Divorce and Support Divorce Divorce is more than a personal and family challenge. It is a serious legal transaction which has long-term ramifications, both financially and for family members. The experienced divorce attorneys at Mooney & Associates, Attorneys at Law, in York, Adams and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, assist clients through all aspects and phases of divorce, skillfully and compassionately. Legally, a divorce includes the following components: Equitable distribution of assets Division of debts Child custody orders: sole physical and/or legal custody, or shared parenting via joint custody or split custody Child support orders Spousal support (also called spousal maintenance or alimony) The process of a divorce from beginning to end usually includes the following: Petition Summons and response Motions Discovery Hearings and temporary orders Trial Judgment When spouses agree in writing, this process may be simplified. Family courts help ensure that children’s best interests are fully taken into account. Whether by trial or by alternative methods of settlement such as mediation, the divorce lawyers of Mooney & Associates, Attorneys at Law, protect clients’ rights and interests, including parental rights and property rights. We address complexities such as pension and higher education expenses knowledgeably and efficiently. Our divorce law firm attorneys will take the time to thoroughly explain all relevant laws, processes, and options as they relate to your individual circumstances. We encourage you to participate as much as possible in the decision-making in your divorce. Divorce and issues surrounding divorce are a significant part of our family law practice. The divorce itself, whether it be settled or goes to trial, requires experience to spot and resolve issues as well as skillful negotiations. The attorneys at Mooney & Associates, Attorneys at Law, can assist in obtaining spousal support or alimony issues. We can also help determine when spousal maintenance is appropriate and the duration of the support. Contemplating divorce is always difficult. Whether you are unsure you want to end your marriage or are still considering the options, it helps to learn the basics of divorce law and the process. Should you conclude that divorce is necessary, it is very important that you seek assistance of an experienced family law attorney. Involving Mooney & Associates, knowledgeable family law attorneys, as soon as possible in the divorce process is one of the best ways to preserve your own long-term financial and emotional health. A divorce is a process of terminating a marriage contract between two individuals. A divorce will give each person the legal right to marry someone else, divide the couple’s assets and debts, and determine the future care and custody of their minor children. While each state has individual statutes which address these issues differently, the basic principles that the states follow when considering a request for divorce are relatively uniform. In the majority of states there is at least one form of a “no fault” divorce. No fault divorce is a marital termination proceeding where the divorce is granted without either party being required to show fault. In no fault states, either party may obtain a divorce even if the other spouse does not consent to the divorce. Pennsylvania has a no fault divorce statute. Other states require that you give a legal reason in order to get a divorce. These are called fault-based divorces. Each state will have a statute which specifically defines the different types of fault which must be proven in order to establish the requested marital termination. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, both fault and no fault divorce grounds are available. An experienced attorney can help you determine if you should pursue a fault based or no fault based divorce. Typically a fault based divorce is pursued when a couple cannot reach a satisfactory division of their property, award of support or child custody agreement, and one party wants the court to consider the conduct of the other party when deciding the issue. Whatever the issue, the decision to pursue a fault based divorce should be based on legal rather than emotional reasons. Before a divorce is granted there are usually five basic issues which must be resolved: 1) alimony or spousal support, 2) property division, and if there are children: 3) custody, 4) visitation, and 5) child support. If a couple agrees on all five of these issues in writing, they will be granted an uncontested divorce and avoid the controversial divorce litigation. If there is a disagreement on any of the basic issues, a contested, divorce exists. When a divorce is contested, the couple may proceed through all phases of litigation including trial before a family court judge. The couple may also voluntarily seek alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation. It is important to consult with an attorney before deciding which method is right for your situation. The actual legal process for obtaining a divorce varies by state. However, most marital termination proceedings usually include some version of the following components: A Petition (the filing of some form of petition document formally initiating a divorce proceeding). A Summons & Response (a formal notice to your spouse about your intent to pursue the court action to obtain a legal divorce, and a response is the other parties’ acknowledgment that the divorce procedure has begun). Motions (a formal request to the court for an order of some type of action before the trial and throughout the divorce process — including motions regarding protection against domestic abuse). Discovery (the proceeding whereby each side gathers information to support their legal arguments through depositions