Category Archives: Divorce

Marital Vs. Non-Marital Property in Pennsylvania

You’ve been married for ten years, but now you’re in the midst of an unhappy divorce. Each of you came to the marriage with good-paying jobs, cash in the bank, and even owning some real estate – and then you bought more with your pre-marital funds. What seems clear to you about who owns what is, unfortunately, as straightforward as you think. Here’s what you need to know about equitable distribution and commingled property in the state of Pennsylvania.

What’s Clearly Marital Property

The clearest and easiest thing to understand is that anything you purchased during the time of your marriage – whether you bought it with money earned while you were married or what you had in the bank before – is considered marital property. Even if you only put your name on it, the court is going to view it as belonging to both of you – and that means that it will need to be divided between the two of you.

What’s Clearly Non-Marital Property

If you owned assets prior to getting married — like a house, or a retirement fund, or a valuable painting — those items are non-marital and are protected from equitable distribution. The same is true of any assets that you specified as non-marital in a pre-nuptial agreement, as well as anything you were given as a gift or inheritance before or after the marriage. But if you used cash that you had in a pre-marital bank account to make a big purchase after you were married, there’s a good chance that your pre-marital protections will be gone. The same is true of any money you add to an already existing account. If a pension or 401K fund existed prior to the marriage and you’ve continued to add money to it thinking that the recent deposits are yours, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening. You’ll have to identify the value of the account on the day you got married, and anything deposited after your wedding will be viewed by the courts as marital property. The same is true of any growth in value of pre-marital assets or investments: the increase is likely to be subject to equitable distribution.

What’s A Lot Less Clear

As you can see, things get tricky once you start commingling your funds. Say, for example, your partner owned a home before marriage and you put a significant amount of your funds – whether premarital or marital – into fixing it up or expanding it. Can you get your cash back? There’s no doubt that the increase in value of the home will be marital, but that may or may not be equivalent to your investment.  Unless your name was added to the title of your spouse’s pre-marital home when you contributed your pre-marital cash, what you invested may only be recoverable as growth.

Don’t Forget About Debts

We’re spending a lot of time on assets, but it’s important to remember that equitable distribution will also address debts – both pre-marital and marital. Any debts that existed prior to getting married will remain with the spouse who originally incurred them, even if the other spouse was helping to pay them down during the marriage. If you walked in with student loans that your partner was paying for, they are not on the hook to continue paying them down after you’ve split.

The same is not true of debts incurred during the marriage. Even if your spouse rang up big credit card bills on clothing or luxury items for themselves and on a credit card in their own name that they had prior to the marriage, the debt will be considered marital. There are some cases where a court might assign responsibility for an expense that is clearly for the use of one partner to that partner, but that type of action is reserved for situations involving gambling or something would be similarly unfair to include as marital.

How Equitable Distribution is Calculated

The good news is that equitable distribution does not necessarily mean equal. Factors such as the length of the marriage or unequal footing in terms of income or earnings potential will be carefully reviewed by the court, as will age and health, the standard of living established during the marriage, and the custody of minor children.

An Experienced Lawyer Will Help

It is the rare situation where both spouses walk away from a marriage feeling that equitable distribution worked out in their favor. Somebody is always going to feel that they’ve been cheated – and often that’s true of both parties. Equitable distribution can be a contentious process, but having an experienced attorney working as your advocate helps. Contact us today to learn more.

When Parents with Shared Legal Custody Can’t Agree on Vaccination, a Judge Will Decide

In the state of Pennsylvania, the vast majority of divorced couples who are parents end up with shared legal custody of their children. No matter how tough the initial custody battle may have been or how much of a tussle child support was, this status tends to evolve into a non-issue, as both parents tend to share values and concerns when it comes to big issues about their kids. But as with nearly everything else in our lives in the last few years, COVID-19 has added a new layer of complexity. Family lawyers and courts are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of divorced couples arguing over whether to vaccinate their children.

Health issues are one of the areas that shared legal custody addresses, and the fact that one parent has the lion’s share of custody time does not automatically entitle them to overrule the other parent’s concerns. A Pennsylvania couple that could not come to terms on COVID vaccination for their kids was recently profiled on PBS station WHYY, and is representative of what many courts in Pennsylvania are seeing.

Though both parents were vaccinated themselves and generally agree on other shared custody questions about religion and school, the father balked when it came to vaccinating their 9- and 11-year-old children. He was not anti-vaccination, but insisted that children did not face the same risks that adults do and that there was too great a risk of side effects that came with injecting the kids with what he considered an untested vaccine. The couple had similarly argued over masks earlier in the pandemic, as he felt they were ineffective and she disagreed.

