Montgomery County Divorce, Custody, and Support Processes
MONTGOMERY COUNTY DIVORCE PROCEDURES
In Montgomery County, a divorce action begins with the filing of a Complaint in Divorce by a Montgomery County divorce lawyer. The defendant-spouse usually is served with the Montgomery 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 Montgomery 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 Montgomery 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 spouses are not in agreement on division of marital debts and assets after discovery is complete, the parties will have a conference in front of a hearing officer, who is an attorney appointment by the court to make recommendations on equitable distribution. At the conference, the hearing officer will review all of the parties’ discovery documents and make a verbal recommendation on equitable distribution. If one or both parties disagree with the hearing officer’s recommendation, they may have a hearing at which the hearing officer will hear testimony and take evidence. After the hearing, the master will issue a written report. The parties can either accept the report or file exceptions. If exceptions are filed, the case will go 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.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY CUSTODY PROCEDURES
A child custody action is initiated by a Montgomery 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 are assigned a mediator and given a date on which they must attend a Parenting Program. The Parenting Program provides information on the general responsibilities of divorced or separated parents or guardians. The parties are also required to attend a Custody Mediation session with a court-appointed mediator who may be an attorney or a counselor familiar with custody laws or an attorney. The parties’ attorneys are not present at the mediation.
If an agreement is not reached in mediation, the parties and their Montgomery County Custody Attorney will attend a Custody Conciliation Conference, also known as an Initial Conference. Children are not permitted at the Conciliation Conference. A Custody Conciliator, who is an attorney and not a judge, will consider the statements by the lawyers and parties and offer settlement recommendations. If the parties reach an agreement, an Order will be submitted to the court for a judge to sign, and no further court appearance is required. If a settlement is not reached, the case will be scheduled before a judge. The parties will first be scheduled for a short list hearing. If the matter is not resolved then, the matter will be scheduled for a full hearing before the judge.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY SUPPORT PROCEDURES
All actions for child support, spousal support, and alimony pendente lite in Montgomery County start with the filing of either a Montgomery County Support Complaint or a formal motion to modify an already existing support order. Claims for alimony in Montgomery County are resolved as part of the equitable distribution process. The Family Court then schedules a support conference where the parties and their Montgomery 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 may enter a temporary order, also called an interim order, which will be in effect until the case is heard by a Hearing Officer. Hearings are usually scheduled six to eight weeks after the Conference, but courts are currently delayed due to the pandemic.
The Support Hearing Officers are Montgomery County attorneys, not judges employed by the court to take testimony from the parties, hear legal arguments from the Montgomery 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 Montgomery County family law clients. We believe we are different from many other Main Line, Montgomery 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.