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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When Will Your Child Support or Spousal Support Case in Bucks County, PA Be Heard?
Answer by Jeffrey Grisillo, a Newtown, PA Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer
If you have a child support or spousal support case before the court, you may have been delayed quite some time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, courts in PA are reopening on June 1, 2020. The courts will try to address all outstanding cases as quickly as possible. However, it may take some time before your case is heard in person before a judge.
Given this delay, the court is attempting to address outstanding support cases by holding the initial support conferences telephonically. If you are unable to reach an agreement at the initial support conference, judges are assisting in limiting the delay by holding additional telephone conferences in an attempt to settle the outstanding issues.
We hope that the court will be fully open sometime soon; however, for now, the court will be processing support cases telephonically.
Please do not hesitate to contact our office if you have any questions or would like to speak to me or one of our other attorneys.
Doylestown Child Custody - Will My Child Be Able to Testify at the Custody Hearing?
Will my child be able to testify at the custody hearing?
The short answer is yes, in most cases children are able to testify at a custody hearing but the long answer of whether they should testify is much more complicated. Moreover, a child can be made to testify in open court, although it is rare, but it can be necessary depending on the situation.
See below for a detailed discussion from our Doylestown, Bucks County child custody lawyer.
We are often asked whether children are allowed to testify at a custody hearing. Judges often frown upon children being forced to testify and it is ordinarily counter-productive to have children testify in Court. Having your child testify puts him/her right in the middle of the controversy between the two parents and that can be very traumatizing for the child. Judges are very sensitive and attuned to the well-being and best interests of the children. In fact, the best interests of the minor child are the predominant factor the Court uses to make a decision in a custody dispute. Forcing your child to testify may show the Judge that you are not thinking objectively about the child’s well-being first, before your own wishes to have more custodial time, unless there is a truly compelling reason for the child to testify.
That being said, one of the factors the Judge must use to weigh in a custody matter is the “well-reasoned preference of the minor child.” The rules of evidence preclude a parent from testifying about what their child’s preference is or will be. This must come directly from the child and absent some other evidence proving the preference, the child must testify to the court. One way to avoid this is to have a custody evaluation performed. A custody evaluation is conducted by a mental health professional who interviews both parents and the minor children. Once the evaluation is completed, the evaluator will write a report which is then presented to the court. The evaluator will use the same custody factors as the Court and the “well-reasoned preference of the minor child” will be one of those factors. Depending on the circumstances, the judge can accept the findings of the evaluator and enter an order based on those findings, including the child’s preference.
The term “well-reasoned” is the key to whether or not a judge will put weight behind a child’s preference. Case law suggests that in order for a child’s preference to be “well-reasoned” the child must be of sufficient age and maturity to have a “well-reasoned” preference. This usually means the child must be at least twelve or thirteen years old depending on the child’s development. The preference must also be founded upon facts that promote the well being and best-interests of the child. For instance, the judge may completely disregard the child’s preference if it is based upon having more freedom and less supervision at one household, or having less chores with one parent. The child’s preference will carry much more weight if the child’s preference is based upon one household providing a nurturing environment compared to the other, as an example.
Another issue to consider is competency, meaning the child is able to understand the questions asked, is able to communicate answers to those questions, and the child is able to testify truthfully and knows the difference between right and wrong. Before a child can testify, the court must find the child is competent to testify by asking the child questions according to that criteria.
A child may be asked to testify as a fact witness, meaning they are to testify about an event or fact that occurred in the past. By way of example, this could be an event that involved abuse, conditions at a house, something that was said by one of the parties or an altercation between the parties. Before the child can testify as a fact witness, the child must be deemed competent by the Court as explained above
Does My Child Have to Testify in Open Court?
It is up to the Judge whether or not the child must testify in open court. The judge may have the child interviewed in Chambers. At a minimum, the judge must allow both counsel to be present at such interview and able to ask questions. The he testimony must be on the record, although it may be sealed by the judge so neither parent is able to read the testimony on the transcript. Pa.R.C.P. No. 1915.11
PA Child Custody - Do I need court approval to take my children on an extended vacation?
Question: My ex and I do not have a child custody order from a Pennsylvania family court. Do I need court approval to take my children on an extended vacation this summer?
Short Answer: It depends on whether both parents can agree or not.
- Both Parents Agree: You do not need court approval if you and your ex-husband or ex-wife can agree on the summer vacation custody schedule. However, you should still get help from a child custody lawyer to write and file a consent order so that the agreement is enforceable.
- One Parent Does Not Agree: You will need court approval if your ex-husband or ex-wife does not agree on your extended summer vacation plans with your children.
See below for a detailed discussion regarding this issue.
