Children should not be forced or manipulated into taking sides in a divorce or custody matter. But that can happen when they are the focus of emotional blackmail by one or both parents. The parent attempts to make their child a player instead of an interested bystander in the family break-up drama. If you live in Montgomery or Bucks County, PA, we will work with the court to stop parental alienation.  

What is Parental Alienation? 

A parent may seek vengeance against their ex-spouse by poisoning their relationship with the child. They may also leverage their child’s feelings for them to control them to the point they break off or limit the relationship with the other parent. They may offer emotional and material incentives to the child to do so or force them to pick sides by telling them they can only love one parent, so they must choose which one. 

Alienation need not be intentional. A parent may not plan an alienation strategy and carry it out. The child may just witness one parent frequently and openly criticizing and degrading the other parent to the point that the child draws the conclusion that they do not want to be with them. 

What Harm Can Parental Alienation Do? 

The manipulating parent does not have the child’s best interests in mind. These actions can backfire if the child understands what is happening and realizes a parent is trying to manipulate them. The child may also suffer long-term emotional problems as a result. If severe enough, parental alienation could be considered a form of child abuse. 

What are the Indications of Parental Alienation? 

Some signs that one parent is alienating a child from the other parent, include the fact that the child: 

  • Is aware of divorce details only an adult should know  
  • Blames a parent for the divorce or end of the relationship 
  • Asks the targeted parent not to attend events like sports games or school events  
  • Becomes belligerent, defiant, or combative  
  • Is negative about the parent’s gifts or efforts, expressing a preference for the alienating parent’s gifts or time with them 
  • Repeats the alienating parent’s opinions  
  • Falsely accuses the parent of abuse or neglect 
  • Rejects or fears the parent 
  • Refuses to spend time or interact with the parent 
  • Shows a sudden change of attitude, preferring or rejecting a parent 
  • Shows no guilt or empathy when a parent suffers emotionally 

Depending on the child’s relationship with a parent and their ability to process what is going on, it may not take much effort for one parent to turn a child against the other.  

What Should I Do If My Child Starts Turning Against Me? 

There is a danger of falsely accusing a parent of alienating a child, who may be going through emotional problems because their parents’ relationship is breaking apart. The parents are the foundation of their safe and supportive environment, and they fear that is ending.  

If the issue is severe enough, your child should get counseling to work out their fears and feelings and help determine if the other parent is emotionally pulling your child away from you. You should also document your child’s words and behavior to see if there is a pattern (an apparent connection to visits or conversations with the other parent) and if the situation is getting better or worse. 

If you think you may be dealing with parental alienation during a divorce or custody dispute, please call Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., at 215-752-6200. 

If you are going through a divorce, you can legally change your name through the divorce process. There is a separate procedure for name changes that are not divorce-related. As long as you meet the requirements and the paperwork is in order, it should not be a problem.

As Part of a Divorce

You can regain your maiden name during a divorce. Under Pennsylvania statute 54 P.S. § 704,

“Any person who is a party in a divorce action may, at any time prior to or subsequent to the entry of the divorce decree, resume any prior surname used by him or her by filing a written notice to such effect in the office of the prothonotary of the county in which the divorce action was filed or the decree of divorce was entered, showing the caption and docket number of the proceeding in divorce.”

In New Jersey, you could retake your maiden name as part of the divorce or afterward.

  • You should include your request in the initial complaint.
  • If you do not do so, you can later change (or amend) the complaint to do that or seek the change by verbally asking the judge before they finalize your divorce.
  • If you continued to use your spouse’s last name after the divorce was final but changed your mind later, you could file a post-judgment motion with the court. There is a filing fee, but this is simpler than the process for a civil name change.

Outside a Divorce

If you are not getting a divorce, there are some limits to changing your name or that of a minor child:

  • It must be for a legitimate purpose.
  • You cannot have certain criminal convictions, such as voluntary manslaughter, murder, rape, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, sexual assault, or robbery.

The petition for a name change would be filed with the civil court in your county. There is a filing fee, and you will need copies of your fingerprints which you can get at the local police department. There should be a hearing for the petition within one to three months after filing.

Before your hearing:

  • A notice will be published in the local newspaper of general circulation and county law reporter.
  • There will be checks by the Prothonotary’s office for any pending civil matters, the Clerk of Courts will see if you are facing criminal charges, and the Recorder of Deeds will look for property issues you are facing.

If you are seeking a name change for a minor child:

  • The same publication requirements apply.
  • You must prove you served the petition on the other parent.

If the other parent disagrees with you, the court will decide the issue after a hearing with both parents. To succeed at the hearing, you must convince the judge the name change is in your child’s best interests.

What’s Next?

Once you have a signed/certified order granting the name change, head to the agencies and companies you deal with:

  • Social Security office
  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Banks
  • State and federal taxing authorities
  • Your insurance agent
  • Utilities
  • Stockbroker
  • Internet/phone service provider
  • Employer

This is part of re-starting your life with a new name.


