The Martin Law Firm, P.C. focuses on family law and divorce law in Montgomery County, PA and the surrounding southeastern Pennsylvania region. We are honest, and we strive to meet your needs during this challenging time. Our top priority in these matters is being available to you when you need us. Whether an unexpected issue arises, you receive a communication from your spouse that you need to discuss, you want a case status, or you just need reassurance regarding a particular course of action, we are always a phone call or email away.
Many firms offer a “free consultation.” A free consultation sounds good, but a free consultation will not include a detailed, substantive discussion on your particular situation. Over the years, we have found that individuals contemplating divorce or who have been served with a divorce complaint want two things: 1) an honest discussion with an experienced attorney who can provide initial guidance and information that relates specifically to the individual’s situation and 2) an opportunity to meet with and evaluate a divorce lawyer before hiring him or her for representation.
We believe that a reasonable and affordable initial consultation in our office with one of our attorneys is best suited to accomplish your goals. When you call, we will arrange an immediate appointment for you. This appointment will be a fixed fee of $300 for up to one-hour with a divorce lawyer. During this initial consultation, we will:
- Obtain information from you regarding your marriage, separation, and children.
- Discuss your financial situation including your income, your spouse’s income, your assets and debts, and living expenses.
- Discuss your goals and objectives.
- Listen to your questions and provide you with answers.
- We will discuss Pennsylvania law, substantive and procedural, that relate to your situation so that you understand the divorce process and the legal issues.
- We will talk about an initial case strategy and determine how to achieve your goals effectively and efficiently.
- We will discuss our fees and estimates for handling your case.
There is no further obligation unless you want to retain us to assist you. Either way, you will receive valuable information that will help you decide what is best for you. Arrange an appointment today by calling 215-687-4053.
Pennsylvania Policy For Marriage Dissolution
Pennsylvania recognizes that the family is the basic unit in society and the protection and preservation of the family is of paramount public concern. Therefore, the Pennsylvania legislature established a set of policies regarding the dissolution of marriage.
The policies are as follows:
- Make the law for legal dissolution of marriage effective for dealing with the realities of matrimonial experience.
- Encourage and effect reconciliation and settlement of differences between spouses, especially when children are involved.
- Give primary consideration to the welfare of the family rather than the vindication of private rights or the punishment of matrimonial wrongs.
- Mitigate the harm to the spouses and their children caused by the legal dissolution of marriage.
- See causes rather than symptoms of family disintegration and cooperate with and utilize the resources available to deal with family problems.
- Bring about economic justice between parties who are divorced or separated and grant or withhold alimony according to the actual need and ability to pay of the parties and ensure a fair and just determination and settlement of their property rights.
The Pennsylvania Divorce Code
Pennsylvania has established a set of laws (the PA Divorce Code) in order for individuals to seek dissolution of a marriage in a fair, orderly fashion, taking into consideration the complexities of children and property. The PA Divorce Code sets forth, in great detail, laws with respect to how a party can establish the grounds for divorce, requirements to proceed with a divorce, counseling, annulments, property rights, equitable division of marital property, alimony and support, and mediation.
Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws
Pennsylvania has also established a set of laws (PA Child Custody Laws) for dissolution of marriages or separations that involve children. The PA Child Custody Laws specify the types of physical and legal custody and provisions for establishing custody, effects of criminal convictions, counseling and relocations.
Case Law – Court Options
The PA Divorce Code and the PA Child Custody Laws often do not provide clear answers to particular situations. When this happens, the courts get involved. Judges will hear testimony and evidence for divorce cases, child custody cases, division of property cases, and will sometimes render written decisions including their opinions as to how they arrived at their decisions. Those opinions will apply to that particular case, and the decision will have a direct effect on the parties involved. Moreover, these opinions are often followed by other judges in subsequent cases with similar circumstances. Therefore, it is extremely important for individuals seeking dissolution of a marriage to retain the assistance of legal counsel with experience in divorce matters.
