Divorce Practice

Divorce Overview

Whether it involves aggressively litigating a divorce action through the Courts, negotiating a fair and reasonable resolution of a case in an amicable four-party setting, or any variety of the many ways to resolve a divorce dispute, Griffie & Associates’ attorneys have the ability and knowledge to help every client through these difficult time.

Since 1980, Pennsylvania has been a no-fault divorce state which means that a divorce can be secured without proving that one of the spouses was the wrongdoer and caused the divorce. Rather, both parties can simply recognize that their marriage is irretrievably broken and that they both wish to be divorced.

There are two forms of no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania. The most common form is when both parties simply consent to the divorce and sign the necessary documents to be divorced. If all other issues that are raised in the divorce, such as property distribution, alimony, and other issues are resolved, the divorce can be concluded by both spouses signing the required paperwork 90 days after the divorce complaint has been filed and served upon the other spouse. Again, though, this requires both parties to consent to the divorce. Then, within approximately one to two weeks, a Divorce Decree is received.

The second manner of securing a no-fault divorce is where the parties have been separated for a period of one year. In 2016, this section of the Divorce Code was amended or changed from a requirement for a two-year separation to only a one-year separation, but the new one-year separation only applies to spouses who separated after December 4, 2016. For parties who separated prior to December 2016, they must still be separated for a period of two years before they can secure a no-fault divorce based on a period of separation. Under this section, the spouse who wishes to seek the Divorce Decree must give notice to the other party so that it can be determined whether both parties agree as to when the parties separated. If the date that the parties separated is agreed upon, or the opposing spouse does not object to the date selected by the spouse who has filed the divorce, and if all other issues raised in the divorce have been resolved, then the party who wishes to finalize the divorce may file the appropriate documents to do so.

Otherwise, Pennsylvania still has fault divorce. The Divorce Code sets forth six separate ways a party can secure a fault divorce (listed below), as well as the right to secure a divorce under specific circumstances where a spouse is institutionalized. While it is somewhat uncommon to have a divorce concluded as a fault divorce, it still does take place and is available in appropriate cases.

Grounds For Divorce

Fault: The court may grant a divorce to the innocent and injured spouse whenever it is judged that the other spouse has:

(1.) Committed willful and malicious desertion, and absence from the habitation of the injured and innocent spouse, without a reasonable cause, for the period of one or more years.

(2.) Committed adultery.

(3.) By cruel and barbarous treatment, endangered the life or health of the injured and innocent spouse.

(4.) Knowingly entered into a bigamous marriage while a former marriage is still subsisting.

(5.) Been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of two or more years upon conviction of having committed a crime.

(6.) Offered such indignities to the innocent and injured spouse as to render that spouse's condition intolerable and life

burdensome.

23 P.C.S. §3301 (a)

Spousal Support/Alimony Pendente Lite

Pennsylvania law allows for one spouse to receive financial support from the other spouse in two different procedures. Spousal support can be requested by the party who has less income and, essentially, who has not been the cause of the parties’ separation. Securing spousal support is a two-step analysis. First, it must be determined whether one party or the other is liable or responsible for the separation of the parties. This can become a rather detailed and complicated process. Secondly, the spousal support is then based upon the incomes of the two parties.

Alimony pendente lite (APL) is very similar in that the same equation is followed to determine the amount of the payment that is made from the paying spouse to the receiving spouse. However, the issue of who is responsible for the separation, if either party is actually responsible, is not an issue in alimony pendente lite. Also, while spousal support can be filed by a spouse without a divorce being filed, alimony pendente lite can only be filed as part of a divorce proceeding. This means that either the party requesting alimony pendente lite must file for divorce or the other party must have already filed.

In addition, there are situations where parties can actually be residing in the same home and still be entitled to receive spousal support or alimony pendente lite. These cases are very “fact specific” and are not common.

The attorneys at Griffie and Associates have extensive experience in handling and advising their clients in routine and unusual situations. Because of the in-depth and extensive experience of our family law attorneys, we are able to review all of the aspects of the entitlement to spousal support or alimony pendente lite and discuss that thoroughly with the client in order to determine whether it is best to proceed to make such a request or, in the alternative, whether it can be anticipated that the other party may make such claims against our clients.

Alimony

Under the Divorce Code of Pennsylvania, alimony is financial support that one former spouse pays to the other former spouse after a divorce has been concluded. Alimony may be part of a court decision resolving the issues involved in the divorce or may be agreed upon pursuant to the terms of the Marital Settlement Agreement or Separation and Property Settlement Agreement.

The Divorce Code sets out 17 factors (listed below) that must be considered by the divorce master or the court when determining whether alimony is appropriate and also in determining the amount and the duration of the alimony. However, the 17 factors are not exclusive. This means that there may be other issues that are relevant to alimony that still come into play in a court’s or divorce master’s decision.

In general, alimony is deductible for income tax purposes by the paying former spouse and must be included as income for the receiving former spouse.

Based upon extensive experience appearing before the divorce masters in southcentral Pennsylvania, where our attorneys practice, as well as addressing exceptions that have been filed with our local courts, the attorneys of Griffie and Associates are well versed in these procedures and the law. In many respects, our attorneys can anticipate the general perspective held by these decision makers. This allows us to guide our clients relative to their demands in trying to amicably resolve the divorce action and otherwise prepare to present a case on behalf of our clients where alimony is an issue.

