How Child Support is Calculated in Pennsylvania

Child support in Pennsylvania is calculated by a mathematical formula set forth in law. There are, however, many nuisances to the formula. The court may also deviate from the formula based on special or unusual circumstances. However, in general, child support in Pennsylvania is calculated as follows. (more…)


How Alimony and Spousal Support is Calculated in Pennsylvania

How Alimony Is Calculated in Pennsylvania: Updated for 2019

In Pennsylvania, there are three types of support: Spousal Support, Alimony Pendente Lite, and Alimony. Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite are calculated pursuant to a mathematical formula based on the parties’ monthly net incomes. Alimony is calculated pursuant to a list of factors. (more…)


How Long Does It Take To Get Divorced In Pennsylvania?

How long does it take to complete a Pennsylvania divorce? This is one of the most frequently asked questions here at Cooley & Handy.

The shortest answer is that the average divorce in Pennsylvania takes two years.

The more optimistic answer is that it all depends on you and your spouse.

Theoretically, you could be divorced in just over three months if the matter is simple and you are both extremely motivated and cooperative. In Pennsylvania, there is a 90-day waiting period after the filing of a divorce complaint before you can apply for a divorce decree. So if you:

  1. file a divorce complaint and serve it on your spouse on day one;
  2. both file Affidavits of Consent and Waivers of Notice on day 91;
  3. file a praecipe for a decree on day 92;

and if the court promptly issues your decree, you could conceivably be divorced in about three months.

You may be unaware how unlikely all of this is. In reality, four months – with the full, determined cooperation of both spouses and the court – is the shortest length of time to get a divorce in Pennsylvania.

Cooley & Handy has noticed that one of the biggest complicating factors to an efficient divorce is the spousal relationship.

Each argument, each disagreement, each petition filed out of anger will add weeks if not months to the length of your divorce. Here are additional factors that add more time:

  • custody and custodial schedules;
  • the division of assets and property, including appraisals;
  • division of pensions, 401k plans and other retirement plans; and
  • the determination of support and alimony.

When you add it all up, it is easy to see how the average divorce can take up to two years to process. And as we said, that is simply the average.


What Steps Do I Need to Take If I Want to Move or Relocate With My Child?

woman reading map to symbolize where to modify alimony when neither party lives in state initiating order


If you have a child subject to a custody order in Pennsylvania and are considering moving or relocating, you need to be aware of a child custody law that went into effect in January 2011. This law requires that you obtain court approval for your move.

The law provides for a mandatory notice that must be provided to the other parent and factors that the court must consider in deciding whether to approve the move or relocation.

1. Notice is required when relocating with a child.

The party seeking to move or relocate must provide notice to every person who has custody rights to the child by certified mail, return receipt requested. This notice must be given no later than 60 days before the date of the proposed move. However, notice given on the 10th day after the day the party knows of the move is also acceptable in certain circumstances. In that situation, the party must show they did not know and could not reasonably have known of the relocation in sufficient time to comply with the 60 days notice, AND it is not reasonably possible to delay the date of relocation so as to comply with the 60 day notice.

The notice must also provide comprehensive information about the new residence. This includes the new address and phone number, name of the new school district and school, reasons for the proposed relocation, a proposal for a revised custody schedule, and a counter-affidavit. The counter-affidavit must include a warning to the non-relocating party that if he or she does not file an objection with the court within 30 days after receipt of notice, that party loses his or her right to object to the move. If the relocating part fails to notify the non-moving parent with proper notice, the court may draw a negative inference from this failure.