Pennsylvania Divorce Lawyers
The experienced divorce attorneys at The Martin Law Firm know the PA Divorce Code and the PA Child Custody Laws, and they stay current with new court rulings and trends in the family law arena. The Martin Law Firm attorneys will use this knowledge and expertise to help their clients make important decisions throughout the divorce process. With proper guidance, the attorneys can help their clients avoid risks of court intervention, expedite the process through written agreements, and save their clients time and money.
In order to file for a divorce in Pennsylvania, three basic requirements must be met: 1) residency; 2) grounds upon which the divorce is sought; and 3) counseling.
Pennsylvania law requires that an action for divorce or annulment be commenced in Pennsylvania only when one or both of the parties to the divorce has been a bona fide resident in Pennsylvania for at least six months immediately previous to the commencement of the divorce or annulment action. Once the residency requirement is established, the spouse who is filing for divorce must bring the proceeding in the appropriate county. A divorce or annulment action may be brought in the county:
- where the defendant resides.
- where the plaintiff resides, if the defendant resides outside of Pennsylvania.
- where the couple made their matrimonial home if the plaintiff has continuously resided in that county.
- where the plaintiff resides, if it’s been less than six months since the date of final separation and the defendant agrees.
- where either party resides if, after six months, neither party continues to reside in the county of matrimonial domicile.
Grounds For Divorce In PA
The filing party in a divorce action (Plaintiff) must allege one of the following sufficient grounds for divorce that, if proven, will allow a court to grant the divorce.
The court may grant a divorce to the Plaintiff, if the other spouse (Defendant) has: 1) committed willful and malicious desertion, and absence from habitation of the injured and innocent spouse, without a reasonable cause, for the period of one or more years; 2) committed adultery; 3) by cruel and barbarous treatment, endangered the life or health of the injured and innocent spouse; 4) knowingly entered into a bigamous marriage while a former marriage is still subsisting; 5) been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of two or more years upon conviction of having committed a crime; or 6) offered such indignities to the innocent or injured spouse as to render that spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome.
The court may grant a divorce upon the ground that insanity or serious mental disorder has resulted in confinement in a mental institution for at least 18 months immediately before the commencement of the action and where there is no reasonable prospect that the spouse will be discharged from inpatient care during the 18 months subsequent to the commencement of the action.
- Mutual Consent.
The court may grant a divorce where it is alleged that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” and 90 days have elapsed from the date of the commencement of an action and an affidavit has been filed by each of the parties evidencing that each of them consents to the divorce.
- Irretrievable Breakdown.
The Court may grant a divorce where a complaint has been filed alleging that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” and an affidavit has been filed alleging that the parties have lived separate and apart for a period of at least one year and that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the defendant either 1) does not deny the allegations set forth in the affidavit or 2) denies one or more of the allegations but, after notice and hearing, the court determines that the parties have lived separate and apart for a period of at least one year and the marriage is irretrievably broken.
If either party to the divorce action requests counseling, the court shall require a maximum of three counseling sessions.
- Mutual Consent.
If a party request counseling, the court shall require up to three counseling sessions within the 90 days following the commencement of the action.
- Irretrievable Breakdown.
Whenever the court orders a continuation period, the court shall require up to a maximum of three counseling sessions within the time period where either of the parties requests it or may require such counseling where the parties have at least one child under 16 years of age.
The divorce requirements must be strictly adhered to by the courts and the parties involved in the divorce. These are just the basic requirements and highlight the need by the parties to retain experienced divorce attorneys.
Divorce Contested V. Uncontested
Divorce cases can be simple, meaning the parties to the divorce do not have minor children and very few assets. Divorce cases can also be more complex, meaning the case involves minor children, division of substantial assets, alimony and child support. Whether the divorce is simple or complex, the divorcing couple may be able to resolve the issues through a negotiated settlement. When this occurs, divorce lawyers often refer to this as an uncontested divorce. Alternatively, when the divorcing couple cannot reach a settlement, the court must intervene. This is often referred to as a contested divorce.
