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FAQs

DIVORCE

Attorney Jennifer Courtney and the attorneys at Courtney Law guide their clients through all aspects of a divorce proceeding.

QUESTION: IS IT TRUE THAT PENNSYLVANIA RESIDENTS CAN NOW OBTAIN A NO-FAULT DIVORCE AFTER A ONE-YEAR SEPARATION WITHOUT THEIR SPOUSE’S CONSENT?

Yes. The Pennsylvania Divorce Code was amended effective December 3, 2016 to allow married persons separating after that date to obtain a no-fault divorce without requiring the consent of their spouse after a one-year separation. The law is not applicable to parties that separated or filed for divorce on or prior to the effective date. Accordingly, parties that separated or filed for divorce on or before December 3, 2016, are still bound by the prior, two-year separation requirement.

For other questions about divorce and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: IF MY SPOUSE FILES FOR DIVORCE BASED UPON A ONE OR TWO-YEAR SEPARATION, HOW DO I PROTECT MY RIGHTS TO RECEIVE MY SHARE OF MARITAL PROPERTY?

When your spouse files for a no-fault divorce based upon a one or two year separation, your spouse must also serve you with both a copy of the Affidavit indicating the alleged date of separation, and a Counter-Affidavit wherein you can contest the date of separation and/or initiate your claim for economic relief. Filing only the Counter-Affidavit, however, will not protect your economic rights. You must also assert your claim by filing either a Counterclaim to the Divorce Complaint or a Petition in which you request specific economic relief, including, but not limited to, the equitable distribution of assets, counsel fees and/or alimony.

For other questions about divorce and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: WHAT IS CONSIDERED THE DATE OF SEPARATION IN PENNSYLVANIA? IS THERE SOMETHING CALLED A”LEGAL SEPARATION”?

            Unlike some states, there is no “legal separation” in Pennsylvania.

For purposes of obtaining a no-fault divorce based upon separation, or for valuing assets, the date of separation is the date the spouses physically separate or the date one spouse files for divorce. Physical separation can occur while spouses continue to reside within the same residence, but not within the same bed. The test is when the spouses stopped behaving like a married couple. This can include no longer attending social activities together, no longer sharing meals or performing chores on behalf of the other, and generally living a “separate life.” Parties can also negotiate a marital settlement agreement that includes an acknowledgment that the marriage is over.

For other questions about divorce and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

ALIMONY

Attorney Jennifer Courtney and the other attorneys at Courtney Law will ensure, if appropriate, that each client pays or receives a proper amount of alimony.

QUESTION: IS THERE ALIMONY IN PENNSYLVANIA?

Yes.

Alimony is a type of financial support that may be granted to a spouse in conjunction with a decree of divorce or annulment. Alimony payments begin after a final decree in divorce or annulment is granted.

Alimony Pendente Lite is a temporary type of financial support that may be granted to a spouse during the pendency of a divorce or annulment proceeding.

Spousal Support is a type of financial support that may be granted to a spouse upon separation.

A spouse cannot collect both spousal support and alimony pendent lite payments concurrently.

For other questions about alimony and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: CAN MY ALIMONY BE TERMINATED BEFORE THE TERM EXPIRES?

Yes. Unless otherwise agreed, alimony terminates upon the death of either party (the payor or recipient), the recipient’s remarriage, or upon cohabitation with a member of the opposite sex, who is not a family member. Case law indicates that a finding of “cohabitation” sufficient to bar the receipt of alimony, requires an intimate or romantic relationship, not just a roommate.

Although the law has not yet addressed cohabitation with a same-sex partner as a bar to the continued receipt of an alimony award, since same-sex couples are now able to marry in Pennsylvania, it is foreseeable that the statutory bar will be amended to include cohabitation with a same sex partner.

For other questions about alimony and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO BE MARRIED TO APPLY FOR ALIMONY? WHAT DOES THE COURT CONSIDER IN AWARDING ALIMONY TO A SPOUSE?

            In Pennsylvania, the length of a marriage is only one factor in determining whether a court enters an award of alimony. The other sixteen factors include, among others, the spouse’s relative earnings and earning capacities; their ages, physical, mental and emotional health; the standard of living established during the marriage; their sources of income; their relative educations, needs and contributions to the marriage, including the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or custodian of a minor child.