2. The court must consider factors in determining if relocation is permitted.

list of relocation factors

If the non-relocating party objects to the move, a hearing will be held to determine if the relocation is in the best interest of the child. The burden is on the party proposing the move to show the court that relocation is in the child’s best interest. However, each party has the burden of establishing the integrity of his or her motives for relocation or for prevention of the move. The court may also consider the following factors during a relocation hearing (among others):

  • The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of the child’s relationships with each parent, siblings, and other significant people in the child’s life;
  • The age, development, needs of the child and the impact relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development;
  • The feasibility of maintaining the relationship between the child and non-moving parent;
  • The child’s preference;
  • Whether the move will enhance the quality of life for the parent and child (e.g., financial and/or educational opportunities); and
  • Any other best interest factor.

Thus, if a parent is considering a move during the pendency of a child custody action, the new custody law provides the requirements and framework that must be followed. The family law attorneys at Cooley & Handy can help you navigate through this process.


Can I Withdraw Money From A Retirement Account In A Divorce?

Spouses involved in divorces frequently have an immediate need for cash at the time their divorce is finalized. This may be prompted by the need to pay bills or make a down payment on residence. Often, the only significant assets of parties at the conclusion of divorce are funds in employer-sponsored qualified retirement accounts. These include 401(k)s or other defined contribution plans. A lack of any significant non-retirement assets often leads spouses to seek a withdraw from a retirement account.

In these instances, the 401(k)s or other qualified retirement accounts will be divided between the parties. The party receiving funds from a spouse’s retirement account is known as the “alternate payee.” There are no tax consequences or penalties at the time of the transfer, provided conditions are met. The parties must obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”) from the court. The funds must also be rolled into an Individual Retirement Account (“IRA”) in the name of the alternate payee.

A QDRO allows the withdraw of money from the qualified retirement account penalty-free.

This is a one time-opportunity for the alternate payee spouse only. Generally, the owner of a qualified retirement account must wait until the age 59½ to receive distributions. A withdraw prior to that date will yield a 10% penalty, in addition to the federal and state taxes owed.

In divorce cases, however, the Internal Revenue Code carves out an exception to the 10% penalty rule.

Prior to rolling funds into an IRA, an alternate payee only can request a partial or total cash distribution of their share of the qualified retirement account. The alternate payee is still required to pay taxes on the distribution, but will not incur the 10% penalty. It is important to note that each financial institution drafts its own rules and regulations governing its retirement accounts. Therefore, this option might not be available with every retirement plan.

The attorneys at Cooley & Handy can help you investigate this and other options to help secure your financial future following your divorce.


Breaking Up Is Hard To Do – Especially For Same Sex Couples In Pennsylvania

While the Supreme Court debates the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that gives states the right not to recognize same sex marriage or unions entered into in other states, lower courts across the country are facing a growing number of same sex couples seeking to dissolve their unions. In states that do not recognize same sex marriages, such as Pennsylvania, same sex divorce is proving to be challenging, if not impossible.

Not being able to legally separate or divorce can wreak havoc on these couples’ personal finances. It also usually means that one of the parties loses control over assets, such a business or financial account, that he or she help build during the union.

In Pennsylvania, as in most other states that do not recognize same-sex unions, there is simply no clear path for same sex couples to “divorce” or separate. It is a legal grey area that lawyers are trying to navigate. Forget “thinking outside the box.” When DOMA is involved, it’s necessary to throw out the box and build something new.


About DOMA:
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996, prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allows each state to refuse recognition of same sex marriages performed in other states.  The provision of DOMA forbidding the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages has been found unconstitutional in eight federal courts, including two federal appeals courts. Five of these cases are pending review by the Supreme Court.  This includes United States v. Windsor – a case much in the news these days.

Case In Point: How Creative Thinking Helped One Cooley & Handy Client End Her Civil Union

Our client and her partner lived in Pennsylvania, but traveled to New Jersey to enter into a civil union, the legal equivalent of a marriage for same sex couples. New Jersey permits non-residents to be legally joined there with just a three-day waiting period for a marriage or civil union license. Unfortunately, to divorce in New Jersey, one spouse must have lived in the state for at least one year prior to the divorce. Because neither party wanted to move to New Jersey for a year, the case needed to be resolved in Pennsylvania. During the course of the marriage, the couple bought a house, started a business and had children through in-vitro fertilization. There were debt, asset, support and other issues to be legally addressed. The question was: how?

