Changing Your Last Name After Divorce

Many women want to return to their maiden name after they divorce. While it’s not difficult to do, it’s important to do it correctly to avoid problems in the future.

In Pennsylvania, you may resume a prior surname at any time during your divorce proceeding by filing a written notice with the Prothonotary of the county in which your divorce was filed or in which your divorce decree was entered. This notice provides the Prothonotary with the caption and docket number of your divorce. If you got divorced outside of Pennsylvania, you must also attach your divorce decree to the notice.

After you provide this notice and obtain your Name Change Order, you may change other legal documents. For example, if you legally changed your name and obtained a corrected Social Security card when you married, you will need to update it again to reflect your maiden name. To do this, bring a certified copy of the Name Change Order to your local Social Security Office. They will take care of the remaining steps. Failing to obtain a corrected Social Security card may prevent your wages from being correctly accounted for on your Social Security record and this may lower your future Social Security benefits. Failing to obtain an updated card may also cause delays when you file your taxes.

You will also need to update or obtain a REAL ID. Beginning May 3, 2023, Pennsylvanians will be required to have a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license to board domestic flights and enter federal buildings. When obtaining a REAL ID, you will need to provide proof of all legal name changes if your current full legal name is different than what is shown on your proof of identity document.  To prove your name change, you may use original or certified copies of your marriage certificate, Name Change Order, or your divorce decree.

Divorce isn’t the only reason you may wish to change your name, and your new name might not be the only change you wish to make on important, official documents. There are also different rules for changing your name after divorce depending on your citizenship status. Whether you want to change your name because of your divorce, or to make it match your gender identity, the attorneys at the Law Offices of Jennifer J. Riley can help. Give us a call and find out how we can help you Protect What Matters Most!   

Fault or No-Fault: What does it matter? – An explanation of your divorce options in Pennsylvania

If you are thinking about a divorce and Google “Divorce in Pennsylvania”, you will likely find an endless amount of information, which can be overwhelming.  By offering free consultations, we try to help make the process less mysterious.  Read on here, and we will help clear up as much of the confusion as possible!

What does “fault” or “no-fault” mean?  At one time, “fault” was a part of the divorce process.  It is not very common now because Pennsylvania is a “no fault” state – meaning, you can be divorced for any reason of your choice. 

To have a “fault based” divorce, you must give a reason, such as:

  • Your spouse has committed willful and malicious desertion for 1+ year;
  • Your spouse has endangered your life through cruel and barbarous treatment;
  • Your spouse entered into marriage with you while still married to another individual (bigamy);
  • Your spouse has been sentenced to prison for 2+ years;
  • Your life is intolerable and burdensome because of your spouse’s indignities;
  • Your spouse cheated on you and committed adultery.

The above 6 reasons/options might seem common but the reality is that these reasons are rarely, if hardly ever, used or followed in our local county courts. Instead, the most common divorce is the No-Fault Divorce” (even when fault is the reason why!)

Typically, making the decision to proceed under the No-Fault statute will result in a faster divorce process (which usually means less expensive!) This is because, under a no-fault divorce, you can obtain “grounds” (essentially, permission) to divorce after 90 days from the date of service of the divorce complaint, and/or after one (1) year of living separate and apart.  The waiting period will depend on whether or not you and your spouse are both in agreement to get a divorce and move on, or whether one spouse wants to hold out and try to repair the relationship.

It is important to hire an attorney who is well versed in the applicable laws and available options in our local counties. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Jennifer J. Riley are available to guide you through the initial stages of the divorce process in Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties.  We help you protect what matters most.   

Contact the Attorneys at the Law Offices of Jennifer J. Riley TODAY to schedule your free consultation.