While the mother surrendered on the issue of masking, when it came to getting their children vaccinated she felt that it was necessary, but new that legally she could not simply take it upon herself to get it done without her ex-husband’s asset or a court order. Doing so would have been a violation of the custody agreement, so the two sought help from a mediator, who refused to intervene. That left the children unvaccinated, shut out of many social events and sent home to quarantine every time there was a COVID case in their classrooms because of their unprotected status.

When the couple took their disagreement to a judge they were not alone. Pennsylvania courts have seen hundreds of these cases since the vaccines for children were approved. In some cases judges have simply decided on the matter of the COVID vaccination, but on others an extreme view voiced by one parent has led judges to modify the custody agreement and give authority on all health issues to the other.

Though there is no single answer to how these disputes are resolved, in most cases the judge relies upon the opinion of the child’s healthcare provider. Court watchers have noted that decisions are often effected by whether a dissenting parent expresses political views in the course of the discussion or has posted political statements against vaccination on social media. The courts want parents to be most concerned about their child’s health and wellbeing, and parents who are against vaccination need to provide evidence in support of their position.

In the case of the profiled couple, the children’s health provider refused to send a letter recommending vaccination because the children had no health issues. Still, they indicated that they adhere to CDC recommendations that healthy children be vaccinated. The father submitted articles from doctors who had voiced opinions against vaccines, and pointed out that his ex-wife had previously taken a stand against the standard childhood vaccination schedule, and that he’d had taken the kids for standard vaccinations once the two had separated.

In the end, the judge ruled that the mother could have the children vaccinated against COVID and made no modifications to the shared legal custody agreement. The issue cost both parents thousands of dollars to resolve, and reintroduced tensions in the family.

Disagreements surrounding children are the most emotionally fraught issues that divorced and divorcing parents face. For assistance in addressing these issues, contact our experienced Pennsylvania divorce attorneys today.

Why the Exact Date of Your Separation is Important

Few people who haven’t been through it themselves understand just how messy divorce can be.  The smallest details can become major issues, right down to who keeps the coffee pot or which one of you gets the children for the fourth of July. One item that may seem insignificant but which is actually quite important is the exact date of your separation. Not only is it the starting point that determines when you can officially be divorced, it can also have a major impact on the distribution of marital assets, as anything purchased by one partner after the official date of separation would not be considered spousal. So how do you establish when you stopped being a couple?

The state of Pennsylvania takes a pretty liberal approach to defining separation, indicating that the last possible date would be when the official divorce paperwork was filed and the complaint served, but they’ve also acknowledged that there are plenty of unofficial factors that can show that a couple was emotionally or physically separated before then. These include:

  • No longer sleeping in the same bed. Though some people think that in order to be separated a couple has to live in separate structures, that is not the case, and it is increasingly common for divorcing partners to continue sharing the same home until the divorce is finalized, or close to it.
  • Separating finances. If a couple maintained a joint account throughout the marriage and one or both opened a separate account, that can be shown as an intent to divorce.
  • Filing separate income taxes. The government has created several financial disincentives for married couples to file jointly, so when one or both partners decide to file separately it is a strong indication that the marriage is about to end.
  • Discontinuing wearing wedding bands.
  • Openly dating. A relationship with another person and the new romantic interest being included in social or family events can be used as proof of separation.
  • Unofficial correspondence indicating a desire to end the marriage. Though an attorney may not yet be hired and no legal action taken, if one partner conveys clearly that they intend to end the marriage it can be used as proof of separation. The same is true of communication with others, including family members or close friends.
  • Removing spouse from legal documents, including insurance policies or wills.

Depending upon your particular situation, you or your spouse may want to prove or disprove the other’s assertion of the date of separation. Any documentation that you have that can either prove – or disprove – the elements above will be helpful to your divorce attorney.

For more information on the complexities of divorce, contact us today to set up a time to talk.

Who Gets Custody of the Dog?

If you’re in the midst of a divorce in PA, you’ve probably heard plenty of horror stories from friends who’ve been through the process. Disputes over the house, over pre-marital assets, over spousal support, and certainly over who spends more time with the kids are all typical, with some battles nastier than others. In the last few years divorce attorneys are responding to more and more clients who’ve added ownership of the dog to the list of things worth fighting over. If you’re anticipating pet custody as an issue in your divorce, there are a few points worth your consideration.

