Often, when one learns that a friend, family member, or colleague is going through a divorce, the knee-jerk reaction is to say, "I'm sorry," without really knowing what led them to this point or whether the announcement is actually a negative one or if it's positive. More and more often, we're learning that a more useful response might be something to the effect of, "I don't know whether to say congratulations, or I'm sorry, but I'm here for you either way."
Even when a divorce is initiated, which means ending a relationship that has turned loveless, toxic, or even abusive, there are details to be settled that may be difficult to work through, including custody and child support and other financial matters like spousal support. Hopefully, this is the first step in a process that will result in brighter days in time and, ultimately, a healthier situation for you and any children you may have.
Child custody and child support, of course, aren't issues that affect only divorcing couples. If you have a child you are raising without significant voluntary involvement and financial support from the child's other parent, you likely are thinking about how to use the legal system to secure important resources for your child as they grow, which they deserve. We all know raising a child – especially as a single parent – involves countless sacrifices and a significant financial investment.
If you're going through a divorce, or if you are a parent of a child in need of financial support from the other parent, having an experienced, trusted legal defense on your team can help you swiftly secure an equitable result so you and your family can move on and thrive. Schedule a consultation by calling (888) 535-3686 or telling us about your case online.
As you look ahead to what's to come in your family law case(s), you'll want to consider what you will need to prepare in order to settle financial matters (assets, debts, bank accounts, homes, and spousal support) and child-related matters (custody arrangements and child support).
Multiple Ways to Settle Family Law Matters
If you and your spouse or your child's other parent are able to come to a compromise or agreement that you believe is fair and in your or your child's best interests, then consider yourself fortunate. When this is possible, it is often the preferred way to move forward. Understand that, as seamless as voluntary arrangements may feel, we recommend having your agreements made formal so they are legally binding. You may choose to initiate that through a mediator or on your own. Alternatively, you may each decide to be represented by legal counsel, who can help you draft an agreement.
What is less desirable but nevertheless common is leaving the decision-making up to the courts. Sometimes this is necessary and unavoidable. When this is the case, we would encourage you to secure legal counsel to represent you, particularly if the other party has representation. On this note, we would also caution you to approach this strategically, given how often divorcing parties hire attorneys without being upfront with the other party. You don't want to be surprised when it comes to matters this important.
Having a trusted legal team by your side also helps ensure you fully understand your rights and what you can reasonably expect from the other party. For example, while married, spouses in Pennsylvania are expected to support one another financially when feasible. Financial support in some form may be expected to continue during a separation or after a divorce is made final. The same is true for children under the age of 18 (and in some cases, such as when there is a disability dependents older than 18). If you go to court, you want to be in the best position possible to seek and secure what is rightfully yours and your child's through the court.
Spousal and Child Support in Somerset County
If you are separating or divorcing, you may be wondering how alimony and child support are determined. You are most likely familiar with the basic types of arrangements:
- Child Support: When one parent makes payments to the other parent to contribute to the costs of child-rearing.
- Spousal Support: When one spouse makes payments to the other to support them financially for a period of time, whether during a separation, throughout a divorce proceeding, or after a divorce has been finalized.
Whether you are eligible for these types of support depends on a few different factors, like your income and your spouse's income, as well as other financial details.
In Somerset County, PA, these matters are heard and decided by the Somerset County Court of Common Pleas. Parties seeking child or spousal support orders should file with the court's Domestic Relations Section (DRS). The DRS is an office of the Somerset County Government under the Somerset County Court of Common Pleas. Its primary mission is "to secure financial support for families." It does this by securing and enforcing orders for child support, spousal support, and medical support; establishing paternity when a child is born to unmarried parents, and locating absent parents.
If you are dealing with a Family Law matter in Somerset County, PA, contact the Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm today. If you're not just beginning this process but are in the middle of it or aren't happy with the outcome so far, we can help you challenge existing orders as well. You won't be without resources in the courtroom – we'll be there to advise and support you, present accurate arguments, and defend you as needed.
Child and Spousal Support: Filing Petitions
Your first step in requesting support is to formally file for it by contacting the Somerset County DRS or filing digitally on the PA Child Support Website (this will be passed on to Somerset County's DRS). The DRS Intake Officer can also help you file if needed.
If you feel confident in filing for either child or spousal support on your own, this could be a solid option. Some find it helpful to have legal counsel assist them through the process or take it off their plate completely. Whatever you decide, take care to do so with thoughtfulness and precision. What transpires is important and, in many cases, permanent. The Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm can certainly assist you to whatever degree you prefer.
Child Support: Should You Expect It?
Child support in Somerset County, PA, is a court-ordered payment arrangement designed to ensure your child has their basic needs met – needs related to a safe home, nutritious meals, childcare, and clothing, to name just a few. In cases when one parent is the custodial parent, child support arrangements may be fairly straightforward. In others, such as joint custody arrangements, this can be a bit more complicated. Whether you can expect child support, and if so, the amount you can expect to receive, will depend on a number of things.
Calculating a Fair Child Support Amount
Pennsylvania's codified measurement system recommends appropriate child support payment amounts that reflect a parent's basic financial obligations. These are guidelines, not meant to dictate the actual amount a court may award.
The family law court will take into account:
- Your child's age
- Any specific needs they may have (a medical condition requiring specialized support, for example)
- Your income and the income of the child's other parent
- Assets you and the child's other parent may share, such as investments or rental properties
- Financial obligations either party has (Does one of you pay child support for a child from a previous marriage? This is one example.)
In the end, the court will decide what it believes to be in the child's best interests, taking into consideration their current standard of living as one component.
Is Child Support Permanent?