For other questions about alimony and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION

Attorney Jennifer Courtney and the other attorneys at Courtney Law will ensure that their clients receive what he/she is entitled to in terms of equitable distribution.

QUESTION: DOES EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF ASSETS MEAN AN EQUAL 50/50 DISTRIBUTION?

No. This is a common misconception. “Equitable” distribution means what is fair and just considering the specific circumstances of the parties.

The relevant factors include: the length of the marriage; the prior marriages of either party; the age, health, sources of income, employability, liabilities and needs of each of the parties; the contribution  by one spouse to the education and increased earning capacity of the other; the opportunity for the future acquisition of assets and income of each party; the sources of income and benefits available to each party; the value of each party’s separate assets and estate; the standard of living established during the marriage; whether either party will be serving as custodian for dependent, minor children; the tax consequences associated with the distribution of assets; the expense of sale or liquidation of particular assets and the contribution to or dissipation of marital assets by either party, including the contribution of a party serving as a homemaker.

For other questions about divorce, equitable distribution and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: WE BOUGHT OUR HOUSE WHILE MARRIED, HOWEVER, I AM NOT LISTED ON THE DEED TO THE HOUSE. AM I STILL ENTITLED TO A SHARE OF ITS VALUE?

            In dividing marital assets, including the “marital residence,” the court looks to when it was acquired rather than in whose name it is titled. If the “marital residence” was purchased during the marriage, it is marital and the equity, if any, subject to equitable distribution between you

For other questions about divorce, equitable distribution and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: MY SPOUSE OWNS AND OPERATES A FAMILY BUSINESS, DO I HAVE ANY CLAIM AGAINST THE VALUE OF THE BUSINESS? HOW IS THE VALUE DETERMINED?

            As with all assets, the court looks to when it was acquired, rather than how it is titled. If the business was started during the marriage, then the business is marital and it will be valued effective the date the assets are distributed. If the business was started prior to marriage, then the court will look to the appreciation in value between the date of marriage and the date of separation. If it is owned with third parties, then both your spouse’s and the marital interest will be valued accordingly.

As to valuation, there are business valuation experts that can be retained to appraise the value of your spouse’s business. Spouses can agree to jointly retain a single expert, or each can retain their own. The cost for such appraisals varies greatly depending on the type of business involved. Before retaining or agreeing to the use of a specific expert, you should investigate and verify the experience of the proposed expert and also screen for any conflicts of interest between the expert and your spouse.

For other questions about divorce, equitable distribution and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: SOMEONE TOLD ME THAT GIFTS BETWEEN SPOUSES GET DIVIDED DURING EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION, IS THAT TRUE? IF SO, I WILL REALLY LOSE BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH WE ALWAYS SPENT THE SAME ON EACH OTHER, I RECEIVED JEWELRY AND MY HUSBAND RECEIVED SEASON TICKETS FOR FOOTBALL.

Unfortunately, you heard correctly. Gifts between spouses are considered marital property. While your jewelry may have retained or appreciated in its value, used sports tickets do not. If, however, your husband owns a stadium builder license, they can be sold for substantial money. The price for a license is set by the seller and when the team is doing well, prices can increase significantly. A license is required to purchase season tickets for the most desirable and premium seating, such as lower level and club seating. Accordingly, it is important that you understand the nature of your husband’s ownership of the season tickets.

For other questions about divorce, equitable distribution and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: IF MY HUSBAND WANTS THE DIVORCE, CAN I KEEP THE ENGAGEMENT RING?

Not necessarily.

Prior to marriage am engagement ring is considered a conditional gift and the transfer of ownership does not occur until the actual marriage of the parties. Therefore, regardless of why an engagement is terminated, the ring should be returned to the party who gave the ring once the engagement is ended.  Once parties marry, the condition is satisfied and ownership is transferred unless otherwise agreed.

For other questions about divorce, equitable distribution and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

CAN MY SPOUSE’S ATTORNEY REPRESENT ME TOO?

If an attorney represents your spouse, that attorney is looking out for your spouse’s best interests, not yours. It is important not to make any agreements or sign any documents when you are feeling pressured or when you do not fully understand the consequences of what you are signing. Knowledge is power and consulting with a lawyer of your own selection will not only help you in understanding and protecting your rights, but empower you to make educated decisions throughout the divorce process.

