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How to Get a Divorce in Pennsylvania

There are a myriad of considerations when it comes to the divorce process.  Depending upon the circumstances of your situation, the process can range from relatively simple and inexpensive to very complex and unfortunately, very expensive.  Are there children?  Will custody be an issue?  What are the assets?  Do you each have similar incomes or are the earnings widely different?  What is the nature of the assets?  Do you even know what the assets are?  Are there business interests which need to be valued?  Does one spouse, or both spouses, have a pension?  Is it a defined benefit or a defined contribution pension?  Do you know the difference?

1. The first step is to meet with an attorney familiar with family law issues.  Finding the right attorney is critical.  Is it someone who has years of experience in divorce, custody and support issues?  Or is it someone new to the practice or simply an attorney who does family law as a small part of their practice?  Do you feel comfortable with the attorney?  Has someone given you their name or are you familiar with the firm?  If the divorce becomes antagonistic, you want an attorney you can trust.  And, you definitely do not want an attorney who will make matters worse.

2. Learn about the marital finances as much as you possibly can.  Often times, one spouse was primarily responsible for taking care of the family finances.  If you are not that spouse, start learning as much as you can about the assets, what they might be worth, how they are titled, what income there is in the household and what expenses and debts there may be.  Enlisting the help of a trusted family member or a friend who is savvy about finances can help get you started.

3. Collect as much financial information as you can before beginning the process.  Make copies of tax returns, pay-stubs, credit card statements, year-end mortgage statements, investment accounts, retirement accounts, pension plan summary statement, child care cost and more.  An attorney can guide you on what is important and relevant to your case.  The divorce process has tools, (called discovery) to force your spouse to turn over information, but that process can be very time consuming and very expensive.  Sometime, such time and expense is unavoidable because of the nature of the assets or the inability to get the information voluntary.  But in many, many cases, you can make copies of most, if not all documents which are relevant saving untold time and money.

4. If you are considering a move from the marital home, do not do so and do not rent or purchase another property before getting advice from an attorney. This advice is even more important if there are children.  The law imposes restrictions on “relocating” children and it is important to understand the nuances of that body of law.

There are alternatives to litigating or fighting in court.  One common solution is divorce mediation.  It can be an effective way of resolving some support and asset division issues.  But mediation is not for everyone.  If there has been abuse or if you are intimidated by your spouse that he or she will “run all over you”, mediation is not a good alternative.  If you do not know what assets exist and you do not trust your spouse to be honest about them, mediation is also probably not for you.

An attorney can guide you on such things as:

  • When do I file for divorce?
  • When do I file for support?
  • Should you leave the marital residence or are there alternatives to leaving?
  • What factors will the court consider if custody is an issue?
  • What grounds are available for divorce?
  • If you and your spouse do not agree on division of assets, how will the court do it?
  • If you do agree on asset division, how do you know if you are getting a fair result?
  • Simply, there is no substitute for competent legal counsel for a divorce. Add issues concerning assets, income and children, getting advice tailored to your situation is even more critical.