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My marriage is ending. What do I need to know about divorce?

By Janice Ramin Yaw

The decision to end a marriage isn’t one that is taken lightly, and the divorce process can be confusing, emotional, and difficult on many members of the family. While some spouses can settle disputes without acrimony, most divorce proceedings encounter some challenges. The three main areas where attorneys can help are: identifying and dividing assets, establishing child custody, and determining spousal and child support.

Marital Assets

Divorce requires that the property shared by the couple is divided. With some exceptions, most property acquired during the marriage is subject to equitable distribution. This does not mean that each spouse will receive equal shares; it means that the property and debts will be divided according to what’s deemed to be fair by the court.

Property can include real estate, vehicles, furniture, savings and investment accounts, and businesses. Debt, including credit cards, student loans, and more, will also be divided among the spouses. Your attorney will help you identify property and debt, and will help you receive the most fair and beneficial distribution of assets.

Child Custody

Children are greatly affected by divorce, and parents usually try to protect the children from experiencing more trauma than necessary. In many cases, parents can agree on custody arrangements, sometimes with the help of attorneys and mediators. In other cases, the court will intervene and determine custody at its discretion, based on what is perceived to be in the child’s best interest.

There are two types of custody that must be determined: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody is awarded to the parent with whom the child will live most of the time. Legal custody involves the right to make important decisions impacting the child, including child care, schooling, religion, health care, and more. It is possible for one parent to have physical custody, but still share legal custody. In this case, the parent with physical custody must make important decisions in conjunction with the other parent.

To award physical custody, the court will consider, among other factors:

  • The child’s wishes, if the child is old enough to express a preference
  • Each parent’s willingness to encourage and allow access to the other parent
  • Continuation of a stable home environment
  • Support systems, including interaction with extended family
  • Health of the parents
  • Cultural considerations
  • Relationships with other household members
  • Education and community opportunities
  • Evidence of abuse on behalf of either parent

Spousal Support/ Alimony

Not all divorce cases involve spousal support, or alimony, but it is sometimes granted. Many factors are taken into consideration when alimony is requested, including the earning capacities of both parties, the ages and health expectancies of both parties, the duration of the marriage, the contribution by one party to the education of the other party, and more. Alimony is awarded after a divorce has been finalized. Spousal support is set by a formula and awarded after separation, but prior to a divorce decree being entered.

Child Support

Pennsylvania child support is based on each parent’s income, which is calculated and verified based on tax returns and pay stubs. Child support amounts can be adjusted when the income of one or both parents changes, or if the needs of the child change, such as during a transition from private to public school.

How We Can Help

I will help you understand your options and fight for what’s best for you, while understanding that this is one of the most difficult times of your life. Contact me today to discuss the unique aspects of your family. My colleagues and I will fight for what’s in your best interest, now and in the future if new challenges arise. Our family law team consists of four attorneys, five paralegals, and one legal secretary. Many of us have experienced divorce first hand and we understand the emotional turmoil you are experiencing.




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