Separate Finances? Guess Again.

A few of the attorneys from our office were out to lunch the other day when our conversations turned to the different types of relationships we see come through our office. The one that we ended up talking about the most is what I like to refer to as the “roommate marriage.” In this type of marriage the couple maintains separate finances as if they were roommates. They keep separate bank accounts and divide responsibility for the bills. One of the attorneys recalled a couple in a “roommate marriage” that she divorced where the husband was so meticulous about making sure everything was “even.” He even kept a chart on the refrigerator to account for everything down to who paid for ice cream cones when they were out.

Needless to say, I am never surprised when “roommate” marriages end in divorce. Frankly, I wonder why the couple even got married in the first place. One of the fundamental principles of marriage is that it’s a partnership. Each spouse is supposed to contribute to the greater good of the marriage. If you are just going to operate independently, why bother? The surprise for spouses in “roommate” marriages comes when they get to my office.

That’s when they learn that all of the dividing of bills and maintenance of separate finances doesn’t matter one bit when it comes time to divorce.

“His money” and “her money” are just seen by the law as joint marital assets to be divided equitably. All that time they spent accounting for who paid for what? Totally wasted.

In one divorce I had where I represented the husband, the parties had maintained their “roommate” marriage for around thirty years. For whatever reason, during the marriage the wife had accumulated more money in her retirement accounts than the husband. She was shocked to discovery he was going to receive a good portion of her retirement accounts in the divorce. She simply couldn’t get over the fact that he was going to get some of “her” retirement money.

Bottom line? If you want to keep your finances separate, don’t get married or get a good prenuptial agreement before you do.


Cooley & Handy Awards GenZ Future of Marriage Scholarship to Central Bucks East Graduate


DOYLESTOWN, PA – Cooley & Handy Attorneys at Law, a premier Bucks County law firm specializing in divorcee and family law, awarded its 2016 “GenZ Future of Marriage” Scholarship to Suzanne E. Forbes of Jamison, PA. Ms. Forbes graduated from Central Bucks High School East in June and will be attending the University of Maryland starting in the fall.

Cooley & Handy awards the GenZ scholarship in June each year based on essays submitted by college-bound seniors addressing how their parents’ divorce affected their willingness to get married someday. Studies show that members of the so-called millennial and “Z” generations are less inclined to plan to get married than preceding generations. Cooley & Handy wants to know how the experience of divorce has an impact on that dispiriting trend to search for ways to improve the divorce process.

“We are divorce attorneys, but we believe that marriage provides the best, most stable environment in which to raise a family,” says Kevin J. Handy, a partner at Cooley & Handy. “The next generation of kids doesn’t seem to agree. We want to hear from them. So we established a scholarship through which they can talk about their views.”

According to Mr. Handy, the firm had many excellent entries this year so choosing a winner was difficult. However, in the end, they felt that Ms. Forbes’ essay best addressed the topic.

Entrants for the scholarship must be residents of Pennsylvania starting college in the fall of the year of the award, and must be the children of divorced parents. The author of the winning essay receives $1,000 towards his or her college tuition. The winning essayist is chosen by Cooley & Handy each year by June 30.

Cooley & Handy specializes in divorce, arbitration, and mediation in Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. Further information about the scholarship, including the rules and application, can be found at

Press inquiries may be directed to: Kevin J. Handy, Cooley & Handy, 100 South Main Street, Suite 201, Doylestown, PA 18901, (215) 345-8000


How is Marital Property Divided in Pennsylvania?

One of the most common questions that people going through a divorce ask is, “how is marital property divided in a Pennsylvania divorce?”

Marital property is divided in a Pennsylvania divorce through a process called “equitable distribution.”

Unlike in community property states such as California, where marital property is divide equally (i.e. 50% – 50%), in Pennsylvania marital property is divided “equitably.” This type of division is fairly based on the circumstances of the parties.

In deciding what is “equitable” or “fair,” the court is supposed to take into consideration a list of factors set forth Pennsylvania statutes. That list of factors, includes, among other things, (i) the relative earnings or earning abilities of the parties, (ii) the contribution of each party to the marital property, (iii) each party’s separate property, and (iv) custody of any children. To many of our clients’ surprise, marital misconduct, such as adultery, is not a factor considered by the court in equitable distribution. That is in keeping with the general direction of Pennsylvania law in removing fault or blame from the divorce process

The process of equitable distribution can be broken down into three steps: (1) identifying of the martial and non-marital assets, (2) valuing the assets and (3) dividing the marital assets.

1. Step One: Identify the Marital and Non-Marital Property 

The first step in equitable distribution is identifying the martial assets and non-marital assets. Not all property owned by a married couple is necessarily “marital property.” Marital property, in general, is property acquired during the marriage. Non-marital property, in general, is property acquired before the marriage, after the date of separation, or by gift or bequest. Non-martial property is not subject to equitable distribution.

To determine whether an asset is marital or non-marital, several factors must be considered, such as (i) when the asset was acquired, (ii) how the asset was acquired (e.g. by purchase, gift, inheritance, etc.), and (iii) how the asset is titled. Some assets, such as retirement accounts, may have both marital and non-marital components.

2. Step Two: Value the Assets

Once the marital and non-marital assets have been identified, the second step is to value those assets. Normally the assets are valued as of the date of equitable distribution. However, in some circumstances assets need to be valued as of a different date. For example, non-marital assets will often need to be valued as of the date of marriage and as of the date of separation, because the increase in value of a non-marital asset during the marriage is marital property.

