Family Law Blog

Top 5 Divorce and Custody Myths


Whether it is from TV shows, movies, or stories from friends, people who are unacquainted with the divorce and custody process often come to initial consultations with attorneys with certain expectations that are, well, based on myths. Here are the most common myths that have made the top five list: I didn’t work during the marriage so I will receive lifetime alimony: Alimony is available in Pennsylvania, but it is what is known as a “secondary remedy”—secondary to asset distribution. This means that the court attempts to fix financial disparities with assets first—potentially by “skewing” the distribution percentage (giving one party more than 50% of the estate)—which leads to the next myth. Assets are always divided 50/50: Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, not an equal distribution state. That means that courts will look at several factors to determine what is fair in an effort to promote “economic justice.” Those factors include contributions to the marriage (economic and non-economic), the relative financial status of the parties, sources of current and future income, and other similar considerations. It may well be that a 50/50 division of assets is fair; but the court can award one party a higher percentage of the estate if the circumstances warrant. The party filing for divorce pays the other person’s fees: Typically, each party pays for their own legal fees. There are several exceptions to this general rule, such as when one party acts in bad faith or there is an extreme disparity in financial circumstances. But those exceptions are somewhat rare. I had an affair so I deserve less/ my spouse had an affair so I deserve more: Although the reasons why the marriage ended are a factor in an alimony case, the “moral” issues leading to divorce increasingly do not move the needle one way or the other. Read More

A House Divided-Who Keeps the House in a Divorce?


When you hear a couple is divorcing, one of the first questions people ask is “who is keeping the house?” Clients rarely ask the question that way. They more often ask, should I keep the house? Indeed, that is the better question because keeping the house is not always a good thing. Couples hardly ever fight about who gets to stay in the house. During the Separation In Pennsylvania, the party that stays in the house during the separation is responsible for paying the mortgage, taxes, and insurance.  They would also have to pay the utilities and basic upkeep. There can be what’s called a “mortgage deviation” in certain circumstances.  The deviation is a small “bump” in the interim support to assist the party paying the mortgage.  Depending on the amount of the mortgage, a party can be left house poor if they remain in the home. If the party in the residence is the higher income earner, they must consider the amount of support they are paying to their spouse. If your home has a relatively low mortgage, it may make sense to stay if it is less expensive than renting. Consider whether there are children and need to stay in the school district. If neither of you can afford the house without the contribution from the other party’s income, consider placing the house on the market for sale.  You can both live in the home until it sells provided this can be done safely and in a manner not detrimental to the children. After the Divorce After equitable distribution (division of property), it is important to keep in mind that the mortgage deviation goes away and the amount of support you are receiving or paying likely will reduce. If you are the dependent spouse, depending on your ability to earn, the cost of the upkeep of the home and the amount of guaranteed support, if may make sense to downsize.  Read More

5 Tips for Better Co-parent Communications


As a child of divorce, I know there is nothing more heartwarming than when your parents can get along and co-parent well. No, you do not need to be besties with your ex. However, you owe it to your children to strive toward more cordial and respectful communications. Here are some tips: Use “please” and “thank you” It may sound silly, but using these simple words is a great start toward more respectful communication. Once I have clients start using these words in all of their communications, they often improve their overall communication style. Clients often tell me that their ex writes terrible emails or texts. That is not an excuse to write terrible messages back. Rather, it is an opportunity to lead by example. Do not lecture or brow beat You should communicate with your ex to gather and convey information, not to teach lessons. Be real, when was the last time your ex took one of your lectures to heart? Instead of “How many times do I need to remind you not to pack junk food in Billy’s lunch,” try “At the store, Billy picked out some low-fat yogurt cups and trail mix to bring with his lunch. It is such a relief that he found a healthy snack he likes. Let me know if you have any other ideas.” Read your old messages When you want to improve communication, a good place to start is to review your old messages. Ask yourself, are you proud of what you wrote? Was the tone, appropriate?  Would you be proud if your children found a copy of them when they get older? If your answer was not “yes” to these three questions, think about how you can improve your communication. Take your emotion out of it Treat communication with your ex like a business transaction. Read More

Will Your Valentine’s Day Engagement Mean a Prenup in Your Future?


For divorce lawyers, Valentine’s Day means two things: engagements and prenuptial agreements.  While others are throwing away wilted roses and finishing off the last few chocolates from heart shaped boxes, divorce attorneys are fielding calls about prenuptial agreements. As I discussed in “Getting Married? Four Reasons Why You Need a Prenuptial Agreement,” here are four reasons you need a prenuptial agreement before you exchange your vows: You want to simplify your divorce (if you ever need one); You want to protect your business; You want to protect your home, retirement and other assets; and You want to protect your children’s inheritance in the event of your death. While I am not suggesting you ask for a prenuptial agreement on Valentine’s Day, it is never too early to start thinking about whether you need one and what you want to protect. It is no fun to be doing last minute wedding planning and negotiating a prenuptial agreement at the same time. Get it done so you can focus on the fun stuff: the wedding, honeymoon and the marriage! If you are interested in finding out whether you need a prenuptial agreement, contact us to get started. Read More