First things first. No matter how emotionally attached you and your soon-to-be-ex are to the dog and no matter how much you think of it as a family member, the courts do not agree. A decision by the Pennsylvania Superior Court — yes, somebody appealed a decision about pet custody to the Superior Court — made clear that pets are distinct from people and not subject to custody agreements.  That means they are part of the equitable distribution process in the same way that any other asset is, and that it is not the court’s responsibility to establish or approve of a custody schedule.  If the dog was owned before the marriage, or if there are adoption or purchase papers that only have one of your names on it then that will help identify the legal owner, but in terms of splitting the dog’s time between the two of you, you need to work this out for yourselves. Judges are not going to get involved.

So, what’s the right way to address the situation? As disappointing as this answer may be, the general consensus in the legal community is that if you and your spouse can’t come up with a solution you can both live with, it’s probably best for whoever doesn’t currently have possession of the animal to surrender and go find another dog. Even if you manage to craft an agreement, it’s not legally enforceable: if one of you violates its term you’re going to be back in the same, no-win, no-judge-will-hear-it situation.

No matter how wonderful your dog assuredly is, a legal battle over custody is going to result in nothing more than significant legal bills and bitter feelings. My advice? There are plenty of adoptable animals at your local shelter who would be happy to fill the void. Better to spend your money on toys and treats for a new pet then on a legal battle that you’re not likely to win.

How Divorce Affects the Issue of Vaccinating Children

Turn on the news or open your favorite social media platforms and you’re sure to see battles for or against mask and vaccine mandates. The vaccination issue quickly shifted from medical to ideological and from policy to personal now that the FDA has approved the vaccines for children 12 and older.  For parents who are negotiating issues of child custody, it introduces a new topic for dispute that is likely to become even more important as approvals are expected soon for children under 12 for the vaccine.  Here’s what you need to know if you and your co-parent disagree about whether to have your child vaccinated.

In almost all cases, parents in Pennsylvania share what is known as legal custody of their children. Shared legal custody means that each parent shares equally in the decision making for all major medical, educational and religious decisions. The parent who has the majority of physical custody does not get a larger say in legal decisions and this means that both parents need to agree as to whether their child should be vaccinated against COVID-19. Though shared legal custody is granted with the idea that parents can come to consensus on what is in their child’s best interest, that is not always the case.

In a recent headline grabbing case, a Chicago judge ordered a mother temporarily lose custody of her child until she herself got vaccinated. Though that order was later reversed, it gave rise to significant discussion about the topic, with legal experts agreeing that if the child had been immunocompromised, then the mother’s vaccination status would clearly have been a concern.

The intensity of emotions and opinions regarding everything surrounding COVID-19 suggests that there will be many parents who turn to the court in order to modify their legal custody agreement and ask the court to give them authority to decide whether or not their child is vaccinated against COVID-19– or all future medical decisions in general.  The courts may assign one or the other parent sole legal custody regarding vaccination, but only after both parents present the reasoning behind their position. Though there are some scenarios where a parent’s religious beliefs or a child’s medical needs override mandates, the courts generally take the position that legal custody issues are to be determined by what is in that specific child’s best interest.

The position the Courts will take when faced with a dispute over a child’s vaccination against COVID-19 is not currently know and will certainly vary with each specific case.  There is a strong possibility that the Courts will require parents to seek advice from the child’s medical provider as to the risks and benefits of vaccination and then may Order the parents follow the recommendations of said medical provider.  Another factor that may impact how the Court’s decide the issue of vaccination is the position of Pennsylvania’s schools, both public and private. There are currently several vaccinations mandated for attendance at Pennsylvania’s public schools, and there is a strong chance that the COVID-19 vaccine will be added to the list of required vaccinations.

The Difference between a Contested and Non-contested Divorce in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, divorce proceedings are either “contested” or “non-contested.”  A contested divorce occurs when one person does not agree to the divorce or the parties cannot decide how to divide the marital property.  A contested divorce often leads to extensive court proceedings and high legal fees because the parties are forced to use the court to resolve their issues rather than coming to an agreement.  Going to court can be very expensive because attorneys charge not only for the time they are in the hearing, but also for the preparation beforehand.  The more combative the case, the higher the number of court hearings and legal fees.

A non-contested divorce gives people another option to the time consuming and expensive procedures of a contested divorce.  A non-contested divorce occurs when both people agree to get a divorce.  A non-contested divorce can be achieved quickly and cheaply when both people are on the same page.  In a non-contested divorce, if there is property from the marriage and the parties agree how it should be divided, the parties can simply create a settlement agreement with the help of an attorney to say who gets what and the agreement becomes part of the parties’ final divorce decree.