The value of assets can be determined in a variety of ways. In the case of real estate, often a professional real estate appraiser is necessary. Similarly, for defined benefit pensions a professional pension valuation is often necessary. The value of assets such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts and non-pension retirement accounts can usually be determined from the account statements. The parties must be sure to establish value of each account as of the date of marriage, the date of separation and the current value, and to back out pre- and post-marital contributions to the accounts.

Dissipation of marital assets must also be considered in valuing marital assets. Dissipation occurs when one party spends money from a marital account post-separation or where a party in control of a marital asset, such as a home, fails to maintain the asset.

3. Step Three: Divide the Marital Property 

The third and final step in equitable distribution is to divide the marital assets. Martial assets are divided according to the list of factors set forth in Pennsylvania statute 23 Pa. C.S. § 3502. Normally, the court first determines what percentage of the marital assets each party will receive (e.g. a 60% – 40% split). Once the percentage distribution is determined, then a scheme for distributing the martial assets is formulated. Each party does not necessarily receive their percentage of every asset.

Rather, the goal is to have the overall distribution of marital assets reflect the percentage distribution. Some assets may be divided between the parties (e.g. bank accounts) and some assets may be distributed in their entirety to one party or the other (e.g. real estate). In distributing individual assets, the court will take into consideration the nature and liquidity of each asset, the tax consequences associated with the asset, and each party’s desires to retain all or part of the assets.

After the distribution scheme is determined, the assets are divided accordingly. Some assets may simply be divided or distributed, such as bank accounts. Real estate often needs to be liquidated or to have title transferred. Qualified retirement accounts are divided through qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs) to avoid taxes and penalties.

The attorneys at Cooley & Handy have extensive experience representing clients in divorce, support, child custody and family law matters. If you believe you need legal advice concerning your divorce or family law matter, we encourage you to contact our office to schedule a consultation. We can help you understand the process and know your options.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. If you are seeking legal advice concerning a divorce or any other matter, please contact us by telephone or e-mail to schedule a consultation.


Getting Divorced In Pennsylvania? These Are The Steps You Need To Take To Prepare

When you are getting divorced, you can create a stable, more advantageous position for yourself by taking several financial steps to prepare. If you and your spouse are separating on fairly good terms — and especially if reconciliation is possible — you may not want to take all of the steps outlined below. Many couples maintain their financial arrangements while the divorce is being processed. But when a spouse is bitter or vindictive, it is important to protect your finances and personal property as soon as practical.

The following is a list of the top steps you should consider taking to prepare for divorce:

1. Cancel all joint credit accounts.

While debt incurred by a spouse post-separation will generally not be considered marital debt by a Pennsylvania divorce court, you may still be individually liable to the creditor for the debt if you are a signer or co-signer on the debt. This is typically the case with joint credit card accounts, individual credit card accounts where your spouse is a cardholder, and home equity lines of credit.

  • Often, if a credit account is left open, an estranged spouse will draw down on the line of credit to finance his or her post-separation living expenses, including legal fees.
  • It is also often difficult to parse out separate versus marital credit card transactions at equitable distribution, making the assignment of non-marital credit card debt difficult. Further, there may be insufficient marital assets to satisfy the credit card debt at equitable distribution and/or a spouse may not pay the debt assigned to him or her in a timely manner, impairing your credit rating.
  • If you need access to funds post-separation to finance your living or legal expenses, you may consider taking an advance against one or more joint lines of credit before closing the accounts.

2. Close joint bank and investment accounts.

You should consider closing joint bank and investment accounts and moving the funds to individually titled accounts when you prepare for divorce. This will secure the funds from being dissipated by your spouse. As with lines of credit, your estranged spouse may attempt to take the money in those accounts or use the money to finance his or her post-separation living and legal expenses.

This step will also provide you with access to funds while the divorce is pending. You might consider leaving a portion of the funds in the account for your spouse. For example, often our clients will effectively “split” an account by removing 50% of the funds in the account and leaving the remainder for their spouse.

3. Change your direct deposit and cancel automatic deductions from bank accounts.

If you have a recurring direct deposit of your paycheck or other funds, you should change it to an individually titled account. You will also need to cancel any bills and other automatic deductions that are paid out of bank accounts that you are closing or in which you are ceasing to deposit money.

4. Secure important and/or valuable personal property.

Prepare your personal property for divorce. Divorce has a way of making personal property disappear or become damaged. You should promptly secure any personal property that is important by removing it from the marital residence or other residence to which your spouse has access.

This includes:

  • furniture
  • antiques
  • paintings of worth
  • jewelry
  • gifts
  • photographs/memorabilia
  • work projects
  • computers, etc.

You should not “clean out the house.” Just secure items that are irreplaceable, particularly valuable, or to which you need access during the divorce.

One of our clients had many of his work tools tied up for an extensive period of time during a divorce. Another client had much of his valuable wine collection consumed by his spouse. You might also consider inventorying the contents of the marital residence by photography or video at the outset of the divorce.

5. Secure all important financial documentation.

Having access to your financial documentation is important for both support and equitable distribution. It is much easier to get copies of these documents if and when you have direct access to them, rather than through the discovery process. If possible, you should take all of your personal financial documentation (account statements, tax returns, retirement information, etc.) and all of your spouse’s financial documentation, make copies, and secure those copies at a location, such as your attorney’s office, to which your spouse does not have access. Do not forget about computer files that include financial information, such as QuickBooks files.

