Vesell Law practices Family Law, Women’s Rights, Civil Litigation, Criminal Law, and Personal Injury Law. Below is a full list of our practice areas. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are here to help.
Alimony is support after a divorce has been finalized. Alimony is considered a secondary remedy in Pennsylvania, which is to be considered when the division of marital property does not offer enough support for one of the parties. Alimony can be indefinite or for a certain duration or length of time. If the parties do not agree on alimony to be memorialized in a marital settlement agreement (MSA), the court can set an alimony award based on the statutory factors of alimony in Pennsylvania. As a result, there is no mathematical calculation for alimony, but simply a consideration of the factors in relation to the specific facts of each case.
Alimony Pendente Lite is support while a divorce action is pending. It is calculated using the same calculation as support. The difference is that if fault grounds such as adultery or indignities exist in a divorce, an entitlement defense may be entered to support. If this is the case, the spouse who is no longer entitled to support may qualify for alimony pendente lite, as long as a valid divorce action is pending and being moved forward with the court. These are then considered to be funds to take the lower-earning spouse through or permit the lower earning spouse to obtain a divorce.
Pennsylvania law divides child custody into physical custody & legal custody. Physical custody pertains to who actually has custody of the child. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions for the child including medical, religious, and educational decisions. Child Custody is governed by the best interest of the child standard. In a custody action, the parties usually first proceed to a custody conciliation to see if an agreement can be reached regarding custody. If not, the case will ultimately be set for a trial and a judge will determine the custody schedule, while taking into account 16 custody factors. The parties may also stipulate to a custody agreement, without going to court, if they can agree to a custody schedule.
When a custody action is filed, a criminal verification will need to be filed by the parties listing any enumerated offenses along with any of those convictions for all adult members of the household. If an individual has committed any of the enumerated offenses contained in the custody statute, a custody conciliator will decide if a 5329 evaluation is needed by a mental health professional determining that they are not a threat of harm to their children.
Third parties can now file for custody under certain circumstances, such as when the parents aren’t involved.
In Pennsylvania, all parents are financially responsible for their children until the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later. Child support is set based on child support guidelines, considering actual or realistic (imputed) income of the parties with deviations considered for the number of other children that a party is supporting, family health care expenses, daycare costs, and any extraordinary expenses paid for the child, such as private schooling.
Pennsylvania, by statute, has adopted a divorce code. Marital property, property, and alimony will be divided and apportioned according to this statute, unless the parties opt out of it by contract or a valid pre-nuptial agreement prior to the marriage. Pennsylvania, by statute, allows the spouse to inherit at least 1/3 of the property of the deceased spouse, unless, again, this is opted out of through a valid pre-nuptial agreement.
Pennsylvania, in its domestic relations code, offers two types of divorces: fault and no-fault divorces. If both parties agree to a no-fault divorce, the divorce can be finalized 90 days from the date that the divorce complaint is served, if a complete division of marital property is agreed upon, including alimony, if there will be any. If the parties do not agree to a divorce, one party can make the other party wait 1 year from the date of separation to move a divorce forward. If the parties cannot agree upon a complete division of marital property, at least one of the parties will need to motion the court after the 1-year separation date. (If the date of separation was before December 5, 2016, the separation period is still 2 years.)
It is important to note that there is no legal separation in Pennsylvania, so if the parties disagree upon a separation date, the court will need to set one, the latest possible date being the date the divorce complaint is filed. If there are fault grounds such as adultery or abuse, one party can move the divorce forward, through the court, if necessary, without the 1 year waiting period.
If the parties cannot decide on a property division and alimony, if any, the court will use the factors of equitable distribution of marital property and/or the factors of alimony in an effort to reach a just result for both parties in settling the divorce and alimony issues.
In Pennsylvania, if the parties cannot come up with an agreement to divide their marital property, the court will do so according to the factors of equitable distribution of marital property. While there is no formula for doing this, the court attempts to make both parties financially independent, if possible, by equitably or fairly dividing the marital property according to the factors of equitable distribution of marital property in Pennsylvania. Marital property is property acquired from the date of marriage to the date of separation or for passive investments, possibly to the date of divorce. Without a prenuptial agreement, any increase in the value of non-marital assets is also marital. While gifts, inheritances, and pre-marital property can be characterized as non-marital, this can change by commingling or jointly titling the property.
Emergency custody involves filing an emergency custody action when there is an emergency situation regarding the child, such that the child is in a position of danger.
In Pennsylvania, when both parties live in the marital residence, one party will not be excluded in a pending divorce action absent a valid Protection From Abuse Order (PFA) against that party or an order from the court for exclusive use and possession of the marital residence. For a court to order one spouse out of the marital residence during a pending divorce, it must be shown that there is some disturbance being created in the household by that spouse. An emergency Petition for Marital Property would involve one spouse dissipating assets during a pending divorce. The court can then order these assets frozen in order to preserve them.
Pennsylvania allows grandparents, by statute, to petition for custody of their grandchildren, if the child’s parents are separated and one parent allows grandparents to intervene, one parent has died, or the grandparent has served in parentis locus (as the parent of the grandchildren) for a certain period preceding the filing of the custody action.
A Mid-Nuptial Agreement is any agreement formed during the marriage for the division of marital property. These contracts or mid-nuptial agreements would need to include consideration or the exchange of property to be valid.
