FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
When should I contact an attorney if I am considering separating from my spouse?
- As soon as possible and prior to physically separating from your spouse. While you do not waive your rights by separating, knowing your rights and obligations in advance will allow you to better plan and manage this difficult transition. Additionally, we can recommend counseling and other alternatives to divorce.
How much is this divorce going to cost me?
- Attorneys are generally paid on an hourly basis. Therefore, the more time required to resolve your case, the higher the cost. For this reason, our firm strongly encourages parties to resolve as many issues as they can outside of the legal system. We do our best to resolve cases quickly and in the most cost-effective manner, and encourage alternatives to traditional litigation.
How long will it take to finalize my divorce?
- This answer depends upon the willingness of both spouses to resolve the case. If both parties are willing, the case may be resolved as quickly as four months. If one of the parties does not consent to the divorce, it can take in excess of two years.
What is the difference between mediation, collaborative law and conventional representation?
- In mediation, a single, neutral individual, often a lawyer or mental health professional, acts as mediator for the couple. The mediator helps the couple reach an agreement by facilitating communication, helping the parties brainstorm ideas and helping the parties remain focused on the task at hand, but does not provide independent legal advice, but lawyers do not directly participate in the mediation itself.
- In collaborative law, each person retains their own specially trained collaborative lawyer to advise and assist them in negotiating an agreement on all issues. All negotiations take place in “four-way” settlement meetings that both clients and both lawyers attend. No one may go to court or threaten to go to court. The lawyers are there to provide legal advice and help guide the parties toward reasonable resolutions, but all decisions are made by the parties.
- In conventional representation, each party hires their own lawyer. The lawyers will work toward settlement, but will simultaneously be preparing the case for trial in the event an agreement is not reached. Pacing and objectives are often dictated by what happens in court and on what the judge is likely to decide. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, a trial will be held before a judge or master, who will decide the case.
How can I obtain custody of my children?
- All custody cases begin by one party filing a complaint for custody. All custody matters are decided based upon what is in the best interests of the children.
How do I file for support?
- All support actions begin by one party filing a complaint for support with the domestic relations of the county in which they reside. All support orders are based upon the parties’ incomes. We can determine the approximate amount you will receive or pay by utilizing the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines.
I can’t make ends meet. Should I be considering bankruptcy?
- This is a personal decision, and depends greatly upon your current income, the amount of debt you owe, and your ability to pay those debts. It is important to know that certain kinds of debt, such as student loans and domestic support obligations, cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. You are permitted to keep or “exempt” certain assets even if you file for bankruptcy. Thus, it is important to consult an attorney as early as possible if you are considering bankruptcy.
ELDER LAW & ESTATE PLANNING
Do I need a will? If I die without a will, does the state keep all of my assets?
- A will is a device which makes clear to the world how you would like your assets to be divided upon your death. If you die without a will (known as dying “intestate”), the state will not keep your property; however, your assets will be divided according to the intestacy laws of the state in which you live. The only way to control the division of your assets upon your death is with a will.
- Once you have a will, you should review it periodically. You should plan to update your will following major life events such as a change in marital status or the birth or adoption of a child.
Won’t all of my property go to my spouse anyway, even if I die without a will?
- Not necessarily. In Pennsylvania, your spouse is only guaranteed the first $30,000, with the remainder divided between your spouse, parents and/or children. The only way to ensure that your spouse receives your entire estate is with a will.
My parents are elderlly and ill, and they are unable to care for themselves. What can I do to help them?
- You have the option of obtaining a power of attorney or petitioning for guardianship, depending upon the circumstances. Numerous social services agencies are available to help you determine the best alternatives.