6. Change your mailing address.

Once you are involved in the divorce process, you will not want your spouse to have access to your mail, including your financial documents and correspondence from your attorney. If you have moved out of the marital residence, change your address to your new residence. If you are going to continue to live in the marital residence, secure a post office box or ask a friend or relative if you can have your mail forwarded to their address temporarily.

7. Change your passwords.

You spouse probably knows your passwords to all of your on-line accounts. Change all of these passwords immediately.

8. Forget what your friends, relatives, neighbors and coworkers have told you about divorce.

“I know that a divorce is going to cost me $100,000.” “My sister said that I’m guaranteed to get full custody.” “I moved out of the house because my wife told me that I had to.” These are the types of statements we frequently hear from our clients. Most often they are incorrect. Every situation is unique. Just because your co-worker has to do something does not mean the court will require you to do the same.

Don’t let your acquaintances’ free “legal advice” affect your judgment or actions. You would do best ignoring their advice and seeking a competent attorney.

9. Consult with a divorce lawyer.

There really is no more important step in the divorce process than consulting with a divorce lawyer. Only a divorce lawyer can properly analyze your situation, advise you how the law and courts will affect your divorce, and give you advice on how best to proceed. This is true even if you want to work things out amicably with your spouse. It is incredibly easy to make a mistake that will negatively impact your case in a significant way, either financially or otherwise. Consult with a knowledgeable attorney at the outset of your case.

10. Seriously consider mediation as a way to resolve your divorce.

Divorce is stressful and attorney’s fees can add up quickly. If you and your spouse can still be even somewhat amicable, then you should consider divorce mediation as a way to resolve your divorce. It is a much simpler way to resolve your divorce and can save you a significant amount of time and money. If you have minor children, mediation is much better for them as well. If you think divorce mediation might be right for you, please check out our related divorce mediation firm,

11. Let your spouse and children know what is going on. 

Even in the best of cases, divorce is difficult for all involved, especially children. It becomes even more stressful when your spouse and children don’t know what is going on. You should make a plan to discuss the situation with your spouse and children as soon as possible after you have taken the necessary steps to prepare for divorce and protect your financial and legal interests. While the conversations may be difficult, they will almost certainly lead to a less adversarial and stressful divorce process.


Seeking an Attorney to Represent a Child to Avoid Contempt when the Child Refuses to Visit with a Parent

In extreme cases, when a child is refusing to visit with a parent and the court is threatening the primary custodial parent with contempt or other drastic sanctions, one tactic that can help deflect blame for the child’s failure to abide by the custody order is for the custodial parent to request an attorney be appointed to represent the child.

A court can appoint an attorney to represent a child in a custody action under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1915.11.

Rule 1915.11 states as follows:

(a) The court may on its own motion or the motion of a party appoint an attorney to represent the child in the action. The court may assess the cost upon the parties or any of them or as otherwise provided by law.

There is little case law interpreting when an attorney should be appointed for a child, and the court is granted broad discretion in these matters.

A strong case for appointing a child his or her own attorney can be made, however, where the custodial parent alleges that an older child refuses to visit the other parent due to alienation or psychological distress. Once appointed, the child’s attorney is supposed to advocate for the child’s preferences, as opposed to the theoretical “best interest” of the child. Thus, this type of representation is decidedly different than when a court appoints a guardian ad litem to argue for the “best interest” of a child.

In advocating for the child, the child’s attorney will likely need to present evidence that it is the child who refuses to follow the custody order (as opposed to the custodial parent trying to impede the custody order), and that the child’s mental well-being (and perhaps physical well-being) is in danger if the child is forced to abide by the order. Indeed, in most cases the evidence will reflect that the custodial parent has actually attempted to force the child to follow the order and visit with the other parent, but that the child resisted.

Seeking to have an attorney appointed to represent a child is a drastic measure. Unfortunately, it is occasionally necessary to protect both the child and the custodial parent from unfair, adverse action by the court.

We believe legitimate concerns on behalf of a child should not be ignored. Rather than attempting to enforce unworkable and potentially injurious custody schedules where a child refuses to visit with a parent, children would be better served if the courts focused on attempting to rehabilitate the child’s damaged psyche through counseling or other means. Of course, the ultimate question is whether such relationships, once damaged, can be rehabilitated or repaired so long as the child remains an unwilling participant. Parties in the midst of custody litigation and/or divorce often have had volatile relationships that inevitably adversely affected their children and their relationships with one or both parents. These concerns cannot be ignored.



How Long Does Alimony Last In PA?

People going through a divorce often wonder, how long does alimony last in PA? The answer depends on a variety of factors, including what type of “alimony” or support is being paid.

As we discussed in our previous article, there are three types of “alimony” or support that a court might order paid in Pennsylvania: Spousal Support, which is support paid to a spouse when separation begins but before a divorce is filed; Alimony Pendente Lite (APL), which is support paid to a spouse after a divorce is filed but before the divorce is final; and Alimony, which is support paid to a spouse after a divorce is final.

1.  Spousal Support. 

Spousal support is rarely sought anymore in Pennsylvania.  In the past, due to more stringent divorce laws, couples would separate but not divorce, or they would give their marriage a lengthy “cooling off” period before divorcing. Spousal support was paid during this interim so that the financially dependent spouse could maintain his or her lifestyle.

