Our Family Law Practice
Working through family law matters can be extremely complex and emotional. You need an experienced lawyer who cares as much about the outcome as you do. You need a strong ally on your side who will maintain an objective view, stay focused on your best interests and fight for your rights. At Lavery Law we provide clients with insightful counsel to make informed decisions and the rigorous representation to protect your interests in negotiations or in court. Karl Hildabrand, Esquire and Alyssa Kuhl, Esquire bring more than 45 years of experience and notable qualifications to your case. Karl Hildabrand is also trained in collaborative divorce, an alternative to the animosity and expense of litigation. He is a board certified trial lawyer who can capably advocate for you in contested proceedings. Alyssa Kuhl, Esquire has been in practice since 2017 and is well-versed in family law. Lavery Law serves a diverse clientele – young or old, high earners or wage earners, married or unmarried parents, business owners, military personnel and grandparents. While we have the sophistication for complex and high – conflict cases, we welcome anyone seeking experience, dedication and results. When you hire our firm, we will take the time to walk you through the process and let you know what to expect along the way. We will be there with you at every step fighting for your rights and protecting your interests.
Our clients appreciate the quality service they receive from our firm. We provide all of the services offered by larger firms with the care and personal attention you receive at a smaller firm. Our family law attorneys personally handle your case, and you will find every person on our staff to be friendly, professional and ready to help. Whether it involves divorce, property division, custody, support, alimony or other family law related matters Lavery Law has the experience and dedication to represent you effectively and efficiently.
a) Contested v. uncontested divorce
For many people, hiring a family law attorney is the first time they have ever needed to seek legal representation. At Lavery Law we will take the time to walk you through the process and let you know what to expect along the way. We will be there with you at every step, fighting for your rights and protecting your interests. We return phone calls.
Divorce can be an emotional and financial roller coaster ride, and the laws regarding divorce and property settlement can be complex. We have years of experience in this area of the law and are committed to helping you navigate this sometimes intimidating process in the most efficient and stress-free manner possible.
Divorce in Pennsylvania can be classified as “fault” or “no fault”. A typical no-fault divorce does not require any evaluation of who did what to whom. If both spouses consent to the divorce, they can file the papers to dissolve the marriage after a 90 day waiting period. One party can also obtain a no-fault divorce without the other spouse’s consent if they have lived separate and apart for at least one year. To finalize the divorce, the parties must agree on, or the court must resolve, all issues before they can obtain the divorce. Once the issues of property, custody and support are resolved, the parties can be divorced in a few months.
In a fault divorce, or contested divorce, one party must establish marital fault to petition for divorce. Grounds for fault include a spouse’s adultery or bigamy, domestic abuse, desertion or other indignities suffered by the aggrieved spouse.
Every divorce is unique. Some contested divorces are a battle over everything, while others are resolved swiftly ounce grounds are established. And despite amicable intentions, many uncontested divorces require further mediation, negotiation or even litigation to resolve disputes or clarify the terms of the marital settlement.
b) Property division
Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. The marital estate is not necessarily split 50/50, but each spouse is entitled to a fair share regardless of whose name is on the accounts or the titles of property. The court considers many factors in equitable distribution of property, including the age and health of each spouse, income disparity, education and earning capacity, and contributions to childrearing and homemaking. Pensions and retirement accounts amassed during the marriage are subject to division even if only one spouse worked or contributed to those savings. Business interests may, in whole or in part, be considered marital property. Debts and liabilities will also be considered marital if accrued during the marriage. Certain property interests such as inheritance and premarital property may be excluded from inclusion in marital property.
Most contested divorces are resolved by a written marital settlement agreement. The agreement covers all of the issues in the case including property division, child custody, child support and if applicable spousal support and alimony. Drafting of the marital settlement agreement requires an experienced attorney who has the knowledge and skill to cover all resolved issues, anticipate and protect against future problems, and apply applicable legal principles to the lawyer’s client’s best interest. If the parties are unable to come to an agreement the case goes before a divorce master for hearing and, in some cases, should the parties appeal the master’s decision, before a judge.