In an attempt to dissolve the union, our client’s partner filed three civil lawsuits, including two partition actions, one for a house and one for a car, and a lawsuit seeking to have the court declare the civil union ended. Those claims, however, were insufficient to permit our client to assert her full equitable interest in those assets, as well assets separately titled in the partner’s name, including a business and retirement accounts, or to assert a claim for spousal support.

To overcome these problems, Cooley & Handy relied on a Pennsylvania legal decision from 1983 that was aimed at protecting unmarried heterosexual couples. In Knauer v. Knauer, an unmarried woman took her ex-boyfriend to court for support. She won her case based on her claim that the parties had entered into a verbal agreement – an oral contract – that she would receive financial support if they ever ended their relationship. The court in that case held that such an agreement was enforceable as a contract even if the parties were not married.

With that precedent mind, Cooley & Handy asserted several counter-claims to the partner’s civil lawsuits, including a claim for equitable distribution of the assets that the parties acquired during the marriage and a claim for support. We argued that by going to New Jersey and entering into a civil union, the couple was, in effect, entering into an oral partnership contract just as the couple had done in Knauer v. Knauer. We further argued that the terms of the contract were those imposed by New Jersey law, including the right to seek support, alimony and the equitable distribution of assets acquired during the civil union or partnership.

Thus, the theory of the case was that while Pennsylvania courts may not recognize the religious or ceremonial union and apply Pennsylvania divorce law to same-sex unions, Pennsylvania courts should, based on Knauer v. Knauer, at least recognize the contractual terms of the relationship and enforce the terms of the contract under civil law and rules.

This creative strategy gave our client the leverage she needed to successfully negotiate a satisfactory financial settlement of the overall case. Until DOMA is overturned, divorce attorneys need to think creatively and stretch the law to help their clients in a same sex relationship.

UPDATE:  DOMA was overturned by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013

Cooley & Handy are Divorce Lawyers and Personal Injury Attorneys serving individuals and families in Bucks County, Montgomery County and Philadelphia. We help our clients navigate the ever changing and always challenging legal system with knowledge, experience and a healthy dose of creative problem solving. This newsletter shines a light on some of our latest cases and news of note.


Gen Y Asks: Why Marry?

“Emily Nichols is 20. She lives in Oregon and attends community college. She doesn’t have a job right now for health reasons. She found out several weeks ago that she is pregnant. She and her boyfriend Andy are taking it one step at a time. One step at a time, however, doesn’t entail marriage, at least right now.” – Oliver Read, Generation Next, on Emily is one of the many millennials now questioning, why marriage?

Though there are no precise dates for when the Gen Y or Millennial demographic group starts and ends, it is generally considered to encompass people born between the early 1980s the early 2000s. As a group, they’ve endured their share of bad press: they’ve been labeled spoiled, narcissistic, and immature. TIME magazine has referred to them as the “Me Me Me Generation.”

Gen Y members have also been accused of “delayed adulthood”– a failure to reach the five traditional milestones that sociologist believe mark the transition to adulthood – completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. According to Kimberly Palmer, author of the book, “Generation Earn”, “high housing prices, the rising cost of higher education, and the relative affluence of the older generation are among the factors driving the trend.” “The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes…forestalling the beginning of adult life,” writes Robin Marantz Henig, in “What is it About 20-Somethings,” in the New York Times Magazine.

The institution of marriage seems to have taken a particularly big hit among millennials.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that almost 1 in 3 young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 have delayed marriage or parenthood because of the economy. Today, just 20% of adults 18-29 are married, compared with 60% in the 1960s; for Gen X it was 30% and for boomers more than 40%.