Work with an experienced family law lawyer from Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., with an in-depth understanding of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey statutes and court procedures. We can help make the process go as smoothly as possible. Call us at (215)752-6200 or book a consultation online now.

If you changed your last name to your husband’s when you married, you might be considering changing it back to your maiden name after your divorce. Depending on your situation, there are pros and cons to a name change. 

Fresh Start 

Dropping your ex-spouse’s name creates a firm break from your past married life. Taking your spouse’s name symbolized you were one unit. Changing your last name shows you are no longer emotionally, legally, or financially connected. You are independent, and your marriage is over. If you are having a difficult relationship with your ex-spouse, it may be additional motivation to change your name. 

Does Your Maiden Name Reflect Who You Are? 

You should be proud of this new, post-divorce you. You are not the same person you were during your marriage. Life after your divorce is a new chapter. Changing your name, where you live, and even new clothes may be part of your emotional makeover. 

Will a Name Change Cause Confusion in Your Professional Life? 

If you work professionally, own a business, or are successfully moving up in your industry, you have a personal brand you need to maintain. You want people to think specific positive thoughts when your name comes up in conversation, or you meet them. Changing your name can confuse those you work with or connect with.  

However, this change should be manageable. Businesses often rebrand themselves, their products, and their services. Do you drive a Nissan? Back in the day, it was a Datsun. Blue Ribbon Sports is now Nike. Divorces are common, and changing your name is not something negative. Consider making it positive by creating a reason to reach out to these people, give them an update, and engage in a conversation.  

Will It Impact Your Children? 

You could change your last name, but your children could have their father’s last name. If your kids are young, maintaining your ex-spouse’s last name may be more practical and easier. You can always change it later. 

Which Name Do You Like More? 

Do you have a preference? You might not like your maiden or married name for many reasons. It may be very long, difficult to spell, or not very flattering. You might not have enjoyed being Ms. or Mrs. Butts, Crump, or Gopnick. You may be tired of spelling out “Krzyzewskewicz” to people. You have options. 

Changing Your Name and Bill Collection 

Some people leave their marriages deep in debt, and if they have been out of the workforce for a long time, their job and income prospects might not be good. Bill collectors use many methods to find debtors. As part of the name change process, you will need to publish a notice of your name change. Thanks to that notice, the internet, the amount of publicly available information about you, and special databases used to find people, going back to your surname will not help. 

If you have questions about the name-changing process, call us at (215) 607-2893 or fill out our online contact form

The rights of the other biological parent will need to be terminated in connection with any adoption. Their parental rights can be terminated voluntarily or involuntarily. With voluntary termination the other natural parent will sign a consent to the adoption which is subsequently attached to the Petition for Adoption. There must be at least thirty (30) days between when the consent is signed and when adoption petition is filed with the court since there is a thirty (30) day revocation period. With involuntary termination, you will plead the applicable grounds for involuntary termination within your adoption petition. A filing fee is payable to the county at the time you file your petition for adoption. After filing the Petition, you will receive notice of when you are scheduled for your hearing. You will need to notify any party that is required to receive notice of the hearing per the adoption statutes in advance of the hearing.

With a kinship adoption the prospective parents will need to have three background checks completed prior to filing an adoption petition. Presently, the required background checks for Pennsylvania include (1) Child Abuse History Clearance; (2) PA State Police Criminal Record Check; and (3) FBI Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare. The results of these background checks should be attached to the adoption petition. A home study is not required. A hearing will be scheduled by the court within a few months from filing the petition. If heading straight to adoption hearing because natural parents consent to adoption the total process can be completed in a few months. If an involuntary termination hearing is required before the adoption hearing the process can take twice as long.

If contemplating an adoption you can start the process by gathering the necessary paperwork that must be submitted to the court along with adoption petition. Exactly which documents you will need to include depend on what type of adoption you are seeking. All interested parties must be advised of the availability of ACT 101 and proof that all parties received information should be retained for presentation to the court. You will need to original birth certificate for the adoptee. Additionally, prospective parents and any other adult household members will need to have the requisite clearances completed where the adoptee is a minor and the results of those clearances should be attached to the petition. A home study may be required as well if there is no familial relationship between the adoptee and prospective parents.

In a situation where the adoptee is over twelve years old, you should also have the consent of the adoptee attached to your petition. If the natural parents consent to the adoption and are voluntarily terminating their parental rights, their consent(s) should be attached as well. In some circumstances parental rights do not need to be terminated. For example, if the natural parent has passed away you do not need to request their rights be terminated however you should include a certified copy of the death certificate with the petition. Another scenario may be if you have used an anonymous donor to conceive, that documentation should be included with your petition. You should consult with an experienced adoption attorney to be clear on exactly which documents you will need to include with your adoption petition to make the process as efficient as possible.

To effectuate a legal name change, you will need to file a petition with your local civil court.