However, since the introduction of no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania, a divorce complaint is usually filed by one of the parties soon after separation. Once a divorce complaint is filed, then support will be classified as alimony pendente lite, rather than spousal support.  As a result, true orders for “spousal support” are increasingly uncommon.

Theoretically, spousal support can last indefinitely.  It terminates when a couple reconciles, or it can convert into alimony pendente lite when a divorce complaint is filed.  It would also terminate upon cohabitation by the recipient spouse, or death of either party.

2.  Alimony Pendente Lite

In general, alimony pendente lite (APL) is paid during the pendency of a divorce, from the time a lower-earning spouse formally requests it until a final decree in divorce is entered. It can continue after a divorce decree is entered through an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, although such appeals are rare. In short, APL is paid during the divorce process. The purpose of APL is to help the lower-income spouse finance his or her living and legal expenses through the divorce.

In Pennsylvania, the average divorce takes about two years to litigate. Therefore, if your divorce is average, you can expect that APL will last for about two years.

APL can be limited in certain circumstances.  For example, in the case of a short-term marriage (about three years or less), the payor spouse can request that the court limit the duration of APL. In such cases, it is customarily limited to about six months. However, the exact length of time to which a court might limit APL would depend on the variety of factors, including the disparity of income between the parties and the complexity of the case.

APL might also be limited if the party receiving APL is intentionally delaying the divorce.  A big frustration for spouses who are paying APL is that some spouses drag out the divorce to keep the APL payments going. In those cases, the attorney for the payor spouse can request that the court intervene and either to put a stop to the foot-dragging, or limit the duration of APL.

3.  Alimony

Finally, the length of time that true post-divorce alimony lasts in Pennsylvania is technically dependent on a list of statutory factors.

Practically speaking, however, courts primarily look at four things: (1) the duration of the marriage; (2) the size of the marital estate, (3) how the marital estate is divided, and (4) if the payee spouse has any significant separate assets.

Each county in Pennsylvania also has their “rules of thumb.”  The judges in some counties are inclined to grant alimony for a longer period of time, and in others a shorter period of time. Therefore, it is difficult to make any broad generalizations because there are so many variables in situation and divorce.

However, as a general example, an “average” marriage of ten years with $200,000 in assets split 55/45 might result in a total of 2-3 years of alimony/support, inclusive of any time spent paying spousal support or APL.

For the most part, alimony is awarded for a fixed period of time. In some rare instances, such as where a spouse is disabled and cannot work, alimony can be awarded for an indefinite amount of time.

Further, regardless of length of time that alimony has been paid, most courts will terminate it upon the retirement of the payor spouse. As with spousal support and APL, unless agreed otherwise, alimony also terminates upon the cohabitation of the payee spouse or death of either party.


How Bucks County Child Support May Affect Your Divorce

Most divorces involve couples with children. Virtually all of these divorces will be impacted by child support issues. If you are divorcing in Bucks County, PA, it is important to have a general understanding of how child support works, how it is decided, and the factors that will influence it to your advantage or disadvantage. Below are the top 11 ways that Bucks County Child Support may affect your divorce:

1. In general, the party who has the most overnights with the children will be entitled to child support.

In Pennsylvania, the party that pays child support and the party that receives child support depend on the physical custody schedule of the children. The party that has primary physical custody of a child (meaning he or she has over 50% of the overnights with the child) will be entitled to receive child support from the other party, irrespective of the parties’ relative incomes. However, if the parties share physical custody of a child equally, then the party earning less money (or with a lower earning capacity) will be entitled to receive child support.

2. Child support in Pennsylvania is based a formula.

Absent extraordinary circumstances, child support in Pennsylvania is calculated based on a statutory formula. That formula is primarily affected by four factors. Those four factors are (i) the overnight custodial schedule, (ii) the number of children covered by the child support order, (iii) the monthly after-tax incomes or earning capacities of the parties, and (iv) certain additional expenses related to the children, including health insurance and mortgage payments. Most disputes over child support involve the parties’ earnings or earning capacities.

3. The Pennsylvania child support formula frequently causes custody disputes.

Because the child support formula is based partly on custodial overnights, the support law indirectly causes custody disputes, which affects the divorce process. Parents will frequently fight for more custodial time simply to obtain a reduction in child support. For example, if a parent has five overnights out of every two weeks (about 35% of the time with the children), that parent will have to pay child support and will get no discount. However, if that same parent has six overnights out of every two weeks (about 43% of the time), they will get a discount on child support.

For that reason, parents will frequently fight vehemently over a single overnight simply to save on child support. Similarly, parents will fight over primary custody simply to receive or avoid child support.

4. Expect to spend a lot of time and money fighting over child support.

Nothing seems to cause as much angst having to pay an ex-spouse money. Combine that with the fact that many of the factors used in the formula are variable (for example, what someone’s earning capacity should be), that people frequently change jobs, that incomes change, and that custody schedules change, and you have a recipe for frequent litigation. Most people involved in child support cases are back in court every one to two years, fighting for support modifications. It can consume a lot of time and money.

5. You will feel that you are either paying too much child support or getting too little child support.

Once a child support number is established, the payor inevitably feels he or she is paying too much. The payee inevitably feels he or she is receiving too little. Everyone is unhappy. Divorce takes its toll on all involved, and raising children outside of a two-income household can have serious financial effects.