Whatever the determination made by the divorce master or the court relative to the application of alimony to any specific case, that decision can be modified and the alimony can be increased, decreased, or terminated. Whether the alimony set forth in a Marital Settlement Agreement or the Separation and Property Settlement Agreement is modifiable or nonmodifiable depends upon the terms of the Agreement. This is something that must be very carefully written and reviewed to make sure the client’s future needs are properly addressed. The experience of the attorneys at Griffie and Associates in dealing with multiple divorce situations allows for our clients to confidently move forward in their divorce case.

Factors Relevant in Determining Alimony:

In determining whether alimony is necessary and in determining the nature, amount, duration and manner of payment of alimony, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including:

(1.) The relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties.

(2.) The ages and the physical, mental and emotional conditions of the parties.

(3.) The sources of income of both parties, including but not limited to medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.

(4.) The expectancies and inheritances of the parties.

(5.) The duration of the marriage.

(6.) The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party.

(7.) The extent to which the earning power, expenses or financial obligations of a party will be affected by reason of serving as the custodian of a minor child.

(8.) The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage.

(9.) The relative education of the parties and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment.

(10.) The relative assets and liabilities of the parties.

(11.) The property brought to the marriage by either party.

(12.) The contribution of a spouse as homemaker.

(13.) The relative needs of the parties.

(14.) The marital misconduct of either of the parties during the marriage. The marital misconduct of either of the parties from the date of final separation shall not be considered by the court in its determinations relative to alimony; except that the court shall consider the abuse of one party by the other party. As used in this paragraph "abuse" shall have the meaning given to it under section 6102 (relating to definitions).

(15.) The Federal, State and local tax ramifications of the alimony award.

(16.) Whether the party seeking alimony lacks sufficient property, including, but not limited to, property distributed under Chapter 35 (relating to property rights), to provide for the party’s reasonable needs.

(17.) Whether the party seeking alimony is incapable of self-support through appropriate employment.

23 P.C.S. §3701 (b)

Property and Debt Distribution

The Divorce Code provides for marital property and debts to be divided between the two parties that are going through a divorce proceeding. This is referenced as “equitable distribution.” As the term suggests, the Divorce Code does not require an equal distribution of the marital property that the parties have obtained or an equal distribution of the debts that have been incurred during the marriage. Rather, there are extensive factors listed in the law that must be reviewed in determining what percentage of the various marital assets should be distributed to each party to make the distribution “equitable.”

The Divorce Code sets forth 11 specific factors (listed below) that must be taken into consideration in equitable distribution. However, the law is very clear in indicating that these are simply factors that must be included and by no means ends the analysis. Rather, any factors that are relevant to equitable distribution may be taken into consideration to determine which spouse receives what portions of marital property, or is given the obligation for different portions of the marital debt.

As with most aspects of a divorce case, by having the background, knowledge, and experience of how our local divorce masters and the courts commonly address these factors, as well as having an in-depth understanding of the court decisions made regarding divorces, the attorneys of Griffie and Associates are able to guide our clients in determining the general likelihood of how property may be distributed under the equitable distribution factors. This allows our attorneys to properly guide our clients as we review all of the relevant materials concerning property and debts in an effort to reach an agreement with the opposing party. At the same time, it allows us to properly prepare the client for any proceedings that may occur in front of the divorce master or the court to have equitable distribution addressed through litigation.

Factors Relevant to Determining Equitable Division of Marital Property:

(a) General rule: Upon the request of either party in an action for divorce or annulment, the court shall equitably divide, distribute or assign, in kind or otherwise, the marital property between the parties without regard to marital misconduct in such percentages and in such manner as the court deems just after considering all relevant factors. The court may consider each marital asset or group of assets independently and apply a different percentage to each marital asset or group of assets. Factors which are relevant to the equitable division of marital property include the following:


(1.) The length of the marriage.


(2.) Any prior marriage of either party.


(3.) The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties.


(4.) The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party.


(5.) The opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income.


(6.) The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.


(7.) The contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker.


(8.) The value of the property set apart to each party.


(9.) The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage.


(10.) The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property is

to become effective.


(10.1) The Federal, State and local tax ramifications associated with each asset to be divided, distributed or assigned, which ramifications need not be immediate and certain.


(11.1) The expense of sale, transfer or liquidation associated with a particular asset, which expense need not be immediate and certain.


(11.) Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.


23 P.C.S. §3501(a)


Attorneys Fees and Costs

The Divorce Code allows for a party to request that they be granted the payment of their attorney’s fees and costs, or a portion of those fees and costs, by the other party. Each case has its own facts and the claim or request that attorney’s fees be paid by the other party must rest on those facts. This is one reason why the attorneys of Griffie and Associates take the time to get all of the details and facts of our client’s situation when determining whether such a claim should be made or whether it can be anticipated that the other party will make such a claim against our client.

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Through our many years of handling these cases in very diverse settings, we can distinguish the difference in cases to help every client decide the correct approach for each individual case. This assists the client in getting the case resolved to the client’s and their family's best interests, while preserving financial, emotional and family assets for our clients and our clients’ families’ futures.

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