In equitable distribution of marital property, one key consideration is whether all assets and sources of income have been disclosed. Unfortunately, some spouses are less than forthcoming or have taken intentional measures to hide assets. A skilled attorney will work to develop a full and accurate picture of the marital estate to ensure that their client is receiving his or her fair share. Our firm has the experience and ability to use every available means to uncover the truth. This would include written requests to opposing parties, subpoenas, court orders to compel and in an appropriate case an award of sanctions. In addition, experts may be retained if needed. Hidden assets may include money in secret bank accounts, brokerage accounts, online accounts or offshore accounts. The missing assets might be in the form of stocks and bonds, real estate, a side business or undeclared income. Sometimes spouses transfer cash or property to family members or friends in anticipation of divorce.
When divorcing spouses have a difference in their incomes, the lesser earning spouse may be entitled to financial support to make ends meet and maintain a similar standard of living. This might be a temporary arrangement while the divorce is pending or it may continue after the marriage is dissolved.
c) Spousal support and alimony
Spousal support can be ordered after a married couple has separated. Alimony pendent lite, or APL, is similar to spousal support but can be obtained only after a divorce complaint has been filed. Spousal support or alimony pendent lite support usually ends when the divorce decree is entered. Spousal support and APL are intended to provide financial stability during the divorce process. Like child support, these orders are handled through the county domestic relations office. The amount is largely based on the income levels and earning capacities of the spouses.
Alimony is handled as part of the marital or property settlement agreement or hearing in the divorce proceedings. It is not obtainable in every case. Its purpose is primarily rehabilitative in nature although some cases may be appropriate for long-term alimony. The court considers many factors, including length of the marriage, accustomed standard of living, income disparity, age, health, education, earning capacity and career sacrifices. The lesser-earning spouse may petition the court to award alimony. The parties can also negotiate alimony outside of court.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
A prenuptial or premarital agreement can be very beneficial in the event that a marriage should end in divorce. Prenuptial agreements allow both parties to clearly define their property, support and other rights prior to getting married. These agreements are also frequently used to define property divisions, valuations, alimony payments, allocation of the debts the parties bring into the marriage and other provisions.
A person may choose a prenuptial agreement to protect a family business, inheritance and family heirlooms, or, in the case of a second marriage, to insure that one’s personal estate is protected for later distribution to his or her children. These important documents need to be written in a way that limits the possibility of being challenged in the divorce.
A postnuptial or post marital agreement is drawn up after the parties are married for the purposes of separation or divorce.
Child Custody and Visitation
The determination of any custody dispute is based upon the best interests of the child or children involved. Most custody disputes can be resolved by careful negotiation and compromise between the parties. In most cases this is in the best interest of the child or children. The attorneys in our firm have years of trial experience which includes negotiation of settlements, mediation of disputes, arbitration of disputes, and, if necessary, courtroom trials. This experience is invaluable in assisting clients in reaching a fair and reasonable arrangement with respect to custody and visitation. It also shields the children from any participation in court proceedings. Further, Pennsylvania counties have custody conciliators or custody officers assigned to attempt to mediate and resolve most custody issues. Experienced counsel can provide valuable advice and negotiation skills in resolving cases at this level. However, there are certain cases which cannot be settled and require a trial before a judge. Due to the extensive courtroom experience of our attorneys we are well suited and prepared to handle such trials in a diligent and aggressive matter where necessary.
The factors to be considered by the court in resolving a custody dispute, while based solidly on the best interest of the child or children, includes consideration of the following: which party is more likely to encourage and permit contact between the child and the other parent or party, any history of abuse, the parental duties performed by each party, continuing stability with respect the child’s education, family life and community life, the availability of extended family, the sibling relationships, and some cases the preference of the child, attempts of one parent to turn the child against the other parent, the proximity of the residences of the parties, the availability of childcare, the level of conflict between the parties, history of drug or alcohol abuse of the party or someone in that party’s household and the mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.
Custody orders are also subject to modification and we routinely handle adjustments and changes to custody schedules both through negotiation and through court hearings, if necessary.
Another issue that frequently arises in custody disputes is relocation. The Pennsylvania statute on relocation sets forth a variety of factors that the court must evaluate in deciding whether to allow the moving parent to retain primary custody. Our attorneys are well-versed in the procedures and standards necessary to prevail in court.
Other issues which may arise in custody disputes include enforcement of existing orders, including actions for contempt, emergency custody orders, guardianship, and joint or shared custody arrangements. Our firm has extensive experience in dealing with these matters as well.