6. You will still have to pay for “extras”.

Support rarely covers all the costs for raising a child. Even after a child support number is established, you will have to pay for “extras.” By that we mean costs associated with sports, clothing, dance classes, summer camp, Halloween costumes, birthday parties, vacations – costs that do not necessarily occur to parents while they are sitting in court. Sometimes the parent who is receiving support believes the other parent should contribute to these expenses, in addition to the support. Other times, it’s the parent who is paying child support who thinks the recipient of child support should have to pay for everything out of the support sum.

Bottom line? If you want something for your child, you are probably going to have to pay for it yourself, unless you can come to an agreement with your ex-spouse. If you cannot, these extra costs will have to be factored into your budget.

7. Child support can make your divorce seem never-ending.

Life is full of events that can affect your child support. There are changes in employment, changes in custodial schedules as the kids age, changes in the needs of children. The result is that child support ends up being a never-ending battle. In Pennsylvania, child support is always modifiable. That means your ex-spouse can take you back to court on a whim just to rehash this issue. The court will even write to you every three years to suggest that a modification of child support may be warranted. This means that you are likely to face continuous litigation even if your divorce is otherwise “final.”

One factor that makes support final is “emancipation.” That is when a child ages out of the support system, usually when he or she turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. Still, support will be owed for each of the children not yet emancipated.

8. Child support cannot be waived, which can affect any divorce settlement you reach with your spouse.

People going through divorce will often ask if they can avoid paying their spouse child support, or at least if the amount can be fixed. Couples will attempt to include provisions in their marital property settlement agreement either waiving child support or fixing it at a certain level. There are almost always trade-offs for such provisions. Often, the custodial parent will receive more cash or property up-front as part of this arrangement.

Under Pennsylvania law, however, agreements to waive or fix child support are unenforceable. The result is that agreements not to seek child support prove to be worthless. It is essential to negotiate your marital settlement agreement with this in mind, and avoid trading off benefits you will otherwise not be able to reclaim for child support provisions that could be disputed at any time.

9. Child support affects alimony calculations.

If there is a child support order in a divorce, the amount of support payable will affect the amount of alimony payable. As a result, changes in child support affect the amount of alimony payable. And, as stated above, the amount of child support payable frequently changes over time. As a result, the interrelationship of child support and alimony, and the expected duration of the support orders, needs to be carefully considered when negotiating a marital settlement agreement.

10. The person receiving child support may receive more property in equitable distribution.

One of the factors in dividing marital property in Pennsylvania is whether one party will be serving as the custodian of minor children. Because, practically speaking, this will be the same person as the party receiving child support, the result is that the party receiving child support will also likely be awarded more of the marital estate. The theory behind this is that the person raising the couple’s minor children for most of the time will likely need additional resources to support those children.

11. You should considering including a provision for the payment of college tuition and expenses in your property settlement agreement.

Child support in other states, like New Jersey, can include an obligation to pay for children’s college tuition and expenses. There is no such obligation in Pennsylvania (for a list of states and their respective laws follow this link). Therefore, if you want your spouse legally “on the hook” for some portion of your children’s college tuition, you will need to include such a provision in your martial settlement agreement.

However, I always advise my clients against agreeing to any such provision, because it is impossible to predict what their situation will be when it is time to pay for tuition. They may be out of a job, estranged from their child, or faced with other circumstances that, in retrospect, would make such an agreement unwise or unwarranted. This is not to say that parents shouldn’t help their children with college expenses. It’s just not prudent to agree to do so in advance.


When To Say “No” to a Divorce Mediator and “Yes” to Litigation

Most divorcing couples want to get through the process as quickly and cheaply as possible, which can make mediation seem like the perfect option. Unfortunately, that desire to save time and money sometimes means risking a lot more, including your own welfare. Below are a few situations in which you should say no to a divorce mediator and yes to litigation.

1.  One party controls the finances

When one party controls the finances, one party controls the mediation. That party will be responsible for bringing in all the financial information and disclosing all the marital assets. If you have no idea what your marital estate looks like, then you will have no idea whether all assets are disclosed. You could end up entering into an agreement where you get less than you would get in court.

With litigation, you have the advantage of “discovery.” Discovery is the process through which you gather documentation regarding all the finances of the marital estate. You send your spouse “Interrogatories” and a “Request for Production of Documents,” and he/she has 30 days to give you a full and complete response. If he/she fails to give you everything, or fails to answer you at all, you have the option of taking him/her to court. Additionally, if you suspect all the assets haven’t been disclosed or you find additional accounts, you can do a supplemental discovery request.

With discovery, you get a full and complete financial picture of the marital estate.   You are more likely to get an equitable division of the estate when you actually know what you have. The downside to this whole process is that it takes time. It takes time to go through the discovery, and it takes time to go through the court if your spouse is unresponsive. However, if your spouse controls the finances, the risk of not doing discovery far outweighs the potential delay.

2.  Complications Arise

Divorce, unfortunately, can get incredibly complicated. Unanticipated situations can arise, such as the need to freeze marital accounts or sell the marital residence.   If one party dissipates marital assets while going through mediation, that mediation is mostly likely going to prove fruitless once the dissipation is known. If one party becomes angry and threatening towards the other, mediation is not going to work out. Those are situations in which litigation is necessary.

