Who Keeps the House in a Divorce?

by Jennifer J. Riley

Knowing how to handle the house during separation and divorce in Pennsylvania can create the most insecurity during the process.  This post addresses some of the more common questions we answer related to the divorce process and the house (also commonly referred to as the “marital residence” in equitable distribution.)

Can I afford the house?

This is not an easy question to answer.  If you keep the house, you will likely need to refinance the house in order to remove your spouse’s name from the mortgage (if the mortgage is in both of your names).  You will also likely need to pay to your spouse a significant percentage of the equity value of the house. Please call us for a free consultation to receive legal advice as to how a house is valued in equitable distribution.  There are several details we will need in order to tell you how your house will be valued.

It is never too soon to discuss your pending divorce with a financial planner. A financial planner can help you investigate options available to you to help afford the mortgage after the divorce. Some things to consider will be:  the other assets you will have; whether you will receive or pay alimony; whether there is enough equity in the house. 

When we have all of the information related to your assets, your divorce lawyer can share with you different options available to help you afford the house.  We can look at your other assets, such as retirement accounts (including 401k Retirement Savings Plans), bank accounts, savings accounts, pensions, and more, to help you create a distribution and settlement that helps you keep the house.

If it will not be possible for you to keep the house, you will likely sell the house during or after the divorce process. Consulting with a realtor early in the process will help you understand the true fair market value of your house, and will help you decide if selling is right for you.

Can I leave the house during the separation and divorce process?

There is a great deal of “advice” on the internet suggesting that you refuse to leave your home during the divorce process.  In Pennsylvania, you do not lose your economic rights to the value of the house if you choose to move from the house.  Everyone has the right to live in a happy – and, most of all, SAFE – environment.  You are not a prisoner during the divorce process and the process can take anywhere from four months to several years, depending on the facts in your case; there is no reason to put your happiness on hold while the process continues.

If you move, you may not be able to move with the children – especially if you are relocating outside the county or state.  Please schedule a free consultation so that we can help you navigate moving from the home when you have children.  There are additional factors to consider when you are planning to move with your children from the house and we will provide you more detailed information to help you decide your next steps.

Do I have to pay the mortgage if I leave the house?

Generally speaking – and there are some exceptions – the spouse who continues to reside in the house is required to pay the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and other necessary expenses for the house. If the payments are not being made and your house may face foreclosure, be sure to contact a divorce lawyer as soon as possible.

We are happy to discuss other matters related to your house and the divorce process. Please schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys. We can provide answers to your questions to help you make these important decisions, and to help you protect what matters most.

Limits of AI in the Law

by Tyler Kaestner

Artificial intelligence (“AI”) systems have captured the attention and fascination of many; with the launch of the revolutionary “ChatGPT,” AI has become more accessible than ever. With the next step in its evolution, the tech company OpenAI has already outdone their introductory GPT model with “GPT-4.” “GPT-4 is an updated version of the company’s large language model, which is trained on vast amounts of online data to generate complex responses to user prompts.”1 This ability to “generate complex responses” is referred to as “generative AI.” This technology has wide reaching applications – including integration in search engines, language learning programs, and in the legal field.2

            This base GPT-4 technology has quickly made its way into program offerings by legal research companies, including Casetext and LexisNexis.3 Casetext’s “Cocounsel” program has promised to aid in legal research and tasks, becoming a premier “legal AI” tool. The program targets the general AI technology to the law practice by programming in a vast data base of case law and legal information, as well as allowing lawyers to upload documents for the program to review. These tech companies are also developing ways to bring legal tools to non-lawyers, including one company that is looking to make a “one-click lawsuit” for people to use in situations such as receiving an unwanted “robocall.”4

            While a battle between robots might inspire visions of Transformers fight scenes – there is certainly as much peril in them. Yes, AI technology is rapidly improving, and it can be quite impressive, but it is also imperfect. Current AI technologies are still riddled with errors that prevent them from operating at the level of reliability required in the practice of law. For example, in a highly publicized case, a law firm in New York was sanctioned by a Court for including several fictitious cases in a brief submitted to the court.5 In their defense, the lawyers said that they used ChatGPT to help in their legal research, and that these fake cases were given by the AI system. Not only that, but in an effort to double check the results, the lawyer asked the chat-bot whether the cases were real before including them in his brief – which the chat-bot again purported them to be real, and existing on legal databases, even representing them as being authored by real judges!6