Gen Y is delaying or abandoning marriage due to a variety of reasons, including economic, social and sexual factors. Some of it comes from worry about being financially stable enough to make a commitment because of growing up during difficult economic times. Caution to commitment stems from their caution towards life in general. Another one of the reasons cited for Gen Y waiting longer to get married and having children out of wedlock is that they supposedly don’t want to get divorced, having seen many of their parents or parents friends go through difficult divorces.

Dr. Larry Nelson, a Marriage, Family and Human Development professor at Brigham Young University notes that, “In prior generations, you get married and you start a career and you do that immediately. What young people today are seeing is that approach has led to divorces and unhappy career choices. The majority want to get married, they just want to do it right the first time. “

But while they may put off ‘making it official’ and/or walking down the aisle, they are, in a sense, ‘playing married’ by moving in together, buying property, and even having children.

A survey of Gen Ys by Greenburg Quinlan Rosner Research found that 59% of those surveyed said that cohabitation without marriage was a legitimate lifestyle and a majority said it is okay to remain unmarried even if they have children, and only half of them agreed that marriage is “one of the most important institutions in this country.”

They also overwhelmingly believe that their peers are not responsible enough for marriage, and think the number of unhappy marriages and frequency of divorce calls the value of marriage into question. Gen Y men, in particular, have been accused of being especially wary of committed relationships. Forget about marriage, they don’t even want boyfriend/girlfriend commitments.

Members of Gen Y, however, are likely making a huge mistake in discounting the value of marriage. They cite emotional and financial concerns when giving reasons for delaying or abandoning marriage. Marriage actually offers significant emotional, financial, and health benefits over single life. It confers huge benefits on men, in particular. Numerous studies have documented that married men, in general, earn higher pay, get more promotions, have more and better sex, and are healthier then their single counterparts.

The importance of these legal protections, particularly in long-term relationships or relationships that involve children, the pooling of financial resources or the acquisition of property, simply cannot be understated. While it is true that divorce can be expensive and emotionally draining, the alternative is far, far worse. Trying to equitably unwind a long-term relationship without the protection of the marriage laws is often impossible and usually financially devastating to one of the parties.

The reality is that when two people are in a serious relationship (and relationships that involve cohabitation are, by their very nature, serious), they tend to take on different roles in nurturing the partnership. Both parties forego other potential relationships and marriage partners. Often one person sacrifices his or her career for the benefit of the relationship. The couple also might purchase a house together, but only put the deed to it in one person’s name. One person might pay the rent or mortgage and the other person might contribute to their retirement account.

As a result, the couple acts just like a married couple. The parties, however, don’t get the protection of the marriage laws in the event the relationship ends, and cohabitation relationships end at a rate greater than marriage.

Often, one party will lose his or her claim to financial assets that the parties jointly contributed to or acquired during the relationship. End result: all of the problems of divorce (or worse) without the benefit of marriage. The situation is only exacerbated when children are involved. The choice to have children outside of marriage is more often than not financially devastating for both parents. Our firm has seen had a growing number of custody and child support cases involving parties who were never married. Unless you belong to the “1%”, trying to raise a child as a single parent is incredibly difficult, both financially and logistically. For most of our clients, even with the benefit of child support payments, the numbers just don’t add up, when food, clothing, medical care, transportation and daycare are factored in. The stress of our clients in these situations is palpable.

Choosing to avoid marriage to potentially avoid a future divorce is incredibly shortsighted and likely a huge financial mistake for millennials.

Our advice: wait, find the right person, get married and then have children. Society is simply not set up to support alternative arrangements.

This article was the basis for a story on CBS/Philly – KYW News Radio.  To read that story click here.

Gen X Women in No Hurry to Have Children

A survey conducted by the Center for Work-Life Policy found that Gen Xers (33 to 46 years of age) “should be at the prime of their lives and careers, stepping into crucial leadership roles and starting families.” However, most Gen Xers are following a different path…and that includes the decision NOT to have children.  In 1990, 10% of 45-year-old women were childless; in 2009 this figure rose to 20%.