With divorce litigation, you have the opportunity to file for “special relief.” Special relief includes a broad range of issues. For example, if your spouse is threatening and intimidating while you still live together, you may want to file for exclusive possession of the marital residence, so that you can feel safe in your own home. If you’re concerned that your spouse may spend marital assets on a new girlfriend, or a new house, or anything else, you may want to freeze the marital accounts. At such times, litigation is the only answer.

A divorce mediator isn’t going to be able to obtain an agreement in which one party vacates the marital residence. If the parties are still living together, then, most likely, neither will want to move out. Therefore, court is the only option. A mediator isn’t going to be able to mediate an agreement freezing the marital accounts, as it’s unlikely both parties would agree. Again, court is the only option.

If you think there is a chance that your spouse may dissipate marital assets, become abusive, prevent the sale of the marital residence, or anything else that could be disruptive to the process or harmful to you, litigation will more effectively protect your interests and resolve the dispute.

3.  Too Much Animosity

If you and your spouse are so angry with each other that you can’t sit in the same room, you may want to reconsider the possibility of mediation. When there is too much animosity, the parties just want to hurt each other, and mediation is not productive. Divorce litigation provides the opportunity for each party to obtain counsel. Counsel acts as the go-between for the parties and, perhaps, helps reach an agreeable settlement without much litigation.

Additionally, when anger roils the process, spouses are sometimes motivated to hurt the other however possible.   This could involve emptying a joint bank account. It could involve filing needless petitions. It could involve false allegations about the other spouse, like allegations of abuse or negligent parenting. The desire to hurt the other party is very common, making the need for a litigation attorney even more important. A good attorney can tell you when you should and should not involve the court.

Mediation cannot put a lid on the animosity. However, a good litigation attorney can work with you to determine the best course of action in moving forward on all areas of divorce. A good litigation attorney will be able to tell you when you should file for special relief, and when you should not. A good litigation attorney will be able to tell you that the money you just took from the joint account will be assessed as an advance on equitable distribution. And a good litigation attorney will be a productive go-between for you and your spouse, so as to minimize additional hurt and upset.

Mediation is a useful tool. For various parties, mediation has been wonderful. However, mediation is not the perfect choice for everyone. It is important to know whether it is the best option for you. If you find yourself in any of the above scenarios, contact the experienced litigators at Cooley & Handy, Attorneys at Law, PLLC for a consultation and advice on how to proceed.


How To Choose A Divorce Lawyer in Pennsylvania

Make no mistake, this is a serious decision. The divorce lawyer you choose to represent you will have an impact on some of the most important matters in your life. You should dismiss most of the “information” about divorce attorneys you get from cultural and societal cues, like movies, novels and newspaper stories. Instead, do your research. Look around. Ask for referrals from those you trust. Interview your attorney beforehand, just as you might vet a contractor or a family doctor. Approach the choice from a well-informed position.

 1.  Don’t choose a divorce lawyer because he or she offers free consultations.

Real legal advice is valuable – that is what you are paying for when you hire an attorney. Good advice will more than pay for itself in the end. There is a huge difference between the free “consultation” and the one you pay for.  We put the word consultation in quotes in reference to the free ones, because these are not really consultations.  They are generally 15-minute sales pitches that do not give you specific information or provide an analysis of your case.  In contrast, a good paid consultation can last up to two hours, with information provided on most aspects of your case, applicable divorce law, how the process works, and how it effects you. You should walk out of a consultation feeling that you have a solid grip on what lies ahead.

This is not to say that every divorce lawyer who charges for a consultation will give you great advice. But, in general, you get what you pay for.  You should not shy away from an attorney because they charge for consults.  In fact, we would suggest that you shy away from attorneys who give free consults.  More often than not, these will be a waste of your time.

2.  Arrange for several consultations with Pennsylvania divorce lawyers.

We would also recommend that you visit more than one divorce lawyer, and go through several consultations. You may end up spending close to $1,000 on consults. But selecting the wrong attorney can cost you many, many times that amount in either attorney fees (due to excessive billing) or as the result of poor judgment or case preparation.  You will get a good idea of the attorney’s style and knowledge of divorce law on the basis of the consultation alone.

3.  Don’t choose an attorney because they are well known.

Paying a premium for an attorney, or getting a well-known divorce attorney, does not necessarily get you a good attorney.  There is one attorney from our area who immediately comes to mind as a self-proclaimed “expert,” who often appears on television and on radio stations.  This is all self-promotion.  She is one of the worst attorneys we have come across in our practice.  Her legal strategy consists of acting inappropriately in court, calling other attorneys and their clients “liars” in court, and in general offending the principles of jurisprudence.  From our experience, this attorney gets her clients so fired up about their estranged spouses that they want to fight for everything.  Then she uses up the entire estate in legal fees. This is the worst kind of attorney out there.  A self-promoting attorney is merely that: self-promoting. Do not be fooled by bluster.

4.  Ask family and friends who have been through a divorce for a recommendation. 

Probably the best way to choose a reputable divorce lawyer is through family and friends who have gone through a divorce.  It’s amazing how much people learn about the process and about good lawyering when going through a divorce.  Some people will have gone through several attorneys, and will have seen a variety of styles and effectiveness.  Some people will have had a great experience.  Perhaps surprisingly, people will often recommend the attorney who represented their spouse.  We love receiving those referrals, because it is a great compliment to our handling of the case. Talk to these people about their experiences.  What did they like or dislike?  What would they have done differently?