            Yes, that means that ChatGPT’s program completely made up court cases, but was sophisticated (if it were a person, we might say devious) enough to incorporate real elements into them. The newer version, GPT-4, is said to be “60% less likely to make stuff up” – this leaves far too big a margin of error that the program could still flat out make stuff up. This raises major legal ethics concerns. With the ability for false information to be generated from the AI systems, even the co-founder of Casetext, the company that created the “legal AI” assistant, urges that the program “still requires attorney oversight.”7 Lastly, there is the fact that in order to power these systems, it requires lawyers to disclose sensitive personal information, that should otherwise be kept strictly confidential, to the AI software.3 With tech companies like OpenAI keeping their data processing mechanisms secret, there is no telling where a person’s information might end up, or how a lawyer could control where it goes.

            In sum, there is reason to be excited about the prospects around AI for personal use, and there might be way a person finds it makes life easier. But in the context of the practice of law, there is still too much room for error and violation of legal ethics for it to be relied on. The trained hand of an attorney is still required to meet the needs of their clients.

1 https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/16/tech/gpt-4-use-cases/index.html

2 https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/mar/15/what-is-gpt-4-and-how-does-it-differ-from-chatgpt

3 https://www.abajournal.com/columns/article/the-future-is-now-the-rise-of-ai-powered-legal-assistants

4 https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/16/tech/gpt-4-use-cases/index.html

5 https://www.reuters.com/legal/new-york-lawyers-sanctioned-using-fake-chatgpt-cases-legal-brief-2023-06-22/

6 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-65735769

7 https://law.stanford.edu/2023/04/19/gpt-4-passes-the-bar-exam-what-that-means-for-artificial-intelligence-tools-in-the-legal-industry/

Divorce and Student Loans

by Jennifer J. Riley

Student loan debt can be a crushing financial burden for many Americans, and it can be even more difficult to manage when you’re going through a divorce. If you and your spouse have student loans, you’re likely wondering how they will be addressed in the divorce.

How Student Loans Are Divided in a Divorce

The way student loans are divided in a divorce depends on many factors.  When you schedule a free consultation, please be ready to answer the following questions: 

  • In whose name are the loans?
  • Were the loans taken out (in whole or in part) before or during the marriage?
  • Did you or your spouse use the loan proceeds for any purposes other than tuition/books and related expenses?
  • What are the outstanding balances of the student loans?
  • Did the loan balances increase or decrease during the marriage?
  • Did you or your spouse pay any of the balances during the marriage?

Your answer to these questions will help your lawyer inform you whether the loans are considered ‘marital’ and subject to distribution in the divorce. 

What to Do If You or Your Spouse Have Student Loans and Are Getting Divorced

If you or your spouse have student loans, schedule a free consultation with an attorney. Our attorneys can help you understand your rights and options. 

Divorce can be a difficult time, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are resources available to help you through the process, including financial counseling and legal assistance, and our attorneys can help you along the path.

How to Divorce a Narcissist!

As a divorce lawyer, I have often read that “divorcing a narcissist is more difficult than being married to one.”   I have never heard my clients say that, though!  It is not a surprise that many clients report being married to narcissists.  Our clients who are married to narcissists are often already receiving psychological counseling before seeing a divorce lawyer.  They are protecting their mental health in preparation for the divorce because they know, from painful experience, what might be coming next. Your divorce lawyer is not a psychologist and cannot pretend to be one. They are your advocate and they are in your corner.  But, when you are recovering from a marriage to a narcissist, it is advisable to have many professionals in your corner – especially a therapist well trained in the impact of narcissism on partners and the trauma many people report suffering as a result. 

There are many resources available to you if you think you are married to a narcissist. First, make sure you tell your divorce lawyer.  It will help us know best how to help guide you in the event your narcissistic spouse exhibits some of these behaviors and attempts to sabotage your divorce or attempts to harm you:  violence, threats, gaslighting, or blaming you, or any of the other common behaviors we see. Second, please consider psychological counseling, before and during the divorce.  This will help you build a strong, supportive team through the divorce process. Finally, take good care of yourself.  You will undoubtedly feel pressure to ‘give in’ during the divorce when your narcissist spouse feels the power shift back to you.  Do what you know is best for you and for your children. What is “best” for you can only be decided by you, with advice from your divorce lawyer and, if you choose, with some guidance from a therapist.  Take time to think about how you want your post-divorce life to look as you regain the power and control to redesign your life, free of the pain associated with being married to a narcissist.

You survived a marriage to a narcissist – you will certainly thrive in the divorce!

