Chester County Divorce, Custody, and Support Processes
CHESTER COUNTY DIVORCE PROCEDURES
In Chester County, a divorce action begins with the filing of a Complaint in Divorce by a Chester County divorce lawyer. The defendant-spouse usually is served with the Chester County Divorce Complaint by certified mail. A Divorce Decree will not generally be entered until all economic claims (equitable distribution, alimony, attorney fees, etc.) of the parties has been resolved by agreement or court order.
Equitable distribution is the division of marital assets and debts. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean “equal.” The formal process for equitable distribution begins with both spouses, through their Chester County Divorce Attorneys, filing a formal inventory of their assets and debts and exchanging documents relating to income, assets and debts. This process is known as “discovery.” If the divorcing spouses are unable to agree on the economic claims, the Chester County Family Court Judge assigned with the case cannot begin the equitable distribution process until the parties’ divorce decree is ready to be entered by the Court. If both parties consent to the divorce, the parties’ divorce decree is ready to be entered as soon as 90 days after service of the Divorce Complaint. If the parties are not in agreement about the divorce, the parties’ divorce decree is not ready to be entered until 1 year after the spouses’ separation. If the date of separation is challenged, the court may schedule a hearing to resolve that specific matter.
If the parties are not in agreement to the divorce or economic claims, a party must move for the appointment of a Hearing Officer. The Hearing Officer will schedule a preliminary conference. At the preliminary conference the Chester County Divorce Lawyers and assigned judge discuss settlement proposals in the judge’s chambers. The divorcing spouses are not in judge’s chambers but generally must be present in the courthouse so any agreement can be reduced into writing and signed on the same day. If an agreement is not reached, the Hearing Officer schedules a date for the settlement conference and orders discovery. The parties are present at the settlement conference and the purpose of the conference is to reach an agreement. If an agreement is reached it will be placed on the record. The Hearing Officer will then issue a report and recommendation for entry of a divorce decree. On the other hand, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the parties may file a certificate of trial readiness which puts them on the trial list to appear before a judge.
Once a settlement on all economic claims has been reached or a court order for equitable distribution has been entered, either spouse may seek to obtain the entry of the Divorce Decree.
CHESTER COUNTY CHILD CUSTODY PROCEDURES
A child custody action is initiated by a Chester County Child Custody Lawyer filing a Complaint for Custody of Minor Children or a formal petition seeking to modify an already established Custody Order of Court. Thereafter, the parents (or other third party involved in the case such as grandparents) and any minor children over the age of 6 are required to attend a parenting class. Next, the parties are required to attend a Custody Mediation session with a court-appointed mediator who may be an attorney or a counselor familiar with custody laws. The parties’ attorneys are not present at the mediation. If an agreement is not reached in mediation, the parties and their Chester County Custody Attorneys will attend a Custody Conciliation in the Family Court’s Generations department. A Custody Conciliator will consider the statements by the lawyers and parties and offer settlement recommendations. If a settlement is not reached, the Hearing Officer will recommend a temporary order that will take immediate effect. If either party is unhappy with the recommended order, that party is able to file for a trial before a judge.
CHESTER COUNTY SUPPORT PROCEDURES
All actions for child support, spousal support, and alimony pendente lite in Chester County start with the filing of either a Chester County Support Complaint or a formal motion to modify an already existing support order. Claims for alimony in Chester County are resolved as part of the equitable distribution process. The Family Court then schedules a support conference where the parties and their Chester County support lawyers will attempt to settle their dispute with the assistance of a Support Conference Officer. If an agreement is reached, a Consent Order of Court is typed and signed by all parties. If no agreement is reached, the case will be heard by a Support Hearing Officer.
The Support Hearing Officers are Chester County attorneys, not judges, employed by the court to take testimony from the parties, hear legal arguments from the Chester County support attorneys, and enter a Recommended Support Order of Court. If either party disagrees with the Recommendation, Exceptions to the Hearing Officer’s Recommendation can be filed within 20 days. If Exceptions are not filed within 20 days, the Hearing Officer’s Recommendation becomes a final order of the court. If exceptions are filed, the recommendation will become a temporary order, and will remain in effect until the Judge gives a final order. Exceptions allow the parties to argue before a judge that the recommended order is improper. At this appearance before a judge, also called Argument Court, the judge will consider the transcripts of testimony from the Support Hearing and written briefs from the support lawyers.
Our Main Line divorce lawyers have represented hundreds of Chester County family law clients. We believe we are different from many other Main Line, Chester County family law attorneys.
Our Main Line family law and divorce lawyers can be contacted via email, or please call the Law Offices of Jennifer J. Riley at 215-283-5080.