For other questions about divorce, equitable distribution and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

CHILD SUPPORT

Attorney Jennifer Courtney and the other attorneys at Courtney Law will ensure that each client pays or receives a proper amount of child support.

QUESTION: IF I HAVE 50/50 SHARED PHYSICAL CUSTODY OF MY CHILD, CAN I STILL BE REQUIRED TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT?

In Pennsylvania, child support is based upon the parents’ respective incomes. If the parents each have the child half the time, the parent with the higher net income may still have to pay the other parent child support, but the amount will be reduced for having the child 50% of the time. In the unlikely situation where the parents have equal custody and equal income, there would be no award of support to either parent.

For other questions about child support and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: IF THE OTHER PARENT OF MY CHILD IS SELF-EMPLOYED, HOW DO I OBTAIN AND COLLECT SUPPORT?

            Absent an agreement, in Pennsylvania, a support case is initiated by filing a Complaint for Support. A support conference is then scheduled at which time parents are required to provide certain documents establishing their income, including tax returns, paystubs, etc. If one parent is self-employed, it can be challenging to determine that parent’s actual income, particularly where it is a small, family-owned business and that parent has sole access to its records.

Once the income of the parents is determined, an Order for Support will be entered either by agreement of the parents or after a hearing by a Master or Judge, depending on the county. Parents can agree to direct payments, but most support payments are made by wage attachment through PA SCDU (Pennsylvania State Collections and Disbursement Unit) and monitored by the Domestic Relations Office. Where a parent is self-employed, the receipt and collection of support payments can be more complex.

In cases where support payments are not timely made, the court can enforce compliance through various means, including the attaching and seizing of assets held in financial institutions; the withholding of payments from governmental agencies, including income tax refunds, social security or disability benefits; seizing public and private retirement funds in pay status; the suspension of licenses, including driving privileges for personal or commercial purposes, recreational licenses for hunting or fishing, licenses, certificates and permits to engage in a profession, trade or business and the imposition of sanctions for Contempt of a Court Order, including fines, an award of counsel fees in the other parent’s favor, and/or imprisonment for up to six (6) months.

For other questions about child support and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: IS MY SPOUSE REQUIRED TO MAINTAIN HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR MY BENEFIT ONCE A DIVORCE COMPLAINT HAS BEEN FILED?

            Yes. If you were covered by your spouse’s health insurance at the time you separated, your spouse is required to maintain the coverage while the divorce is pending. If your spouse drops your coverage, he or she can be ordered to reinstate the cancelled coverage and also to reimburse you for any medical expenses you have incurred resulting from the gap in coverage.

If there is an order for spousal support or alimony pendent lite, the cost of coverage will be factored into the amount of payment with each spouse being charged proportionately according to their net income. If you are the spouse receiving support or alimony pendent lite, you will be responsible for the first $250 of unreimbursed medical expenses annually with your spouse to be responsible for a specific percentage of the expenses that exceed that amount. The payment for unreimbursed medical expenses is paid directly to you, but enforceable through the court.

Once a divorce decree is entered, however, you will no longer be covered under your spouse’s plan. You will be responsible for obtaining and maintaining your own coverage, whether through employment or individually. Under federal law, you are entitled to obtain COBRA coverage for up to three years after the loss of your coverage due to a divorce, however, COBRA premiums are usually very costly.

For other questions about child support and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PROVIDING HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR OUR CHILDREN IN A DIVORCE SITUATION?

Health insurance coverage for children is routinely addressed in conjunction with a child support proceeding through the Domestic Relations Office. If health insurance coverage is available to one or both parents at a reasonable cost, the court will require one of the parents to provide coverage for the children. The cost of coverage is allocated between the parents in proportion to their net incomes and factored into the calculation of the support order. Additionally, the parent paying support will be required to pay a percentage of each child’s unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed $250 annually directly to the other parent.

For other questions about child support and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: DOES A PARENT’S OBLIGATION FOR SUPPORT CONTINUE UNTIL THE CHILD GRADUATES FROM COLLEGE IN PENNSYLVANIA?

In most cases, NO.

In Pennsylvania a parent is obligated to support a child and to provide health insurance coverage, either directly or through a proportionate payment to the other parent, until the child reaches the age of eighteen (18) years, or graduate from high school, whichever occurs last. Accordingly, if your child graduates from high school at seventeen (17) years of age, you are required to continue to provide support until they attain age of eighteen (18). There is no continuing obligation to support a child if they attend college.

