Are you getting divorced and represented by counsel? Under the PA Rules of Professional Responsibility, an attorney is not permitted to communicate directly with a party whom they are aware is represented. This applies to that other party as well. These rules are there to protect not only the attorney but also the party. While sometimes you may think it is cheaper and easier to communicate directly with your ex’s attorney, it is a mistake. You may say or do something that could jeopardize your case. If you have hired an attorney, it is best to let them do their job and filter everything through your attorney. Your attorney will be able to determine what is relevant and should be conveyed to the other side and what may just simply end at their office. If you are frustrated with your legal fees and working with a middleman, explain this to your attorney and they may be able to offer suggestions on ways to either minimize your expenses or getting the information faster to the other side. Whatever you do, do not pick up the pen, computer or phone and contact the other attorney.

If you have a charging support order in PA for either child or spousal support, you likely have to pay the first $ 250 in out of pocket medical expenses each year per person before the remainder are allocated based on a percentage. You need to keep good records in order to receive your remainder share. You should create a list per person of all medical bills per person that are received each month and keep a copy of the bill. You will also need to keep a copy of the check or credit card receipt showing that you paid the copay or bill. Once you have reached $ 250 for the year, you should provide the documentation showing that you reached this limit and then start keeping track of all bills that come in for the rest of the year and request the percentage the other side is responsible to pay. You will likely have to front the money and seek reimbursement. In all cases, if payment is not made by March of the following year, you will need to file contempt with the court in your Domestic Relations office and again provide proof of notice and payment. It pays to be organized and you should make this something you do in January of each year.

If you are getting divorced, you may have accumulated retirement plans during your divorce. Sometimes clients are surprised when they learn that the retirement plan that they have earned in their own name is subject to equitable distribution. Not only can your current spouse be ordered to be named your beneficiary in the event of your death, but they actually will be awarded a percentage of the benefits at the time of the divorce. It is important from the outset to obtain the plan documents from your plan administrator so that you know what options you have in the event of retirement on the selection of a survivor beneficiary as well as so you know under what terms a spouse can receive a distribution. In addition, just because your court order or agreement awards your spouse a percentage of your benefits, does not mean this is automatically going to be tax free. You must also have the order drafted in the form of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. Most plan administrators have sample language that they will approve and it is a good idea to ask your plan administrator if they have sample language. You must always have your plan administrator approve the QDRO that is prepared before you send it to the Court to have the Judge enter it as an order.

When issues arise in a divorce that are in dispute, parties oftentimes are concerned with being right or getting justice. The divorce action itself, aside from the peripheral issues of custody if there are children, involves money. The court does not assess who is right and who is wrong in wanting to get a divorce. The court generally does not care why someone is getting divorced. The issues before the court are what financial assets does the court need to divide and what are the incomes of the parties with the disparity income between the parties as the biggest driving factor in the outcome of a divorce. When parties have issues that are in dispute, they often either involve a dispute over the value of an asset or the percentage that should be awarded in the divorce. In these instances, a party who is more interested in being right forgets to weigh the cost of proving they are right. For example, if two parties disagree on the buyout figure for a house and their dispute is a matter of difference of $ 20,000, the parties need to step back and weigh the cost of getting the house appraised, bringing an appraiser to testify in court, preparation time for court, time at a court hearing and any court costs and their expected percentage of the asset. When this analysis is done, oftentimes, the party will realize they could spend more in litigation than the amount they hope to gain the dispute. Disputes over financial assets are best settled by compromise. No one is ever going to be right and since courts are not liberal in awarding attorney fees, even if a party’s position prevails, the party will still be out of pocket to get to that position. At a minimum, a party must consider at all times the cost of litigation. For each and every dispute, it is important to weigh these factors: the cost to bring the claim, the anticipated cost in legal fees for discovery, preparation and attendance at trial, the amount of time it will take to have the issue determined, the cost of any expert witnesses, the amount of time and money lost from work in order to prepare for court and attend a trial, the emotional and psychological toll both on the party and any witnesses, the importance of preserving the relationship if any with the other party and affect on any common relations. Sometimes, a party may have to give up pursuing being right for the art of compromise because it makes more sense financially and psychologically. Understanding this is something a party needs to do anytime they are involved in litigation.

Bifurcation is the process whereby a divorce decree may be granted prior to resolution of the economic rights of the parties. Where granted, the court retains jurisdiction over the parties’ equitable distribution claims as well as support claims. Section 3323 (c)(1) of the Divorce Code discusses where bifurcation might be available. If both parties consent to bifurcation, the court can enter a divorce decree indicating that they are retaining jurisdiction over the unresolved issues. In the absence of an agreement for bifurcation, the party requesting it would have to demonstrate why it is necessary. Specifically, the statute states compelling circumstances must exist and there must be sufficient economic protection for the other party.

