There is much confusion when it comes to divorce in Pennsylvania. The complex nuances of family law are a breeding ground for myths and misinterpretation. The following list describes ten Pennsylvania divorce law myths that the attorneys of Shemtob Draganosky Taylor frequently hear repeated by new or prospective clients.
Myth 1. “There is no alimony in Pennsylvania.” Alimony is very much alive and kicking in Pennsylvania. Section 3701(a) of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code provides that “[w]here a divorce decree has been entered, the court may allow alimony, as it deems reasonable, to either party only if it finds that alimony is necessary.”
Myth 2. “If my spouse committed adultery, I will not be obligated to pay alimony.” Of the clients who are aware of its existence in Pennsylvania, many believe that adultery is a complete bar to a claim for alimony. Marital misconduct occurring during marriage is only one of 17 factors under §3701(b) of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code to be considered in determining whether alimony is necessary, and in determining the nature, amount, duration and manner of payment of alimony. It is not a bar, just a factor to be considered.
Myth 3. “Physical violence is a requirement for pursuing a claim for protection from abuse.” Abuse takes many forms and may not include actual physical contact. Other types of abuse include when someone is placed in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury as a result of verbal threats or when someone is placed in fear of bodily injury by a course of conduct such as stalking and/or harassment.
Myth 4. “It only takes 90 days to get a divorce.” Under even the best possible circumstances, it will take more than 90 days from the date of service of a divorce complaint until the entry of the decree. Assuming that both parties consent and fully cooperate, the economic issues are resolved or waived, the court is not backed up and the stars are in perfect alignment, the best-case scenario is four and a half to five months. The worst-case scenario could be several years or more depending upon the circumstances.
Myth 5. “My spouse needs me to consent to get a divorce.” As previously stated, if both parties consent to the divorce and fully cooperate, a divorce can be granted in Pennsylvania in as little as four and a half months. However, if one of the parties refuses to consent, then the other can still pursue the divorce after waiting a minimum of one year from date of separation.
Myth 6. “My spouse is not entitled to any of my pension.” Many clients believe that their pension is not marital property subject to division in a divorce since they worked for and earned it. This is not the case. If the pension was acquired or increased in value during the marriage, then it is marital property (in full or in part) and both spouses have claims to it.
Myth 7. “My spouse is not entitled to any asset that is titled solely in my name.” The general rule is that if an asset is acquired or increases in value during marriage, then it is marital property (in full or in part) and both spouses have claims to it. How an asset is titled has very little to do with whether or not it is subject to division and/or distribution in a divorce.
Myth 8. “The marital property gets split 50/50.” While marital property is often divided between the parties on a 50/50 (equal) basis, the circumstances may warrant a disproportionate division. Pennsylvania law requires that the marital property be divided in an equitable fashion based upon a consideration of 11 factors set forth in §3502 of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code. “Equitable” means fair, not equal. Therefore, if the equities weigh in favor of one spouse, he or she will likely receive more than 50 percent of the marital property.
Myth 9. “If I quit my job, I will not have to pay support.” Support obligations for a child or spouse are determined based upon actual income or earning capacity. If someone quits a job without an extremely good reason, their support obligation will be determined or will continue based on their established earning capacity. Someone who deliberately takes an action to avoid their support obligations could be subject to the court’s contempt power. Under the right conditions, a sanction as severe as incarceration may be a reality for a “deadbeat” parent.
Myth 10. “The divorce process involves being in court.” Divorces can be difficult experiences, but they do not all end up in court. Many are resolved by negotiated settlements. There is also the option of mediating divorce-related issues or participating in binding arbitration. The lawyers of Shemtob Draganosky Taylor are experienced in these processes which help clients have significant control over the outcome.
It is the responsibility of Shemtob Draganosky Taylor in Montgomery County to educate our clients and help them to understand the nuances of divorce in Pennsylvania. Call our divorce and family lawyers in Montgomery County at (215) 544-3974 for a confidential discussion.