Our Attorneys Answer the Most Frequent Questions Asked by Divorcing Couples in PA
Individuals facing divorce or those involved in a custody matter, no doubt, have many questions. In addition, family law matters often cause emotional stress. It is natural to feel alone, lost, depressed or overwhelmed.
Our divorce and custody lawyers are here for our clients. In addition to providing legal support, we are emotionally supportive of our clients. We know you have a lot of questions. Can parents sue for sole custody? How long does it take for a divorce to become final? Can men collect alimony from their wives? Read through our FAQ page to find out what couples are most likely to ask when preparing to separate for good.
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Bucks County Child Custody Cases
Can You Modify an Existing Custody Order?
Many divorced or separated parents have a Custody Order issued by the court. However, circumstances change, and a parent may want more time with their child than the Custody Order granted. For example, a parent who had partial custody may want more time due to a change in employment. The Custody Order was entered a couple of years ago, the parent’s job required him to travel overseas often. However, the parent now has a new job that no longer requires him to travel. Therefore, the parent would now like more time with his child.
In this next question, firm partner Kevin Zlock, a Bucks County child custody lawyer, discusses 2 ways a Custody Order may be modified.
Question: My wife and have a Custody Order, but I want more time with my kids. Can I modify the existing Custody Order?
Yes, there’s 2 ways. The best way is to discuss it, agree on it, sign the stipulation and make it an order of court. Inexpensive and quick. If you can’t agree on it, then we would discuss the process, the cost and the likelihood of success.
Different judges have different biases, and we would have to address that issue and which judge you might have. As you go through the process and you are assigned the judge, we would then really hammer home that issue the way that judge wants to hear it. We would minimize any problems in your case. What that judge would want not to hear, not that they want to minimize but we would want to minimize and to maximize the issues that would help you with each particular judge.
I have been doing this a long time, 28 years. I have been in front of these judges a lot. I know what the law is. We will hopefully settle your case without litigation. But if it’s necessary, we are going to maximize your chance of winning, and I am going to tell you how to do it. We will appear in front of the judge and if it doesn’t settle before the hearing, then we are going to maximize your chance at winning that hearing.
How Long Do You Have to Separate Before You Can File for a Divorce in Doylestown, Bucks County?
Question: I want to get a divorce. However, my husband does not want to divorce. In December 2016, I moved out of our home. Even before I moved out, we were living in our home more like roommates than husband and wife. It was my understanding when I moved out that I would have to wait 2 years from the date of our separation, i.e., the day I moved out of our home, to file for a divorce from my husband. But a friend of mine recently told me that I don’t have to wait 2 years. Is that true?
Answer: On December 5, 2016, Pennsylvania law changed with regard to the separation required before filing for a divorce. The Pennsylvania Divorce Code was amended to reduce the required separation period from 2 years to 1 year. However, this only applies to separations that commence after December 5, 2016.
According to your question, it appears that you physically separated from him some time in December of 2016. If that date is after December 5, 2016, then you will be able to file for divorce a year after you moved out. If the date of your separation is prior to December 5, 2016, then you will have to wait 2 years in order to file for a divorce in Bucks County.
It is important to note however, that to meet the requirement of being separated, you do not necessarily have to be physically separated. In fact, even if you were living under the same roof, you and your husband can still be separated under the law. See definition of “separate and apart” provided below.
Essentially, you have to cease all aspect of a marital relationship. You said in your question above that you live separate lives, and were essentially living like roommates prior to physically separating. In your case, even if you moved out of your home before December 5, 2016, you may have been separated for a period of time before that even though you were living together in the home. For instance, let’s assume the following scenario. You moved out of your home on December 1, 2016, but you and your husband were living completely separate lives since June of 2016 when there was a declaration by one of you that you were separated. You slept in different bedrooms. You did not eat any meals with him. You did not talk to him when you were both at home. You didn’t know his schedule, and he didn’t know yours. In such a case, rather than having to wait until December 1, 2018 to file for a divorce, you may be able to file for divorce in June of 2018. It is important to note, however, that you have the burden of showing that the date of separation was earlier than the date you filed the divorce complaint.
Without talking to you about your living situation when you and your husband were living in the same home, we cannot properly determine if you were, in fact, separated. It is best that you call a Doylestown divorce lawyer to discuss your situation, someone who can help you determine whether you and your husband were separated prior to physically moving out of the home.