In the most recent survey, 43% of women (and 32% of the men) who responded said they were delaying or even opting out of parenting. An article in the U.K Mail Online stated that almost half of the Gen X women they surveyed were still childless well into their 30s and 40s.

Interestingly, the majority of those surveyed were either married or cohabiting.

Cooley & Handy are Divorce Lawyers and Personal Injury Attorneys serving individuals and families in Bucks County, Montgomery County and Philadelphia. We help our clients navigate the ever changing and always challenging legal system with knowledge, experience and a healthy dose of creative problem solving. This newsletter shines a light on some of our latest cases and news of note.


The Viagra Effect: Divorce Rate Also On The Rise In Older Couples

Since 1990, the divorce rate among senior adults aged 50 and older has doubled. Now roughly 1 in 4 divorces involve persons aged 50 and older.  In Japan, the trend is referred to as “retired husband syndrome.” In the United States it is known as “gray divorce.”

Is Viagra partially to blame? The prescription drug has energized tens of thousands of marriages. But it has also destabilized many by upsetting an unwritten truce among older couples. “You mind your business and I’ll mind mine.”  Husbands previously unable to perform are confronting so-called “Viagra wives” who are not excited to be asked once again for sex. Now able to continue their sex lives into their later years, men will often leave wives who have lost interest in sex.  Women, however, are not without blame. A lot of middle-aged women are having affairs with older men who were impotent before Viagra. While the theory is titillating, and at least partially true, Viagra is likely not the primary driver of divorce in the over-50 crowd.

Rather, the rise in the divorce rate among couples in long-term marriages is mostly attributable to several factors.

First, and most obviously, couples are living much longer. “Till death do us part” previously meant only twenty or thirty years in the not-so-distant past. With people now living into their eighties and nineties, it can potentially mean forty, fifty or even sixty years today. In lengthy marriages, individuals change and couples grow apart or simply become bored with one another.

This drove Tracy Bryan, 53, to seek a divorce. On the drive home with her husband after celebrating their 25th anniversary, Tracy realized that being married to him was not how she wanted to grow old. As she related to Anita Creamer of, “We had grown and changed. I changed what I wanted out of life.”

Older individuals are also looking for self-actualization in their later years.

After the children are grown and living on their own, spouses find themselves with years remaining in their lives. With no joint responsibilities binding them together, many individuals are no longer willing to remain with a spouse with whom they no longer share common interests. In a study titled The Divorce Experience: A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond, the AARP reports that “while it may seem odd that two people who have been married for years, even decades, decide in their golden years to separate, senior citizens may feel entitled to start over before it’s too late.”

Growing acceptance of divorce is also driving the trend.

In “The 37-Year Itch” Alex Kuczynski, writes for The New York Times, that “among older Americans — the 55-plus crowd, and those on into their 80’s — divorce appears to be more accepted and more common than ever, according to divorce lawyers, marriage counselors and gerontologists. Those professionals, along with people going through so-called gray divorces, point to many factors, including a rise in longevity among Americans, the fact that the values of the boomer generation and its tradition of self-expression and self-examination have influenced the generation above, and the growth of economic independence among women.”

In short, life-long marriages are increasingly difficult to sustain in an era of individualism and lengthening life expectancies. Older adults are simply not willing to remain in empty shell marriages.

Senior Divorce Issues

Older couples going through divorces often face issues that their younger counterparts do not. Because these couples are close to or in their retirement years, their income is usually limited. As a result, ongoing support or alimony for the financially dependent spouse may be minimal. This is particularly true if marital retirement accounts and pensions are treated as assets. Monitoring beneficiary designation on pensions and other retirement accounts is of great importance while the divorce is pending. If a spouse dies and the other spouse is not named as the beneficiary, the surviving spouse may lose his or her claim to those assets, which are often significant.

