Everything I explain about divorce applies equally well to unmarried couples who are ending their relationships, except there is no piece of paper from the court (a divorce decree) telling unmarried couples that their relationship has legally ended. Divorcing couples must resolve the following issues: 1) Dividing assets and liabilities; 2) Income & expenses (child support, spousal support and alimony); 3) Parenting arrangements (custody); and 4) Divorce decree. There is no magic formula for doing this, but couples can reach an agreement privately and avoid court completely if you both agree to do so. You and your spouse can come to any agreement that works for you and your family using direct negotiation, collaborative law or mediation. You can have the court make decisions through litigation and I will explain what the Pennsylvania Divorce Code provides when explaining litigation. You should think about how you want to handle your divorce and speak with your spouse about how you would both prefer to go through this process before you decide anything else. If you have children, they will learn valuable lessons from watching your behavior throughout the divorce process.
Also known as the “kitchen table method”, this involves you and your spouse talking directly with each other to negotiate an agreement. It is possible for some couples to reach agreements this way, but many couples find it very difficult because they do not communicate very well and are experiencing a lot of stress. If you are able to reach an agreement, you should still have the advice of a lawyer to make sure you have addressed all the necessary elements and to get his or her opinion of the terms. Above all, you should never sign an agreement without the advice of your own attorney! Have an attorney prepare the agreement to make sure it accurately says what you mean to say and that it is valid and enforceable. You should also have an attorney handle the paperwork for your divorce. Spending some money up front for an attorney to handle things can save you a lot of money down the road.
I handle divorces resolved by direct negotiation for clients throughout central Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, York, Hershey, Carlisle and surrounding communities. The details associated with divorce, division of property, child and spousal support, alimony and custody arrangements are more complicated than many people expect. I frequently find that spouses have overlooked some important terms that should be resolved before finalizing their agreements.
The collaborative process involves the spouses and their attorneys committing to avoid court and meeting in non-confrontational sessions to discuss the issues and goals of the involved individuals, including divorce, finances and expenses, division of assets and parenting plans. Each spouse has a separate collaboratively trained attorney and both attorneys agree that if they are unable to help the parties negotiate an agreement, the attorneys will not participate in litigation. Therefore, both attorneys are committed to helping their clients reach an acceptable resolution. Spouses and attorneys work as a team to reach a negotiated resolution. Since everybody involved is working to define the issues that need to be addressed, gather the necessary information and create workable solutions, the collaborative process can help couples reach agreements more quickly and with less overall cost than litigation. When you reach an agreement through the collaborative process, the attorneys memorialize the terms in an enforceable written contract.
I am a collaboratively trained attorney with years of experience helping clients resolve divorce and other family conflicts through the collaborative process. Central Pennsylvania has a well-established and growing community of collaboratively trained attorneys practicing in Harrisburg, Carlisle, Hershey, York and surrounding communities. Please contact me to learn more about the collaborative law process.
As a mediator, I am neutral and not representing either spouse as his or her attorney. I meet with both spouses to help them resolve divorce and other family law conflicts using non-adversarial negotiation. Mediation allows spouses to make all of the decisions for their family with the guidance of the mediator and without court involvement. Each spouse should have his or her own attorney for legal advice, since I am not representing either spouse. When you reach an agreement in mediation, I prepare a memorandum documenting the terms of that agreement and the spouses’ attorneys prepare the formal contract that both spouses sign.
Click here for more detailed information about mediation.
Litigation means having the court make decisions for you and your family. I encourage my clients to use litigation as a last resort because in my experience, litigation is the least efficient and most costly (including financial, personal and family relationship costs) method of resolving divorce-related conflicts. If spouses don’t agree on an alternative method to resolve their conflicts (direct negotiation, collaborative law or mediation), they will end up using litigation.
The court uses the Pennsylvania Divorce Code and Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure to decide all divorce-related issues. Property and debts are divided through equitable distribution (meaning fair, but not necessarily equal distribution) according to a list of 11 factors. Child and spousal support are handled by the county Domestic Relations Office using state-wide support guidelines and formulas based on both spouses’ net monthly incomes. The court decides whether alimony will be awarded and if so, how much and for how long, based on a different list of 17 factors. The court makes child custody decisions based on another list of factors, with the goal of deciding what is in the child’s best interests. It is not unusual to have three court cases proceeding at the same time because divorce, support and child custody must be filed as three separate actions. Most litigation cases are resolved by agreement at some stage of the court process, but it is frequently after both spouses have spent considerable time, money and energy preparing to go to court.
I approach litigation with the goal of being effective and efficient and always taking reasonable steps to reach agreements. I like to develop a plan with my clients to accomplish their goals and focus on executing that plan with as few distractions as possible. I do not use litigation to punish the other spouse because that is not in my clients’ best interests.