Considering Divorce? Consider Mediation


Pietragallo partner Carla Schiff Donnelly was trained in mediation years ago and has participated in more than 100 mediations. Mediation is one of the best tools to resolve a family law matter. She recently took a refresher course for mediators to further hone her skills and learn more techniques to help couples navigate their family law issues. Here are  some of the advantages to mediation that Carla has learned: Lower Cost Although she recommends that both parties consult lawyers, mediation is far more economical than having the court resolve your issues. As a litigator, she knows how expensive court time can be. Just a simple status conference can cost hours of attorney time for both parties. You need to prepare for the conference, get there early, often wait because the court is running behind, and then travel back to the office. Even if the lawyers participate in the mediation, you are still saving time and money. Control the Outcome If you go to court, a stranger will be deciding where your children will live and how much money you will receive. You may win on issues you care less about and lose on what is most important to you. Better Outcomes The court will divide your money and children with the equivalent of a meat cleaver. Mediation gives you the opportunity to divide money and time with your children with the precision of a scalpel. Sometimes what works best for you and your family is not what a court will order. Confidentiality Mediation is a confidential process. Court is not confidential. Do you want your dirty laundry aired out at the courthouse? Compliance If you enter into an agreement voluntarily, you are more likely to adhere to it than you are with court-imposed resolutions. That means your ex is more likely to comply too. Read More

Is Divorce Your New Year’s Resolution?


Divorce attorneys see an uptick in new client calls come January each year. Some bide their time in order to get through the holidays for the sake of the children. For others, the stress of the holidays can cause the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Many, however, see a new year as time to leave behind what makes them unhappy, be it bad habits or an unhappy (or abusive) marriage. That is where the New Year’s Resolution comes in. As a divorce lawyer for many years, I am often asked if I recommend marriage counseling to my clients. My answer is yes, if it indicated. Unfortunately, the times I have recommended marriage counseling are few and far between. That is because of all the time and contemplation that goes into making the call to a divorce attorney in the first place. By the time a client comes in to see their lawyer, they have often been unhappy for a long time and their marriage is beyond repair. Ambivalence and fear prevent people from coming to us sooner. New Year’s Resolutions can be the push they need to make the call. The “funny” thing is, once the client comes in, they often regret not coming in sooner. Their questions are answered and the process is less daunting and mysterious. As we get up from the conference room table it is not unusual to hear “I feel so much better than I did when I got here.” The Next Chapter If your resolution is to leave your marriage, contact us to set up a plan to get started. Also, you may find helpful to read about what to expect at an initial consultation. In the meantime, if you are not familiar with your finances, this may be a good time to look around for tax returns, pay stubs and other documents that may help you get a clearer picture. Read More

What to Expect at an Initial Consultation with a Divorce Attorney


Your initial consultation with an attorney is your time, especially if you are paying for it. The goal of an initial consultation is to have the client leave with all of their questions answered and a game plan for moving forward in the short term. Getting Started We start by asking some introductory questions so that we can understand what prompted you to seek legal counsel and to determine what issues need to be addressed first. After we gather enough basic facts, we then give you a “lay of the land” in terms where the law fits in with your situation. We then try to come up with a short-term game plan and address your questions. It is not unusual for clients to have no or little information about their finances. That is okay. You probably know more than you think. We also have various ways that we can gather that information for you over the course of your case. What to Bring As far as what to bring, there is no set list. Most of the time, it is okay not to bring anything. The exception would be if you have been served with papers. In that event, it is a good idea to bring those papers with you. Some clients bring tax returns, pay stubs, bank account statements and other documents that are concerning to them. Certainly, the more documents you bring the more specific feedback your attorney can provide. Bring anything with you that you want us to look at, and feel free to bring a friend or relative for moral support. Fee arrangements At the end of the consultation, we will discuss a fee arrangement should you decide to retain our services. A question we are asked frequently is why are our consultations not free. There are a few reasons.  Read More

New Year Resolutions: Best Practices for Our Clients


Year-end and the beginning of the New Year are good times to check in on your family law matters. Myriad events might be triggered as the calendar switches over. A little pre-planning can avoid unpleasant surprises or unnecessary emergencies later. We like to remind our clients of a few things, including: Save and send us your December 31 pay stubs and your Forms W-2 and 1099. Parties are required to report to the Domestic Relations Office any material changes in circumstances with their incomes. Failure to report these changes can result in sanctions at a future support hearing, depending on the impact of these changes on existing support orders. Assemble and send us documentation of joint expenditures you and the other parent might share, such as: unreimbursed medical expenses; tuition and other related academic fees; activity fees and related expenses. If we need to seek reimbursement for medical expenses, we must do so and provide the documentation before March 31. Though there is no similar rule for other shared expenses, your agreement or order might direct those arrangements. If your divorce case is still pending, please send us year-end statements from retirement, bank, and investment accounts, especially if they reflect the full year’s activity. This will help us keep up to date on the components of the marital estate. Consider or confirm what your tax filing status will be, especially if you will still be married by December 31. Some agreements or court orders may direct parties’ filing status or the child tax credit. Check in with your accountant to explain these matters with you. Determine whether alimony terminates or otherwise changes as the calendar turns. We may need to obtain an order to change a wage attachment, or we may need to notify the other party’s counsel. Check in on your custody orders – does the New Year direct changes in the holiday or vacation provisions? Read More

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