure to comply with this requirement and moving without seeking court permission could result in the children being ordered to return to the former residence.

Once the non-relocating party receives notice of the proposed relocation, that party has only 30 days to object, in writing, to the proposed relocation. In the event that no such objection is raised, the non-relocating party will be presumed to be in agreement with the relocation and will be precluded from attempting to object to the relocation at a future date.

Once an objection is raised, the court will issue a full hearing to determine whether the relocation will take place. The court will consider numerous factors in deciding whether to permit the relocation to take place including the practical impact that the move will have upon the non-relocating party’s ability to parent the children, the reasons for the proposed relocation, and the best interests of the children.

Note: the above posting is meant to be an overview of the requirements but is not intended as legal advice, nor is it intended to be used as a complete guide to relocation. The statute has extremely specific requirements for both the relocating party and non-relocating party and anyone whose rights may be affected by a relocation should seek the services of an attorney immediately.

Moving out of the marital home – is it abandonment?

Many people facing divorce become concerned that, if they move out of the marital home, that they will be considered to be abandoning the home, or their spouse and that there will be repercussions for leaving the home in the divorce. While understandable, this fear is unfounded.

“Abandonment” is a ground for a fault-based divorce under Pennsylvania law.

However, this must be for a period of one year and the spouse who moved out must have done so for no good reason and the spouse who was left in the home must be “innocent and injured”, which is quite difficult to prove. If you and your spouse discussed and agreed that one of you should leave, or if you leave the home at the other spouse’s request, it is not abandonment.

Even if the other spouse were able to prove abandonment (which is highly unlikely) this is only the grounds under which the divorce will be granted. This will not result in forfeiture of your right to your fair share of the property you have accumulated during the marriage, including the marital home. The only economic issue which may possibly be affected by a finding of abandonment is the amount of money in alimony which may be paid between spouses. However, this impact is not likely to be significant, since this is one of several factors in determining amount and duration of an alimony award.

That being said, leaving the home can have a significant impact on achieving the child custody arrangement that you may be seeking and other strategic considerations. Be sure to discuss this with an attorney before making these important decisions. Call us today!