Mercer County Divorce Procedures
A Mercer County Divorce proceeding begins with the filing of a PA divorce complaint by your Mercer County divorce lawyer with the Mercer County Prothonotary office, which will raise all claims that may be at issue in the future during the divorce process. Thereafter, the PA Rules of Civil Procedure require that the defendant be served with a copy of the divorce complaint.
In most situations, Pennsylvania divorce laws require that the division of marital property and marital debts must be completed before the Mercer County divorce decree may be issued. In most cases, our Mercer County divorce lawyers are able to negotiate a settlement to the outstanding asset and debt division, support, and counsel fees issues. If the parties are able to settle, their agreement will be memorialized in a Mercer County Marriage Settlement Agreement (also known as a Property Settlement Agreement).
If the parties are unable to agree, the formal procedure for equitable distribution will begin. In Mercer County, all actions for divorce, annulment, and all claims for alimony, alimony pendente lite (APL), equitable distribution or marital property, exclusive possession of the marital residence, and counsel fees are heard by a Mercer County Divorce Master. One of the parties must file a Motion for the Appointment of a Master, after which the Mercer County Family Court will appoint a Master to hear the case. The Mercer County Divorce Master is an experienced Mercer County family law attorney who will attempt to resolve the divorce more quickly and efficiently in a mediated environment.
Both parties, along with their Mercer County divorce attorneys, must attend a pre-hearing conference before the Master in an effort to resolve their issues. If they are able to resolve their issues at the conference, or at any time before the hearing, the parties can draft a Consent Order of Court memorializing their agreement.
If no agreement is reached at the conference, the parties will proceed to a hearing before the Master. At the Master's Hearing, the Mercer County divorce lawyers will present evidence to support their case. If the parties can agree, then their agreement will be memorialized as a Recommendation, and will be presented to the Judge for consideration. If the parties cannot agree at the Master's hearing, the Master will issue a Report laying out recommendations to submit to the Judge based on the evidence presented at the Master's hearing.
If either party does not agree with the Mercer County Master's Report, they can file exceptions. If neither party files exceptions, the Report is entered by the Court as a final Order. If exceptions are filed, and served with sufficient notice upon the Master, the Judge, and the opposing party, the Mercer County Court Administrator will schedule a hearing before the appointing Judge. The Judge will usually conduct a de novo review (a new hearing) of the facts of the case, based upon the evidence, testimony, and oral argument presented by the Mercer County divorce lawyers.
Mercer County Child Custody Rules
To commence an action for child custody, your Mercer County child custody lawyer will file a Child Custody complaint, either within the divorce complaint itself or separately. In any case for custody, partial custody, or visitation, a child custody conference will be held before a court-appointed Mercer County Master. Actions for partial custody or visitation will be held before a Master unless either party files a written notice before the Master's conference requesting that a Judge hear the case. A judge will hear an action for partial custody or visitation only if it involves complex questions of law and/or fact, or would take a long amount of time to resolve.
At the Master's conference, the Mercer County Child Custody lawyers will work with the Master to attempt to negotiate an agreement between the parties. Following the conference, if the parties are able to agree on terms, the Mercer County Master will dictate an Order that will be submitted to the appointing Judge for his consideration.
If the parties are unable to resolve their differences regarding primary physical custody, shared physical custody, or legal custody during the Master's Conference, the Master will prepare a report to be submitted to the presiding Judge, which will include the positions and recommendations of each party. The Judge will hold a custody hearing at which both Mercer County Child Custody lawyers will make oral arguments, and the Judge will review the recommendations of the Child Custody Master.
If the parties are unable to resolve their differences in claims for partial physical custody or visitation, a custody hearing will be scheduled before a Master, as long as neither party objects. The Master will review the evidence and testimony presented by the Mercer County child custody lawyers, and will enter a Custody Order reflecting the best interest of the child. The case will then be listed on the custody pre-trial list, and a custody pre-trial conference will be scheduled before the Mercer County family court Judge. If the parties are not able to reach agreement at the pre-trial conference, at which the Mercer County child custody attorneys will submit a list of witnesses and evidence to be presented, then the parties will move on to a full custody trial before the assigned Mercer County Judge.
Mercer County Child and Spousal Support Rules
The child and spousal support process in Mercer County, Pennsylvania begins with the filing of a child and/or spousal support complaint. The complaint, which can be filled out with the assistance of your Mercer County Support attorney, must then be submitted to the Mercer County Domestic Relations Office. The purpose of this complaint is to collect income and employment information regarding all parties to the support complaint, which include the Plaintiff, who is filing for support and the Defendant, who would be paying support.
At the time of the complaint being filled out, the Domestic Relations Officer will review various income and demographic information, as well as supporting documentation. Your Mercer County support lawyer will advise you about what to bring to the Domestic Relations Office at the time that you file your complaint. Documents generally include paystubs, social security cards, and photo identification.
The Domestic Relations Office will then send out required notices and complete processes to find absent fathers and send notices to all parties involved that the complaint has been filed. The notices will also inform all parties that the support conference has been scheduled.
In Mercer County, the child and spousal support process is two-tiered. The process begins with a support conference before a Domestic Relations Conference Officer. The support conference will usually last between 45 min and 1 hour. Your Mercer County support lawyer can accompany you to the conference. At the conference, both parties and their attorneys will discuss what should be included in income, and the Conference Officer will make a decision primarily based on the PA child and spousal support guidelines and the income information presented.
If either party is not satisfied with the support obligations ordered by the Domestic Relations Conference Officer, they can appeal to the presiding Mercer County Judge who will review the findings of the Conference Officer.
Our Mercer County Family Law Lawyers
Our Mercer County divorce and family law lawyers will guide you through the process of obtaining a Mercer County Divorce Decree, as well as resolution of any connected matters such as spousal support, alimony pendente lite (APL), alimony, division of marital property through equitable distribution, child support, and child custody.
To learn more about our Mercer County family law firm, and to schedule an appointment to speak with one of our experienced Mercer County family lawyers, call us today at 412-281-9906, toll-free at 1-855-VARI-LAW (1-855-827-4529) or send us an e-mail. Our Pittsburgh and Southpointe offices are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. and evenings by appointment. Our Cranberry Township office is open by appointment only.