Family law is a general term that may refer to legal matters involving marital planning, divorce, support, custody, adoption and Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders. Often, clients will need assistance in several areas, particularly when litigating a divorce.
There are two general types of divorce in Pennsylvania, fault divorce and no-fault divorce. Although Pennsylvania retains fault grounds for divorce, most divorces are granted on no-fault grounds. Often, there are economic issues that must be resolved in divorce, including division of property, post-divorce alimony and support. In addition, child custody may be an issue. The manner in which each of these issues is resolved or litigated may differ from county to county. While parties are usually best served by resolving these issues by way of an agreement, which may be formally prepared and filed with the court, there are situations in which hearings or further proceedings are necessary in divorce, support or custody matters.
PROTECTION FROM ABUSE
A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is a Court Order that is intended to protect victims of domestic violence from abuse, including physical injury or threats of physical injury. A person may file a PFA against a current or former intimate partner or family member. If a judge believes abuse has occurred, he or she may issue a temporary protection order immediately and schedule a final hearing to be held within 10 business days. In a PFA action, a judge may order that abuse stop, prohibit a defendant from contacting a plaintiff, evict the accused abuser from the parties' home, order a defendant to relinquish firearms or grant other appropriate relief. Violation of a Protection from Abuse order can result in sanctions, which could include jail time.
The term custody is most often used to refer to physical custody, or the day-to-day care of a child. The parent with whom a child resides has physical custody of that child. In contrast, legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions and receive information with respect to the child. In most instances, custody disputes involve determinations as to what extent each parent will have physical custody of a child. Physical custody may be primary, shared or partial. A custody order will provide each parent with certain periods of physical custody, and may provide one parent with primary physical custody, while providing the other parent with partial physical custody. The primary consideration in custody determinations in Pennsylvania is the best interest of the child.
Support is a broad term used to refer to the financial maintenance of a child or spouse. Child support is an amount owed by a parent based on a legal duty of support to his or her child. The amount of child support owed by a parent depends on the incomes of both parents, the number of children for which support is owed and the custody arrangement. Under Pennsylvania law, spouses also owe each other a duty of support. Upon separation, one spouse may be entitled to spousal support, which is monetary support based on this duty. If a divorce action is pending, one spouse may be entitled to alimony pendente lite, a form of support intended to allow a spouse to litigate the pending divorce. This determination is based on a number of factors, which include the parties’ economic circumstances. While the duty of support to a spouse ceases upon divorce, a party may be ordered to provide economic support to a former spouse following divorce, which is termed alimony.
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