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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  • 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.

  • Newtown Divorces – Does Adultery Affect the Division of Marital Property & Assets?

    Question: I recently discovered my husband has been unfaithful.  I want a divorce. I have been a stay at home mom for the last 5 years and have put my career on hold for him and our family.  We live in Doylestown, and I want to stay in the home.  How will the court divide our marital property and assets?  Will I get more of our property and assets because he cheated on me? 

    Answer: In Pennsylvania, courts will divide marital assets through a method called equitable distribution. There are factors set out by statute that the court has to consider when dividing marital assets.

    Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean that the marital assets will be divided equally.  A party may receive more of the marital estate after the court considers relevant factors pursuant to the law.  Some of these factors include, but are not limited to:

    • The length of the marriage.
    • Any prior marriage of either party.
    • The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties.

    For a discussion of all relevant factors, see Equitable Distribution: How Do Courts Divide Marital Assets in Bucks County Divorces?

    When a party cheats on his or her spouse, it has no impact on how the marital assets are divided.  However, it may have an impact on other issues in a divorce action, such as alimony. Visit our PA divorce library for more information.

    It is important to note that you may resolve how the marital estate will be divided without going to court.  You may resolve the issue privately with your soon-to-be-ex without involving the court. 

    If the issue cannot be resolved between the parties, Bucks county divorce actions that involve property distribution disputes will be reviewed by a Family Master first.  At the Master’s Hearing, the Master will make recommendations as to how the property should be divided.  If parties can come to an agreement under the framework of the Master’s recommendations, then there is no need to go to court.  However, if parties cannot come to an agreement, then the issue will be decided before a judge.  For a detailed discussion of a Master’s Hearing in Bucks County divorces, see  Doylestown and Newtown Divorce Cases – Master’s Hearing for Equitable Distribution of the Marital Estate.

    It is best that you discuss your case with a Bucks County divorce lawyer who can answer all of your questions regarding equitable distribution in a Pennsylvania divorce.  Feel free to call our office to schedule an appointment.

  • Newtown, Bucks County Divorce Cases - What is a Master's Hearing?

    What is a Master’s Hearing in Bucks County, Pennsylvania Divorce Cases?

    Short Answer: Pennsylvania divorce cases filed in Bucks County are first heard by a Family Master in a Master’s Hearing.  About the Master:

    • is court appointed;
    • resolves contested economic divorce matters (including dividing marital assets and alimony);
    • conducts a settlement-oriented conference to help parties come to a resolution without a judge;
    • provides recommendations as to how the marital assets should be divided.

    If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the parties request a new hearing before a judge.

    See a detailed discussion of a Master’s Hearing in Bucks County divorce cases in the FAQ below. 

    FAQ: My wife and are I separated.  My wife is living at our house in Doylestown, and about 2 years ago, I moved to an apartment 5 minutes from our house.  We have come to an agreement about the custody schedule, and it was easy to agree because we both believe our children need both of us in their lives.  However, when it comes to dividing our property and assets, we cannot come to an agreement.  My wife thinks that she should get more than 50% of our assets and property.  Family members have told me that we will have to appear before a Master who will make recommendations as to how the marital estate should be divided.  What is a Master’s Hearing? Do I have to agree to the Master’s recommendations?

    Answer:  Because you are both in Doylestown, your equitable distribution (dividing of assets) matter will be filed in Bucks County.  Economic claims, such as dividing marital assets, are heard by a Master.  A Family Master is an attorney appointed by the court to try to resolve contested divorce matters such as equitable distribution and alimony.  A Master conducts a hearing or a settlement-oriented conference to help parties come to a resolution without the costs associated with a trial before a judge. 

    At the hearing, the Master will review the previously filed financial information and collect additional information, evidence, financial documents, testimony, etc., examine the documents/information thoroughly and provide recommendations as to how the marital assets should be divided.  It is important to know that failure to submit the required documentation prior to the hearing deadlines may result in their exclusion from consideration by the Master and the Court.

    The parties will then typically start to negotiate within the Master’s recommendations.  After negotiations, if the parties can come to a resolution, the agreement will be put on record before the Master.

    However, if parties cannot come to an agreement or think that the recommendations are unjust, they do not have to accept the recommendations.  Parties should not feel pressure from their lawyers or the Master to accept the terms if they feel there is a legitimate legal argument or factual error in the recommendation. 

    If the parties do not accept the Master’s recommendations, the Master will file a report with the court. Then, parties would file an appeal and request a new hearing.  However, the hearing will no longer be before a Master; it will now be before a judge.  This is a formal court hearing which has rules as to how the hearing would proceed.  Parties should know that the judge may actually give parties less than what the Master recommended.

