Frequently Asked Questions
Q: My spouse and I are divorcing. We are very civil to each other and don't have any children so why should I see an attorney?
A: It is great that you and your spouse are civil while you are splitting up. I hope it will continue to be that way. An attorney can assist you in filing the appropriate papers and alert you to rights and/or responsibilities you may have regarding support, property division, alimony, retirement benefits, etc. If differences develop you may opt to mediate, rather than litigate those issues. See my article, "Reader's Counsel: Mediating a Divorce" page on this web site.
Q: I’ve been hearing about a “collaborative” process to get a divorce. Is it different from mediation? Are you qualified to do a collaborative case?
A: The collaborative process is relatively new in our area. As a member of the Collaborative Family Law Affiliates working in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, I am qualified and am doing cases using the collaborative model.
The process is similar to mediation: it is child-friendly and controlled by the needs and interests of the family; it is less formal and generally less costly than litigation; the parties commit to full financial disclosure. As in mediation the parties may consult with the same child specialists and financial advisors in the interest of avoiding the expense and the polarizing effect of dueling experts. Coaches are available to help participants engage in an open, honest process to end their marriage, resolve their family-related conflicts, and support their children’s welfare.
Unlike mediation, the parties attend meetings with their collaboratively trained attorneys. There is no third party neutral in attendance to facilitate the discussions. In a collaborative case both the attorneys and the divorcing spouses sign a contract committing to keep the case out of court and to make a full financial disclosure.
Q: Am I receiving too little child support?
Am I paying too much child support?
A: Support payments are primarily based upon the combined incomes of both parties and each parent's proportional share of the income. Pennsylvania has developed guidelines to help determine the proportion to be attributed to each party based on his and her incomes and/or earning capacity. There can also be payments to cover day care and other expenses. Please see my "Sample Cases" for more information. In addition, searching the web with the words "Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines" will lead you to the guidelines and other information about support.
Q: Is it possible to have my marriage annulled?
A: A religious annulment is different from a legal annulment and it would be necessary to speak with the head of your place of worship. A legal annulment relates only to your secular status. In order to have a marriage legally annulled certain criteria must be met. Grounds for legal annulment might include a party already married on the date of your marriage, under the legal age of consent and parental consent was not given, or a party lacked the physical capacity to be married or was unable to give consent due to mental incapacity. It is important to examine the circumstances surrounding your particular situation. Due to the expense of having a hearing to determine the validity of the marriage parties seeking an annulment often opt for a consent divorce - one which requires the agreement of both parties.
Q: The mother of my child and I were never married; does this effect my rights to custody of my daughter?
A: If paternity is established, fathers certainly have custody rights too. Circumstances vary greatly regarding custody (i.e., children's and parents' needs as well as schedules) so, if are able, you will want to look into the medical, spiritual and educational care the child is receiving. It is also wise to consult with a child psychologist who may be able to help you to decide the best plan of action for your child and for you. The standard for determination of custody is "best interests of the child" - which is somewhat subjective and very fact sensitive. Try to think in terms of reasons why it is best for your child to spend more time with you or why it may be better to spend more time with her mother.
Q: I don't like the way my sister raises her children - they run wild and miss a lot of school. What can I do about it?
A: If the children have never actually lived with you - if you have not stood in loco parentis - you may not be able to be heard in court due to lack of standing. Your only realistic recourse (assuming the family is not cooperating to help your sister and your nieces and nephews) would be to report her to your local equivalent of Child Protective Services, often known as Children and Youth Services (different states and counties use different names.) The toll-free number in Pennsylvania to report neglect or abuse is 1-866-470-3928. Please see also in my Sample Cases: Third Party Custody.
Q: I've been working for the same company for 20 years but was married only 5 of those years. My wife says my pension is all marital property and she is entitled to a share of it. Is this true?
A: In Pennsylvania pensions are property subject to equitable distribution. The property subject to distribution, however, is only the property deemed to be "marital property" (basically property acquired during the marriage). The court would apply a coverture fraction to determine the amount of your pension that is marital property. In your example, assuming the accuracy of the dates of marriage and service, the coverture fraction would be 5/20 or 1/4 or 25%.
Q: Am I entitled to 50% of my husband's bank account when our property is divided in our divorce?
A: That is really a two-part question. First, the basic rule is that if it was acquired after the date of marriage and before the date of separation it is presumed to be "marital property" subject to equitable distribution by the court. There are a few exceptions to that basic rule (inheritances, gifts from somebody other than your spouse, for instance) but if those things became more valuable during the marriage that "increase in value" is marital property. Second, the distribution of property is not necessarily 50-50. Pennsylvania is an "equitable distribution" not "equal distribution" state. What is "equitable" is based upon a list of factors found in Pennsylvania's Divorce Code. So, if the factors are in your favor, you could be entitled to even more than 50% of the account.
Q: My wife and I live in Altoona and I want to get a divorce there. Can you help me?
A: While I am licensed to practice law throughout Pennsylvania, my office is located in eastern Chester County. It is probably not practical for me to take your case. You might want to contact your local or Pennsylvania Bar Association (1-800-932-0311) and ask for their referral service.
For a further explanation of any of the above answers or if you have a question of your own please contact Susan V. Edwards through by visiting our Contact Us page, or at 610.725.0733.