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Divorce and Separation

What Should I Do If Served With a Divorce Complaint?

A divorce action is like any other lawsuit. It begins with a complaint filed in court and served on the person against whom it is filed. If you receive a divorce complaint, you will have 20 days to respond. If you do not respond, the divorce may proceed without you being represented or having your rights protected.

What If I Don't Want a Divorce?

If the divorce is on no-fault grounds, the only defenses are showing that you have not lived apart for two years or that the marriage is not irretrievably broken. In a fault divorce, your spouse must be “innocent and injured” to establish grounds. If you are able to prove that this not the case, you may be able to prevent the divorce. You can also attempt to prove that the facts claimed by your spouse are false. There are certain other defenses that may apply in specific situations. You should discuss with your attorney what courses of action might be available.

What is the Role of a Lawyer?

If you and your spouse are having marital problems, your lawyer can assist you in three areas. First, an attorney will advise you of your legal rights and duties. Second, he or she will help to bring about an agreeable settlement of the legal disputes which arise between you and your spouse as a result of separation or divorce. Finally, your lawyer is your representative in enforcing your rights in a court of law or in defending you if your spouse has filed an action.

Who Pays the Attorney's Fees?

The court has the power to award preliminary counsel fees to the dependent spouse. In addition, in the final order, after the property rights of the parties are determined, the court could direct the parties to pay their own costs and fees, or it may divide the costs and expenses equitably between the parties. Payment and recovery of costs and attorney’s fees are matters to be discussed with your lawyer during the initial meeting.

What is Legal Separation?

Technically, there is no such thing in Pennsylvania as a “legal separation.” Separation simply means that you and your spouse no longer live together. Separation may occur by mutual consent or if one of you leave or is expelled from the home. Under some circumstances, you may be considered separated even though you and your spouse still live in the same residence.

What Happens to Real Estate We Own?

Most married couples own their real property as “tenants by the entireties.” This form of joint ownership means that neither spouse can sell the property during the marriage without consent of the other. Upon divorce, however, unless the parties have a written agreement providing for the division of the property, the court has the power to divide the property based on equitable principles. This means that the court will take many factors into account when arriving at a fair division; although that does not mean that the property will be divided equally. The court takes into consideration both spouses’ economic and non-economic contributions to property acquired during the marriage. If neither you and your spouse nor the court divide the property, then the nature of your ownership automatically changes after divorce and you both become
“tenants in common.”

Who Owns the Household Goods?

Household items, such as drapes, carpets, furniture and appliances are generally not titled in either spouse’s name. Unless you can show a different intent, the law treats all such property as being jointly owned and used for the benefit of both spouses, regardless of who actually paid for it. As part of the divorce, the court may consider these things as marital property and distribute them accordingly.

What Will be in the Final Court Order?

When the court issues a Decree of Divorce, the order may include other matters if they were raised in the proceeding by either spouse. These include disposition of marital property and other property interests; child custody and visitation; child support; alimony; and enforcement of agreements voluntarily entered into by the parties.

How Can I Help my Children?

Keep children out of the conflict! The problems should be worked out between you, your spouse, and your attorneys, not through your children. Also, children often feel that they are the cause of the problems and must be reassured that this is not the case. These are very difficult times for you and your family. Do not be afraid to get help from family and friends or by asking your attorney for names of professional counselors or therapists.

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