Family Law in Pennsylvania
Family law is a broad legal practice area that covers family relationships. It includes premarital relationships, marriage, adoption, divorce, child custody and other matters related to familial structure.
Other areas that may not readily come to mind, but fall under family law are: protection from abuse (PFAs), domestic violence and child abuse, as well as same-sex marriage and reproductive rights.1
The most common reasons for hiring a family attorney include divorce, child custody and child support, paternity and adoption. This article will broadly cover the history of divorce in the US and Pennsylvania, grounds for divorce, division of marital assets and alimony.
Brief History of Divorce in the US
Legal regulations have governed marriage and divorce in the United States since the country’s inception. These family laws have changed drastically over the years 2.
At the founding of the United States, marriage was nearly insoluble. Generally, divorce was only granted when an “innocent” spouse could prove the fault of the other spouse. Over the years as women’s rights grew, the laws surrounding divorce began to soften.
Divorce rates generally increased throughout the twentieth century. In the 1970’s, states began passing laws to allow “no fault” divorces 3.
In 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Health recorded 59,000 marriages – 10,000 fewer than 2019 - and 29,000 divorces, which is the lowest number since 1972. Both rates are presumed to be lower due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lepley, Engelman, Yaw & Wilk, LLC’s divorce lawyers have practiced all facets of family law for years. Working with an experienced family attorney, like Attorneys Janice Yaw, Jason Lepley and Allison Grady, can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. Contact us today to discuss your needs at (800) 422-5396.
Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania
Divorce legally ends a marriage, divides assets, and settles custody and alimony concerns.
Pennsylvania divorce laws require at least one spouse to be a state resident for at least 6 months before filing for a divorce. There is no waiting period before the divorce is finalized unless the divorce is based on grounds of mutual consent. Mutual consent divorces require a 90-day waiting period in Pennsylvania.
Legal separation is not recognized in Pennsylvania, but it is in some other states. However, there are specific requirements which when met, qualify spouses as being “separated.” This can have a drastic effect on the value of marital assets, so understanding the qualifications is imperative when going through the divorce process.
Pennsylvania divorce laws allow for spouses to cite either a fault-based or no-fault divorce in their Complaint for Divorce.
People may file for a divorce under one of the following grounds:
- Mutual consent or
- Irretrievable Breakdown.
Requirements for filing and obtaining a divorce vary based on the grounds cited, state where the claim is filed and more. This is why using the expertise and guidance of a knowledgeable divorce lawyer can make a significant difference in your divorce experience. Lepley, Engelman, Yaw and Wilk’s family lawyers understand and are sensitive to the many challenges and emotional turmoil that come with a divorce.
Pennsylvania divorce laws state that the Complaint for Divorce paperwork must explain the rationale behind the divorce request. The two no-fault reasons for divorce are mutual consent or irretrievable breakdown.
For a mutual consent divorce, 90 days must have passed since divorce paperwork was filed and a signed affidavit consenting to the divorce must be presented to the court. If the spouse has been convicted of personally injuring the other spouse, consent to the divorce is presumed.
Irretrievable breakdown complaints allege the marriage has broken down beyond repair. The couple must have lived separately for at least a year to obtain an irretrievable breakdown divorce.
A fault-based divorce requires the injured spouse to substantiate proof to the court showing the other spouse’s:
- willful desertion of at least a year without cause,
- cruel or barbarous treatment of the injured spouse,
- bigamy by entering into another marriage while still married,
- a sentence of incarceration of two years or longer or
- forcing the injured spouse to live in intolerable conditions.
There is no waiting period before a fault-based divorce is finalized in Pennsylvania.
Distribution of Marital Assets
Pennsylvania divorce laws dictate that marital property be distributed in a fair and equitable way, but this does not guarantee a 50-50 split. Distribution is based on a number of factors to try to ensure equity, such as the length of the marriage, needs and liabilities of each party, sources of income, contributions by one party to the other, joint property or business, and who will have primary child custody for dependent children.
Property and businesses may be considered marital property when both spouses have jointly purchased or contributed to them. Gifts from one spouse to another are also considered marital property to be divided.
However, gifts from other people besides the spouse or inheritances are not considered marital property – unless they are comingled with marital assets. For this reason, putting large monetary gifts or inheritances in a separate account may be wise if your marriage is going through a difficult time. Pennsylvania family attorneys can provide other helpful guidance to ensure you receive the best outcome.
Debts acquired during a marriage are also the responsibility of both parties, even if accrued by only one spouse. Additionally, if one party refuses to pay their share of the debt as designated by the court, it can affect the credit scores of both people.
Alimony in Pennsylvania is not automatically granted. Instead, spouses must make the case for why they should receive alimony, the amount they should receive and for how long. The purpose of alimony is to equalize the financial resources of the divorcing couple, especially in the case where spouses have unequal earning power and have been married a long time.
Judges are required to follow state laws determining the appropriateness of alimony based on a long list of criteria. The criteria determine how much alimony should be paid, but judges have discretion when setting how it is paid and the duration for which it is paid. Alimony can be temporary or permanent and may be paid in a lump-sum, property transfer or periodic payments.
Alimony ends when the injured spouse collecting alimony remarries, moves in with another person, either spouse dies, or a significant life event occurs and the judge determines alimony is no longer necessary.
Utilizing a divorce lawyer, like Lepley Law’s Attorney Janice Yaw can help you obtain fair and appropriate alimony with her many years of experience and positive case outcomes.
Considering a Divorce – Contact the Family Law Attorneys at Lepley, Engelman, Yaw & Wilk, LLC
If you are considering a divorce, the divorce lawyers and family attorneys at Lepley, Engelman, Yaw and Wilk understand the emotional toll a divorce can bring. Let us help you by relieving the burden of navigating complex divorce proceedings alone. Our knowledgeable and experienced family law attorneys have fought for and won cases for many clients.
Our team of divorce lawyers serves a number of areas in central Pennsylvania including: Clinton County, Columbia County, Lycoming County, Montour County, Northumberland County, Snyder County, Sullivan County, Tioga County, Union County, Canton, Lewisburg, Mansfield, Williamsport and across the state.
We would be honored to be your trusted advisors and advocates through this difficult period of life. Please contact us today.
Contact us today!
1- Legal Dictionary – Family Law - https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Family+Law
2- Principles of US Family Law - https://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1183&context=facpubs
3- The Evolution of the America Family – American Bar Association - https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/human_rights_vol36_2009/summer2009/the_evolution_of_the_american_family/