    For more information about a Master’s Hearing, see Doylestown and Newtown Divorce Cases -  Master’s Hearing for Distribution of Marital Assets.

    It is best that you talk to a divorce attorney who has extensive experience with equitable distribution of marital property well in advance of an equitable distribution hearing so that all of the required filings can be submitted to the Court, and you are well prepared to present your case to the Master and get the right result.

  • Are There Different Types of Holiday Custody Schedules? Answer by Newtown Custody Lawyers

    Question: What kind of holiday custody schedules are there? My wife and I recently decided to divorce, and the thought of not being with my children during some of the holidays is very upsetting to me.  I want to make sure that the schedule is fair.

    Answer:  I have seen all kinds of holiday custody schedules.  There is no one holiday custody schedule that works for every divorced or separated family, but you should seek counsel from a custody attorney to make sure you can reach a holiday custodial agreement that is best for both of you. 

    If you and your soon to be ex-wife are divorcing on good terms, you may be able to agree on a holiday custody schedule without a court order.  Even if you are on good terms that relationship may break down in the future so you should always plan ahead, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. I always recommend the holiday custody schedule should be a part of the custody order.  Below are 2 different types of holiday custody schedules.

    Alternating Holidays

    Divorced or separated couples may decide to alternate holidays.  This is the most common division of holidays when both parties celebrate the same holidays.  For instance, in year 1, the mom may have custody of the child during Labor Day weekend, while the dad has custody of the child during Memorial Day weekend.  In year 2 of such an alternating arrangement, the mom will have custody of the child during Memorial Day weekend, and the father will have custody of the child Labor Day weekend.

    Parents do not have to agree to alternate every holiday during the year.  In other words, they can decide to only alternate Labor Day and Memorial Day, and not alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas.  They may decide to divide the holiday, which is discussed in the next section.

    Dividing the Holidays

    Parents can divide each holiday, sometimes in conjunction with the alternating schedule.  Christmas, for instance, can be divided so that each parent gets time with their children during the holiday.  For example, a parent can have custody of the child beginning on December 24th at 8:00 am and ending on December 25th at 2:00 pm.  The other parent then has custody of the child beginning on December 25th at 2:00 pm until December 26th at 8:00 pm. 

    The parents can further agree that the above arrangement will alternate each year.  Therefore, one year the mom has custody the first half of Christmas, and the dad has custody the second half of Christmas.  Then the next year the dad has custody the first half of Christmas, and the mom has custody the second half of Christmas.

    If the parties do not celebrate the same religious holidays it makes it somewhat easier but the national holidays such as July 4th and Memorial Day would still have to be addressed.

    Another consideration is if one of the parent’s extended family has an annual get together for one of the holidays.  In cases like these, the parents often “trade” for the other like holiday period (i.e. Memorial Day for July 4th), particularly if it requires travel to a distant location.

    Other than the above examples, there are many other types of custody schedules in Bucks County custody disputes.  In addition, there are other factors we need to consider when planning custody schedules, such as the specific terms of the schedule. See Planning a Newtown and Doylestown, Bucks County Holiday Custody Schedule.

    It is difficult to face custodial issues during the holidays, but you are not alone.  We, as Newtown custody lawyers, can help you devise a holiday custody schedule that is fair for all parties and in the best interest of your children.

  • My Ex is Often Late to Custody Exchanges. What Can I Do?

    Question: My ex-wife and I had an ugly divorce in Doylestown, Bucks County, PA.  We have 2 daughters, and my ex and I have shared physical custody.  My ex is often late to custody exchanges.  I have asked her politely via phone and text to let me know when she will be late or asked her to be on time.  However, she always says it’s traffic or just does not respond to me.  I understand that traffic can make her late, but almost every time? She is usually 10 to 15 minutes late, and there have been several times she has been late at least 30 minutes or more.  I believe she is doing this to spite me and annoy me because we did not end on great terms.  I tried to talk to her about this, but to no avail.  My custodial time is shortened very often.  I know 15 minutes is not a lot, but almost every time is ridiculous.  Is there something I can do?

    Answer:  Like you said, there are going to be times when your ex will be late to a custody exchange due to circumstances out of her control, such as traffic.  In such instances, it would be unreasonable to file a petition for contempt.  Typically, Pennsylvania divorce and custody courts would consider this a “minor” issue and would want the parties to work it out themselves.