For most couples seeking a dissolution of marriage, an uncontested divorce is the preferred option. When the parties are able to settle their differences by agreement, the divorce process is usually quicker and less costly to both parties. The couple does not have to be amicable towards one another in order to negotiate and agree on the various matters. They just have to be practical. If both parties approach divorce analytically not emotionally, they can make calculated decisions that are in the best interests of their children, their finances, and themselves.
If the parties cannot resolve the issues by agreement, then Pennsylvania and local laws will provide them with access to the legal system to determine the unresolved matters. This is less desirable because the legal system can take time. The divorcing couple will each need a divorce lawyer to help them navigate through the process and to help them make important decisions along the way. Contested divorces often result in higher costs and legal fees. It is common for amicable parties to a divorce to have a contested divorce because they have a genuine disagreement about a very important issue. For example, in high net worth divorces, the parties may have a different opinion as to whether a party is entitled to alimony or a higher percentage of the assets.
The Divorce Lawyer
Parties to a divorce should always hire a divorce lawyer for representation throughout the process, whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. If the divorce is uncontested, it is extremely important for the parties to sign a property settlement agreement, custody agreement, or support agreement. As with any contract, the settlement between the parties should be comprehensive and detailed enough to avoid future misunderstandings or conflict. A divorce lawyer can draft the necessary agreements to make sure that the agreements are legal. For contested divorces, a divorce lawyer can not only help the client navigate through the process and make decisions, but the divorce lawyer can prepare a case for trial to increase the likelihood of success. Divorce lawyers know what evidence needs to be submitted to prove their side of the case.
Complex Divorce – The High Net Worth
Divorce cases with high net worth individuals are often more complicated than other cases simply because of the issues of equitable division of marital property and alimony. In Pennsylvania, divorcing couples have rights to marital property. Divorce lawyers must review all of the assets to determine which assets are considered marital property, the value of the property, and how that property should be equitably divided. In high net worth cases, this process can be challenging due to a number of factors.
Types Of Assets
High net worth individuals usually have different types of assets that must be equitably divided. These cases involve such assets as:
- Family businesses
- Business ventures
- Bank accounts
- Stock options
- Stocks and bonds
- 401(k)s, IRAs, pensions and other retirement accounts
- Family trusts
- Enhanced earnings
- Professional licenses and degrees
- Executive interests
- Insurance policies
- Lottery winnings
Since equitable division of marital property does not mean equal division, determining the types of assets involved in these cases is the first step. This is a crucial step since a spouse may try to hide assets. An experienced divorce lawyer will use written interrogatories and requests for production of documents that the other spouse will be required to answer. If necessary, a separate investigation can be utilized to search for hidden assets.
Determining the value of the assets is the next step in the process. Determining an exact value can be difficult. Often, it is necessary to hire financial experts, business valuation experts, accountants, real estate appraisers, and others who have the credentials necessary to properly determine values and who can testify in court, if necessary.
Transferring assets by way of divorce will almost certainly have tax consequences. These tax consequences must be fully understood prior to any division or distribution so that the tax impact can be mitigated to the extent possible and so that the net impact on the asset transfer to an individual will not be reduced as a result of the taxes on the transfer.
The final step in the process is to determine how to equitably divide the assets using the equitable division factors that are set forth in the PA Divorce Code. These factors include the length of the marriage, sources of income of both parties, and standard of living established during the marriage.
Complex Does Not Mean Adversarial
Not all divorces are adversarial. Even though divorce may involve complex decisions and determinations involving property rights, it does not mean that the parties to the divorce must fight with each other every step through the process. Complex property issues can be resolved by agreement of the parties just like any other divorce case. Good faith disputes as to the value of an asset or how the assets should be divided are common, and these cases can sometimes be resolved through mediation. If all else fails, then these matters are decided by a court after presentation of evidence and testimony. Whether a case is resolved by agreement, mediation or court intervention, high net worth cases must be diligently prepared by an experienced divorce lawyer.