Are you searching for a peaceful, efficient, cost-effective way to build a healthy post-divorce future for your family? Mediation could be the path for you. While you might have heard of the “Magic of Mediation,” what really makes Mediation so powerful is not magic. The power of Mediation comes from its four core principles:

You are in Charge

When couples choose Mediation, they choose to remain in control of their divorce and their future. In Mediation, there is no judge, no jury, no outside decision-maker. What is possible in Mediation is limited only by the creativity and commitment of the parties, not by the letter of the law, the rules of court, or the whim of a Judge. Parties to a Mediation are not adversaries; they are partners, working together to create a resolution that meets all their interests. Mediation is powerful only if it is empowering, because nobody knows what is best for you and your family better than you.

Your Mediator is Neutral

A Mediator’s job is to facilitate a safe, structured process that empowers couples to communicate and resolve their conflicts constructively. While some Mediators are lawyers, Mediators do not serve as the parties’ attorney, and they do not advocate for either party. Mediators do not take sides, give legal advice, or push an agenda or their preferences. By remaining strictly neutral, Mediators keep the parties focused on what really matters: understanding and clarifying their interests, exploring options, and communicating effectively with each other. Mediators stay in the middle, so that the parties remain in the center.

The Process is Confidential

To create resolutions that meet all their interests, parties need to communicate openly, and without fear that their words could be used against them. That’s why, by law, discussions that occur during Mediation are confidential and inadmissible in any later court proceedings. With very few and limited exceptions, neither the parties nor the Mediator may discuss anything that occurred during the Mediation with anyone outside of the Mediation, and neither party may call the Mediator as a witness in any later court proceeding. What happens in Mediation, stays in Mediation!

The Process is Voluntary

Mediation only works when both parties commit to making it work. Because the parties are always in control, Mediation is inherently voluntary. That means the parties must enter Mediation freely and must be allowed to withdraw from Mediation at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. This ensures that the only parties to a Mediation are those who are choosing to engage in it. Every step along the path of Mediation is one you choose to make.   

Learn More

To learn more about Mediation, check our Frequently Asked Questions About Mediation, and our comparison of Mediation vs. Litigation. You can also reach out to one of our Mediators with questions and for help deciding whether Mediation is the path for you.

Collaborative Divorce

For more than 30 years, people all over the United States and around the world have turned to the Collaborative Process as a peaceful, efficient, and effective way to divorce. Despite its growing popularity, Collaborative Practice remains much less well known than other divorce processes, such as litigation and mediation. So, what is Collaborative Practice, and how can you tell if it’s the right for you?

What is Collaborative Practice?

There are two features of Collaborative Practice that distinguish it from other ways you could divorce. First, when you choose Collaborative Practice, you and your spouse not only choose your own Collaborative Attorneys but may also invite other Collaboratively-trained professionals to join your Collaborative Team. Many Collaborative Teams include a Financial Advisor and a Divorce Coach, who serve as neutral advisors to both spouses, providing valuable support to help you create better, more efficient divorce resolutions.  Some Teams also include other Collaboratively-trained professionals, such as a Child/Parenting Specialist, Mortgage Advisor, Special Needs Consultant, or others with special expertise in an area of need. Whether your Team includes only you and your spouse and your Collaborative Attorneys, or other specialized Team members, building the right Team for your divorce is one of the most important steps you will take during the Collaborative Process.

The second hallmark of Collaborative Process is the Participation Agreement. Choosing Collaborative Practice means committing to resolving your divorce without adversarial litigation. The Process begins with you and your spouse, and both Collaborative Attorneys, signing a formal, legally binding Participation Agreement that commits all of you to the Collaborative Process. The cornerstone of the Participation Agreement is the “Disqualification” provision, which will prohibit the Collaborative Attorneys from representing either you or your spouse in any adversarial litigation. Knowing that going to court would mean starting over with new attorneys serves as a powerful incentive to both you and your spouse to resolve your divorce Collaboratively.

Is Collaborative Practice right for you?

If you and your spouse are committed to resolving your divorce peacefully and would benefit from the support and expertise of a Collaborative Team, then choosing Collaborative Practice may be right for you. Our Collaboratively-trained attorneys, Josh Kershenbaum and Stacy Forchetti, can answer your questions and help connect you with other Collaborative professionals in the region. Contact us today!