    The other factor you would need to consider is if the custody order allows time for parties to be 15 minutes late.  If so, then you really do not have recourse because the custody order allows it.  However, if she is often more than 15 minutes late, you may then file a petition with the court.

    If there is no provision in the custody order for parties to be 15 minutes late, and you think she is doing it out of spite, you may file a petition for contempt and modification of the current custody order.  It is very unlikely the Court will hold her in contempt unless she is consistently late and late for more than 15 minutes each time.  You should be aware though, the Courts expect parties in a custody dispute to work together as much as possible and work out minor issues themselves.  It would paint you as unreasonable if you file a petition for contempt for her being 15 minutes late only a handful of times over the course of a few months.

    If she is consistently late, you should start documenting the times that she is late and how many minutes she is late.  You should send her emails or texts politely asking her to be on time.  If she doesn’t not respond, that only works in your favor.   Make sure you print those emails or texts and store them in a safe place.  We have had clients lose years of texts or emails lost due to losing or damaging a phone or computer, so keep a backup.

    If the Court finds she intentionally disobeyed the custody order, the court can take away custody time from your ex or let you have make up time.  The court may also modify the custody order in your favor, fine her and/or make her pay reasonable attorney fees and expenses you incurred to file the petition.

    Related: Doylestown and Newtown Divorces - Custody Exchange Issues

  • Are There Different Types of Holiday Custody Schedules? Answer by Newtown Custody Lawyers

    Question: What kind of holiday custody schedules are there? My wife and I recently decided to divorce, and the thought of not being with my children during some of the holidays is very upsetting to me.  I want to make sure that the schedule is fair.

    Answer:  I have seen all kinds of holiday custody schedules.  There is no one holiday custody schedule that works for every divorced or separated family, but you should seek counsel from a custody attorney to make sure you can reach a holiday custodial agreement that is best for both of you. 

    If you and your soon to be ex-wife are divorcing on good terms, you may be able to agree on a holiday custody schedule without a court order.  Even if you are on good terms that relationship may break down in the future so you should always plan ahead, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. I always recommend the holiday custody schedule should be a part of the custody order.  Below are 2 different types of holiday custody schedules.

    Alternating Holidays

    Divorced or separated couples may decide to alternate holidays.  This is the most common division of holidays when both parties celebrate the same holidays.  For instance, in year 1, the mom may have custody of the child during Labor Day weekend, while the dad has custody of the child during Memorial Day weekend.  In year 2 of such an alternating arrangement, the mom will have custody of the child during Memorial Day weekend, and the father will have custody of the child Labor Day weekend.

    Parents do not have to agree to alternate every holiday during the year.  In other words, they can decide to only alternate Labor Day and Memorial Day, and not alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas.  They may decide to divide the holiday, which is discussed in the next section.

    Dividing the Holidays

    Parents can divide each holiday, sometimes in conjunction with the alternating schedule.  Christmas, for instance, can be divided so that each parent gets time with their children during the holiday.  For example, a parent can have custody of the child beginning on December 24th at 8:00 am and ending on December 25th at 2:00 pm.  The other parent then has custody of the child beginning on December 25th at 2:00 pm until December 26th at 8:00 pm. 

    The parents can further agree that the above arrangement will alternate each year.  Therefore, one year the mom has custody the first half of Christmas, and the dad has custody the second half of Christmas.  Then the next year the dad has custody the first half of Christmas, and the mom has custody the second half of Christmas.

    If the parties do not celebrate the same religious holidays it makes it somewhat easier but the national holidays such as July 4th and Memorial Day would still have to be addressed.

    Another consideration is if one of the parent’s extended family has an annual get together for one of the holidays.  In cases like these, the parents often “trade” for the other like holiday period (i.e. Memorial Day for July 4th), particularly if it requires travel to a distant location.

    Other than the above examples, there are many other types of custody schedules in Bucks County custody disputes.  In addition, there are other factors we need to consider when planning custody schedules, such as the specific terms of the schedule. See Planning a Newtown and Doylestown, Bucks County Holiday Custody Schedule.

    It is difficult to face custodial issues during the holidays, but you are not alone.  We, as Newtown custody lawyers, can help you devise a holiday custody schedule that is fair for all parties and in the best interest of your children.

  • Can You Enforce a Pennsylvania Marital Settlement Agreement or Property Settlement Agreement?

    Question:  My spouse and I divorced last year.  When we decided to divorce, we agreed that we would file the divorce complaint ourselves without a lawyer because we were on relatively good terms. We were able to work out a marital settlement agreement.  Per the agreement, I stayed in our home, but my ex would pay for the mortgage of the house.  He paid the mortgage for about 10 months, and the last few months, he stopped paying it.  When I talked to him, he said he forgot and will pay it.  It’s been several months, and he still has not paid for it. What can I do to make him comply with our agreement and pay the mortgage?