If there is no marital property and the parties are just looking to walk away from the marriage, a non-contested divorce can be finalized in less than six months and with minimal legal and filing fees.  If the parties have been separated less than a year, a mandatory 90 day waiting period applies before both parties have to sign documents agreeing to the divorce.  If the parties have been separated more than a year, then the waiting period can be reduced to 20 days with the agreement of both parties.

Our attorneys are available to help you figure out which option applies best to your situation.


Instead of a judge deciding your child’s future, you and your spouse can decided to get a settlement agreement. A settlement agreement, for couples with children, is a legal document which spells out the details of how matters surrounding your child will be handled. This can save you a lot of financial and emotional costs. A settlement agreement provides clear guidelines to be followed, which also gives your child the added security of knowing what to expect. Any agreement involving children needs to be in the best interest of the child/ren at all times.

Health Insurance

Make sure to inform your lawyer which parent is going to cover health insurance and how any bills from medical problems will be handled. This would include how medical costs not covered by insurance are going to be covered. Another question to be considered is who will pay for this continued health coverage, or will you opt to split the costs?

Dental & Eye Insurance

These two types of insurance are not usually covered by general health insurance. Adding this to a settlement agreement now will save you backtracking and additional legal paperwork, not to mention additional medical cost of being uninsured and legal costs of going to court.

Cost of Living

The cost of living is a major consideration if you have children. Costs under this category can include anything from daycare to piano lessons. Don’t forget to include school activities and the expense of gas for transporting your child to different activities.

Parenting Time

Some questions to consider for your settlement agreement are:

  1. Who will your children live with? Will there be a primary parent that the children stay with?
  2. Who will your children spend the summer, vacations and holidays with?
  3. Is there a schedule you want to create to split parenting time between you and your spouse?
  4. How will children be exchanged between you and your spouse? Will you use a third party?
  5. How will you communicate to make arrangements for the children and any other issues related to them?
  6. How will you handle situations when one of you cannot meet the schedule? Will you request prior notice?

College Costs

You might think your children are too young to think about this now, but getting this in writing now will save the headache of going to court later. Broaden your agreement to include items outside of “immediate school costs”. This could mean anything from late night pizzas to a semester abroad in Italy. Be as specific as you can about what is expected from each parent.

Your child’s security is a priority with No Contest Divorce Law, LLC. To get your marital settlement agreement started today call 215-398-6760 or click on SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT to learn more.


Wedding costs can put a high amount of stress on a new marriage. Often newlyweds find themselves in debt just as the couple starts their new life together. This strain in finances can quickly lead to arguments and discord in the relationship.

In the U.S. weddings average between $19,223 to $32,039. Add anywhere from another 50-100% more if the wedding included custom services and products, experienced professionals, designer labels and popular event places. Below is a sample of five average costs for a wedding:


1. Wedding Planner $2,600 – $4,300
2. Wedding Dress $875 – $1,400
3. Engagement Ring $2,400 – $4,000
4. Photographer $1,200 – $2,000
5. Bar Service $1,800 – $3,000

Financial pressures often increase as the new couple purchases their first home, appliances, furniture and other related items. Money is the prime reason couples argue and the number one reason they divorce. Over 70% of couples talk about money on a weekly basis, and the conversations tend to be emotionally based.

The combinations of a downturn in the economy and not having been taught how to effectively engage in financial discussions have resulted in heated and emotional arguments. A spouse may have also kept money secrets thinking that their new spouse wouldn’t find out, or it thinking that it wouldn’t really affect his/her spouse. Lying about finances is a common secret among spouses.

Now that you are considering a divorce it is time to separate emotion from money. The financial road to recovery after divorce can be difficult, especially if you do not have an agreement in writing. Memories can fade or attitudes can change with time. Get your agreement in writing by having a settlement agreement prepared. If you and your spouse can come to an agreement that you both think is fair, then you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to fight over your assets and debt in court.

This is the time to sit down with your spouse and figure out how you are going to divide debt. Who will pay for what portion of debt? How long will it take?

It’s better to pay a little now to have an agreement prepared rather than a lot later to have a judge decide who is telling the truth. You will both sign it and it will be filed with your divorce paperwork. You can then have the agreement enforced in court at a later date, if necessary. Attorney Jim Cairns can put your agreements into writing and ensure you have a legal document to protect yourself. Don’t wait till after the divorce and realize it’s too late.

Once you have decided how you are going to handle the division of finances contact No Contest Divorce Law, LLC at 215-398-6760 or click on the words settlement agreement to learn how to get your settlement agreement started.


