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FAQs:

When and where can I file for divorce?

In order to file for a divorce in Pennsylvania, one or both of the parties must have resided in Pennsylvania for at least six months immediately preceding the filing date. The divorce action may be filed in the county where either party lives, or the parties can agree in writing to pursue the action in any Pennsylvania county. The parties can also agree to pursue the action in a particular county by participating in the divorce process once filed by the other spouse.

What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

There are two types of custody in Pennsylvania: legal custody and physical custody. A parent who has legal custody of his or her child has the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious, and educational decisions. Physical custody refers to the actual physical possession and control of the child. Like legal custody, one parent may have primary physical custody of a child, or physical custody may be shared.

What are the different types of physical custody?

The court may award any of the following types of physical custody if it is in the best interest of the child:

Primary Physical Custody: A parent who has primary physical custody of his or her child has the right to assume physical custody of the child for the majority of the time.

Partial Physical Custody: A parent who has partial physical custody of his or her child has the right to assume physical custody of the child for less than a majority of the time.

Shared Physical Custody: When parents have shared physical custody of their child, each parent has significant periods of physical custodial time with the child.

Supervised Physical Custody: When a parent has supervised physical custody of his or her child, during their custodial time with the child, an agency or an adult designated by the court, or agreed upon by the parties, monitors the interaction between the child and the individual with those rights.

Split Custody: While "split custody" is not a legal term, the term is often used to describe a custody arrangement whereby parents with more than one child together split the children between the parents. Each parent retains primary physical custody over one or more of the children. For example, if the parties have two children, one of the children may reside with the mother while the other child resides with the father.

Does custody affect a child support obligation?

When parents share physical custody of the children, child support payments may be reduced. When the children spend a significant number of overnights during the year with the non-custodial parent, a rebuttable presumption exists that the non-custodial parent is entitled to a reduction in the basic support obligation to reflect this additional time. The attorneys at Cognetti & Associates can help you determine whether or not your particular custody situation will affect the child support obligation in your case.

When does child support end?

Usually, the obligation to pay child support continues until the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever event happens later. However, there are some limited situations in which the obligation may continue longer. For example, if the child is mentally or physically handicapped, the obligation to care for the child may continue indefinitely.

Can a child support obligation be entered pursuant to a pre- or post-nuptial agreement?

Neither parent may, through a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, bargain away his or her responsibility to pay child support. No matter how carefully drafted, an agreement that states that one parent will not be responsible for child support, or will be responsible for less child support than he or she would be obligated to pay under the law, will be held unenforceable. Child support is a right that belongs to the child, and the child's parents are not legally able to bargain away that right.

How are spousal support and alimony pendente lite calculated?

Like child support, in determining spousal support or APL, the court first looks at the net monthly incomes of both parties. The court then utilizes a formula and applies the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines which are based on the total of the parties' net incomes. Factors such as child custody, mortgage payments, and insurance premiums can change this guideline amount. Additionally, high income cases are analyzed differently. The attorneys at Cognetti & Associates are familiar with Pennsylvania's support law and can help you understand the intricacies of these calculations.

Can alimony be modified or terminated?

If alimony is ordered by the court, the amount of alimony a person receives may be modified upon a showing of changed circumstances of either party. Such changed circumstances may include involuntary income reduction and forced retirement. If an award of alimony is entered into pursuant to an agreement of the parties, the parties can agree that the alimony be either modifiable or non-modifiable.

Alimony terminates upon the remarriage of the party receiving the alimony or upon the death of either party. Alimony also terminates if the person receiving it cohabitates with an unrelated member of the opposite sex. The parties can also determine the duration of alimony in a pre- or post-nuptial agreement.