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Family Law FAQs

Law Office of MariAnn Hathaway Sept. 26, 2023

Book with Words Family Law and GlassesFamily law can be complex, which is why it is crucial that you become familiar with the laws in your state before beginning any legal proceedings such as filing for divorce or requesting changes to your existing arrangements stemming from divorce.  

You may have a lot of questions on your mind and may not always be able to find correct answers online, no matter how hard you try. In this regard, you need to seek legal advice to ensure that you understand your legal rights, options, and obligations under the law.

Our experienced attorney at the Law Office of MariAnn Hathaway can provide you with the support and guidance you need in all your family law matters. We are based in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, but serve clients throughout Washington County.  

Frequently Asked Questions About Family Law 

Below, we have compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions our family law attorney at the Law Office of MariAnn Hathaway receives from prospective clients on an everyday basis. However, the answers provided below should not be construed as legal advice as they may or may not be applicable to every person’s particular situation. Family law matters can be complex and, in most cases, require personalized assistance from an attorney.  

I just got served with divorce papers. What are my next steps? 

The first thing you should do after being served with divorce papers is read them. In these documents, you can find out where the divorce complaint was filed, what allegations were made by your spouse regarding fault, and how long you have to respond to the divorce papers. These documents may also contain requests made by your spouse, including the request to share your financial information. In most cases, the respondent – the spouse served with divorce papers – has 20 days from the date of service to respond.  

How long will it take to get divorced in Pennsylvania? 

If both spouses agree to the terms of their divorce, including child custody, spousal support, division of assets, and other matters, their case can be resolved in a matter of weeks or months after the waiting period ends. Pennsylvania law requires a 90-day waiting period from the date of service of divorce papers before the parties can file consent forms to finalize the divorce. However, when parties cannot reach an agreement without court intervention, their case typically takes anywhere from eight to 14 months and may require multiple court appearances, though there may be exceptions to the general rule.  

What are the grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania?  

Pennsylvania law recognizes two no-fault grounds for divorce: the marriage is irretrievably broken and mutual consent. There are also six “fault” grounds for the dissolution of the marriage: 

  • Desertion 

  • Adultery 

  • Bigamy 

  • Indignities 

  • Cruel treatment 

  • Imprisonment for at least two years 

When filing a complaint to initiate divorce proceedings, the petitioner states the reasons for ending their marriage with their spouse, known as the “respondent.”  

What is the difference between a legal separation and a divorce? 

A legal separation occurs when a couple becomes formally separated while staying married, while divorce refers to the dissolution of the marriage. However, in Pennsylvania, married couples cannot be legally separated. State law only recognizes three marital statutes: married, single, and divorced.  

When is mediation a good option?  

A divorcing couple may voluntarily choose mediation to resolve their disagreements related to the dissolution of the marriage without court intervention in a less adversarial setting. There are many advantages of choosing mediation as an alternative to traditional divorce proceedings – it is usually faster, less expensive, more private, and allows the parties to control the process and the outcome. However, mediation requires both parties to be willing to compromise, which may not always be the best choice for those who cannot maintain a civil level of conversation with one another.  

Who gets to keep the home during a divorce? 

Like most other states, Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state where all marital assets and debts are divided fairly when couples get a divorce. For this reason, it may not be possible to predict who will get the marital house during a divorce without considering a variety of factors such as the spouses’ income and financial resources, their contributions to the marital house, which spouse has primary custody of children, and many others.  

How do I make (or change) a child visitation schedule? 

There are limited circumstances under which child visitation schedules or child custody arrangements can be changed in Pennsylvania. Courts in the state require the parent to request modifications to the existing arrangement to prove a substantial change in circumstances, such as changes in the child’s needs, one parent moving out of state or country, the imprisonment of one parent, drug or alcohol problems, or others. Pennsylvania courts make and modify child custody arrangements based on the “best interests of the child” standard.  

Should we get a prenuptial agreement? 

Whether or not you and your spouse should get a prenuptial agreement is your personal choice. No law in Pennsylvania requires couples to create a prenup prior to the marriage. Typically, a couple may want to draft a prenuptial agreement if there is a significant difference in age and/or financial status and/or one or both parties have children from previous relationships. When drafted and executed properly, a prenup can protect both parties from future conflicts and streamline divorce proceedings.  

Do I need an attorney for my divorce? 

There are several reasons why hiring a divorce attorney is the right decision to make. Your attorney will guide you through all the necessary steps of your divorce proceedings to ensure that your rights and interests are protected at every stage. With an attorney in your corner, you will be able to make rational and strategic decisions in emotionally charged situations. Overall, you are more likely to reach a favorable resolution of your divorce with legal counsel, which is reason enough to hire an attorney.  

Get the Answers to Your Important Questions 

If you need knowledgeable assistance with your family law matter or have more questions that need to be answered, contact the Law Office of MariAnn Hathaway. Our attorney will sit down with you and discuss all the matters you are dealing with and answer all your questions in a clear and straightforward way. Contact our office today to set up a time to meet with attorney MariAnn Hathaway.