Divorce, Custody and Support


Divorce, custody, child support and alimony are matters of state law. In a divorce, issues of property division, child support, child custody, and alimony are decided by the judge in a trial, or agreed on by the parties in a Separation Agreement, which can be negotiated by their lawyers or in mediation.

Pennsylvania lists several grounds for divorce in its statutes, including (1) adultery; (2) conviction of a felony and sentence to prison; (3) cruelty [usually meaning repeated physical abuse]; (4) desertion at least one year ago; and (5) “living apart”, the no-fault ground, which means living apart continuously and permanently for one year (or six months, if you have no children and a Separation Agreement).

While all of these grounds for divorce are recognized as valid by Pennsylvania courts, a divorce is not granted until one of the above grounds is proved to the court. At some point in the divorce process, a hearing or a deposition will take place during which at least one spouse and at least one witness must testify. Even if the grounds for divorce are uncontested, this hearing is a necessary part of the divorce process. The facts of your case, and which city or county you live in, will also affect how long it will take for the divorce process to be completed.

The essential steps in the divorce process are:

  1. The “Complaint for Divorce” is filed by one spouse, who is called “the Complainant”, and is served on the other spouse, “the Defendant,” by a process server, or by the other spouse signing an Answer, a Waiver or an Acceptance of Service, or by other legal means of Process Service.
  2. After the Defendant’s “Answer” is filed, or 21 days have passed without the filing of an answer, the complainant’s lawyer can file to have the case referred to a “special master” for a hearing on the grounds of the divorce. The master, after hearing the evidence, will file a recommendation that the judge grant a divorce. In some counties, evidence is instead heard by a judge, or in a deposition.
  3. If there is any disagreement on matters of custody, support or property division, these matters must be heard by a trial judge in open court, and decided, before the divorce decree can be signed by the judge. One of the spouses’ lawyers drafts the divorce decree and any other court orders.
  4. If there is no dispute about the grounds of divorce and everything has been agreed upon, a draft decree is then filed with the judge, who often has law clerks review its wording.
  5. When the final decree is signed by the judge, the spouses are divorced.

This list of steps is not all-inclusive; it is very brief and provides only a summary of the process involved. Not included is the approximate amount of time between each of the steps or the delays or additional steps that are possible because of specific details of the case, ideas the judge may have, or local rules requiring “custody education” and mediation evaluation.

In most cases, negotiation of the divorce settlement not only expedites the process, but also makes it somewhat less expensive. Face-to-face Mediation with both spouses is sometimes used to supplement negotiation. If negotiation or mediation is successful, the resulting “Separation Agreement” or “Property Settlement” is legally binding on both parties. At the time of the actual divorce decree it can be presented to the judge and made part of the divorce decree itself, thus becoming a court order, enforceable by the contempt-of-court process if it is violated.

Important to note in considering divorce are the legal costs involved as well as the court costs (such as the court’s filing fees, court reporters, and process servers, which are separate from attorney fees). Attorney’s fees may be under $1,000 for a totally uncontested, completely simple divorce, or a few thousand dollars for an unusually easy divorce, but more contentious divorces cost tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands.


I take your child custody goals seriously. After examining the issues and circumstances in your case, I will make the best recommendation for proceeding while advocating for the child’s best interest.

The law is clear that custody and visitation determinations are to be made from the standpoint of the “child’s best interest.” I stress to clients that children should not be part of disagreements between the parents regarding custody. I will strongly advocate for my clients’ rights and for the child’s best interest.

The courts consider multiple factors that may affect the child's physical, mental, emotional, and developmental well-being. These considerations may include the following:

Child custody matters are never easy, emotionally, or legally. However, it's important that you protect your rights in order to maintain a close, healthy relationship with your child in order to give them the best future possible. If you think you may face or are already facing child custody issues, it's a good idea to get in touch with a skilled attorney who will be well-versed in the state's laws and can explain how they apply to your situation.


Support is an important consideration in any divorce or custody action. Support allows separated parties to maintain homes and to properly care for their children. If you are involved in a divorce or child custody, discussing support with an attorney is important. I work hard to assist my clients in obtaining child and spousal support during a divorce or custody proceeding.

The term support is usually defined as money given by a person to help provide food, clothing, shelter and other necessities for his or her dependents. The term “dependents” refers to the spouse and/or children whom a person is legally bound to support. Therefore, in Domestic Relations, support refers to two separate financial obligations, child support and spousal support.

Child support is support and medical coverage for dependent children.

Spousal support is support for a dependent spouse if the parties are married but living apart.

Medical coverage and other expenses are other types of support besides money which may be requested during a support action. The plaintiff may request medical coverage for the spouse and children be provided by the defendant. A plaintiff may request the defendant help contribute toward all medical, dental, and prescription expenses not covered by insurance.

The defendant may be required to pay for a share of day care expenses for the children, which allows the plaintiff to work or attend school.