For many people, divorce is their first experience with a personal legal matter. Once they decide to divorce, our clients sometimes seek advice from family and friends before contacting us. However, hearing about someone else’s experience can lead to a variety of divorce misconceptions. Below are a few common myths we often clear up when consulting with our clients for the first time.
Myth: Divorce in any state means dividing property 50/50.
Every state has different divorce laws. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are equitable distribution states. In other words, the court expects couples to divide their marital assets and marital debts fairly. Anything purchased during the marriage is presumed to be “marital property,” even if an item is in only one spouse’s name. Likewise, any debts acquired during marriage are marital debts, regardless of title. If a couple cannot reach a divorce settlement on their own, the court will determine how to divide their property and debts. Other states, like California, have a 50/50 division rule.
Myth: One spouse has an advantage if the other spouse had an affair.
Infidelity can impact the outcome of a divorce in some states, but not in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. During the equitable distribution process, the court does not consider fault or marital misconduct. Instead, important factors include the length of marriage, the spouses’ age, health and income, prenuptial agreements, and others.
Myth: Mothers have a better chance of getting custody of the kids.
Fathers sometimes think there’s no point in arguing for joint custody, which allows them to share responsibilities and/or physical control of their children. The truth is, no custody laws in the U.S. grant preferential treatment to mothers when establishing a custody order. With any custody arrangement, the best interest of the child is of primary importance. Factors vary from state to state, but they often include:
- The relationship between the child and each parent
- Each parent’s ability to meet the child’s basic needs
- The mental and physical needs of the child
- Any history of domestic violence in the home
Unless the court finds one parent is unfit for custody, Pennsylvania and New Jersey most often award parents shared physical and legal custody.
Myth: Alimony in PA – 1 year of alimony for every 3 years of marriage
Alimony is a secondary remedy in Pennsylvania, meaning only if the parties are not made whole after the marital property is divided will the court consider alimony. An important factor the courts have recently been looking to is how close to retirement age are the parties. If close to retirement, may not award any alimony regardless of the disparities in income. Also county specific, Montco and Philadelphia recently really averse to alimony. Very case specific and important for attorney to understand your facts and be familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the county in which your action is pending.
Overcoming Divorce Misconceptions
As attorneys, we can’t prevent our clients from receiving incorrect facts, but we can go the extra mile to keep them as well-informed as possible. At Petrelli Previtera, we stay in touch by making ourselves available to address questions and concerns. When we’re there to provide the right information, our clients can make the best decisions for their lives.