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xPennsylvania Divorce FAQsx

What should I expect in my initial consultation?

What should I expect in a divorce proceeding?
How is Pennsylvania child support determined?

Special needs issues in family law    

The Initial Consultation
by Ilene Young

People approach their first meeting with a domestic relations lawyer with uncertainty.  The circumstances which bring them to seek legal advice are distressful.  Added to that is the additional stress which comes from not knowing what will happen in a consultation.  This brief overview offers an outline of what to expect, based upon the Initial Consultation process at my law office and many others.

The initial phone call:
Your initial contact with the office will be received by the legal assistant or receptionist.  In some firms, you will make your appointment at once.  In others, the procedure is for the legal assistant to check with the attorney and return your call to suggest  a mutually convenient time to meet.  You will be asked to bring to your consultation, any court documents you have received, and any paperwork from former attorneys you may have employed, as well as any information you may consider important and relevant. 

When you arrive at the office you will be greeted by the legal assistant.  You will be asked to fill out a general new client information sheet.  This is to provide the information necessary to open and track your file in the law office system.  If you do not know the answer to any questions, it is not necessary to respond to them.  The sheet is intended for everyone's convenience and is not of critical importance to your case.  All information you give is confidential and private.

You will then meet with your attorney in her private office.  The attorney will ask questions to obtain the fullest possible understanding of your circumstances, your goals and wishes, and  your needs.  There is no need to worry that you must remember to mention every concern.  An experienced attorney knows the proper information to seek and anything you overlook can be supplied by a later phone call or appointment.  As statutory time limits are of importance in many legal matters, a timeline for your personal legal matter will be explained to you and any critical deadlines clearly communicated during this meeting should that information be available to the attorney at that time.

The attorney will also fully explain to you the system by which fees are charged and billing takes place in advance of undertaking any representation.  There should be absolutely no uncertainty regarding this when you leave your consultation. 

Ask Questions: 
Should you have any questions, ask.  The attorney expects you to be certain you fully understand all that has taken place during the consultation and will ask you, before the conclusion and again when walking you to the door, if you have any questions.  

The focus of the consultation should be to provide you with an understanding of the legal process and your rights.  The primary concern should be to produce the best possible result for you and your family at the least emotional and financial cost to you.

The Followup:
It is good practice, and also required by the Pennsylvania Rules of Legal Ethics, for the attorney to follow up in writing with a detailed explanation of the method by which legal charges are calculated and  you are to be billed.  This will be in the form of a "retainer letter" which you will be asked to read thoroughly, and return in an envelope provided.

And Remember:
You are the client.  Your family law attorney is experienced in domestic matters and accustomed to the emotional turmoil such issues can create.  She will be sensitive to your situation and that of your children, and is ethically bound to hold all communications from you in strict confidentiality.  It is your choice whom you wish to hire to help you with your family law matter.  If you feel uncomfortable with the attorney, seek further.

Arrange to speak with an experienced family lawyer at our office by calling:
(215) 348-5448 or click on the email link above

What should I expect in a divorce proceeding?  An overview.

                                  by Ilene Young, Esquire

The law of divorce in Pennsylvania is controlled by Statute. Statutory language is linked to the relevant text in the following article.

Although some divorces are very simple and can be handled with a minimum amount of red tape and delay, other divorces are more complicated and can take many different courses. The following is a basic outline of the divorce process.

Divorce Complaint: 
Husband or wife contacts a lawyer, who prepares a Complaint for Divorce,stating grounds for divorce, and including all other "claims" related to settlement and dissolution of the legal marriage.  Related matters may include:

  • Custody: the legal and physical custody of any children of the marriage
  • Support: support for dependent spouse and minor children of the marriage
  • Alimony pendente lite:  temporary support for a spouse during the course of the litigation;
  • Equitable Distribution:  division and distribution of the property of the marriage.
Each related claim may be settled informally or formally, or may be listed for hearing before the court.

Grounds for divorce:
In Pennsylvania, most divorces are No Fault, although 'fault grounds' divorces are available.  A party may also establish grounds for divorce through proof of two year's separation.
The petition is filed with the court in the county in which the spouse resides.  A statutory filing fee is required. 

"Notice" of the filing together with the Complaint are served on the other spouse. The served spouse may file an Answer and/or Counterclaim.