Special Education Mediation

Resolving your Special Education Dispute with Private Mediation

Conflicts between parents of children with special needs and their public school district can be contentious, emotional, and expensive. The stakes are always high in disputes involving children, especially when the child has complex needs that may be difficult to identify or expensive to meet. School districts and parents often disagree about whether a child is eligible for special education services, what those services should be, where the child should attend school, and who is responsible for paying for the child’s evaluations, services, and placement.

While most parties resolve their disputes without going to court or an administrative Due Process hearing, those that wind up in adversarial litigation often face staggering legal fees and judgments that sometimes exceed the cost of providing the services to the child. Litigation is also time-consuming and inherently risky for both parties, which can be very problematic for those trying to meet the needs of a vulnerable child.

Whether you are hoping to avoid litigation or trying to settle a dispute that is already in court or a hearing, private Mediation could be a powerful option to help you resolve your conflict efficiently, effectively, and peacefully.

If you’re interested in learning what Mediation is, why and how it works, and how it compares to litigation, check out these resources: [links to Mediation Blog, Mediation FAQ, Mediation vs. Litigation].

While private Mediation can be helpful for resolving most special education disputes, it may be especially effective when: 

Delay in resolution poses serious risk of irreparable harm to the child.

At the heart of every special education dispute is a child. Parents and school districts share an interest in meeting the needs of that child and ensuring that the child does not pay the price for their dispute. The timeframe for litigation is typically measured in months or years, while mediation is usually completed in a matter of days or weeks. When the child is counting on the parents and the district to resolve their dispute as quickly as possible, Mediation may be the fastest, most efficient, and most effective way forward.

The parties expect to be working together for years to come.

Children with special needs often remain eligible for special education services from their school districts even after they are no longer children. In Pennsylvania, students may be eligible until the end of the school year in which they turn 21. Thus, many parents and districts that are in conflict must continue working together long after a judge or hearing officer decides their case. Adversarial litigation rarely strengthens the relationships between the parties and often damages them permanently. By contrast, Mediation offers the parties a way to build trust and basic communication skills that will help them avoid and resolve conflicts effectively in the future. Mediation builds bridges that the parties cannot afford to burn.

The dispute involves very complex facts.

Special education matters can involve extremely complex facts concerning a child’s needs, progress, educational testing, and programming, often over many years and involving dozens of teachers, specialists, meetings, evaluations, and voluminous records. Courts are ill-equipped to understand these facts and to appreciate the contexts in which they occur. While special education Hearing Officers are better equipped than most judges to make sense of the specialized issues in these matters, Hearing Officers often have limited authority to impose remedies or solutions to the problems the parties face in these cases. Private Mediation with an experienced special education Mediator offers the parties the opportunity to craft creative, flexible agreements that are tailored to the unique facts of their case, with the help of a skilled, neutral Mediator who has expertise in both special education conflict resolution.

The case involves novel or unsettled legal issues

Whenever someone else is deciding the outcome of your conflict – including a judge or hearing officer – the outcome is inherently uncertain. Risks abound even when your matter is like others that came before and when the legal issues are common and well-settled. So, when your dispute involves novel or unsettled legal issues, litigation can feel more like high stakes gambling than a reliable dispute resolution process. In these cases, the benefits of Mediation are even more pronounced. Parties to a Mediation retain complete control over the outcome of their matter and neither party risks incurring the costs of an adverse decision that could establish even costlier precedent for future cases. The riskier and less certain the outcome of your litigation, the more prudent it is to attempt Mediation.

The matter involves a dispute over legal fees.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) contains a “fee-shifting” provision under which parents may petition a federal court for an Order requiring their school district to pay their reasonable attorney’s fees when the parents prevail against the district in an administrative due process hearing. Less commonly, a district may seek reimbursement of its legal fees against the parents. In many cases, legal fees approach or even exceed the cost of the disputed services or placement for the child. Sometimes, the only issue that the parties are “stuck” on is the payment of attorney’s fees. Fee disputes can take months, or even years, to resolve in court, and are fraught with risk for both sides. With the help of an experienced special education Mediator, the parties can often resolve these disputes faster and avoid incurring additional “fees on fees” – the legal fees associated with litigating the fee dispute itself.