Pennsylvania Divorce Code, Section 3103, Definitions
"Separate and apart." Cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not. In the event a complaint in divorce is filed and served, it shall be presumed that the parties commenced to live separate and apart not later than the date that the complaint was served.
Related Doylestown, Bucks County Divorce and Custody Articles
- What You Need to Think About if You Are Facing Divorce in Bucks County – Divorce is not an easy decision for many to come to terms with. However, divorces have significant impact on parties’ lives emotionally and financially. Individuals facing divorce want to make sure that they are making the right decisions for themselves and their families. This article discusses some things individuals need to think about.
- Doylestown & Newtown Divorces – Equitable Distribution and Marital Debt – One of the issues divorcing couples must deal with is the distribution of their marital assets. It is important to note that marital debts and liability are also divided in a divorce as well. How are marital assets and property divided? How are debts divided? See answers to these questions by Kevin Zlock, a top rated Bucks County divorce lawyer.
- Relocation Custody Cases in Newtown and Doylestown Bucks County – What steps do custodial parents have to take if they want to relocate? Can the custodial parent relocate without the other parent’s permission? The answer is no. If a parent relocates unilaterally, it can significantly affect their parental rights in the future. This article discusses what a parent needs to do if they want to relocate.
Doylestown Child Custody Case Question
Will My Wife Get Custody of Our Children
Because She is a Stay at Home Mom?
My wife and I are headed for a divorce. For reasons I won’t get into here, she is very angry about our divorce. I want joint custody of our children, but she wants full custody. She believes that because she is the mother and was a stay at home mom, the court will give her full custody. She only wants me to be able to visit the kids a couple of times a month. Yes, she stayed home with our children and took care of them while I was at work, but I spend time with my kids as soon as I get home from work and on the weekends. I also go to my kids’ events, games, etc., as much as I can. Even though we are divorcing, I believe that our children need us both. Will she get full custody just because she was a stay at home mom?
Answer by a Doylestown Custody Lawyer
It is not true that your soon to be ex-wife will get full custody of your children just because she was a stay at home mom. Pursuant to Pennsylvania custody law, courts determine custody issues based on what is in the best interest of the child. In order to determine what is in the best interest of a child, courts will consider 16 factors provided by custody law. Some of those factors include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.
- The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.
- The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life.
- Which parent is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child's emotional needs.
- Which parent is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child.
- The proximity of the residences of the parties.
Your wife believes that she is entitled to full custody because she handles more of the parental duties, which certainly is a factor. However, this factor is merely one of 16 factors Pennsylvania family courts consider when determining custody. Each of the 16 factors is given equal weight, except for the ones that might affect the safety or welfare of a child.
The fact of the matter is that because of your job, you may not be able to perform as many parental duties as your wife. However, it sounds like you are more likely to encourage and permit continuing contact between your wife and children even after the divorce. Thus, the courts will consider all of the factors to determine custody. For a list of all 16 factors, see How Custody is Decided in a Doylestown Custody Case.
Do I Need a Financial Expert for My High-End Divorce in Bucks County?
Question: My husband and I are getting a divorce. We have been married for 11 years. We own several businesses together; some in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and others out of state. We also have numerous real estate investment properties and other investments. We currently live in Newtown and own a shore house in New Jersey. I anticipate that we will have a difficult time dividing our investments and assets. I know I need a divorce lawyer, but do I need someone who specializes in divorces that involve a lot of assets and investments? A friend told me that I should also hire a financial advisor for the divorce.
Answer: Divorces for couples with high net worth, i.e., numerous investments, businesses and/or assets, can be very complicated. While divorces for high net worth couples include general divorce issues such as property division, child support and alimony, the values of the assets and property in high net worth divorces are significantly higher. For that reason, having a financial expert by your side to assess the effect of how the martial assets are divided is important during the divorce.
A financial analyst that deals with divorce issues is called a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFATM). CDFAs have been specially trained to analyze financial issues relating to dividing assets/property in divorces. Although you can hire a CDFA along with your divorce lawyer, it is especially helpful for individuals with high net worth to work with a divorce lawyer who is also a CDFA. The lawyer will be well versed in divorce law and also has knowledge and expertise in financial and tax laws.
