How to Tell Your Kids About Your Divorce: Advice From a Child

Breaking news of your divorce to your children is not easy. Preparation is key. How you approach this conversation will depend on the age of your children. However, young or old, male or female, there are guidelines most couples can follow to help ease the stress for all involved. (more…)


Where Do You Modify An Alimony Order When Neither Party Lives In The State That Entered The Order?

A client recently asked us for assistance modifying his New Jersey alimony order. He and his spouse divorced in New Jersey and the court issued an alimony order. Post-separation, both parties moved to Pennsylvania. A change in circumstances prompted the client to seek modification of the existing order. Unfortunately, the law mandates that the parties must return to the New Jersey Court that issued the original order.

Just when you thought you were out, they keep pulling you back in!

Many individuals going through divorce move out state in hopes of getting a fresh start; however, modification of an existing alimony order can be a rude awakening.

Pursuant to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”) exclusive jurisdiction over alimony orders remains with the state court that entered the order.

The UIFSA is recognized in all 50 states. It states in part:  “A tribunal of this State issuing a support order consistent with the law of this State has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over a spousal support order throughout the existence of the support obligation. A tribunal of this State may not modify a spousal support order issued by a tribunal of another state having continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over that order under the law of that State.”  23 Pa.C.S.A. § 7205(f).

Therefore, if you wish to modify your existing alimony order, you must do so in the state court that issued the original order, even if you no longer live in that state.

Although the UIFSA was designed to promote efficiency in the court system and assist in resolving jurisdictional disputes, it may result in a huge inconvenience to you. Due to this law, our office had to refer the above-mentioned client to a New Jersey attorney.

While Bucks County courts have recognized the burden this law may place upon parties in a divorce action, they have held firm in following the terms of the UIFSA. In Hibbitts v. Hibbitts, a case just like the one our office encountered, the Bucks County Court refused to modify an alimony order that was initially issued by Monmouth County Superior Court of New Jersey after Husband moved to Pennsylvania and Wife moved to Vermont.

This jurisdictional rule, however, does not apply to child support orders or child custody orders.

The UIFSA assigns different rules to the enforcement of child support orders, including the option for other state courts to modify orders. Additionally, enforcement and modification of child custody orders is regulated by an entirely separate law, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

Keep in mind that modification of an existing alimony order will force you to return to the state court that issued the order, no matter how inconvenient. It’s best to be prepared and plan accordingly. If you have a jurisdictional issue involving alimony, child support or child custody, you should get in contact with us. The attorneys at Cooley & Handy can help you navigate this complex area of family law.



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.


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.


What To Do If Your Spouse Is Taking All The Money In A Divorce

What to do? My wife just emptied out the checking account! My husband just withdrew $50,000 from our joint investment account! What can I do to stop my spouse from taking all the money and protect the marital assets? The important thing to know is that you can stop it.

You can stop your spouse from taking all the money by filing a Petition for Special Relief to Freeze Marital Assets.

By filing this petition, you are requesting that the court enter an order preventing either party from depleting marital assets.   This petition can apply to all marital assets or certain marital assets. It can also be done on an emergency basis. If your spouse has already started emptying accounts, you need to file an Emergency Petition for Special Relief so that your assets can be protected as soon as possible.

Even if your spouse hasn’t withdrawn any marital assets, it may be necessary to file this petition. If you are at all worried that there may be no marital assets by the time equitable distribution rolls around, you should file this petition. You could be worried that your spouse will start moving marital money to different accounts, will use assets for his/her business, will use it for expensive trips, to pay off debt, etc. There are a variety of reasons why you might be worried, so it makes sense to protect yourself. Filing this petition protects your assets and provides a guarantee that, when you reach equitable distribution, there will be assets left to divide.

If you do need to access marital assets while you’re going through the divorce process, you need either an order of court or an agreement signed by the parties releasing certain assets.

To get a court order, you need to file another Petition for Special Relief explaining to the court what you need and why you need it. Examples of reasons to request this relief are that you need money to pay for repairs to the marital residence, that you need money to help you stay afloat financially, or that you need money because an emergency of some sort has arisen. If the court believes that you have a legitimate request, the judge will likely order the release of a certain amount of money.