We can help.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you resolve your special education dispute efficiently, effectively, and peacefully.

For more about mediation, click here.

Spouses’ Election to Keep Married Name

In the United States, your surname may give you a sense of self and of belonging. For women who have changed their names upon marriage, a subsequent divorce raises the question:  should I take back my own last name?  There are several reasons some women may prefer to keep their married surname after a divorce. For example, she might wish to have the same last name as the children, or there may be professional reasons that she identifies with the name, preferring not to start building a professional reputation from scratch. For example, Victoria Beckham rose to fame in the Spice Girls empire at the same time as her marriage to David Beckham. When someone mentions Victoria Beckham, nearly everyone knows her.  However, if someone were to call her by her maiden name, Victoria Adams, few would know her.  .

You may also opt to keep your married name for simpler reasons, such as it being easier to pronounce than your maiden name or because you remember the hassles of changing your name (including getting a new passport, driver’s license, and updating the Social Security Administration as well as all financial institutions).  Many men ask us if it is possible to require their ex-wives to change their last names to their maiden names. It is not possible to require anyone to change back to a prior surname.  This is only the choice of the person carrying the name, even if it was not her birth name.

For many women, the choice to change their last names back to their prior surname is an important and liberating step in the divorce process.  For some women, taking back their identify from before the marriage is critical to the divorce process.  Taking someone’s last name upon marriage is a symbol of unity, and many wish to sever the legal and emotional connections with the former spouse upon the divorce. Please note that name changes upon divorce are not automatic.  If you wish to change your last name, you may do so as early as the day after you file for divorce.  You can also do so after the divorce is granted.  We can help you through the process and answer any questions you have regarding this important decision.

What is the “Right of First Refusal” in custody cases?

The Right of First Refusal is a clause that many parents include in custody agreements.  The provision requires that the custodial parent, if she cannot be with the children during her scheduled time, must first offer the other parent the opportunity to be with the children before seeking third-party childcare assistance. 

For instance, let’s assume Mom is scheduled to have custody of the children Thursday through Sunday.  However, she has a work event on Thursday night that she must attend. Rather than calling a babysitter to watch the children on Thursday night, she must first reach out to Dad to let him know that she cannot be with their children during her scheduled time and will need to call a babysitter. If Dad is free on Thursday night, he has the option to spend the time with the children in lieu of a babysitter.  Dad is not obligated to take the time, of course.  The Custody Order assigns the time to Mom and not to Dad, so he has no obligation to be there on Thursday night.  However, if he is free and wants to take the extra time, he can do so with the Right of First Refusal.

The Right of First Refusal is important for several reasons.  First, it helps to give each parent as much time as possible with their children.  Also, importantly, the provision allows for the parents to be the first choice to watch children in lieu of babysitters.  Depending on the parents’ relationship with one another, the Right of First Refusal can help encourage co-parenting and better communication.

There are some things to consider before adopting the Right of First Refusal in your Custody Order.  First, and paramount – is the extra time in the best interest of your children?  Secondly, is the relationship between you and the other parent healthy or will the additional obligation to communicate more frequently put a strain on an already difficult relationship?  Finally, some parents actually use the Right of First Refusal provision to harm the other parent in court or to keep track of how often the other parent has conflicting obligations.  In cases where the other parent is spiteful, instituting the Right of First Refusal may not be in the best interest of your children.  We always ask our clients to consider their personal relationships within the family when making a decision about whether to add the Right of First Refusal to the Custody Order.

In Pennsylvania, custody agreements can be modified. Therefore, if your Custody Order does not include the Right of First Refusal and you think it would benefit your children, we can help you modify the Order to include it.

Medical Marijuana in Custody: Preventing Your Child Custody Rights from Going Up in Smoke.