An experienced divorce lawyer who is also a CDFA will help guide you through the divorce, analyze all of the financial data from the marriage and assess the short-term and long-term effects of a proposed divorce settlement.
We have helped many high net worth individuals with their divorces in Newtown and Doylestown and other parts of Bucks County. If you would like to discuss your case, you are welcome call our office to schedule a consultation with firm partner, Brian Coverdale. He is a seasoned divorce lawyer, as well as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, working with high-net worth divorce clients. Click here to learn more about Brian Coverdale.
What Property and Assets are You Entitled to in a Doylestown, Pennsylvania Divorce?
How Do Marital Assets Get Divided in Bucks County, Pennsylvania Divorces?
1. Marital assets are typically acquired during the marriage.
2. PA family law courts divide marital assets via equitable distribution.
3. The distribution is not a 50/50 approach, but rather what is fair under the circumstances.
4. In some cases, one spouse may receive more than 50%.
See detailed discussion of property division in Pennsylvania divorces in the FAQ below.
FAQ: I think my husband and I are heading toward a divorce. We’ve been married for almost 6 years. We had a long-distance relationship prior to getting married. My husband was in Doylestown, PA and I was in New York City. After we got engaged, we decided that we would live in Pennsylvania. I gave up my job in NYC and moved to Doylestown after we were married. We have 2 children under the age of 10, and I am a stay at home mom. Our family home was purchased in my husband’s name, as were his car and my car. We do not have a prenup. What am I entitled to in the event of a divorce? Does the fact that the house and cars are in my husband’s name affect what I may get? Where do we file if we want to handle the divorce ourselves?
Answer: I will answer this question generally as I cannot properly evaluate your situation without knowing other information. There may be additional marital assets that are subject to equitable distribution, such as investments, other real estate, 401ks, etc.
Equitable Distribution of Assets in Pennsylvania Divorces
In Pennsylvania, the process of dividing marital assets and debts is called equitable distribution. Marital assets and debts are typically assets or debts that were acquired during the marriage. Even though your house and cars are in your husband’s name only, this does not mean that they are not subject to equitable distribution.
Equitable distribution does not mean all marital assets/property are divided equally. Rather, it is a division of property that is fair under the circumstances. Thus, one of the spouses may receive more than 50% depending on the circumstances.
Bucks County Master’s Hearing
Since you and your husband live in Bucks County, you will file for a divorce in Bucks County. If there is a dispute about how to divide the marital assets that can’t be resolved by agreement, the case will eventually be reviewed by a Family Master, who is an attorney representing the Court as a mediator. The Master will conduct the hearing, and the goal is for the parties to settle without appearing before a judge. The Master will make a recommendation as to how the marital assets and property should be divided after considering all the evidence, argument and other relevant factors. The parties can accept what the Master suggested or the parties will begin to negotiate based on the Master’s suggestions. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement they can request that a Judge decide their matter at a hearing.
It is best that you consult with a divorce lawyer in Bucks County to ensure that you receive what you are entitled to in the event of a divorce.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania Child Support Case – Who Pays for Child Support?
Question: My husband and I are getting a divorce in Pennsylvania. We attempted to negotiate the child support and custody schedule for our son without going to court. We agree that we will each have our son 50% of the time, but we cannot agree on child support. We are going to let the court decide now. We both work full time, and my husband thinks that we both should provide equal support for our son. However, my income is significantly less than his, 50% less to be exact. Shouldn’t he pay more? Shouldn’t I get child support because his income is more than mine?
Answer: Pursuant to Pennsylvania child support laws, child support is the equal responsibility of both parents. However, it does not mean that both parents contribute equally. Rather, parents are obligated to contribute to child support in accordance with their capacity and ability, which takes into consideration factors such as the parents’ income and earning ability.
In general, calculating child support in Bucks County, Pennsylvania is straight forward. Pennsylvania has support guidelines that explain how to calculate child support. They combine the parents’ net monthly income, which is then cross-indexed against the number of children to determine a monthly support amount. Then, each parent pays a portion of the monthly support based on the percentage of the combined net monthly income each parent earns. Click here to see Pennsylvania’s Basic Child Support Schedule.