Extended health care is also an important issue. Long-term care plans that had been worked out in advance may no longer work due to divided assets and limited insurance. Medicare is an option but a very limited one at best. As a result, good legal representation is often critical for older couples.

Gray Divorce By The Numbers

In 1990, only one in 10 people older than 50 got divorced. By 2009, the number rose to one in four. More than 600,000 people ages 50 and older divorced in 2009.

According to the AARP study titled The Divorce Experience: A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond, 66% of female participants initiated the divorce.


Do Parents Have to Pay for College in Pennsylvania?

You have probably heard about Rachel Canning, the New Jersey teenager who sued her parents to pay for her tuition for private school and college after moving out of their home. At the time she sued her parents, Ms. Canning was 18 years old – an adult – making the case especially surprising to most parents. Ms. Canning lost the first round of her lawsuit when a judge declined to order her parents to pay child support and for her private school tuition. Most likely because Ms. Canning “voluntarily” left her parents’ residence. The judge was also probably reacting in part to the widespread negative media coverage. Ms. Canning since withdrew her claim for college tuition and reconciled with her parents.

When the story broke, comments about Ms. Canning on social media called her “spoiled” and “over entitled.” But, were her claims truly that outrageous or unusual? Not really. Courts in New Jersey routinely order divorced parents to pay for their children’s private school tuition and college education. The leading case is Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), in which the New Jersey Supreme Court held that a parent’s duty to provide an education for their children includes a college education, making New Jersey probably the most draconian state when it comes to child support.

Ms. Canning’s case was somewhat unusual because her parents were not divorced or separated. However, legally they still owed Ms. Canning a duty of support and had the judge found that she left her home for good reasons, then he would have been well within the law had he ordered her parents to pay for her private school and college. Therefore, the answer the questions posed above is “yes” — if you or your child lives in New Jersey.

In contrast to New Jersey, courts in Pennsylvania cannot force parents to pay for their children’s college education.

Courts in Pennsylvania used to be able to order divorced, separated or unmarried parents to pay college education under Pennsylvania’s Act 62, 23 Pa. C.S. § 4327. That changed in 1995, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared Act 62 unconstitutional, as a violation of equal protection, because it did not impose an equal obligation on married parents. Pennsylvania courts, however, routinely require separated, divorced or unmarried parents to pay for private school tuition for emancipated children (i.e. children still in high school or under 18 years old) if the parents had previously voluntarily enrolled the child in private school.

The imposition of college cost on parents can obviously have a significant financial impact on them. While most parents want to help their children with college expenses, not all are able to do so. Having a court unilaterally impose those costs can create a significant hardship. Thus, we advise our clients to avoid being subject to New Jersey law if at all possible. In one case, I advised a Pennsylvania client whose wife moved to New Jersey with his child after separation to preemptively file for child support in Pennsylvania, even though he would be the party paying support. The client worked in New Jersey and could have been served with legal papers while working in New Jersey, potentially subjecting him to New Jersey’s support laws.


Is Marriage Becoming A Luxury Item?

“A corvette. A home in the Hamptons. A Hermes handbag. Oh, and marriage. Because marriage, too, is fast becoming a luxury good,” writes Nancy Cook at The

Growing financial and job insecurity due to rapid technological changes and globalization isn’t just killing the middle class. It’s killing traditional marriage, at least among the working class and the new downwardly mobile.

Many Americans simply can’t afford the luxury of traditional marriage.

The financial and emotional cost associated with traditional marriage are just too high when they are worried about their own survival in the new economy. Just a few short decades ago, marriage was a traditional rite of passage. In a largely male dominated society – where the man was the breadwinner of the family – marriage often improved economic stability for both partners and was the mark of middle-class status.

