Family Law Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q:Does my spouse have to contribute to the college education of our children?

    A:The law in Pennsylvania does not require a parent to pay for college. If, however, your spouse agrees to contribute to college and that is reflected in a written property settlement agreement, the obligation will be enforced by the court.

  • Q:How is child support determined?

    A:The Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines will determine the amount of child support to be received. There are, however, various factors that may be considered for the purpose of deviating from the guidelines. Notably, a court may deviate from the guidelines in high-income cases.

  • Q:Am I entitled to a portion of my spouse’s 401(K)?

    A:If the 401(K) was acquired during your marriage, you are entitled to a portion of it. If it was started prior to your marriage, you are entitled to a portion of the increase in value during the marriage.

  • Q:My spouse inherited $1 million dollars ten (10) years ago and kept it in her name. Am I entitled to a portion of that?

    A:You are not entitled to any of the $1 million dollars. However, you are entitled to a portion of the increase in value over the past ten years. Therefore, if that $1 million grew to $5 million, the first $1 million is 100% your spouse’s, but the additional $4 million is marital property subject to equitable distribution.

  • Q:Do I automatically get 50% of all of our assets?

    A:Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, which means the court does not automatically divide the marital estate 50-50. Instead, the court takes into consideration a series of factors and applies them to the facts of each individual case to determine the equitable percentage division of assets.

  • Q:How long does one have to be married in order to receive alimony?

    A:There is no set amount of time. The Court considers several factors in determining whether an award of alimony is appropriate.

  • Q:How do I know if I need a prenuptial agreement?

    A:A prenuptial agreement is a contract entered into before marriage that sets forth the financial obligations of the parties to each other in the event of divorce or death. Prenuptial agreements are not just for the rich and famous. If you are planning to marry and have children from a prior relationship, own real estate, or have personal assets or debt, you should consider a prenuptial agreement. These agreements are especially important when one of the parties has substantially greater assets and/or income than the other.

  • Q:At what age can our children decide which parent they want to live with?

    A:There is no set age. A court will talk with your children and weigh what they have to say, taking into consideration their maturity level.

  • Q:How does a court determine who will get custody of our children?

    A:The court may give one parent primary physical custody or may split custody between the parents. The standard is the “best interest of the child,” which requires consideration of many factors, including the parental duties performed by each parent; stability and continuity for the child; sibling relationships; the child’s well-reasoned preference; which parent is more likely to provide for the child’s physical, emotional, developmental, educational, and special needs; and many other factors. In fact, the court may consider any factor it deems relevant to the case, which makes custody a highly fact-specific determination.

  • Q:What assets are divided between the parties?

    A:All assets acquired during the marriage are marital property and are subject to equitable distribution (unless excluded by law or in a prenuptial agreement). This includes, but is not limited to, retirement accounts (such as 401(k)s, IRAs, and pensions), brokerage/investment accounts, real estate, vehicles, businesses, bank accounts, cash value of life insurance, stock and stock options, deferred compensation, and personal property, such as furniture, TVs, jewelry, etc.)

  • Q:I have been married for 30 years and inherited $100,000 about seven years ago. I invested it in various stocks, bonds, and mutual funds in my name alone. It is now worth $170,000. My husband and I are separating, and he thinks he should get half of this, but I think it is mine. It is in my name, and I inherited it. What is the law?

    A:Under Pennsylvania law, the inheritance of $100,000 is yours. It is non-marital as long as you kept it in your name alone. However, the increase in value of the $100,000 is marital. So, of the $170,000, $100,000 is yours and $70,000 is both of yours and should be divided equitably between you and your husband.

  • Q:Unbeknownst to me while we were married, my wife obtained a credit card in her name and ran up debt of $25,000. I had no idea she even had this card and did not find out until we separated. She did not buy anything for me or for the house. It is all clothes and lunches out with her friends. Now, she wants this credit card to be paid from the proceeds of the house when we sell it. I say this is her problem and her credit card, and she should pay it. What is the law?

    A:Debt acquired during the marriage but before separation is marital debt, regardless of whose name it is in. This is also true of assets. Therefore, under the Pennsylvania Divorce Code, the $25,000 credit card debt is marital and is the responsibility of both of you. This does not mean that your attorney could not argue that it is not equitable for you to be responsible for any of it or that your wife should be responsible for the lion’s share of it. That is where creative lawyering comes in.

  • Q:My husband and I have both worked all through our marriage of 17 years, and we have three children. He always made a lot more money than I did. He earns close to $300,000 a year and I make about $30,000. His 401k is worth about ten times as much as mine. Now, we are divorcing, and he says his pension is his since it is in his name, and he worked for it and saved it. I do not think that is fair. I raised our children and worked. I just could not make or save money. What is the law?

    A:Under Pennsylvania law, anything acquired during the marriage but before separation is both of yours regardless of how it is titled (there are some exceptions). Therefore, even though that pension is in his name, it is as much yours as it is his, pursuant to the Divorce Code. Keep in mind, however, that anything he contributed to the 401k prior to your marriage or after your separation is his and not a marital asset.

  • Q:The father of my children and I can’t agree on anything. We can’t agree on the color of the sky. He has brought me back to court at least five times on minor issues, such as whether or not our daughter's “Blankey“ should go back-and-forth between households and whether or not I need to send diapers to his house. Is there anything I can do to stop the financial bleeding in this case?

    A:Pennsylvania has just recently reinstated parenting coordination. It became effective on March 1, 2019. You can request that the court assign a parenting coordinator to address these kinds of issues. They will make decisions quickly, and it is much more cost-effective. A parenting coordinator has to be an attorney who has practiced family law for at least five years or a psychologist with a minimum of a master’s degree. In addition, either the psychologist or the attorney has to have significant training in parenting coordination.

  • Q:My husband and I have joint legal custody and joint physical custody of our three children. We both live in Montgomery County. The children go to private school. Can I move without getting a court order?

    A:The question really is if it will interfere with his ability to have his custody. In other words, if the children are continuing in their same private school and the drive back and forth to school and to his house doesn’t change his ability to have custody, then you likely do not need court permission. However, if the distance between your new house and your old house would significantly impact his ability to spend his time with the children, then it may be considered a relocation. This is unlikely but is certainly something to consider.

  • Q:I have to pay my ex-wife alimony for four more years. I just learned that she is living with her boyfriend. Can I stop the alimony?

    A:It depends on what your property settlement says. If you have a property settlement agreement that is silent on whether or not alimony terminates upon remarriage or cohabitation, then it may not. Usually, the property settlement agreement will address that and say if it’s modifiable or if it terminates upon remarriage or cohabitation. If you did not reach a property settlement agreement, but instead went to court, and a court issued an order requiring you to pay alimony, then it is modifiable and you can petition to end the alimony as a result of the cohabitation.

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