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State College Family Law Blog

How to prove you’re the primary caretaker of your children

Family law courts used to believe that children were best raised by their mothers. In this respect, barring extreme circumstances like addiction, abuse or criminal behavior, the courts tended to view the primary caretaker of the children to be the mother by default, and they would give preference to the mother during child custody disputes.

These days, the situation is much different. Family law courts are just as willing to give preference to the father of the children when he can prove himself to be the primary caretaker during the marriage.

When could parents be stripped of their parental right?

Pennsylvania family court judges have the supreme responsibility to protect the best interests of the children affected by their court ruling. Children are the future leaders of our communities. They are also innocent and require the protection of adults. As such, the family court system is structured in such a way as to protect them.

If, for example, a court determines that a parent poses a severe danger to a child, the court will strip the parent of his or her parental rights and award child custody to someone else -- be that other person another parent, another family member or a representative of the state.

Are you protecting your finances during your divorce process?

Divorce can be expensive, but do you know what's more expensive? Divorcing badly. There are so many financial mistakes that spouses make when bringing their marriages to a close that several books could be written on the topic. Fortunately, that's why we have financial advisers, accountants and lawyers to guide us through our divorce proceedings. These professionals will help steer you on the right track to prevent a costly financial mistake.

There's plenty you can do to prevent financial catastrophe during your divorce process too. Here are three of them:

  • Make sure both you and your spouse are financially settled until the end of your marriage: Some spouses -- especially those in control of the money supply -- will try to cut off the other spouse until an official court order requires them to pay. This is a bad idea and it will only end in the money spouse losing credibility in court.
  • Beware of bad advice from friends and family: Maybe your friend or cousin has been divorced 10 times, but he or she will never have had a relationship exactly like yours. Every divorce is different and needs to be handled in its own special way. Don't take advice from your friends unless they are your attorneys and have an actual attorney-client relationship with you.
  • Keep your privacy secure: Your divorce details are private and talking about them with others could hurt you during your case. Close down your social media accounts, only trust your most trusted people and keep your privacy secure.

Does your 'gray divorce' cloud have a silver lining?

If you do a quick scan of the internet when searching for the phrase "gray divorce," you'll find that people tend to focus on the negative side of gray divorce. They talk about the financial hit divorcees will experience when they go their separate ways right before or during retirement, and the loneliness experienced by 50-plus singles who spent most of their adult lives with a spouse by their side. However, it's vital that you keep a positive perspective and look for the silver lining.

There's no reason your divorce is going to be bleak. Older spouses who divorce may feel that whatever financial setbacks they experience are worth it considering their newfound freedom. Single retirees can spend their golden years the way they want, without any concern for an incompatible spouse who has completely different interests. In fact, many spouses wonder why they didn't make the decision to divorce years ago.

What are your child's best interests?

You probably have a firm idea of what your child's best interests are. Your ex probably has his or her ideas about your child's best interests too. A Pennsylvania family law court will also have a perspective on the matter. Ultimately, if you're in the throes of a child custody disagreement that goes to court, you'll need to align your perspective with the viewpoint of the court if you want to succeed in your case.

When determining the best interests of a particular child, Pennsylvania family law courts will review the following factors:

What's the age when child support payments stop?

If a court ordered you to pay child support to your ex-spouse, you could be paying anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars a month. Regardless of how you feel about the support or whether you think the amount you owe is just, these payments will probably represent a significant financial burden on you, and you're probably wondering when you'll be free of your obligation to pay them.

Fortunately, you will not have to pay child support for eternity. At some point, your child will reach an age when you can legally stop making the payments.

What are the 10 steps to the divorce process?

The average Pennsylvania divorce will require various stages before the spouses can call themselves 'divorced.' The number of these steps, or stages, will depend on whether you and your spouse can reach an out-of-court settlement.

With this in mind, here are the steps and stages you can expect if you're initiating the divorce process:

  • Drafting and filing the divorce petition: This document explains why one of the spouses wants to divorce and how he or she proposes to settle matters pertaining to child custody, spousal and child support and financial concerns. This petition is then served upon the other spouse.
  • The other spouse answers the divorce petition: The other spouse will answer the divorce petition with his or her preferences regarding settlement.
  • Discovery proceedings ensue: These involve the sharing of information that will be used to reach a fair settlement and/or divorce ruling on the case.
  • Settlement and approval by the family court judge: If the couple can settle their case -- perhaps through private negotiations or mediation proceedings -- they will sign a settlement agreement, which a family court judge will review and approve.
  • The couple goes to court: If the couple can't reach a divorce agreement, then they will go to court and try their case before a judge.
  • The judge issues a divorce decree: Whether the case is settled or decided by trial, a judge will issue a divorce decree that governs the terms of the breakup.

Strategies for dealing with a mortgage during your divorce

Pennsylvania spouses who have a mortgage loan and are getting a divorce will need to investigate strategies for dealing with the mortgage. For example, will one spouse assume the mortgage in his or her own name? Will the spouse who keeps the home need to refinance? These and other questions will need to be answered as a part of the divorce process.

Here are a few home mortgage strategies spouses may want to consider:

More custody disputes over whether a child should play football

Playing football puts athletes at risk of suffering from long-term brain damage. The more repeated concussions the football player suffers, the more likely he or she will suffer from such brain damage -- and the symptoms can be catastrophic. However, if the football player wants to play and put him or herself at risk in this regard, shouldn't it be his choice? The answer to this question is "yes," unless he or she is a minor. Then it's up to the parents to decide.

Recently, two Pennsylvania parents decided to go to court over such an issue because the mother and father disagree about whether or not they should permit their teenage son to play high school football. The mother of the boy says that it's her son's choice, and he fully understands the risks involved. The father says that the boy should not be allowed to play football because he has suffered repeated concussions in the past and he is at risk of having severe brain injury if he keeps playing.

Collaborative law and divorce: What does the process entail?

The collaborative law divorce process is one of the most valuable tools available to divorcing spouses who wish to separate and dissolve their marriages peacefully, efficiently and effectively. Developed by a group of Minnesota family law attorneys in the 1990s, the collaborative law process was intended to fill the need of having a cost-effective and peaceful way of consistently bringing a potentially confictive divorce process to conclusion with an out-of-court settlement.

Collaborative law is somewhat different from the typical out-of-court settlement process and it's also different from traditional mediation -- and it does not include a neutral third-party mediator. Before entering into the collaborative law process, the two spouses will both contract their independent lawyers, who have been trained and certified in the collaborative law process. The two spouses will then appear with their lawyers representing and guiding them during a series of meetings toward the successful resolution of their divorces, and ultimately, a signed out-of-court divorce settlement.

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