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State College Family Law Blog

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.

Ask these questions when you start dating to avoid a divorce

Some people were made for marriage. They love stability, they like to spend time with their significant other and predictability and security bring them joy. Other people were not made for marriage -- they are too self-focused, have money problems and they're just bad at relationships.

Here are a few questions to gain useful information about whether your date could be "marriage material":

  • How often do you speak with your family? This question will tell you about your date's ability to navigate family difficulties. Every family has its challenges, but some people are more interested in themselves and their own needs than trying to find a diplomatic solution to keep the family together. Someone who isn't in regular touch with family might not be marriage material.
  • Do you believe that "happily ever after" is possible? This question will bring up some good information about what your date's concept of a relationship is -- and whether he or she knows that they are not always perfect and require work.
  • Are you married? You'd think your date would volunteer this information, but you'd be surprised.
  • What do you like about your job? This will give you important information about your date's relationship with his or her job. You'll find out if he or she is insecure and unhappy because of work, whether he or she is a workaholic and other valuable info.
  • What did you do for your last vacation? This will let you know a little bit about your date's financial situation. If it's an exotic vacation, don't be shy to ask how he or she paid for it.
  • How old are you, really? Another one of those questions you'd think people would honestly admit to; however, numerous people lie about their age and don't think it's a big deal.
  • What brought an end to your last relationship? If this answer is full of blaming the other person, then consider it a red flag.

4 tips to help you get a child support modificaiton

Imagine you have to pay $700 monthly in child support, but last month you lost your job. You don't know where your next paycheck is going to come from, and you're worried about not being able to make your next child support payment. If you're facing a situation like this, it's important that you act fast. If you follow the right legal protocol, you might be able to get a temporary reduction in your child support obligations.

Here's what you need to do:

Father could go to jail for recording child custody proceeding

Every time you step into a family court hearing, it's vital that you understand the rules and laws that apply to those proceedings. A recent Pennsylvania case shows just how true this fact is. According to a Pennsylvania court, a father should go to jail because he recorded his child custody proceedings.

Signs around the courthouse warned him that smartphone use was not permitted during his court proceedings, when he and his ex-wife had a child custody conference. Nevertheless, the man still used his cellphone without permission and without notifying anyone who was present. He recorded the child custody proceedings, which he later published on Facebook without anyone else granting him permission.

Will new tax laws result in more divorces in 2018?

Pennsylvania ex-spouses who had to pay alimony have long benefited from the ability to deduct alimony expenses from their net income. This benefit made alimony payments a lot more palatable -- especially when payments served to drop the payer down to a lower tax bracket. With the new federal tax bill passed by Congress last month, however, the ability to deduct alimony payments from income is going to end.

Fortunately, divorcing spouses will have until the end of 2018 to complete their current divorces and still benefit from the tax deduction benefit. Marriages that come to a close in 2019, however, will be subject to the new tax codes. This means that -- for any divorce that finalizes after year-end 2018 -- those who receive spousal maintenance checks will no longer need to include this money on their income tax statements; and, those paying spousal maintenance will no longer be able to deduct this money from their income tax statements.

What am I allowed to spend my child support money on?

Child support is intended to help the custodial parent of a child pay for various expenses related to raising the child. As such, parents are only supposed to spend child support money on their children. Normally, the court does not require parents to document or show their expenses in this regard; however, in cases of suspected neglect or suspected dishonesty on the part of the custodial parent, a court might ask the parent to show a record of his or her childcare expenditures.

If a parent is audited like this, it helps to have a record of purchases -- through cash, check or credit card receipts and/or bank statements. Parents are, therefore, encouraged to keep a record like this. They're also encouraged to only spend their child support money on things that fit into the following categories:

  • Basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter
  • Medical care including dental care, eye care health insurance and other costs
  • School tuition and education costs
  • Child care-related expenses
  • Transportation costs related to car payments, gas, maintenance and other expenses
  • Basic entertainment like games, Internet, access to television, camping, the movies and other kinds of fun events.
  • Extracurricular events like summer camp, sports and more
  • College-related costs in some cases

Not all stay-at-home mom and dads will get alimony

Many Pennsylvania spouses will expect to receive alimony payments in the wake of their divorces, especially if they're stay-at-home moms or dads and they earn dramatically less income than their spouses. However, a judge might disagree.

There is a trend across the country that involves courts revisiting their spousal maintenance or alimony laws. States are putting more limitations on the amount and length of alimony payments. In a lot of situations, the alimony gets denied completely -- even in cases where the less-moneyed spouse hasn't had a job in decades.

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