The exceptions would be where the parents have negotiated a settlement agreement that provides a continuation of child support until a specific age or occurrence and/or the contribution towards college or post-secondary educational expenses. Another exception would be where a child has special needs that precludes their ability for self-support.

Please note, however, if the support order was entered in another state, the laws of that jurisdiction may be applicable and may require that a parent continue to provide support for a child until they graduate from college or attain a certain age beyond eighteen (18) years.

For other questions about child support and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: IF I RETURN TO WORK, IS THE COST OF CHILD CARE CONSIDERED WHEN CALCULATING CHILD SUPPORT?

As part of the child support proceeding, the child care costs incurred by either parent in order to maintain employment, or to obtain appropriate education or training to produce income, will be allocated between the parties in proportion to their net incomes and will be added to the basic support obligation. In cases where one of the parents is receiving a child care subsidy through the Department of Welfare, the amount allocated between the parents is the amount actually paid by the parent receiving the subsidy.

For other questions about child support and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

CUSTODY

Attorney Jennifer Courtney and the other attorneys at Courtney Law will guide every client and devise individual plans regarding child custody.

QUESTION: WHO DECIDES CUSTODY AND WHERE THE CHILDREN SPEND HOLIDAYS?

            Although parents that are no longer living together are not required to file for custody, many couples are unable to negotiate weekday, weekend, holiday and vacation schedules on an “ad hoc” basis. Most parents either negotiate a private agreement, or one of the parents file for custody and a Custody Order is reached through either negotiation or litigation. A private agreement is not enforceable through the court, so if the relationship between parents is less than amicable, it may save time and sanity to have a Custody Order entered.

If parents can reach an agreement through negotiation, it can be written, signed, filed and entered as a Court Order, without either party having to actually appear in court. If parties cannot agree, the case can proceed to Court.

For other questions about child custody and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CUSTODY IN PENNSYLVANIA?

Custody decisions issued by the Courts of Pennsylvania are based upon the best interest of the child. It is important to understand the difference of physical custody and legal custody. Physical Custody refers to the actual physical possession and control of the child while legal Custody refers to the right to make major decisions on the child’s behalf, including medical, religious and educational decisions.

For other questions about child custody and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

QUESTION: SOMEONE TOLD ME THAT IF I WANT TO MOVE I HAVE TO GET PERMISSION FROM MY CHILD’S OTHER PARENT OR FROM THE COURT. I AM AN ADULT, WHY DO I NEED PERMISSION FROM ANYONE TO MOVE?

The permission is not for yourself, it is for your child.  As an adult you can move whenever or wherever you choose. However, your child has two parents and neither parent has a unilateral right to move the child to a new location which would impact the other parent’s ability to maintain contact and/or their custody schedule with the child, regardless of whether an actual Custody Order was in place.

There are specific notice requirements and the burden is on the relocating parent to establish that the proposed relocation is in the child’s best interest. Failure to provide “reasonable notice” of a proposed relocation to the other parent can be considered as a factor in determining whether to grant permission for the relocation.  It can also be the basis for a finding of contempt and the imposition of sanctions against the parent proposing the relocation.

For other questions about child custody and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.

 

GRANDPARENTS’ RIGHTS

QUESTION: AS A GRANDPARENT, DO I HAVE A RIGHT TO “VISITATION” OR PHYSICAL CUSTODY OF MY GRANDCHILD?

Yes, under certain circumstances, grandparents are given rights under Pennsylvania law to custody, “visitation” or partial physical custody of their grandchildren. In an ideal situation, a grandparent would “visit” with their grandchild during their own child’s parenting time. If their own child is deceased, or the parents of the grandchild are separated, or involved in a divorce proceeding, the grandparent’s ability to “visit” with the grandchild may be impacted and the grandparent may then file their own separate action for partial or supervised “visitation” or partial physical custody of the grandchild.

If the grandchild has lived with the grandparent for a period of at least twelve (12) months, the grandparent may have additional rights, but they must file for physical custody within certain time restrictions once the child has been removed.

In cases where the grandchild as been determined to be “dependent” (without proper parental control and/or care) or “at risk” of abuse or neglect, a grandparent who is willing to assume responsibility for the grandchild can file for any form of physical or legal custody.

For other questions about child custody and family law, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney today.