Divorce proceedings often include a process for dividing marital property, establishing legal and physical custody of children, and support (child or spousal). States have different laws with regards to the substantive aspects of divorce and related proceedings as well as the procedures within the court system. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview the procedure related to a Montgomery County, PA divorce.
Step 1: Filing the Divorce Complaint
The divorce complaint starts the process. In the complaint, the party seeking the divorce (the plaintiff) will typically allege that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” unless the plaintiff believes that circumstances existed during the marriage that could lead to divorce grounds through the “fault” of the other party. Fault based grounds would include abuse, adultery, and the like. Most divorces proceed under the no-fault section of the divorce code which means that a divorce can take place after 90 days if both parties consent or after a 2 year continuous separation. In the complaint, the plaintiff will also set forth claims for custody, division of marital property, support, alimony, attorney fees, and so on.
Step 2: Service of the Divorce Complaint
After the divorce complaint is filed, the complaint must be received by the other spouse (the defendant) through legal service of process. The Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure provide a limited number of methods to effectuate proper service on the defendant.
Step 3: Answering the Divorce Complaint
The defendant may choose to file an answer to the complaint. The answer may set forth counterclaims. The defendant usually makes this determination after discussion with his or her attorney.
Step 4: Discovery
For matters such as alimony, equitable distribution, counsel fees and expenses, and complex support proceedings, both parties to the divorce are entitled to conduct discovery. In most instances, discovery is allowed without leave of court; however, leave of court is required for discovery on matters such as child custody. Discovery usually includes written interrogatories served on the other party and/or a request for production of documents. In many divorce proceedings, when both parties are represented by counsel, the parties often freely exchange information without the formal need for discovery. This usually saves the parties time and money and keeps things amicable.
Step 5: Obtaining the Final Divorce Decree
In order to receive a final divorce decree, the plaintiff must establish grounds for divorce. This will depend on whether both parties consent to the divorce; whether there has been a 2 year continuous separation; or whether a court, after hearing testimony, believes that fault based grounds exist.
The above outline seems pretty simple and in many divorce proceedings, the process is quick and easy; however, in the vast majority of cases, the process is not so simple. The above process does not take into account the other matters such as equitable distribution of marital property, custody rights, support and alimony, etc.
For example, if the parties have marital property, under Pennsylvania law, the marital property should be equitably divided. In Montgomery County, the parties are free to negotiate a settlement of the marital property or the parties would have to endure the process. Once the grounds for divorce have been established, if the parties cannot agree on an equitable division of marital property, the case will go before an equitable distribution master. This usually takes 4-6 months. The master will review all of the information and the master will express his/her views. The parties can either accept the recommendation or proceed to a hearing with the master. The master will hear testimony, including experts. The master will then issue a report detailing a resolution with regards to all claims raised. The parties can either accept it or they can file exceptions. When exceptions are filed by either the party, the case then goes before a judge for a trial.
For child custody, Montgomery County, PA has a series of steps including mediation and seminar, conciliation conference, and then trial before a judge.
Divorce Attorneys in Montgomery County, PA
These steps provide a broad overview of the challenges of a Montgomery County, PA divorce and related proceedings. They also illustrate the importance of hiring a divorce attorney with experience in Montgomery County, PA in order to prepare and provide effective representation for a simple divorce or a complex divorce that includes the related proceedings such as equitable distribution of marital property and custody.