What happens if my spouse ignores the order freezing the assets and starts taking money from one of the frozen accounts? Since you have a court order, you can drag your spouse back into court for contempt of the order. You can request that the court order him to pay back whatever funds he took, that he be required to pay you half of the amount he took, that he be required to pay your attorneys fees and for the court to order additional sanctions against him.

The assets will start to thaw as you continue through the divorce process and, once you complete equitable distribution, the assets will be back to room temperature and available for the taking.

And, since you did freeze the marital assets, you know that none of the accounts have been liquidated or that any of the assets have been sold. You will be able to leave the marriage with a portion of the assets in your pocket.

If you have even the slightest worry that your husband, wife or spouse will start emptying accounts, you need to file a Petition for Special Relief to Freeze Marital Assets. It is the only way to truly protect yourself and, in the end, it is always better to be safe than sorry.


A Resolution We Can Help You Keep

You see it all around you every January: people starting over. Starting diets, starting exercise plans, and starting, unfortunately for many, the process of divorce. Resolutions are easy to make but difficult to keep, largely because the process is unclear. Nowhere in the world of resolutions is this truer than for something like divorce. What steps for divorce do you take first? Which concerns should be priorities? How do you organize something as overwhelming as divorce?

Here is a short list of steps you should consider taking if a divorce is on your horizon in the new year:

ONE: Cancel or close all joint credit, bank and investment accounts.

You could be liable for any debt incurred by a spouse after separation, and funds can be dissipated. Separate accounts now, and keep hard records of everything that was in place on the day of separation.

TWO: Secure important or valuable personal property.

Personal property tends to disappear or become damaged when divorce is threatened. You might consider renting a storage locker or moving valuables – particularly those you will need access to throughout the divorce — to a trusted friend’s home.

THREE: Get a new mailing address.

You do not want your spouse to be privy to your financial records or correspondence from your attorney. Get a P.O. box, or have mail sent to a friend or family member.

FOUR: Change your passwords on all accounts, computers, cell phones and emails.

For obvious reasons.

FIVE: Do not take divorce advice from your friends, family, or co-workers.

If it’s your divorce, it is a whole new terrain. Your advice should come from an attorney only. Which leads to step six.

SIX: Consult an attorney as soon as possible.

Steps taken early in the divorce process can make an enormous difference in your case, and so can any missteps. Get the best advice you can afford. We trust you know what step seven is, but in case you do not, here is a strong hint: 214.345.8000. Cooley & Handy Attorneys at Law. Get the help you need


When Not To Listen To Your Friends

Most people get their impressions of divorce from Hollywood and their friends. These are probably the two worst sources of advice for those pursuing divorce litigation in real time and in the real world. The actress Ellen Barkin reputedly received $20 million in her divorce from investor Ronald Perelman. Your neighbor’s cousin may have gotten three homes and the family dog in his divorce. Your college roommate may have walked away with total custody of the children. All of this has nothing whatsoever to do with your case.

Frequently we have clients who come in armed to the teeth with divorce “advice” from friends, gained either through their own experience or through a too-close reading of People Magazine.

They have been advised not to pursue a job during the divorce as a way of “guaranteeing” higher support; or to quit their job as a way of cutting down support payments. Clients have had friends tell them to leave town with their children, to clear out joint bank accounts, or to fabricate stories of abuse and neglect. One of the most common pieces of advice from friends is, “Go for the jugular — take all the money!” This is not only unhelpful, but virtually impossible in today’s world of divorce and family law. In reality, it’s the attorneys who encourage this type of thinking who ultimately “take all the money.”

Opinion-based guidance from friends is wildly speculative. It can even be damaging to your case. In the least, it may fan expectations on your part that are unrealistic.

Whenever you are offered such advice, you should smile politely and ignore it. Your attorney and the firm representing you should be the sole source of your legal advice. Here is why. Divorce laws change by the year, by the state, by the county, and even by the courtroom. Every case is as individual as the parties divorcing. The court administrators and judges themselves have different approaches that may alter the outcome of your case in seemingly arbitrary ways. So the results of a friend’s or neighbor’s or Hollywood actor’s case, however similar it appears to your own, cannot serve as a yardstick for your proceedings.

One of the adages we espouse at Cooley & Handy is, when in doubt, believe your lawyer. Not your spouse, or your best friend, or your neighbor. You have hired a litigator who already knows the laws, the relevant facts, and the best approach for your particular case. That is where you should lean in.