Section 5325 of the Domestic Relations laws sets out the circumstances under which grandparents and great-grandparents may petition for partial custody/visitation. One of three conditions must be met: (1) a parent of the child is deceased; (2) the parents of the child have been separated for at least six months; or (3) the child has lived with the grandparents or great-grandparents for at least 12 consecutive months provided a petition is filed within six months after the child is removed from the home.

It is also possible for grandparents to request any form of custody under Section 5324 of the Domestic Relations laws. Grandparents may request any form of custody if the relationship began with the consent of the parents, they are willing to assume responsibility for the child and the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity.

Peters v. Costello, 586 Pa. 102 (2005), was a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case which determined that non-biological grandparents also have the right to seek grandparent visitation rights where they stand in loco parentis to one of the parents of the child and it’s in the child’s best interest. The court went on to explain that the statute conferring the right of grandparents to seek custody is not restricted to biological grandparents.

In loco parentis embodies an assumption of parental status as well as an actual discharge of parental duties giving rise to a relationship which is the same as between parent and child. In Peters, there was testimony that the grandparents raised the mother, the mother and child had lived with them for several years, they had a close relationship with child and spent time with her including birthdays and holidays, and neither parent had previously objected to their de facto grandparental relationship with the child.

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Parties are often encouraged to try to reach an agreement to resolve whatever issues have arisen in any legal matter. In family law, agreements are especially encouraged due to the personal nature of the issues at hand along with the belief that it is better for the parties to draft their own agreement rather than allow a stranger to dictate their family dynamics going forward. A pre-nuptial agreement is a private contract between the parties entered into prior to their marriage that outlines how assets and debts will be handled if the parties subsequently divorce. A basic and straight-forward pre-nuptial agreement would provide that each party retains anything they acquire in their own name and that anything marital or acquired jointly will be divided based on the divorce laws. A pre-nuptial agreement may also provide for an increasing amount of support to a spouse based on the number of years married or number of children produced. Alternatively, one spouse may be required to pay support as a punishment if they commit adultery during the marriage.

An agreement can still be entered even after the marriage date. It addresses the same issues as a pre-nuptial agreement as far as how assets and debts would be divided in the event of a divorce and if any support award would be contemplated. This type of agreement is a post-nuptial agreement. A property settlement agreement or marital settlement agreement is the term for an agreement entered in the context of a divorce. For any of the above agreements to be valid certain conditions should be met. One, there must be a full and fair disclosure of the financial resources/existing assets by both parties. If there is not such a disclosure, there must be a provision in the agreement providing that the parties voluntarily and expressly waived the right to disclosure. Two, it must be clear that both parties voluntarily entered the agreement. Finally, steps should be taken to make sure the agreement is not invalidated on the basis of fraud, duress and/or misrepresentation.

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Making the decision to your divorce can be difficult. If you have children, the thought of telling them about the split may be overwhelming. While it can be a very difficult conversation to have with your children, a bit of planning and commitment to compassion will make it easier on everyone.

Have a plan to tell them. You and your spouse are ending your marriage and so will begin your relationship as co-parents. While you may be battling each other on several fronts make the commitment to show your children peace. Bring the children together as a family, and explain the situation and plan. Make sure they are comfortable and in a safe place and do not have plans for that day. They may have a variety of emotions to deal with and will not want to cancel plans or be forced out of the house.

Accept the emotions and questions as they are presented to you and do not tell your children how they should react. They may cry, yell at you, sit stunned or actually say “this is better since you fight all the time.” Your kids will have many questions and may even seem a bit self-centered. Remember, children want to feel secure about where they are going to be living and when they are going to see you. More than likely they have friends who have divorced parents and see the switching of homes and sharing of holidays. Your kids are going to want to know what the plan is for them.

Reassure your children that it was not their fault and that you still love them. Often times children feel that if they behaved better, did not fight with their siblings, or earned better grades their parents would be happier and staying together. It is critical that they hear from you it is not their fault and that adult reasons are the cause for your split.

During the months while you are getting divorced you have a beautiful opportunity to show your children peace. Yes, there may be many moving parts including moving to two new homes. If you give them a stable environment and always come from a place of love while in their presence they will adjust a little easier to all the changes.

Equitable distribution is the term used in Pennsylvania referring to division of marital property at the time of divorce. Marital property will consist of nearly everything acquired in either party’s name from the date of marriage through to the date of separation. It will also include pre-marital assets that have increased in value during the marriage. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split of all marital property. Instead, the statute on equitable distribution sets out 13 factors to be considered. Those factors are listed in 23 Pa C.S. 3502. While the length of marriage is a factor in equitable distribution, it does not mean that assets won’t be split at all in shorter marriages.

If the parties have to go to court for equitable distribution, they will be required to submit a statement beforehand laying out what they allege is the marital property at issue, how the factors listed affect their case, and what they are ultimately seeking as an “equitable” distribution. It is important to have knowledge of all the marital assets and debts at issue. Additionally, parties should have documentation to prove the value of any assets and debts to be addressed. Key dates for valuation may include date of marriage, date of separation and final hearing date. Items acquired after the date of separation but prior to the final divorce decree should also usually be excluded.

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Parties often ask what is the best way to proceed when initially contemplating separation and/or divorce. Generally speaking, parties are encouraged to try to reach an agreement to resolve whatever issues have arisen in any legal matter. In family law, agreements are especially encouraged due to the personal nature of the issues at hand along with the belief that it is better for the parties to draft their own agreement rather than allow a stranger to dictate their family dynamics going forward. Additionally, litigation or time spent in court is often the most expensive aspect of a divorce matter.

Both mediators and divorce attorneys can help you negotiate or draft a settlement agreement. The key difference is a mediator is an impartial third party where as an attorney is representing one party’s interest. This is not to say a divorce cannot be resolved with only one attorney; simply that the attorney cannot give advice to both parties since it would be a conflict of interest. Instead, the attorney should make it clear to the unrepresented party their role in the process and the limitations on communication between the attorney and the unrepresented party. Further, it is possible for both parties to have independent counsel and still reach a settlement agreement. If mediation is successful, an attorney may still be needed to file and process the divorce matter.

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