In Pennsylvania, a No Fault Divorce is available to couples who agree that the marriage is 'irretrievably broken."  If both parties are able to settle outstanding issues of support, custody, alimony, and property division, and consent to a divorce, it may be possible for a divorce to be completed within  less than six months.  

Consent to divorce:
If the parties agree to the entry of a No Fault Divorce decree, they may execute Affidavits of Consent, consenting to a no fault divorce decree being entered.  This consent may be signed and filed after the passage of time known as the 'cooling off period' which is 90 days following the date of service of the complaint.. This consent makes it unnecessary for any party to establish grounds for divorce.

Notice of intent:  
If there are no outstanding claims in a divorce case, and the affidavits of consent have been filed, a party may issue a notice of his or her intention to request that the court issue a divorce decree.  The notice provides the party with the timeframe in which any remaining claims must be filed or waived.  After the passage of the notice period, a decree may be requested and issued, and the parties will be divorced.

Retake maiden name:
A woman currently using her married name may formally retake her maiden name in conjunction with her divorce by following a specific filing procedure.

Division of property  in a divorce matter requires "full disclosure" of all relevant information by each party to the divorce.  The "discovery" phase  of  the divorce proceeding is meant to facilitate this. Through their lawyers,  the plaintiff and defendant spouses will request all information relevant to the divorce issues from one another.  Information may be disclosed informally or formally.  If formal disclosure is necessary, the parties' lawyers will
  • request documents in a "Document Demand"
  • request information through  "interrogatories"
  • possibly in contested cases schedule "depositions" to take direct testimony on the facts in issue.
Settlement negotiations:
Once all relevant information has been disclosed to each party, the spouses may engage in settlement negotiations.  They may do this informally with one another, or through lawyers.  The parties may choose to employ  a "mediator".  Mediators are specially trained domestic relations settlement facilitators.

If settlement is reached, the parties' attorneys will formalize the agreement in writing.  This document can  be filed with the court and, if approved by the judge, made a court order along with the entry of the "Divorce Decree."

Without Settlement:
 If the parties cannot agree, or the judge does not approve an "agreement", the suit, or any claim within the divorce suit, will go to court.  The first level of litigation in any area of claim will be before a master, who, depending upon  local practice and rules, will issue a recommendation or temporary order on the issue before the master.   If there is no resolution at master's level, the recommendation will be presented to the court for consideration during the hearing.  During this phase each side will present witnesses and testimony.  

Trial and Order:
 At the conclusion of the testimony, the judge will isue an order on the issue presented at the hearing.

 If either party has grounds to object to the order, he or she may appeal the decision to a higher court.

Family Law and the Family with Special Needs

By Ilene Young

Separated families of every kind deal with the difficult issues of custody, support and relocations. For families with children with special needs, the challenges can involve more than maintaining family relationships and financial status quo. Most courts are unfamiliar with the unique needs of our children. It is important for these issues to be clearly raised at the time that custody and support are being considered. Some special considerations:

1. Location of the Primary Custodian: The parent with whom the child spends most of his time is the primary physical custodian. The residence of this parent will generally be the child’s residence for purposes of school enrollment and medical and other services. When parents live in different locations, the quality of services may differ and the welfare of the child may be impaired. States differ widely on their eligibility requirements for medical assistance and behavioral supports, for example. School districts vary widely in the quality of their special education programs. In cases where each parent may be equally qualified for primary custodian status, the quality of services available at each proposed legal residence may be a decisive factor in the custody determination of the court.

2. Decision-making: The right to make decisions concerning the child is known as “legal custody.” Shared legal custody, the most common form of legal custody for divorced parents, contemplates each parent having an equal say in the therapeutic, social and medical decision-making for their child. In the case of children with special needs, this may cause problems.

Example 1: A child with AS may be on a gluten free diet while living with mother, who is primary custodian. During partial custody weekends and vacations with father may mother impose this same diet in father’s household, where he is equally legal custodian and does not believe the diet is worth the trouble?

Example 2: May mother choose a better residential placement for a severely disabled child where father objects that there is one closer and more convenient for him to maintain the parent child relationship? What if one costs more than another? What if the parents have agreed to split such costs –and one argues for a state run facility of much poorer quality? Who manages the complex advocacy problems of obtaining funding and services from different streams? Who pays the attorney or advocate?