A filing fee is due to the county at the time of filing as well as copies of your fingerprints which can be obtained at your local police department. A hearing on your request for name change will be scheduled for a few months later. If you are filing a petition on behalf of a minor, you will need to effectuate service of the petition and hearing date on the other parent. If you are filing as an adult, prior to the hearing date notice of the petition must be published in the county law reporter as well as a newspaper of general circulation. Additionally, adults must have checks through the Prothonotary’s office for civil matters, the Clerk of Courts for criminal matters, and the Recorder of Deeds for any property issues. If you have resided outside of your current county within the prior five (5) years, these checks should also be performed in the county where you used to reside.

At your scheduled hearing, you should appear with proof that all prerequisites have been met in terms of publication, background checks, and service, if applicable. Name changes are permissible so long as it is not sought for illegitimate purposes and the person seeking a name change does not have certain criminal convictions. Criminal convictions that will bar a request for a name change include murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault and robbery.

If requesting a name change of a minor and the other parent does not agree with the name change, the court will decide after hearing from the parties based on whether the request for name change is in the child’s best interests. The party requesting the name change has the burden of proof and must convince the court how the requested change would serve the child’s best interests.

Adoption will establish all the legal rights, duties and responsibilities as exist for natural born children between the adoptee and the prospective parent(s). Those rights and duties include, but are not limited to, the right of the child to inherit through you and your family, the legal obligation to financially support the child, the right of the child to seek support from you, the principle that these rights and duties would continue if you and your spouse separate or divorce as well as if the child develops any physical, psychological problems or becomes ill or disabled for any reason in the future.

At the final adoption hearing, your attorney and/or the Judge will confirm whether you understand the legal consequence of finalizing the adoption matter. A final adoption decree is issued following a successful hearing. Subsequent to receipt of the decree and barring any legal appeal, adoption is permanent and cannot be undone. Parties may elect to add the child to their health insurance or other benefits once the adoption is finalized and they can provide proof of their legally recognized parent-child relationship. The birth certificate for the child can also be updated at this time.  By April M. Townsend

There are a number of costs involved in a divorce action. The total amount of expenses will vary depending on the nature of the divorce. For example, a simple divorce with no assets or children will have different costs than a case where there are minor children and assets to divide. With children, custody and child support may need to be addressed as well. When there are assets, equitable distribution should be raised. Other filings that may be necessary depending on your circumstances can include a request for special relief in terms of asking the court to take immediate action on an emergent situation or intervene on an interim basis. Each county will determine which pleadings require a filing fee as well as the amount. On average, it can be several hundred dollars just in filing fees.

In addition to filing fees, you should work with an experienced family law attorney to ensure your divorce and related issues are handled properly. Most attorneys will charge by the hour for the time they spend working on your case. To that end, this expense can also fluctuate quite a bit depending on the nature of your case and whether everything goes smoothly and all parties cooperate versus if it is particularly contentious and additional litigation is required. A retainer is the initial deposit you pay to your attorney to get started. Your attorney will then subtract their hourly charges from the retainer as the case moves forward. You can help manage the costs by being organized and providing requested information to your attorney in a timely manner.  By April M. Townsend


If you are adopting a minor child, a name change can be accomplished as part of the adoption. Specifically, the final adoption decree can include the desired new name for the child. The first, middle and last name is subject to change where desired. The certified adoption decree along with vital records request form can be used to change the child’s name on their birth certificate as well as social security records. Vital records does assess a cost for a new birth certificate.

You may also accomplish a name change through adoption where the adoptee is an adult. In this case, you will also need to meet the requirements required for a civil name change. The adoptee must be fingerprinted and submit the fingerprint card to the court with the adoption petition. The adoptee will also need to supply record checks from the Prothonotary, Clerk of Court, and Recorder of Deeds for each county of residence for five (5) years prior to your filing at the time of the adoption hearing. Finally, notice of the adoption hearing date must be published in a newspaper of general circulation within the county as well as the local Law Reporter regarding the proposed name change. Proof publication should be provided to the court at the time of the adoption hearing. By April Townsend

A spouse can elect to retake his or her maiden name during a divorce. In Pennsylvania, pursuant to 54 P.S. § 504, “any person who is divorced from the bonds of matrimony may resume any prior surname used by him or her by filing a written notice to such effect in the office of the clerk of the court in which the decree of divorce was entered, showing the caption and docket number of the proceeding in divorce.” It is also possible to request to retake your maiden name while the divorce is still pending in Bucks County. There is a $9 filing fee payable to the court for the certified copies of the name change decree.

For New Jersey, you may also elect to retake your maiden name in the context of your divorce. Good practice is to include the request to retake your maiden name in the initial complaint. You can amend the complaint subsequently or even request the relief orally prior to your final divorce judgment. If you are looking to resume your maiden name after the divorce has been finalized, you must file a post-judgment motion with the court. There is a $50 filing fee. This process is still simpler than doing a civil name change.

Once you have the signed/certified Order granting the name change, you can take the Order to your local Social Security Office, Department of Motor Vehicles, banks, etc. to effectuate the actual change of name.