Let’s calculate child support using some hypothetical numbers. Let’s first assume your husband’s monthly net income is $4,000. Your monthly net income, which is 50% less, would then be $2,000 in our hypothetical. The combined monthly income would amount to $6,000. Using PA’s Basic Child Support Schedule, the monthly support for one child is $1,071. Your husband would be responsible for contributing 66.67% of the combined monthly net income. Therefore, he would pay 66.67% of the monthly child support, which is $714. Your portion of the child support would be $357. This means he would pay you $714 if you had primary custody. Because he has 50% custody he receives a credit for the time and expense he has during his custody time of $214. So he pays you $500 instead of $714 due to the shared physical custody schedule.
It is important to note, however, that these numbers may not be the final child support amount. They may be adjusted after considering other additional expenses such as health care insurance.
In addition, this hypothetical is for parents with 50/50 custody. In situations that are not 50/50, one parent may get a reduction on the child support based on the schedule. This will be discussed in a later article.
It is best to consult with a divorce and child support lawyer in Bucks County to ensure you are paying or receiving the correct child support.
Doylestown & Newtown Divorce – Do You Have to Pay for Your Ex’s Student Loan?
Question: My wife and I are getting a divorce. We live in Newtown. We both worked full-time until we had kids. We decided she would work part-time so that she could take care of the kids, instead of our kids having to be with a babysitter most of the time. How do our property and assets get split up? I have a 401K that I started before we were married. Does she get part of that too even though I had it for years before we got married? Isn’t it true that she can’t get the property and assets I had prior to marriage?
Answer: In Pennsylvania divorces, marital assets and property are spilt up via a process called equitable distribution. The term is misleading because one would assume that a couple’s marital assets are spilt 50/50. However, this is not always the case.
Pennsylvania courts do not automatically divide a divorcing couple’s property in half. Courts look at many factors when dividing marital assets. In fact, there are 13 factors court must consider pursuant to Pennsylvania divorce laws, such as:
- The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.
- 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.
To see a discussion on all 13 factors, see Newtown Divorces & Equitable Distribution: How Courts Divide Marital Assets.
Therefore, you could get more than 50% of the marital assets or you could get less than 50% depending on the court’s determination. The predominant factor is the parties’ respective incomes and ability to build back an estate of their own post-divorce. The Court considers that the income superior spouse will be able to build back their estate quicker than the income inferior spouse. They will generally award a greater percentage to the income inferior spouse, depending on the size of the marital estate and the income inferior spouse’s other financial resources.
Retirement plans and 401Ks are assets and are generally divided between divorcing parties. Even though you had the 401K prior to marriage, the marital portion and any gains on the pre-marital portion will likely be subject to equitable distribution, unless some part of the plan is considered separate property.
While separate property is not subject to division generally, premarital separate assets can become marital assets over time. This is called the “vanishing credit.” Though this doctrine is not binding law in Pennsylvania, different counties may apply this doctrine. Bucks County is one of those counties. When vanishing credit is applied in Newtown, Bucks County, divorce cases, premarital assets slowly become marital assets at a rate of 5% per year during the marriage. Depending on how long a couple is married, even separate property may become 100% marital property. There are however, exceptions to applying the vanishing credit.
Equitable distribution is complicated, and it is best that you speak to one of our divorce lawyers in Newtown, Bucks County, who can assess your situation and explain how retirement plans may be divided and how the vanishing credit may apply.
Should You Agree to a Custody Schedule Without the Court in a Newtown, Bucks County Custody Case?
Question: My girlfriend and I live together in Newtown and have a son. We are going to separate because things are not working out. I am looking for a place near where we live now. We both want the best for our son and know that we both need to be in his life. We are going to make a custody schedule ourselves. We agreed that my son will live with her in our current house, and I will have him 2 days during the week and every other weekend defined as Friday night to Sunday. However, we both will make major decisions for our son, like where he will go to school. Can we agree upon this without filing any paperwork with the Bucks County family court? In legal terms, are we agreeing that we will both have shared or joint custody?
Answer: Yes, you can agree upon a custody arrangement without court intervention or filing paperwork; however, it is probably best that you file the custody agreement with the court. Once the court approves the agreement, it becomes a court order.