The other requirement for bifurcation is that there are already grounds for divorce. In a no-fault divorce, this would refer to both parties having consented after 90 days or a two year period of separation having run. Whether there are compelling circumstances and sufficient economic protection is up to the court’s discretion. The length of time the parties have been separated and/or litigating the divorce matter can be a relevant factor. Tax consequences have been considered as a factor given the potential benefit of filing as individuals versus filing married separately. Finally, the court may consider the assets already in each parties’ possession as well as a support order to determine the appropriateness of a bifurcation request under the sufficient economic protection prong. Some of the policies behind allowing bifurcation is to let the parties move on with their lives and offer an incentive for prompt disposition of all issues.

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Normally a support order is retroactive to the date of filing. If, however, there was a reason someone was precluded from filing for support, say for a physical or mental disability, the support order could be retroactive to the date they could have filed if they had been able. If a party conceals their income, the court could find that they are in contempt of an order that requires material changes to be reported in seven days and the court could retroactively modify the support to the date that they concealed their income. This also requires that the other party timely file once they learn of the misrepresentation. In these cases, a Court can retroactively adjust the amount of arrears on a support order. If there is a change income after a support order is entered that would materially affect the amount of support, it must be disclosed to the other side.

Oftentimes when people are getting divorced, there are many emotional issues involved. In instances where one spouse did not want the divorce, or even when they did but they endured physical abuse, adultery, mental abuse, or just the trauma of change that a separation brings, counseling with a qualified therapist or psychologist can be invaluable. While the process of getting divorced brings with it all these emotions, the application of the law of divorce does not consider all these emotions in the actual outcome of the division of the assets or alimony. This can be extremely frustrating for someone who feels that they need to be compensated for all they endured. It is important to be able to separate the emotion of the divorce from the actual application of the outcome of the divorce itself and this is where a therapist can really help someone. Having someone to help through the emotional process is important to be able to be rational when it is time to come to a discussion of the settlement of the assets and alimony.

There are many reasons why someone may want to change their name. It could be they have never really bonded with their parent and want a new last name. It may be that they wish to change their name for business purposes. Perhaps, they are from another country and want to change it formally to another name. Maybe they have always used a different first name. Whatever the reason, in most instance, when someone wants to change their name, they will have to file a Petition for a Name Change with the Court. The costs involved can sometimes be unexpected. In addition to paying for the filing fee that court charges to file the petition, there are fees to have fingerprinting done by the State Police. The Court will also do a credit check. In instances where someone is trying to change their name to escape from the stigma of a criminal record or from creditors, the Court will often deny the petition. There are also fees for publication in both a newspaper of local general circulation as well as in a legal paper. In addition, notice must be given, usually by personal service or certified mail to anyone whose interest may be adverse to the change of name (normally a parent who gave them the name). A change of name in the legal sense under these circumstances requires attendance at a hearing even if the parents do not dispute the change of name. This means that there will be lawyer fees on top of all the out of pocket expenses. Of course, when you remarry or divorce, you do not have to go through the Petition to Change a name. When you marry, you may automatically adopt the name of your spouse and if you divorce, there is a much cheaper option to file for a name change called a Notice to Retake your maiden name that does not require a hearing or publication and usually only a nominal filing fee. It can be done whether a person is an adult or a child. If it is a child, the parent must petition on the child’s behalf. In all circumstances, the court will weigh the reasons for the change, an in many cases, a name change will be granted when there is good reason or no opposition.

In Pennsylvania, pets are considered personal property in a divorce. Like any personal property, if they were a pet prior to marriage, they go to the party who owned the dog at the time of the marriage. If they were purchased during the marriage, then like any other personal property, either party is entitled to keep the pet. If the parties cannot agree, they can either go to arbitration or they can decide that neither party gets to keep the pet. It is unrealistic to expect that the Court will entertain a custody schedule for a pet in a divorce. In addition, the custody statutes only apply to children. If you want to share custody of the pet, it is something that is best resolved through mediation. Through mediation, the parties can decide what things they want to address to agree on and this can include an agreement to share a pet. If you opt for this, be sure to not only include the schedule for you put, but also who will pay the expenses or how they will be shared, including vet bills, food, regular shots, etc.

If you are getting divorced, or recently filed, you may wonder how long it is going to take to get your divorce. In Pennsylvania, there are two no-fault grounds for divorce which is the vast majority of divorces even if you think you have been wronged. If you are already separated for two years when you file for divorce and have no assets to divide and no alimony issues, it can take as little as two months to get divorced. If you have no assets and no alimony issues but have not been separated for two years, there is a mandatory 90 day cooling off period. In those cases, you can expect your divorce to take about four to five months.

When you do have issues, either alimony or division of assets, it is much more difficult to predict how long it will take. One of the reasons it becomes much harder to predict is that you cannot get divorced until you know what the assets are which is accomplished during discovery. If your spouse is non-cooperative and does not provide the necessary information, you may spend a considerable amount of time in and out of court attempting to get this information. If you spouse does not consent to the divorce, you could be waiting at a minimum two years before you can even get grounds for divorcee which you need before you get divorced.

If your spouse is cooperative and you have assets and alimony issues but you are able to come to an agreement at the beginning, the timing would be about the same as if you had no issues, two months if separated two years already and four to five months if you recently separated.