Pennsylvania, by statute, has adopted a divorce code. Marital property and alimony will be divided and awarded according to this statute, unless the parties opt out of the code by contract prior to the marriage through a valid pre-nuptial agreement. Pennsylvania, by statute, also allows a spouse to inherit at least 1/3 of the property of the deceased spouse unless this is also opted out of through a valid pre-nuptial agreement.
Post-Nuptial Agreements divide marital property and can include an agreement for alimony after a separation, before a divorce has been finalized. They are generally also referred to as a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA).
Spousal support is support for the lower-earning spouse during a separation. Spousal support is based on a formula with deviations for funds paid for maintaining the marital residence and healthcare expenses. There is no legal separation in Pennsylvania, so the parties can be separated and still living in the same household as long as they are functioning separately.
However, a spouse will not qualify for spousal support where certain crimes involving physical injury have been committed against the other spouse by the spouse seeking support.
Abuse of process involves suing an individual civilly who has misused the legal system, causing another to face wrongful litigation.
Civil assault involves suing an individual civilly as a result of damages or injuries sustained in an assault.
Litigation involving breach of contracts involves suing for damages surrounding a breach of an oral or written contract.
Because there are no restraining orders in Pennsylvania, a cease and desist letter asks another individual to immediately cease and desist all further contact, including through third parties. If this does not happen, a criminal police complaint for harassment can be filed. Often, the local police department is copied on the cease and desist letter.
Civil battery involves suing an individual civilly as a result of damages or injuries sustained in a battery.
Injunctions exist where the court can, through the power of equity, force an individual to do something or prevent an individual from doing something.
An equity action usually exists where a remedy at law (such as a monetary remedy) would not be sufficient.
Malicious prosecution involves suing an individual civilly where one has been wrongly prosecuted at the behest of another.
Partition of property entails dividing any jointly owned property through court action. The parties are always free to reach their own agreement for the division of any jointly owned property, but if they cannot, the court will need to divide the property to dispose of any jointly owned property. If the parties are married, this would generally be handled through a divorce action.
Petitions to strike/open a judgments awarded by the court involve opening or striking a judgement for cause. It should be kept in mind that the time period or window for opening a judgment is generally very short, usually only a few days.
To obtain a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) against another individual, one must have a reasonable fear of bodily harm or prove abuse against this individual by a preponderance of the evidence.
In a PFA action, a defendant can either consent without admission to a PFA (if there is an agreement between the parties) or request a hearing so that a judge will determine whether a finding of abuse exists. If the defendant consents to the PFA without admitting any abuse, the terms of the PFA can be negotiated such as the length of the PFA (3 years being the longest duration) or the terms of any non-abusive conduct permitted by the PFA. A Plaintiff can always agree to drop or withdraw the PFA at any time.
The PFA by its terms may allow for the exclusive use and possession of a residence. The PFA may also include children as Plaintiffs, but by statute the Plaintiff and Defendant in the PFA action must fit into a certain relationship defined by the statute such as parent/child, spouse, or former intimate partner.
An Indirect Criminal Contempt (ICC) of the PFA can entail a fine of up to $1,000.00 and 6 months in jail.
Replevin and conversion involve the recoupment of personal property. Through replevin an individual asks for the return of their personal property. If the property no longer exists or is damaged, the fair market value of that property can be requested through a conversion action.
Unjust enrichment exists in equity so that where there is no valid contract, an individual can collect damages where another person has been unjustly enriched in this quasi-contract situation.
Litigation surrounding verbal contracts involves suing for damages resulting from a breach of a verbal contract.
Litigation surrounding written contracts entails suing for damages for a breach of a written contract.
Traffic tickets often carry points, which can cause a license loss if enough points are accumulated. Fighting your traffic ticket can reduce or eliminate these points, potentially reducing any associated fines. Furthermore, when one holds a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) it may be necessary to fight these points.
Personal Injury Law
One individual may sue another individual if they were negligent in causing a motor vehicle accident where damages exist. A lawsuit aims to financially reimburse an individual for their losses. These losses include reimbursement for damages such as medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of the services of a spouse, loss of income, disfigurement, as well as embarrassment and humiliation.
It should be noted that generally in Pennsylvania the owner of the vehicle will not be negligent or liable for loaning a motor vehicle unless an employee/employer relationship exists or there was negligent entrustment. However, there is a duty to warn guests of a problem with an automobile, and a duty to inspect for defects in the automobile where a business relationship or a paying guest is present.
An individual can seek reimbursement for injuries and scars they obtained based on the negligence or intentional conduct of another.
Insurance bad faith cases involve suing one’s own insurance company when they won’t pay the legitimate, promised coverage.
Negligence in employment occurs when an employer is negligent in hiring an individual so that the employer is responsible for the negligent or dangerous conduct created by the employee, who then hurts and causes damages to others.
Premise Negligence entails some type of negligent situation on an individual’s property which causes injury to another. The injured individual is then entitled to sue the negligent individual for the damages from injuries obtained as a result of this negligence. These damages could include reimbursement for injuries including medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of the services of a spouse, loss of income, disfigurement, as well as embarrassment and humiliation.
In Pennsylvania, there is a duty to make one’s property safe for business invitees and a duty to warn of any known dangers in order to make one’s property safe for guests.
Traumatic Injury lawsuits entail recovering damages for injuries when they occurred as a result of another individual’s negligence or intentional conduct. Reimbursement for losses may include damages suffered as a result of injuries, pain and suffering, reimbursement for medical expenses, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of the services of a spouse, loss of income, disfigurement, and embarrassment and humiliation.