While you and your ex may be getting along now, you may not a year from now. When you are not getting along, communication may be difficult, and she may not comply with the agreement you both agreed upon. Because there is no custody agreement filed and approved by the court, you have no legal ground to enforce your agreement. She would not be doing anything wrong because she has as many parental rights as you do without an order. If that happens, your legal recourse would be to file a custody complaint in Bucks County to determine custody. However, if you have a custody order in place and she violates the terms of the Order, you can take the issue to the Court. Having the Order in place and her violating will be viewed as not only a violation against your parental rights but, also a violation against the Court. The violation against the Court will be subject to the contempt powers of the Court which can include up to incarceration, if severe enough.
In legal terms, the arrangement you and your girlfriend agreed upon is that she has primary physical custody, which is when a party spends the majority of the time with the child or more than half of the time, and you have partial custody because you have less than half of the time.
Because you both will decide on major decisions on behalf of your son, then you have shared legal custody. See Bucks County Custody Cases – Different Types of Custody Arrangements which discusses the different types of physical and legal custody.
Although you may not need a court to determine the custody schedule, it is best to consult with a Bucks County custody lawyer when negotiating a custody schedule with your soon to be ex.
Can Children Decide Who They Want to Live With in a Doylestown Custody Case?
Question: My wife and I are divorced. We have a son, who is now 15 years old. When we divorced, he was 9 years old. He lived primarily with his mother after our divorce, and I had him 1 night of the week and every other weekend. My ex started dating and he has been having a hard time with it. He constantly argues with her and does not like her current boyfriend. On nights when he is supposed to be with her, he has ridden his bike to my house. I would then call my ex and take him home or let him stay with me if my ex agreed. He has been asking to live with me and never wants to go home when his mother comes to get him. How do we change the current custody arrangement? Can my son decide where he wants to live?
Answer: As much as your son wants to live with you, he cannot decide which parent he will live with. However, this does not mean his preference is ignored when courts in Bucks County determine custody. One of the factors a Judge must consider when entering a Custody Order is the “well-reasoned preference of the minor child.” In general, the weight of the child’s preference depends on his age, maturity and intelligence. For example, a 15 year old’s preference will likely be given more weight than an 8 year old’s preference.
Courts also consider other factors as to why the child wants to live with one parent. For instance, does the child want to live with the father because the child had one fight with the mom? Or is there a well-reasoned, sound and valid basis for why the child wants to live with the father?
Ultimately, the court will determine custody in the best interests of the child and consider 16 factors. A discussion of these 16 factors can be found in our previous blog, Doylestown and Newtown Custody Cases – How is Custody Decided?
Changing a Custody Arrangement
If you want to change your current custody arrangement, we would need to know if there is a custody order. If so, you would need to file a petition to modify custody. If there is no custody order in place, i.e., the current arrangement was agreed upon privately between you and your ex, then you would need to file a custody complaint to have the Court determine the custody schedule if you can’t agree on a new arrangement.
What to Do If Your Ex Does Not Comply with the Custody Arrangement You Agreed Upon? By a Doylestown Custody Lawyer
Question: My ex and I have a beautiful son. After we separated, we both decided to stay in Doylestown because that’s where both of our families are and where my son’s school is located. We were able to agree on a custody arrangement without going to court. We both decided that 50/50 shared custody was best for our son. Everything has been okay thus far, but recently, there have been a few incidents that worry me. On a few days when I was supposed to pick my son up from school, my ex would text me that he already got our son from school and that he would bring him home the next day. We have discussed this issue and he said that he wouldn’t do it again without telling me first. However, he just did it again last week. How can I stop him from doing that? Isn’t that illegal? Should I call the police if he does it again? What can I do to stop that?
Answer: Unfortunately, your ex can pick your son up without telling you because there is no court order for custody in place. Without a custody order, your ex is equally entitled to custody of your son as you are. Though it may be irresponsible, it is not illegal for him to pick up your son even though it was your day under your agreement with him. Even if you called the police, it would not make a difference. The police would not get involved because there is no custody order and your ex did not do anything illegal.
If this is a pattern that affects your time with your son, you really should talk to a Doylestown custody lawyer about what you need to do, such as filing a custody complaint. A Doylestown custody lawyer may also discuss an emergency custody complaint, which allows the judge to address the issue of pick-up or any other issues while you and your ex are going through the custody case before a custody order is determined.
If your ex deviates from the schedule after the custody order is determined, i.e., picks up your son on your days, he would be violating the custody order. There may be serious consequences for your ex, i.e., you may file a motion for contempt with the court, and the court may modify the custody order.