Family matters are a delicate and complex area of the law. An experienced and impartial family lawyer can help family members resolve the various issues which can arise in a manner that produces the best possible outcome for all involved.
Family Law Issues
Divorce and Alimony
- Deciding to Divorce
- Separation and Annulment
- Property Division and Settlement
Child Custody and Support
- Joint vs. Sole Custody
- Visitation Right
- Child Support Enforcement
- Tax Questions
Marriage and Living Together
- Eligibility Requirements
- Money and Property Questions
- Name Changes
- Common Law Marriage
- Prenuptial Agreements
Domestic Violence and Child Abuse
- Criminal Charges
- Civil Lawsuits
- Restraining Orders
- Reporting of Abuse or Neglect
Adoption and Foster Care
- Open vs. Closed Adoption
- Same-Sex Adoption
- International Adoption
- Qualifying as a Foster Parent
- Kinship Care
- Birth Control
- Sex Education in Schools
- State Laws
Parental Liability and Child Emancipation
- Responsibility for Children’s Actions
- Termination of Parental Rights
- Laws Governing Emancipation
Most states allow for no-fault divorce, which means either party can request a divorce without showing that their partner committed some act which caused the end of the marriage. Pennsylvania permits parties to file for either fault or no-fault divorce.
The grounds for divorce are not relevant to who receives what property when it is divided between the parties. If negotiations or mediations are not successful in dividing up the assets, a court will attempt to achieve an “equitable distribution,” which means as fair as possible (even if it isn’t perfectly equal).
The laws regarding alimony vary by state. In Pennsylvania, either spouse can request alimony payments.
When deciding which spouse should pay alimony and in what amount, courts generally consider each spouse’s:
- Income and Earning Ability
- Liabilities and Assets
- Mental, Physical, and Emotional State
Courts will also likely give deference to a spouse who did not work but supported the educational goals and career advancement of their partner.
If parents are unable to come to an agreement outside of court as to the care of their children, a family court will enforce a custody agreement. Considerations in custodial arrangements vary by state, but in most jurisdictions, the “best interests” of the child will be the guiding principle.
A custodial parent is entitled to request financial assistance to cover childcare costs they incur. Every state has different guidelines for determining appropriate child support payments, but they primarily consider the income of the parents and the number of children. Secondary factors may include the age of the children, standards of living, and special needs. In addition to child support payments, a family court can also require one or both parents to pay for health insurance for the children.
No one likes to contemplate the end of a marriage just as it’s about to begin, but given that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, it’s only prudent to seriously consider having a family law expert draft an agreement which sets out in advance how the marriage will be dissolved, how assets will be divided, and who will gain custody and to what extent of any children which result from the union.
There are many state and federal laws that criminalize physical and emotional abuse and violence within a family unit. In Pennsylvania, domestic abuse is defined as abuse directed at family members, former partners, parents, grandparents, children, siblings, and other relatives and domestic partners.
Examples of Domestic Violence
- Physical abuse (e.g., hitting, kicking, choking)
- Destruction of property
- Mistreatment of pets
- Harassing language (e.g., slurs, threats, repeated and unwanted contact via phone, computer, or other means)
- Sexual assault
- False imprisonment and other restrictions of movement or contact with others
A family lawyer can help individuals apply for and receive a restraining order such as a protection from abuse order (PFA), a court order that limits the rights of the abuser to come within a certain distance or make contact for a period of up to three years. At the same token, sometimes PFAs are wrongly filed, and a family lawyer can help get the order lifted.
These types of protective orders vary by state. For example, to file for a PFA in Pennsylvania, there must be some relationship between the parties, but they do not have to be living in the same domicile or engaged in a romantic relationship. Former partners can still commit domestic abuse.
In addition to a protective order, the victim of domestic abuse can potentially win exclusive access to:
- The family home
- Jointly owned property (e.g., bank accounts, stocks)
- Custody of shared children
Family lawyers are an essential guide in the complicated, lengthy, and potentially expensive process of filing for adoption, which is the act of legally taking responsibility for another person. In many states, including Pennsylvania, age is not a restriction to adoption; both children and legal adults can be adopted.
- The child is permitted to stay in contact with their birth parents
- The birth parents must consent to the adoption and sign the adoption agreement
- The birth parents do not consent to be contacted by the child after the adoption is complete
- The adopting parents can access certain medical records from the birth parents (e.g., information regarding inheritable medical issues)
- The consent of the birth parents for the adoption is preferred, but it may be waived in cases where the child is forcibly removed from their custody
Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), such as fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) and sperm and egg donation or surrogacy, are increasingly common. These advancements have created new opportunities for individuals to expand their families but also new legal complications. Determining who is the legally recognized parent of a child conceived using ART is less clear than in traditional childbirth.
However, in most states, contracts governing sperm and egg donation and surrogacy are legally enforceable. A family lawyer can draft a comprehensive agreement that avoids uncomfortable and potentially protracted disputes after the child is born.
Emancipation of a Minor
Parents have a legal duty to protect and care for their children until the age of 18. However, in rare circumstances, minors under the age of 18 can ask for and receive emancipation from their parents, which means they are granted limited status as adults and are no longer under the care and control of their parents.
About half of U.S. states have specific statutes governing emancipation of a minor, but even in states which don’t, such as Pennsylvania, courts are still empowered to accept a request for emancipation if there is evidence that doing so would be in the best interests of the minor child.
In reviewing requests for emancipation, courts consider whether the child has:
- A place to live outside their parent’s home
- The ability to support themselves financially
- The capacity to manage their own affairs independently
Parents have a right to be notified if their child files for emancipation and to be heard by the court presiding over the matter if they wish to.
Get the Help and Guidance You Need to Protect Yourself and Your Family
An experienced and compassionate family law expert will thoroughly explain your rights, negotiate on your behalf, prepare contracts and other legal documents, and represent you in court if necessary.