Bucks County Divorce, Custody, and Support Processes
BUCKS COUNTY DIVORCE PROCEDURES
In Bucks County, a divorce action begins with the filing of a Complaint in Divorce by a Bucks County divorce lawyer. The defendant-spouse usually is served with the Bucks County Divorce Complaint by certified mail. A Divorce Decree will not generally be entered until all economic claims (equitable distribution, alimony, attorney fees, etc.) of the parties have been resolved by agreement or court order.
Equitable distribution is the division of marital assets and debts. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean “equal.” The formal process for equitable distribution begins with both spouses, through their Bucks County Divorce Attorneys, filing a formal inventory of their assets and debts and exchanging documents relating to income, assets and debts. This process is known as “discovery.” If the parties are able to agree on property division after discovery is complete, they may execute a Marital Settlement Agreement, which is a formal document that outlines the terms of settlement. The Marital Settlement Agreement is sent to the court and becomes part of the divorce decree. If the divorcing spouses are unable to agree on the economic claims, the Bucks County Family Court Judge assigned with the case cannot begin the equitable distribution process until the parties’ divorce decree is ready to be entered by the Court. If both parties consent to the divorce, the parties’ divorce decree is ready to be entered as soon as 90 days after service of the Divorce Complaint. If the parties are not in agreement about the divorce, the parties’ divorce decree is ready to be entered until 1 year after the spouses’ separation. If the date of separation is challenged, the court may schedule a hearing to resolve that specific matter.
If the spouses are not in agreement on division of marital debts and assets after discovery is complete, one or both parties must request a hearing. In Bucks county, hearings are typically scheduled within 4-6 months after filing the request for the hearing. At the hearing, the hearing officer will make recommendations to try to facilitate an agreement between the parties. If the parties reach an agreement, it will go on the record and a judge will sign off on it. If an agreement is not reached in front of the hearing officer, the hearing officer will prepare a written recommendation. The parties then have 20 days to file exceptions to the hearing officer’s recommendation. If no exceptions are filed, the recommendation becomes the final order. If exceptions are filed, the parties will have a hearing before a judge.
Once a settlement on all economic claims has been reached or a court order for equitable distribution has been entered, either spouse may seek to obtain the entry of the Divorce Decree
BUCKS COUNTY CHILD CUSTODY PROCEDURES
A child custody action is initiated by a Bucks County Child Custody Lawyer filing a Complaint for Custody of Minor Children or a formal petition seeking to modify an already established Custody Order of Court. Thereafter, the case will be scheduled for a Conciliation Conference before a Conference Officer, typically within six weeks from the date of filing. The custody conference usually lasts about one hour. Conference Officers are attorneys, not judges. The parties and their attorneys are present at the Conciliation Conference, but children are not permitted. The goal of the Conciliation Conference is for the parties to reach an agreement. If the parties are able to reach an agreement, the attorney for one of the parties will draft the agreement and the other party will have the chance to review. Both parties, as well as their attorneys, will sign. The Conference Officer and a judge will then sign the agreement and make it a court order.
If no agreement is reached, the Conference Officer may order the parties to undergo a custody evaluation and/or schedule the case for a hearing before a judge. Custody evaluations are heavily used in Bucks County. A custody evaluator is often a psychologist or social worker. During a custody evaluation, the parties meet with the evaluator first individually, then jointly, then with the children. The purpose of the meetings is for the evaluator to get background information. The evaluator also interviews third parties, typically that the parties live with such as grandparents or significant others. After the evaluation process is complete, the evaluator submits a recommendation to the court and the parties’ attorneys. Parties are encouraged to settle and reach on agreement based on the evaluator’s recommendation.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement after both the Conciliation Conference and the Custody Evaluation, the hearing will be scheduled before a Family Court Judge. The majority of cases never reach this level. Prior to the pandemic, Custody Hearings before a judge were scheduled four to six weeks after the Conciliation Conference.
BUCKS COUNTY SUPPORT PROCEDURES
All actions for child support, spousal support, and alimony pendente lite in Bucks County start with the filing of either a Bucks County Support Complaint or a formal motion to modify an already existing support order. Claims for alimony in Bucks County are resolved as part of the equitable distribution process. The Family Court then schedules a support conference where the parties and their Bucks County support lawyers will attempt to settle their dispute with the assistance of a Support Conference Officer. The support conference is typically scheduled about six to eight weeks after the initial filing for support. If an agreement is reached at the support conference, a Consent Order of Court is typed and signed by all parties. If no agreement is reached, the case will be heard by a Support Hearing Officer.
The Support Hearing Officers are Bucks County attorneys, not judges, employed by the court to take testimony from the parties, hear legal arguments from the Bucks County support attorneys, and to enter a Recommended Support Order of Court. If either party disagrees with the Recommendation, Exceptions to the Hearing Officer’s Recommendation can be filed within 20 days. If Exceptions are not filed within 20 days, the Hearing Officer’s Recommendation becomes a final order of the court. If exceptions are filed, the recommendation will become a temporary order, and will remain in effect until the Judge gives a final order. Exceptions allow the parties to argue before a judge that the recommended order is improper. At this appearance before a judge, also called Argument Court, the judge will consider the transcripts of testimony from the Support Hearing and written briefs from the support lawyers.
Our Main Line divorce lawyers have represented hundreds of Bucks County family law clients. We believe we are different from many other Main Line, Bucks County family law attorneys.
Our Main Line family law and divorce lawyers can be contacted via email, or please call the Law Offices of Jennifer J. Riley at 215-283-5080.