Medical Marijuana is a trending treatment for a number of serious medical conditions. Although Federal law classifies marijuana or cannabis as an illegal hallucinogen, 33 state legislatures, including Pennsylvania, have enacted medicinal marijuana laws[1] including the Pennsylvania General Assembly which enacted the Medical Marijuana Act that took effect on May 17, 2016.[2]

The Medical Marijuana Act allows licensed medical professionals who meet special requirements and appear on the state registry to recommend medical marijuana as a treatment to serious medical conditions enumerated in the statute, such as cancer, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, and glaucoma.[3]  Like all medications, there may be some adverse side-effects, but doctors have weighed these side effects against the potential benefits and recommended the treatment anyway. There may be special conditions placed on a patient’s medical marijuana such as limiting the duration of use or the form by which a patient may take the medicine.[4] Adhering to any requirements or limitations is important, not only to a patient’s health, but also his or her pending custody matter.

The Medical Marijuana Act itself includes a specific provision relating to child custody matters. The Act states, “the fact that an individual is certified to use medical marijuana and acting in accordance with this act shall not by itself be considered by the court in a custody proceeding”.[5] In determining the best interest of the child with respect to custody, the Court considers the  provisions of the 16 custody factors enumerated in 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5328.

One of the sixteen factors courts consider in determining the best interest of the child is a parent’s drug use. Typically, if there is a concern about a parent’s drug use, the court may order one or both of the parties to submit to drug tests, to determine if drug or alcohol use is a problem. The courts may consider a positive drug test as a reason to limit a parent’s physical custody.

So, what happens if a parent has a medical marijuana prescription? The most important thing to remember when dealing with custody matters, is that every case is different, and the court will look at all the facts presented in your particular situation to make a decision. This means that just because a judge made a ruling in one case, does not mean he or she will rule the same way in another. Even though it is the cardinal rule for all custody matters that every case is unique, it is especially important to keep in mind when appearing before the court with a medical marijuana prescription. Because medical marijuana is still relatively new, Judges are still figuring out how to deal with it in terms of child custody.

Courts have been inclined to treat prescription marijuana like other prescriptions where the court considers the side effects of the treatment against the best inters of the child and the custody schedule. For example, if Father injured his back at work and was temporarily prescribed medication to manage his pain, the court would not, on that fact alone, limit that parent’s custodial time. However, the court may consider the side effect of those types of medications and include a provision in the order that states Father is not to be under the influence of that medication at custodial exchanges because it may impair his ability to operate his vehicle safely. If, several months later, Father is still taking pain medication or has unilaterally increased the dosage he takes without consulting his doctor, the court may consider those types of facts and decide to limit Father’s custodial time.

The same holds true for medical marijuana. While the Act clearly states that the prescription itself shall not be considered in making child custody determinations, it does not mean that it will not play a part in the over all consideration of the best interest of the child. Parents are still expected to provide appropriate care for their children and maintain their safety and well-being. If a parent’s prescription cannabis impairs a parent’s ability to care for their child, they may see a reduction in their physical custody. Furthermore, compliance with one’s prescription is important. A court can still order a parent who uses medical marijuana to submit to a drug test and the court can consider those results against the doctor recommendation as a way to check for use or abuse of the medication. In addition, there are rules regarding the storage and consumption of medical marijuana. If a parent does not comply with those rules, a judge may consider that in making a custody determination.

In addition to complying with one’s prescription, one must also comply with the current custody orders of the court. If a previous court order prohibited the use of marijuana, and then a parent obtains a medical marijuana certificate, the court can still find a parent violated a custody order even if he or she were complying with the doctor’s recommendation. The nuances of a particular case can have a significant impact on how the court treats a parent’s medical marijuana certificate.

If you are concerned about how your own medical marijuana prescription may impact your custody case, or you have concerns that your child’s other parent is misusing his or her medicinal marijuana certification, you should contact a Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney to discuss the specifics of your case.

[1] and Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970

[2] 35 P.S § 10231.101

[3] 35 Pa. C.S.A §§10231.101 – 10231.103

[4] 35 Pa. C.S.A §§ 10231.501 — 10231.510

[5] 35 Pa. C.S.A §§ 10231.2101 — 10231.2110