“The Best Views Come After the Hardest Climbs”

I take to the woods when I need a dose of nature to balance life.  While I’m a pretty experienced hiker, my friend, Karen, is a much better hiker than I am (read: less afraid of falling down the side of the mountain!)  She’s the kind of hiker who sees hawks where I see tree limbs, who can spot animals as soon as she hears the crackling of a branch, and who knows her way back out of the woods (and without whom, I would certainly not). 

I am really good at climbing up hills and rocks, but fairly terrible at making my way back down. I feel like there is less ability to balance on the hike back down, and you need to have faith that the rocks and branches will support you.

Karen and I took a new hike recently in Skippack.  It was absolutely beautiful and the views overlooking the woods and creek were well worth the climb.  However, this meant the path was full of sections where we had to “make our way back down.”  By the time we had to hike back down, it had started to rain a bit. The rocks were slick, the leaves were slicker, and I tried to hide my discomfort as we started on our way. 

I did not say a word to Karen about my fears.  Karen forged the path ahead of us and, once she made it down the rocks first, turned to me with her hand out and offered me support.  She did not say a word to me, either — no direction, no judgement; she just held her hand out, offering support when I needed it most.    

This is part of what your divorce attorney should do for you.  There will be ups and downs along your path. There will be days you feel like you can climb the mountain, and other days when you’re afraid of what the path back down will bring.  As your lawyers, our job is to turn to you and offer support — not judgment — when you need it most.  You know how to navigate the woods and the path ahead of you.  Making your way through this process is hard work.  But remember — the best views come after the hardest climbs.

The Split – Who knows what you might find on the other side?

“Can there ever be the good divorce?  A laying down of arms.  Sanguine recognition that not all divorce is failure.  Simply some marriages are finite.  Why do we place so much weight on the idea that things must last?
Surely what constitutes a successful relationship is knowing when it is over.  Being brave enough to call time.  The desire of two people who have spent their lives together, good lives together, who are not willing to throw it all away for a few months of pain. 
Isn’t that what also constitutes a good divorce?  One where memories are left to exist untainted, where children are guided through the storm, where two people can say we did it well, we took care of one another even if the marriage is no more.
Be brave. Don’t be afraid.  Who knows what you might find on the other side?”

—The Split
Mark Johnson/Sister Pictures/BBCW/SundanceTV

So begins the final episode of the final season of The Split, a British drama that explores the concept of a “good divorce.” As a divorce lawyer, I tend to avoid television shows that focus on divorce, often because many shows try to find humor in divorce, or try to make this incredibly complex process ‘simple.’  As our divorce and family law clients know too well, this process is never simple. But The Split, in its emotionally poignant, relatable, and touching way, demonstrates that there can be a “good divorce.”

What a “good divorce” means is open to interpretation.  On The Split, we follow the lives of a beautiful, loving, intact couple who, through a series of life transitions over the three few seasons, find their marriage fractured.  We share in the characters’ love, their confusion, their regret, their confidence, their fear, and their transformation.  Some days, we want them to reconcile; others, we want them to leave. Anyone grappling with the decision whether to divorce, or whether to leave a partner, knows the repeating cycle of the painful back-and-forth only too well.  As viewers of The Split, we share in their confusion and their disappointment. 

I recommend this beautiful show for anyone contemplating divorce or anyone who has been through a divorce.  I recommend this show to fellow divorce lawyers who strive to offer clients a “good divorce.”  I recommend this show to anyone searching for the definition of a “good divorce,” or striving to design a “good divorce” for themselves and their children. 

“Be brave. Don’t be afraid.  Who knows what you might find on the other side?”

—The Split

Watch the show on Hulu.

Surviving the Holidays: Do’s and Do Not’s for the Newly Divorced or Separated

The holiday season is here, and it may feel like you’re going through it “alone” after a divorce or separation. Whether you have children or are child-free, newly divorced, or grieving a loss, here are some recommendations to help you make it through these times while going through big life transitions. 


  1. Take care of yourself emotionally
  2. Plan Ahead
  3. Create new traditions
  4. Focus on your Children
  5. Take time for yourself
  6. Remember it will get easier

Do not:

  1. Judge yourself
  2. Cancel the holidays all-together
  3. Let sad memories get you down
  4. Isolate from your loved ones
  5. Think you’re going through it alone
Relaxed woman sitting at the window sill and drinking tea

We’re here to help you through the process during this holiday season.

Call the Law Offices of Jennifer J. Riley for a free consultation.

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.