Besides friends and family members, other reliable referral sources include judges, court reporters, and other lawyers.  When asking for recommendations, try to have in mind the kind of attorney you think you want. Do you want a “killer”? Do you want someone who is more low-key? Do you want someone with whom you can get along? These are not the only determining factors, but they are important to consider.

5.  Surprisingly, searching the Internet is not a bad way to find an attorney. 

Searching the Internet and reviewing firm websites is also not a bad idea.  This is probably the next-best route to finding an attorney, (see #4).  Individual firm websites can provide you with background information about the firm’s attorneys, and will give you a feel for the firm’s personality and philosophy.  Visit lots of sites.  Review the blogs and articles they wrote. Educate yourself before you choose a divorce lawyer.

However, stay away from attorneys that use LexisNexis or FindLaw to create and maintain their websites. This will be indicated at the bottom of the home page in small print.  These attorneys are paying for placement in web searches, and are generally not good law firms.  Good law firms are willing to put in the time and resources necessary to crafting websites that instill confidence and demonstrate experience.

6.  Don’t use bar association or Internet lawyer referral sites.

We strongly discourage the use of attorney-referral sources, such as local bar associations, Internet lawyer referral sources (e.g., and other mass-referral forms to choose a divorce lawyer.  Bar association referral services do not screen attorneys for quality, and inquiries are generally assigned to attorneys on a rotating basis.  It’s really the luck of the draw.  With Internet referral sources, you basically get paid advertisements for lawyers (usually ones who have trouble getting clients elsewhere) that are, again, not an indicator of quality.

7.  Don’t trust attorney “ranking” sites or services.

Don’t trust “ranking” sites, such as SuperLawyer, AVVO or similar “services,” as these are not independent or true ranking services.  They are really just services designed to sell advertisements to lawyers. Similarly, we would also stay away from sites such as Angie’s List, Yelp, or other consumer review services.  These services tend to disproportionately attract disgruntled clients whose issues have more to do with themselves than with their attorneys.

8.  Choose a divorce lawyer you feel comfortable taking advice from.

In addition to finding a competent attorney, finding an attorney whose personality meshes with your own is almost equally important.  Divorce lawyers are also part psychologist. Our legal advice includes trying to talk common sense into clients who are emotionally distraught or reactive.  Finding someone you can work with and whose personal advice you can accept is important.  Again, interview more than one attorney to find a good fit. It will become very important to trust your attorney, such that you will follow his or her advice even if it is not what you want to hear.

Along this line, you should actually follow your attorney’s advice.  It is surprising, and dismaying to see how often clients pay for good advice, and then end up rejecting it or acting to their own disadvantage.

9. Prepare some questions ahead of the consultation to ask the attorney.

Along with any documents, pleadings, or orders that you have received already in your divorce matter, you should take to the consultation a list of questions to ask the attorney. Write them down, as this will help you to remember what you wanted to ask. Here are some suggestions:

  • What would your strategy be for getting my case resolved fairly and in a timely manner?
  • What is your approach to settling cases; do you try to resolve the issues with opposing counsel, or do you prefer battling it out in court? (Note: Avoid attorneys who like to take everything to court.)
  • What percentage of cases do you settle outside of court?
  • What steps can I take on my own to assist in getting my case revolved?  (e.g. collect documents, talk to spouse, etc.)

10.  Hourly billing rates have virtually nothing to do with how good an attorney is.

We have seen divorce attorneys charge anywhere from $200-$500 per hour for their services.  These rates have virtually nothing to do with effectiveness or results.  As with fashion, attorney hourly rates are more of a marketing ploy.  People tend to believe that if a lawyer charges a lot of money, then he or she must be a great at what they do.  This is a false assumption.  For one reason or another, certain attorneys have positioned themselves through marketing as “premium” attorneys or attorneys for “high asset divorces.”  They are not worth the price.  What matters is not price tags, but experience and knowledge of the law.

11.  Hourly billing rates have very little to do with what you will spend on your case.

Another significant problem is focusing on how much an attorney charges by the hour. This is not an indication of what will be spent on your divorce matter.  An attorney who charges $350 an hour is a great bargain when compared with an attorney who charges $200 an hour — if the first attorney only takes one hour to complete a task that the attorney with the lower rate takes three hours to complete.  Think that comparison is unrealistic?  Think again.  Attorneys use wildly different amounts of time to complete the same task.  We’ve seen an opposing attorney bill upwards of $30,000 for what we would consider minimal work … something we might have expected to be in the range of $2,500.  That’s right – the attorney billed $27,500 more than we would have anticipated. We could not figure out how that cost was justified. And guess what?  You won’t figure it out either.  As a layperson you will have absolutely no idea whether something should take one hour or 10, whether something should cost $250 or $2,500.  Bottom line: use the right criteria in determining who will be your divorce lawyer, and you will not have to worry about trust issues when it comes to billing.

12.  Don’t look for an aggressive attorney.

If your first thought is, “I want an aggressive divorce attorney,” you have probably watched too many television courtroom dramas. Don’t choose a divorce lawyer based on aggressiveness alone. Chances are, you are going to end up wasting your money.  Frequently, clients will ask during consultations whether we are “aggressive” attorneys.   We are never quite sure how to respond to this question.  Probably about 90% of the time, clients are looking for an affirmative answer to their question. The other 10% of the time the question comes from people who know better – their past attorney was “aggressive” and they learned the hard way that you don’t want an attorney who sells him or herself as aggressive.