Divorce not only tears parents and children apart but it separates children from their grandparents. Legal remedies for grandparents exist but are limited in most cases. The determination of custody and visitation rights is grounded upon a determination of what is in the best interest of the child. Under Pennsylvania law, there is a presumption in favor of the natural parent over grandparents or other relatives. Although not common, this presumption can be rebutted under appropriate circumstances. A natural parent may be denied custody if the court determines that the child’s best interest in being in another’s custody outweighs the parents right to custody.
In some circumstances, children are raised by one parent, other relatives or grandparents. Often following a hostile divorce, grandparents are excluded from seeing the grandchildren. Pennsylvania recognizes the right of grandparents to seek visitation, partial physical custody, or primary physical custody of their minor grandchildren. The grandparents must establish that the custody rights requested would be in the best of the child or children involved and would not interfere with the relationship between the parent and the child.
If the parent of an unmarried child dies, the parents or grandparents of the deceased parent may be granted reasonable partial custody or visitation rights to the child upon a finding that such rights would be in the best interest of the child and would not interfere with remaining parent-child relationship. The intent is to continue the healthy relationship with the child or children if it is the child/children’s best interest. Likewise, where grandparents or great-grandparents established a relationship with the child either with the consent of a parent or pursuant to a court order, a claim for partial physical custody may be filed.
In circumstances where the minor child or children have resided with the grandparents or great- grandparents for a period of 12 months or more, and then are subsequently removed from their home by the parents, Pennsylvania law provides that the grandparents or great-grandparents may petition the court for an order granting reasonable partial custody or visitation rights. The best interest of the child standard applies.
A grandparent or great-grandparent who has developed a parent-like relationship with the child or children (in loco parentis), or who has developed a relationship with the child or children either with a parents’ consent or under court order and is willing to assume responsibility for the child or children when the child is found dependent, is at risk due to parental abuse, or has resided with the grandparents or great-grandparents for at least twelve consecutive months may file for legal and/or physical custody.
Child support is based on a statewide formula but the correct calculation depends upon accurate information about both parents’ income. There also may be bona fide reasons to deviate from the support guidelines. A qualified family law attorney can protect your interest when child support is determined or represent you in modifications or enforcement of child support orders. County domestic relations and ultimately a judge will take the parents’ incomes and several other factors into consideration, including who pays for health insurance and daycare, how many over nights the child spends with each parent, and other factors. Child support orders can also be modified for a change in circumstances such as raise or new job, reduced hours, disability, or job layoff. An experienced family law attorney can assure that the calculation is calculated correctly and that all relevant issues are raised at the time the calculation is made.
Collaborative Divorce and Mediation
Often times divorce and the resolution of property and other issues causes bitterness and may leave lasting scars on the spouses and the children involved. Collaborative divorce has emerged as an alternative to the financial and emotional toll of traditional divorce litigation. Rather than leaving important decisions to a judge, collaborative divorce gives spouses control over the outcome. Couples who have been through the collaborative law process commonly report that they are more satisfied with the outcome. Subsequently, the agreements produced in collaborative divorces tend to be more consistently followed than court ordered resolutions.
Collaborative divorce is not right for every couple or every situation. In the appropriate case collaborative divorce may result in a quicker resolution, less expense, less animosity during the process and afterward, a more respectful process, less harmful impact on children, and more direct input and control over the outcome. Collaborative divorce is similar to mediation except that each party is counseled by an attorney who is trained in collaborative law methods. The parties specifically agree not to litigate and if they do their collaborative attorneys cannot represent them in contested proceedings. The parties engage in four-way collaborative sessions to work out the details of property division, child custody, financial support and other pertinent matters. Outside professionals such as counselors, financial advisors and other experts may be involved as needed.
Karl Hildabrand is an accomplished trial lawyer and handles divorce cases in both traditional and collaborative proceedings. He is certified in collaborative divorce and mediation and is an active member of the Collaborative Professionals of Central Pennsylvania. He is also member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.
A similar but different process in resolving divorce matters is mediation. Mediation is not required by the family courts of Pennsylvania. In mediation you sit down with a neutral third-party (mediator) who is trained to guide the discussion toward fruitful negotiation and a workable settlement. If successful the resulting property settlement agreement or custody agreement is reduced to writing and presented to the court for approval.
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