In the most straightforward cases, the parent making child support payments will do so until the child turns 18 or they become emancipated. If your child has unique needs, such as a health condition or other disability, payments may be ordered past your child's 18th birthday.
Is Spousal Support Worth Applying For?
This is something you probably have an instinct about. In your marriage, for example, did you make sacrifices in your earning potential to contribute to the family and running of the home in non-financial ways? Your gut feeling, based on what you brought to the relationship and family, is a solid place to start. Legal counsel can help you land on a definitive argument and amount to seek. A word of caution: Don't underestimate what you deserve. Don't miss important reasons to seek spousal support – now or in the future. You want to hit the ground running in your post-divorce life, ready to take on new challenges and thrive in this new chapter.
Ultimately, based on your arguments as well as those an attorney can make for you, a judge will determine if the spousal support you are asking for reasonable and necessary, examining:
- How many years you were married
- How much money you and your spouse could reasonably expect to earn (and factors that might limit your ability to do so, such as raising a child)
- Your and your spouse's actual earned income
- Random categories of expected income, such as an inheritance
Kinds of Spousal Support
You may still be wondering whether spousal support is right for you. Let's look at the different kinds you could qualify for in Pennsylvania, depending on what stage you are at in your separation or divorce.
- Spousal support: If you are not yet divorced but are legally separated, payments from your spouse that would help you with living expenses could be in order until there is a resolution.
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): APL kicks in when someone has officially filed for divorce. If you receive spousal support during a separation, this could turn into APL as you are going through the divorce, whether it takes weeks, months, or years.
- Post-divorce alimony: This is what people generally think of when the term spousal support is used. If you depend on your spouse financially, the judge in your divorce case may award you ongoing support payments once your divorce is finalized. Working in your favor is an incentive Pennsylvania has to award and enforce these payments: they reduce the possibility that you would need to rely on state benefits.
- Equitable reimbursement: Perhaps you are taking steps to increase your earning potential, whether you are in college or a trade school or working toward a certificate or license. In this case, the judge may agree that you should be equitably reimbursed so you can cover your basic, reasonable living expenses during this time.
Filing for Child or Spousal Support in Somerset County, PA
If you plan to seek financial support from your spouse after you are divorced, whether alimony or child support, you probably won't need to apply for this separate from your divorce complaint if you are the one that filed. If the other party filed, you will likely want to initiate this.
That's child support and alimony. Separate from that is APL or spousal support, which again are types of support designated for the time period you are going through a separation or divorce. For these types of support, you will need to file a petition with the Somerset County Domestic Relations Office. You would also contact DRS if you needed to amend any existing orders.
To Hire An Attorney or Not
You do not need to hire an attorney to file for spousal support or child support in Somerset County, PA, but you may wish to, given the importance, severity, and possible permanence of any judgments.
An attorney will keep your case on track, heeding important deadlines and gathering and filing critical documents with the court. Especially if you are working full-time and dealing with the complex emotions and hurdles that come with significant life changes, you may find that offloading the burden onto an experienced attorney pays dividends in the long run.
If you are considering legal representation, the Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm is here to help you with your family law issues.
Keeping in mind that this process can be complex, what follows is a snapshot of what you might expect.
Support Conferences and Hearings
A court-appointed Master will oversee and attempt to mediate the discussion between you and your spouse initially. Think about whether you would like to have an attorney present to represent you in these conversations and whether your spouse or child's other parent will arrange for that on their side. Alternatively, you could have an attorney coach and prepare you for your conference.
If your child was born without you being married to the other parent, and that parent is disputing a biological parent-child relationship, Pennsylvania courts will arrange for paternity testing.
Many cases can be resolved at these conferences. When they can't, they will be referred to a family court judge, who will oversee your hearing. When you are notified of the date and time of the hearing, put this on every calendar you have. This is not an appearance you will want to miss for fear of losing your case to the one party who shows up. We advise having legal counsel represent you at this hearing.
Disagree With the Court's Support Decision?
It is possible that you may leave the hearing unhappy with the judge's decision. You still have recourse at this stage. You can file a Motion for Reconsideration with the Family Court. A word of warning: At this point, processes can become even more cumbersome and complex than they have been up to this point. If you decide to appeal, seek guidance from an attorney who has helped clients through this process before.
Want to Modify a Court Order?
As an alternative to an appeal, if circumstances have changed since the initial order was issued, you can file a petition to modify the support order or arrive at a formal, legally binding agreement with the other party (this must be ratified by the court).
How Will My Support Order Be Enforced?
Support orders may be enforced by a family court judge, as described in Chapter 37 Section 3703, in multiple ways:
- The payer may be charged interest on delinquent payments
- The payer's property and up to 50% of their wages may be seized to cover the arrears
- The payee may have a further judgment made against them
- The payee may be required to surrender collateral for future payments
What if the Payer Violates a Support Order?
If your spouse, ex-spouse, or child's other parent becomes delinquent on payments or eschews them altogether, they could face criminal contempt charges, which might involve substantial fines and jail time.
Unfortunately, these deterrents aren't failsafe. Avoiding support payments is not uncommon. With the burden on family law courts and the lack of coherence among states (if a payee moves out of state), enforcing support orders can be extremely time- and resource-intensive. This is unfortunate when deserving individuals and children are left to go without, make ends meet, and struggle. This is where it pays to have an attorney go to bat for you.
Somerset County, Pennsylvania Support Attorneys
At any point in the process, if you decide to seek the support of an attorney in Somerset County, PA, we invite you to contact the Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm today. We will advise you, collect and submit critical materials, represent you in court, remind you of important dates and deadlines, and advocate for your fair treatment throughout.
Your future and your child's future are worth not leaving to chance. Get the legal support, advice, and representation you deserve. Call (888) 535 - 3686 to arrange a meeting or share your situation with us online.