Legal custody orders or agreements must be carefully drafted to deal with possible conflicts and difficulties, and to maintain the child’s best interests.

  1. Support: In the case of special needs children, child rearing expenses may far exceed those anticipated by the support guidelines used to calculate support payments. The needs of a child may require one parent to be unemployed or underemployed in order to be available to care for the child. Standard marital separation agreements and support agreements frequently provide for estates, annuities, pensions or life insurance to be held with the child named as beneficiary. In the case of children with special needs who need to maintain their eligibility for medical assistance, social security, and other entitlements in adulthood, the sudden receipt of an inheritance or insurance payment in their name may cause them to lose their services. All life planning for any disabled individual must be carefully done with an eye toward preserving necessary benefits. Where there are two families involved, this planning must be coordinated.

Contact our office for a consultation to discuss the special needs issues in your family law case.

All content in this web site is provided for informational purposes only.  Legal services described in this web site are personally provided by Ilene Young, Esquire and associates.   Ilene Young is  admitted to practice in Pennsylvania, ED PA Federal Court , and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.  Associate attorneys at the firm are licensed to practice in New Jersey and Maryland.  Nothing in this site may be relied upon as legal advice 

How is Child Support Determined in Pennsylvania?
  by Ilene Young

The amount of a child support payment is calculated through statutory guidelines in Pennsylvania.  The guidelines are based upon a percentage of income per child per parent.  The first link below will take you to the sections of the PA Code  by which support is calculated:
The Pennsylvania Guidelines:  Graphic Schedule
This schedule references the combined incomes of the parents and the support amount owed to a child of a family with that combined income.  Each parent is responsible for his or her own proportionate share of the support figure.  With one child in full custody of mother, for example, if father's income is $3,000 a month and mother's income is $1,000,   Father would be responsible for 3/4 of the total support cost.  Mother, as primary custodian, would be contributing her share through providing primary home and care.

The following  link provides information regarding calculation of income percentages and use of the guideline schedule:
The Pennsylvania Guidelines for Child Support

What Is Considered Income for Child Support Purposes?:

The following language from the statute details  what is included as "income" for purposes of calculating support obligations:

   "(1)  wages, salaries, bonuses, fees and commissions;

   (2)  net income from business or dealings in property;

   (3)  interest, rents, royalties, and dividends;

   (4)  pensions and all forms of retirement;

   (5)  income from an interest in an estate or trust;

   (6)  social security disability benefits, social security retirement benefits, temporary and permanent disability benefits, workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation;

   (7)  alimony if, in the discretion of the trier of fact, inclusion of part or all of it is appropriate

   (8)  other entitlements to money or lump sum awards, without regard to source, including lottery winnings, income tax refunds, insurance compensation or settlements; awards and verdicts; and any form of payment due to and collectible by an individual regardless of source."

For further information, the following link will take you to the relevant section of the Pa. Code:

The Pennsylvania Guidelines for Calculating Net Income

Tax matters: 
Child support is not tax deductible.  The right to take the dependent tax credit for the supported child is a matter to be addressed in the divorce settlement agreement.

Legal claims for custody and separate and distinct from claims for child support.  Both claims can be included in a divorce action; or, absent divorce, both can be filed simultaneously but they remain separate and distinct actions to be adjudicated individually.

child's right to support is of paramount public interest in the laws of all states.  While the guidelines are fairly inflexible, in many situations the discovery, designation and calculation of relative income can be complex and requires the services of an experienced family and support law attorney.

 Special Education Issues in Domestic Relations Law:
Ilene Young presents a professional practice seminar for lawyers and others.
Pennsylvania Bar Institute Exceptional Children's Conference, October 15, 2010

 Children with special needs unique issues in family law.

Most courts, judges and attorneys are unaware of the particular concerns faced by parents of exceptional children.  Our office has an established reputation for representation of parents in special needs situations, including property division and distribution planning, customized custody and parenting agreements, and support planning which maximizes family income while protecting medical and social security entitlements for adult children with disabilities.  Consultations on special needs issues in domestic relations cases are available to Parents and Attorneys in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Ilene Young was the course planner and practice materials author of the Pennsylvania Bar Institute "Divorce and the Special Needs Child"' statewide seminar for domestic relations practitioners.

An Overview of Pennsylvania Special Needs Laws for the Domestic Relations Lawyer


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