Delaware County Divorce, Custody, and Support Processes
DELAWARE COUNTY DIVORCE PROCEDURES
In Delaware County, a divorce action begins with the filing of a Complaint in Divorce by a Delaware County divorce lawyer. The defendant-spouse usually is served with the Delaware 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 have 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 Delaware 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.”
The equitable distribution process in Delaware County begins with a Discovery Conference, also known as a Case Management Conference. Usually, only counsel is present at this conference, and the purpose of the conference is for administrative and procedural issues. After the Discovery Conference, the parties and their attorneys will attend a Pre-Trial Conference. At the Pre-Trial Conference, the attorneys will discuss what will occur at the Equitable Distribution Hearing. The goal of the Equitable Distribution Hearing is to settle economic claims (other than support and alimony). At the end of the Equitable Distribution hearing, the Hearing Officer will submit a written recommendation on how the assets and debts should be divided. The parties then have 20 days to file exceptions to the hearing officer’s recommendation. If no exceptions are filed, the recommendation becomes the final order. If exceptions are filed, the parties will have a hearing 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
DELAWARE COUNTY CHILD CUSTODY PROCEDURES
A child custody action is initiated by a Delaware 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. After the Complaint for Custody is filed, the case will be assigned to a Conference Officer and scheduled for an Initial Conference. Conference Offices are attorneys, not judges. In other Pennsylvania counties, the Initial Conference is often called a “Conciliation Conference.” At the Initial Conference, the goal is for the parties to reach an agreement regarding the custody schedule. The parties are present, but the attorneys do a majority of the speaking. Children are rarely present at the Initial Conference. If the parties do not reach an agreement at the Initial Conference, the matter will be re-listed for a hearing. The Conference Officer may enter a temporary order that will remain in effect until a final order is entered. If the parties are able to reach an agreement, the attorney for one of the parties will draft the agreement and the other party will have the chance to review. Both parties, as well as their attorneys, will sign. The Conference Officer and a judge will then sign the agreement and make it a court order.
Alternatively, parties may be scheduled for an Extended Hearing, which is often more formal and more in depth than the Initial Conference. Testimony by the parties, experts, children, and non-party witnesses may occur. After the Extended Hearing, the Hearing Officer will issue written findings. Parties have 10 days to appeal the decision. If no appeal is made, the judge will sign the order, making it a final order.
DELAWARE COUNTY SUPPORT PROCEDURES
All actions for child support, spousal support, and alimony pendente lite in Delaware County start with the filing of either a Delaware County Support Complaint or a formal motion to modify an already existing support order. Claims for alimony in Delaware County are resolved as part of the equitable distribution process. The Family Court then schedules a support conference where the parties and their Delaware 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 Conference Officer will use the income information provided by both parties to enter a support order based on the Support Guidelines. If the parties do not agree with the Conference Officer’s order, a Hearing will be scheduled within sixty days. In some cases, the Conference Officer is unable to enter a Temporary or Interim order. In those cases, a Hearing Officer may hear the case the same day as the Conference.
The Support Hearing Officers are Delaware County attorneys, not judges employed by the court to take testimony from the parties, hear legal arguments from the Delaware County support attorneys, and to 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 Delaware County family law clients. We believe we are different from many other Main Line, Delaware 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.