    Answer: I am sorry you have to deal with this issue.  When your divorce was finalized, you probably didn't think that you would have to deal with any other issues related to the divorce later on.  Unfortunately, you are not the only one in this situation.  As divorce lawyers in Doylestown and Newtown, we have seen this happen to many divorcing couples.

    In order to enforce the marital settlement agreement, you would need to file a petition with the court to enforce the agreement.

    What is a Petition to Enforce Marital Settlement Agreement in Pennsylvania?

    A petition to enforce your marital settlement agreement is a petition that asks the court to enforce the terms of the agreement you reached with your ex-husband.  Depending on whether the agreement was entered as an Order of Court or whether it is a stand alone agreement, you may be able to file a petition for Contempt of the Order or a petition to enforce the terms of the stand alone agreement.  The petition must show that the agreement was validly entered or that the agreement was entered as an order of Court and how your ex-husband violated the agreement, i.e., failed to make mortgage payments.  The court will then schedule a hearing and your ex-husband will have a chance to respond to your petition.

     So long as the agreement is valid, PA divorce courts will enforce marital settlement agreements and compel the non-complying party to abide by the terms of the agreement.  The court may take steps to enforce compliance, such as garnishing your ex-husband's income.  In addition, if the Court finds that your ex-husband willfully violated the agreement he may be required to pay for your reasonable attorney's fees for filing the petition to enforce the marital settlement agreement particularly if it was made an Order of Court.

    There are limited situations where the court will not enforce the agreement.  Marital Settlement Agreements are viewed by the Court as a contract and subject to contract law.  As with any contract, there must be certain conditions met to enforce that contract.  For example, if your ex-husband shows some type of fraud committed, or he was under duress when he signed the agreement the Court may set aside the agreement and find there is no agreement to enforce, either in whole or in part.  .

    I encourage you to talk to a divorce lawyer in PA about your case.  We have offices in Doylestown and Newtown, Bucks County. Our divorce lawyers have extensive experience in helping parties similar to your situation. 

  • How to Find the Best PA Divorce Lawyer for My Case? Answer by a Doylestown and Newtown Divorce Attorney

    Divorce is emotionally draining and stressful for all parties, whether it is an amicable divorce or a contentious one. If kids are involved, divorce also has a significant impact on them. Many times, individuals facing divorce are referred to divorce lawyers through their friends or family members.  Although family members or friends know the lawyers, it is a good idea for parties facing divorce to do their research and make sure that they are hiring a divorce lawyer who is best for them.  Below are some tips to help you choose the best Pennsylvania divorce lawyer for your case.

    Make Sure You Feel Comfortable with the Divorce Lawyer

    You want to make sure you feel comfortable with the lawyer.  After all, you are going to be working closely with the lawyer throughout the divorce process.  Your lawyer will know details about your relationship and financial situation.  You want to feel comfortable talking to your lawyer about these issues.  You want to feel that the lawyer is on your side and be confident that he/she will do everything he/she can to help you achieve your goals in the divorce, i.e., custody, child support or spousal support.

    Related: Doylestown & Newtown, PA Divorces – Are You Required to Have a Lawyer?

    Ask Questions

    It is important to ask questions when you meet the lawyer.  Don't be shy or feel embarrassed to ask the lawyer questions.  Below are some questions I encourage you to ask when meeting a potential divorce lawyer.

    What kind of divorce cases do you handle? 

    There are different types of divorce cases.  Some are straightforward, and some are complex, especially when parties have significant assets and/or real estate.  These types of high end divorces have various tax implications and require a divorce lawyer who not only knows divorce laws, but also tax laws.  Therefore, you may want to know if the lawyer has handled divorce cases that are similar to your divorce case.

    Will anyone else be working on my case? If so, what is that person’s level of experience and can I meet them?

    Oftentimes, a party may meet a lawyer at an initial consultation. However, that lawyer may not be the only person handling the case.  That lawyer may have another associate work on the case.  Sometimes, the case may even be handled entirely by another attorney.  While there is nothing wrong with having other attorneys from the firm working on your case, it is important to know who the other lawyers are and to meet them.  You want to feel comfortable with the other lawyer as well.

    Doylestown and Newtown Divorce and Custody Attorneys

    Feel free to contact our PA divorce attorney to schedule a consultation. We have offices in Doylestown and Newtown.