Now, in contrast, marriage is often viewed by many as just an additional source of potential insecurity.  “Working-class people with insecure work, few resources, little stability, and no ability to plan for a foreseeable future become concerned with their own survival and often become unable to imagine being able to provide materially and emotionally for others,” says Sarah Corse, an associate professor of sociology in University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences. Workers who face job insecurity implicitly face food and housing insecurity.  And, if you are concerned about your next meal or where you are going to sleep, you certainly don’t want the additional responsibility of having to provide those necessities for a spouse or family. As one reader of commented, “I’d be married right now if my partner could find a job. But he can’t, so we’re not. It’s as simple as that.”

Changes in the labor market have made the traditional breadwinner/homemaker model of marriage essentially impossible due to the lack of jobs offering “family” wages to breadwinning men. 

“Years ago, most men, even those with only a high school degree, could settle down, buy a home, support a family, and lead some semblance of a middle-class life. Such economic security is gone for lower-income, less-educated, or working-class Americans, especially if they lack a college education. It’s tough for any single person, male or female, regardless of educational attainment, to be assured of supporting a family.” Adds Ms. Cook.

Maria Kefalas is a sociologist at St. Joseph’s University and co-author of, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. According to Kefalas, for poor women, marriage is a luxury item that they are unable to afford. Marriage is becoming a class privilege. She argues that in blue collar America, and especially low-income black communities, “a good marriage is unrealistic.”

Both men and women in large numbers are disappointed at the disappearance of the traditional model of marriage. 

“What interests me is the cultural pull to reenact, over and over, traditional vows and strive for traditional gender roles in a world where living a traditional life is increasingly impossible (and even undesirable).” – Lisa Miller,

An alternate paradigm of marriage has emerged to replace or supplement the traditional notion of a breadwinner/homemaker. This is the mutual relationship/self actualization model of marriage. In this model, each spouse is viewed as an equal partner in the marriage with the goal of achieving mutual growth and some sort of marital bliss.  This version of marriage, however, is equally unobtainable for middle and lower middle class couples because it is both time and resource intensive. Upper-middle class couples have the resources to invest significant amounts of time and money into their “partnership” and to buy “insurance” against martial conflict, including paid child care, paid housework, therapy, and even “date nights.” But these luxuries have become unaffordable to both middle and lower class families.

National statistics on marriage and divorce bear this out showing higher levels of marital disruption for the working class. 

Upper middle class couples are marrying later in life, staying married more often, and having their children within their marriage more frequently than their working class counterparts.

The trend of both middle class and lower class couples eschewing marriage is now more apparent to the attorneys at Cooley & Handy. This is especially since true the recession hit in 2008, the economic impact of which continues to this day.  More and more of the couples that present to our office are unmarried and frequently living at home, or with the support of their parents.  Most times, one or both parties are either unemployed or significantly underemployed.  The couple did not previously commit to marriage because they were not economically able to start a life together.  It’s a slow moving tragedy.

Lisa Miller,, concurs with this overall assessment of marriage: “Families have always splurged on weddings. But what’s changed, say the social scientists, is that marriage itself is now a luxury good. Feminist critics have long derided the institution for encouraging fairy-princess fantasies in little girls, but now more than ever, the contract between man and wife (or man and man or wife and wife) is an aspirational commodity, like an Ivy League education or a country house — something everybody is supposed to want but fewer and fewer are actually able to attain.”

The Cost Of A Wedding

On, they estimated the cost of an “average wedding in Bucks County, PA” as between $26,325 and $43,875. They state the average wedding cost is based on a guest list of between 137 and 157. Each additional guest can increase that total by $215 to $263.

Here’s how that total figure breaks down. And remember, these are just “average” costs:

  • Clothing & accessories – about $2,000.
  • Beauty/spa – $166.
  • Entertainment – $1,750.
  • Flowers/decorations – $2,000.
  • Gifts/favors – $860.
  • Invitations – $980.
  • Jewelry – $5,250.
  • Photography/Video – $3,650.
  • Planner/Consultant – $2,100.
  • Venue, Catering, Rentals – about $17,000.