We’re not sure how to answer this question because, on one hand, yes, we are aggressive.  On the other hand, we are not aggressive in the way the clients imagine we should be.  A good “aggressive” attorney will know the law, know client’s case inside and out, be a good negotiator, and get their client a good result economically and efficiently.  This can be done politely and in a calm and reasoned way.  Bad aggressive attorneys, or “bull dogs,” tend to shout, use demeaning language, write insulting and entirely unnecessary letters, take matters to court for no good reason (on the client’s dime), and fight about minor issues where the cost of the attorney’s fees to do that far exceeds the value of the issue at stake.  We’ve seen “aggressive” attorneys fight for hours in court about who is going to pay for the kids’ sports teams.  You don’t spend $1,500 in attorney’s fees on a $100 issue.

Our advice is to stay away from attorneys whose main selling point is that they are “aggressive.” These types of attorneys are not helpful in resolving your case amicably and don’t get you better results.  They just end up billing you excessively.

13.  Consider alternative dispute resolutions.

The points we have been discussing mostly cover attorneys who do traditional, litigated divorce. You should at least educate yourself about other options, and consider if one might be a better choice. Meditation and arbitration are options that are gaining in appeal as court battles become increasingly expensive and arduous. A good attorney can, and should, at least mention those options, too.


SnapDivorce: Modern Divorce Mediation, Arbitration and Agreements

SnapDivorce Makes Divorce Simple Through Modern Divorce Mediation, Arbitration and Agreements.

There are well over half a million divorces in the United States each year, many of which ruin couples financially and emotionally. As nearly anyone who has gone through the process can attest, the divorce system is overwhelmed with cases, expensive, fraught with delays and staggeringly wasteful.

Kevin Handy, a partner at Cooley & Handy, developed a new option for divorce through SnapDivorce LLC, which bypasses all the factors that make divorce a legal nightmare for couples. By combining modern divorce mediation with legal services to process couples’ divorces, SnapDivorce can resolve a divorce in a matter of months at a fraction of the cost of traditional divorce.

In short, SnapDivorce offers a new, game-changing divorce experience.

“Couples get into the divorce process and they are, without exception, shocked at how the system works,” says Handy, whose firm with partner Patricia Cooley has over 50 combined years of family law experience. “The entire process is designed to be adversarial. Even in simple cases, divorce can take years and cost tens of thousands of dollars. This is the norm in the United States.

“At Cooley & Handy, we have always done our best to minimize costs and delays for our clients, but there are many things beyond our control, most notably the overburdened adversarial court system.”

Having seen families financially and emotionally devastated by the system, Handy constantly thought about alternative options. But when he simply asked himself the question, “If I were faced with divorce, how would I want to do it?” the idea for SnapDivorce was born.

“This is the way I would do it, without a doubt,” says Handy. “There probably isn’t a divorced couple out there who doesn’t wish they had had an opportunity to divorce like this – without lawyers, without court appearances, without the spirit-crushing work and stress.”

Through modern divorce mediation and arbitration, SnapDivorce helps couples analyze and resolve their divorces.

Because the entire matter is handled under one roof, without the need for dueling attorneys or court appearances, SnapDivorce creates huge efficiencies for couples and reduces the acrimony caused by litigation.

Most divorcing individuals believe they must each hire lawyers of their own. But Handy points out that divorce resolutions are generally based on standard factors and equations that have little to do with the issues couples fight about most. A good attorney, Handy says, can accurately predict within about 15 minutes how a specific divorce will turn out. Given that reality, why do couples insist on fighting for years and wasting money that would be better spent on college educations for the children, a new home, or simply starting new lives?

SnapDivorce uses a three-step process designed to resolve a divorce – with a legally binding Divorce Decree – in an average of four to six months.

The process involves a free initial consultation,1-4 mediation sessions, and the drafting of a final marital settlement agreement. A flat fee is quoted for the necessary services after the initial consultation and starts from $1,400 to, with an average of around $4,650, including filing fees and court costs.  Meetings are held in comfortable, private offices. SnapDivorce meetings can even be arranged during the evening or over the Internet, for maximum convenience.

“Everything else in society is changing so quickly, except for the way we process divorces. They are still crammed through a system that dates back to the Middle Ages, originally used to resolve disputes over land or animals,” says Handy.  “That is crazy in the 21st Century. This is a new way to divorce. It is cutting-edge. It is designed to be as efficient, fair and inexpensive as couples have every right to expect.

“If I were getting a divorce,” says Handy, “I wouldn’t turn the most important issues of my life over to an overburdened court system. I would want to use a fair, neutral, one-stop flat-fee service. I would want SnapDivorce.”

SnapDivorce mediation services are presently available in Bucks, Montgomery, Lehigh and Philadelphia Counties, PA.

For more information, browse the SnapDivorce website at: Company headquarters are located at: SnapDivorce,  LLC,100 South Main Street, Suite 200, Doylestown, PA 18901. For information, please call: (215) 923.3040.

Kindly share this newsletter with anyone you may know who is facing the prospect of divorce. You can forward a link to this article, or better yet, share a link to it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Let people know there is a new, better way to divorce.