You want to make sure you have covered your bases and are not being duped by your spouse with hidden assets. To make a martial settlement agreement as fair as possible consider the following.

Start with looking at your expenses. Are your expenses higher than the income that is coming into the house? If so, where is this additional income coming from? When discovering a financial discrepancy one of the best places to start is looking at your spouse’s tax return forms. Some of the key items you want to look at while reviewing tax forms for the last five years are: real estate, trusts, partnerships and inconsistencies in income.

Should you find out after the divorce that your spouse was illegally hiding assets the law permits you a reasonable time to back track and get your share. However, it’s best to do this before you sign the settlement agreement, thus saving you a lot of headache.

Overpayment is a method some spouses will use to hide money. While you are looking at the tax forms, take a look and see if your spouse made a significant overpayment. Your spouse could be banking on that you aren’t going to find out and later on he/she will get a nice refund after the divorce. This also holds true for creditors, don’t overlook these payments.

Third parties are another good source to scrutinize. Did your spouse suddenly have to pay off debt to a friend? Often these types of arrangements are made with the condition that the money be given back after the divorce. Is there a lover in the picture? Was there money spent on a girl/boyfriend – vacations, rent or gifts? Is your spouse and his/her boss close? Would his/her boss wait to pay that big bonus or give a pay raise until after the divorce? Don’t forget to look at stock options and retirement benefits an employer may be holding onto until after the divorce. Also, see if there any contracts that your spouse has been delaying in signing.

Time to visit some government offices. At the County Tax Assessor’s Office you can learn about any home or land that your spouse owns, you will get the address and the assessed taxable value of the property. The courthouse is a must when searching for hidden assets. Records from the courthouse will tell you if your spouse has borrowed money from a mortgage company or a bank. These records will hold information about each asset the person owns and the value, it’s required for the loan application(s).

Bank accounts should be checked for a few different things. Look at the savings account, has there been a huge withdrawal/deposit or unusual patterns of activity? Take a look through cancelled checks. You may find payment for something you weren’t aware of, for example a property payment. In addition, be on the look out for children’s bank accounts which sometimes do not have to be reported as income to the IRS. Don’t forget to make copies of all your financial records.

Once you discover all of your marital assets you can hammer out an agreement with your spouse. Contact No Contest Divorce Law, LLC for a marital settlement agreement questionnaire to help guide you. No Contest Divorce Law, LLC Offices prepares marital settlement agreements at an affordable cost. Make sure to check out our settlement agreement blogs and settlement agreement page on our website. Contact No Contest Divorce Law, LLC at 215-398-6760 or click on the words DIVORCE MASTER to get a free case analysis.


After two weeks of being tabloid stars Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes surprisingly hammered out a marital settlement agreement. What looked like a divorce that was going to be dragged through the media and court system has come to an amicable resolution. Cruise and Holmes decided to avoid a long legal battle and do what is best for their six-year old daughter, Suri.

In a statement, jointly prepared by both parties, sent to CNN by Cruise both parties have expressed their desire to keep the divorce a family matter.

To paraphrase the statement:

We are dedicated to cooperating as parents to accomplishing what is in our daughter’s best interests. We want to keep isues affecting our family private and show our respect for each other’s dedication to each of our respective way of thinking and support each other’s roles as parents.”

The martial settlement agreement has saved a lot of embarrassment and emotional pain for not only Cruise and Holmes, but also for people close to them. If a court battle would have been the route for this divorce, Cruise would have suffered damage to his public image and Scientology would have walked away with some battle wounds.

The settlement agreement has been signed and the case settled. From initial reports Holmes will be the primary parent who is responsible for Suri on a daily basis. This part of the agreement worked out for both parties because Cruise was often away from the home due to his career. Another component of the agreement is religion. Though Holmes is protective about the exposure Suri will have to Scientology, Cruise is still free to teach his daughter about his religion.

Divorces with martial settlement agreements are becoming more common. Couples want to save their monies for life after the divorce and not bleed themselves dry in a full blown court drama. Also, the emotional toll of having to relive the pain and suffering of divorce is a top reason couples are figuring how to work out their own affairs and get them into a legal agreement.

Holmes had hired three law firms in three states. You only need one law firm backing you with No Contest Divorce Law, LLC. If you are looking to have a martial settlement agreement, No Contest Divorce Law, LLC can create a legal document which will protect your agreed upon rights. To get started call 215-398-6760 or click on the words SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT. Go to our Divorce Master for a free case analysis and file your simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce case today.