Question: I am divorced and have shared custody of my two children with my ex-husband. When we got divorced, my ex and I agreed that we would always put our children first and do what is best for them. We don’t have a custody order, and we have been able to work out the schedule ourselves. We have also been flexible with the schedule too. When one of us wanted an extra day with our children due to vacation or any other reason, we have been able to work it out. This summer I want to take our kids for 2 weeks to travel overseas. When I discussed it with my ex at first, he was okay with it. However, when he found out my boyfriend would be traveling with us, he changed his tune and said he will think about it. Even if he does agree to it, I am a bit worried that he may later change his mind again. Should I have him sign an agreement if he agrees to the 2 week vacation? Do I have to go to court for this? If I do have to go to court, what is the likelihood that the court will grant the vacation?
Answer: It would be ideal if you can work it out with your ex-husband. Your concern that he may change his mind is valid, and it does happen. A verbal agreement or even a written agreement between you and your ex is not enforceable. The written agreement is only enforceable if it is filed with the court. Therefore, it is best to have a Pennsylvania child custody lawyer help you. The lawyer would write a consent order, which would state that you and your ex agree that you can take your children for a 2 week vacation out of the country, and file it with the court. Having a lawyer help you with a consent order does not necessarily mean you will have to go to court. The lawyer would file the consent order on your behalf.
Related: Bucks County Child Custody Case - How Summer Vacation Affect Child Custody Arrangements [Our PA child custody lawyers discuss different summer vacation child custody schedules.]
If you cannot work out an agreement with your husband, it is best to consult a lawyer as soon as possible. Summer is only a couple of months away, and you want to make sure you get this resolved as soon as possible, not a week before your planned vacation. Therefore, contact a PA child custody lawyer right away to ensure that your planned vacation is not impacted. You don’t want to be dealing with a custody battle during the summer.
If you and your ex cannot agree and you decide to go forward with a custody hearing, we cannot tell you whether the court will grant your request. What we can tell you is that the court will use the same standards and law it uses to determine child custody in general. The guiding standard for the family court is “the best interests of the child.” See Doylestown and Newtown Custody Cases - How is Custody Decided in Pennsylvania?
As you said, you and your ex have agreed to put your children first. It is important to remember that for the sake of the children, you need to communicate with each other. You don’t want to go straight to court before talking about this further. He may have concerns because your kids will be with another adult that he doesn’t know very well, i.e., your boyfriend. Perhaps by talking to your ex about your boyfriend and explaining your itinerary in detail, such as where you are staying, what you are doing, etc., he may come around.
We are happy to help you with your situation. Feel free to call the child custody lawyers at Zlock P.C. to schedule a consultation.
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 are 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.
Bucks County, PA Child Custody Cases – When Do Children Have a Say?
Children of divorce often have their own opinions about who they want to live with. Do the courts take children’s wishes into consideration when determining custody? At what age can children express their wishes to the court? Kevin Zlock, a Bucks County child custody lawyer, answers these questions below.
Question: At what age is my child’s wish of who she wants to live with taken into consideration by the court? Does she have a say in who she wants to live with?
Answer: Kids shouldn't be part of the process. They shouldn't be in front of a custody evaluator. They certainly should not be in court. If they are, that’s a day they will probably never forget. We don’t want the kids in court. We don’t want them in front of an evaluator.
Oftentimes, they have to go to an evaluation. The children, as they get older, they don’t have say, they don’t get to choose. But what they want matters more the older they get, and what they want and why they want it matters as well.
Let’s say you have a 14 year who says, “I want to live with one parent because they let me stay up til midnight every night on school nights.” Well, that’s what I wanted to do when I was 14, but that might not be the right reason to have primary custody in one parent.
So what they want and how old they are matters by degrees. The older they get, the more of what they want, the judge will consider.
Of course, when they are 16 1/2, 17 years old, the judge will give a lot of consideration to it.
But at what age do they actually pick what they want? It’s 18 years old, when they are no longer children.
Related Pennsylvania Child Custody Questions
Bucks County Child Custody Cases - Does a PA Divorce Have to be Finalized Before Custody is Decided?
Many divorced parents will have to deal with custody issues. In addition, parents who are not married, but are getting separated, will also have to deal with custody issues. What many individuals who are going through a divorce and have kids do not know is that Pennsylvania divorces do not have to be finalized before custody is decided.
In this next question, firm partner Kevin Zlock, a Bucks County child custody lawyer, addresses this issue.
Question: My husband and I are getting a divorce, and we have children. Does our divorce have to be finalized before custody is decided?
Answer: That’s a good question. You don’t need to be married to have kids, obviously, and hence, there can be a custody issues with unmarried parents. So they can be handled separately as far as married parents go as well.
So you can file custody first. You can do the divorce first, or do them at the same time. They don’t cross. You do not need to attach it to the divorce complaint; you can if you wish. It’s less expensive to do it that way, sometimes, but it’s not required.
Other Related Bucks County, PA Child Custody Questions/Answers
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, Kevin Zlock. He is a seasoned divorce lawyer who has extensive experience working with high-net worth divorce clients. Click here to learn more about Kevin Zlock.
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.