and interrogatories). Hearings and Temporary Orders. Trial (which may include witnesses, friends, financial experts, and psychologists). Judgment (the decision of the court which rules on the issues in questions such as custody, visitation, support, and property division). Most states use an equitable distribution system to divide the property of the divorcing spouses. Each state has its own rules and procedures for doing so. States that use an equitable distribution system attempt to divide the property fairly between the parties. That doesn’t mean that it will be a 50/50 split on all of the property. Rather the goal is to achieve an equitable or fair distribution of the property. The court will divide the couple’s assets in a way it deems fair for the particular circumstances of the case. Generally property will be classified as joint assets and separate property. Joint assets are those held or considered to be held by both parties. Separate property includes property each spouse had before the marriage or acquired during the marriage by gift or inheritance, including personal injury damage awards. In order to establish that something is separate property, it must have stayed within the exclusive ownership and control of one spouse which can be very difficult to prove. If separate property is combined with joint property, the court may conclude the property among the other property to be divided upon divorce. There are several factors used by the courts to determine how to arrive at an equitable distribution of the property. They will look at the spouses monetary and non-monetary contribution to the marriage. The courts will value the contribution of a spouse who stayed at home to raise the children and the value of the spouse who works so that the other spouse can obtain a professional degree. They will look at the whole picture to arrive at a fair solution. The equitable distribution of property will usually become one of the most contentious issues in a divorce. In order to enter a divorce decree in Pennsylvania before resolving the economical issues requiring a bifurcation of the two issues, one party must prove a compelling reason for the bifurcation. In order to assure that your interests are being adequately protected you need the advise and assistance of an experienced family law attorney. The attorneys at Mooney & Associates, Attorneys at Law, can protect your interests in this regard. Alimony or Alimony Pendente Lite Alimony, also known as spousal support or maintenance, is a financial support paid by one spouse to another. Each state determines alimony differently. You should consult with an attorney to determine which factors will be considered when deciding if and how much and to whom alimony will be paid in your case. There are essentially three types of alimony: permanent, restitutional, and rehabilitative. Alimony is an allowance for support and maintenance such as food, clothing, housing, and all necessities of a spouse. When a spouse requests permanent alimony they must establish that they have a need for support and that their spouse has sufficient means and abilities to provide for all of that need. Restitutional and rehabilitative alimony are paid for shorter periods of time. Rehabilitative alimony is to provide a means necessary to enable a spouse to refresh or enhance job skills necessary in order to become self-sufficient by providing financial support while the spouse is obtaining the necessary skills. Restitutional and rehabilitative alimony are usually paid for a shorter period of time. The types of factors the courts consider vary from state to state but may include the length of the marriage, the parties’ financial conditions after the property division, the parties’ ages, health, and physical conditions, the educational opportunities foregone by each party, the employment and foregone employment by each party, and the skills and time necessary for the dependent party to become self sufficient. Unfortunately alimony is a difficult issue to be successfully resolved in a divorce because it addresses the on-going lifestyles of both parties. Reaching the decision to end a marriage is enormously difficult, but once you make that decision it is in your best interest to approach the divorce process from a rational, business-like perspective. It is extraordinarily difficult, given the emotional issues which you must also resolve. It is important that you work with an attorney who is experienced in family law in order to ease your stress and get you through this stage in order to begin a new life. Child Support In our country there are more than 13 million divorced parents with children under the age of 21. Typically one of the parents has physical custody and relies on child support paid by the other parent. Statistics show that when all child support is paid as agreed to in the divorce decree, both parents remain involved with their children, and the children usually have an acceptable standard of living. Conversely, when child support is not paid, custodial parents and their children are at risk for financial turmoil. Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of divorced single parents and their children do not receive child support and live below established poverty levels. Therefore, enforcing the obligation to pay child support is a national priority. Federal legislation and uniform state laws exist to make enforcement and collection of child support easier. Each state has different guidelines for establishing child support, and there are various methods in the law that exist to recover the support owed. If you are ending a marriage, already divorced or are trying to make your child’s other parent legally responsible, it is important to consult with a competent family law attorney. The attorneys at Mooney & Associates, Attorneys at Law have experience in the area of child support, and will help you understand Pennsylvania laws for child support collection and enforcement which apply to your particular situation. Each child’s biological parents have a legal obligation to financially support the child. That obligation lasts until the child reaches the age of maturity (depending on state law, 18 or 21), marries, joins the military, or becomes self-supporting. When parents live together, the level of financial support provided is generally not questioned. When parents divorce or are unmarried, the parent who does not live with the child is normally obligated to pay child support. Support is owed whether the child lives with their other parent or a third party and whether or not the person with whom the child lives can afford to support the child on their own. Support may be owed even if parents share custody. Each state has adopted a set of guidelines for determining child support. Family courts use those guidelines to establish the amount of support a parent pays. Some states allow courts to make adjustments to the amounts the state guidelines indicate. Most courts, however, tend to closely follow the amounts the guidelines establish, unless something in the case indicates the need for a change. Support guidelines generally fall into one of three categories. Each uses a difference approach in order to establish the amount of support though they all consider the needs of the child. Provisions for medical costs and insurance are generally added to the basic amount suggested by the state guidelines. The attorneys at Mooney & Associates, Attorneys at Law, can show you the method used by Pennsylvania courts to establish your support obligation. Whatever approach is used, the court looks at a variety of sources to determine the paying parents income and ability to pay. Income may include wages and investments (stocks and pensions), government payments, and benefits (disability, social security, veteran unemployment payments), goods and services that come with a job or are given by family members, friends or new spouses, gifts and inheritances, income from rental property and overtime, seasonal or part-time second jobs. People who receive welfare payments or who are unemployed without wages will usually be ordered to make a small monthly payment. The court may assign an income different than the one the paying parent appears to have if the court believes that the paying parent is capable of higher earnings. Support payments generally begin when a family court enters an order requiring payment of support. In divorce, child support will be set on a temporary basis at an early hearing following the initial request for divorce. The parties may agree on the amount of the temporary and permanent support. Otherwise, the amount of support will be determined as part of its overall decision in the divorce and a permanent order for child support will be binding. When parents have never married, the custodial parent may petition for support from the non-custodial parent. As part of that proceeding, DNA tests may be ordered to establish paternity if paternity is contested. Support payments are due at specific times each month. In most states the paying parent must make their payments to a child support registry. The registry then forwards the payment to the custodial parent and keeps track of payments that are made. When child support payments are owed but not paid, a variety of measures exist to collect past due amounts and protect against future non-payment. Most states have laws that allow a family court judge to suspend professional or business licenses, take away driver and recreational licenses, require payments of future owed sums in advance or place non-paying parents in jail. All states have created offices of Child Support Enforcement. These state agencies are regulated by the federal government and have the power and tools to locate responsible parents for enforcement of support orders. Additionally, when the amount of support owed exceeds a certain level and the responsible party resides in a different state, the federal government has the right to bring criminal charges against the parent under the federal Child Support Recovery Act. Some states have rules that require a regular review of ongoing child support awards. Either parent may ask the court to recalculate the amount of support if the parent can show a substantial change in circumstances. Parents receiving child support may be able to increase the support they receive when the paying parent’s income goes up, especially if the current arranged support ordered is not sufficient to meet their child’s needs. Support may also be increased on a basis of a child’s specific needs for things such as tutoring, medical treatment or therapy. Paying parents may be able to decrease the amount of future support payments if they lose their job, have a reduction in income or when the custodial parent’s income increases. Federal laws limit states from forgiving past due child support payments. Courts are reluctant to reduce child support awards, and paying parents may have an earning capacity imputed to them, whether or not their actual earnings reflect that amount. The attorneys of Mooney & Associates, Attorneys at Law, have vast experience in the area of child support and custody, and will assist a parent in obtaining an order for the appropriate amount of child support and assist in making sure that the order is enforced. We represent either parent in a support modification proceeding or in a proceeding to establish or disprove paternity. Because the well-being of children is at stake, child support issues are the paramount concern, and the assistance of Mooney & Associates, Attorneys at Law, experienced family law attorneys is essential to the process.