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Berks County Family Law Blog

Know your net worth before filing for divorce

The emotional cost of a divorce can have the most damaging effect on your family, but ending a marriage can also devastate your finances for years to come. Expenses for both former spouses are likely to rise, and incomes may be cut in half.

Pennsylvania is an “equitable distribution” state for dividing assets, but that doesn’t mean it will be a 50-50 split as a court will determine a “fair” distribution. The best way to prepare for your new life is to understand what your net worth is before you leave a marriage and have a handle on the expenses you expect to face.

Safety concerns when going through a child custody case

If a Pennsylvania parent has concerns about his or her children's safety during visitation with the other parent, he or she should discuss the concerns with the attorney and the court. The court usually investigates allegations of abuse before granting any parent custody, though it should be noted that there could be repercussions when making allegations of abuse.

When an allegation of physical or emotional abuse is made, the court and family protective services may step in to investigate before the custody of the children is granted. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the court or the family protective services may talk to the children's teachers, extended family or even neighbors in order to verify the allegations. While the investigation is ongoing, the other parent may be granted visitation, though this visitation is usually supervised.

Divorce can have a significant financial impact

Since 1990, the divorce rate has doubled for those who are over the age of 50. There can be a variety of negative consequences for older Pennsylvania residents and others who experience the end of a marriage. Research has discovered that those who go through a divorce at an older age may be more depressed than those who lost a spouse. The financial impact can be significant as well.

Men see their standard of living drop by 21% after a divorce while women see their standard of living drop 45%. This is in spite of the fact that older single individuals generally need less to live on compared to a single parent. Women over the age of 63 who have gone through a divorce have a poverty rate of 27%, which is nine times the rate of those who stay married.

Prenups help avoid painful divorces later

For some people in Pennsylvania, prenuptial agreements seem to be a matter only for the wealthy or major celebrities. After all, prenups can be an important mechanism to protect people with major assets, family businesses or large inheritances in case of a divorce later on. However, many people of all financial backgrounds can benefit and protect themselves through the use of premarital agreements. Investing in a prenup early on can save not only on attorney fees but also on the more fundamental expenses that can come with a divorce down the line.

In many cases, people spend more to divorce than they do on their weddings or honeymoons. The difficulties that can develop in relationships over the years are often unpredictable in the earlier, happier days of a romantic partnership. Therefore, it may be better to have people negotiate the division of their assets while they feel positively about one another. However, many people do feel an emotional block that prevents them from adopting a prenuptial agreement eagerly before marriage. On a practical level, prenups can help to clearly define certain types of marital or separate property and avoid later, more serious conflicts.

What do your kids need during your divorce?

Ending a marriage often comes after going to great lengths to determine what is best for you and your family. Many times, that involves internal struggles with where you will live, how you might survive financially post-divorce and how to determine child custody arrangements.

No matter how much tension there may be between you and your spouse, you likely want to minimize the impact your divorce has on your children. But do you know how to help your kids cope as you determine your new normal?

Student loan debt: divorce and division

In Pennsylvania and across the United States, married couples often feel stress when they decide to get divorced. In addition to emotional issues, couples must divide their accumulated assets and debts. Student loan debts are more complicated because the court needs to determine which spouse must pay back the loan. One common rule is that a student loan debt occurring before the marriage belongs to the person who took out the loan. The other spouse is not normally accountable for the loan because the court deems it as separate property.

However, deciding which person is responsible for a student loan debt taking place after the couple pronounces their vows is not as simple. Since the debt occurred during the marriage, the court views it as a marital debt subject to either community property rules or equitable distribution laws. Marital property is divided equally in a community property state. The equality of a marital debt also applies to a student loan debt occurring in a community property state.

What may happen if a spouse loses a job during divorce

A person in Pennsylvania who is going through a divorce might be concerned if a higher-paid spouse loses a job during the process. The lower-earning spouse might be worried about whether the spouse can continue paying support during this time or even worried if the spouse is being entirely truthful about the circumstances around the job loss.

For example, a person who works for friends or family members might actually use a "layoff" as an excuse to try to pay less in support. However, if a person attempts to become underemployed as a way to reduce or avoid support payments, courts usually do not look favorably upon this. They may calculate a person's support obligations based on salary history. Courts may also take different approaches to a job loss depending on the circumstances. For example, they might be lenient if the loss is due to a legitimate layoff versus misconduct.

What Pennsylvania business owners should know about child support

For Pennsylvania’s small business owners, divorce often brings unwanted uncertainty, especially when your divorce involves child support. You already face pressure from online competition and changing markets, and you may not want to think about adding child support payments to the mix.

The truth, however, is that it’s particularly important for business owners to think carefully about child support. In most cases, Pennsylvania awards child support according to a strict formula. The formula uses the parents’ joint income to decide how much each should put toward the child’s upbringing. But when you’re a business owner or entrepreneur, simply listing your income can prove a trick.

Is parental alienation real or a psychological hoax?

It's an all-too familiar story: One parent--let's say the father--wins primary custody of the children. The mother looks forward to her parenting time but starts to notice the children acting differently over time. They ask why she doesn't love them. They say they want to go back to their father's house. The father starts making excuses for why they don't want to visit. Eventually, they just stop showing up. They stop calling. The mother who gave life to these children finds her connection to them unravelling.

This is what Pennsylvania's courts refer to as "parental alienation." Parental alienation was introduced in the 1980s as a mental health syndrome, but more than 30 years later, it still has not been added to the DSM or recognized by the American Psychiatric Society. Nonetheless, the term persists, backed by the suffering of roughly 22 million alienated parents, and has factored prominently in cases brought before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Documents divorcing women are often advised to gather

Women ending a marriage in Pennsylvania have many things to consider. If there are significant personal or professional assets involved, one of the main things to consider is finances. Women in this situation are typically advised to gather certain important documents before officially untying the knot.

The first essential documents are tax returns. The general recommendation is for a divorcing spouse to collect tax returns for the past three years. This includes W-2s and other supporting documentation. Tax information from any privately held businesses should be included as well, especially if personal expenses are paid through such companies. These figures help determine a woman's future benefits post-divorce.

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