By Robert M. Going, Jr., Attorney
Change is a part of our existence, whether it’s a new job, a move to a different town, or an unexpected loss. Positive or negative, these life events frequently cause stress. Think about the changes associated with divorce and it’s no wonder many families find the breakup of a marriage to be one of the most stressful events of their lives.
More than 28,000 marriages ended in Pennsylvania in 2020. No matter the circumstances, divorce signals the end of a relationship and a way of life. A divorce can cause anger, sadness, a change in living arrangements, a loss of time spent with children, and new financial challenges.
Most couples can’t avoid these changes, but they can control how they deal with them and the often-complicated process of dissolving a marriage. Taking the following steps can make divorce less stressful for Lancaster County couples and their families.
Establish a Separation Agreement
Even when couples are civil to one another or agree to an amicable divorce, the process is never easy. Every new decision is an invitation for conflict and stress. Creating a mutually acceptable separation agreement is one way to eliminate some of the uncertainty. This legally binding contract outlines the rights and responsibilities of both spouses and serves as a reference guide for a host of financial and familial situations that may come up in the near or distant future.
A separation agreement can resolve details such as who will pay the bills and who will claim dependency exemptions and receive tax refunds. It also defines how couples will make decisions regarding their children, how they will divide time between each parent, and who will pay spousal support.
Create a Preliminary Custody Agreement
As difficult as divorce might be for the couple, it can be even more stressful for their children. In Pennsylvania, the courts recognize this fact by putting the best interests of the children at the forefront of every custody agreement. State law places particular emphasis on which party will provide a loving, stable, and nurturing environment that will meet a child’s physical and emotional needs.
In most cases, a healthy relationship with both parents is in the child’s best interest. Couples who recognize this should make every effort to put their own animosity aside and create a custody agreement that is fair to everyone involved.
Ideally, divorcing spouses will consider custody arrangements while they are still living together to ensure a smooth and less stressful transition for themselves and their families. The preliminary agreement will outline how the children will split their time and include a detailed visitation schedule in cases where parents do not share equal custody.
Visitation schedules offer plenty of flexibility. An experienced divorce lawyer can assist in mapping out an arrangement that suits a family’s unique situation.
Get Finances in Order
Part any settlement is determining how to divide a couple’s assets when a marriage dissolves. Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, meaning the court, if asked to do so, will not necessarily divide assets in a 50-50 split. State law takes several factors into consideration, including the length of the marriage, the age and health of both parties, income and future earning potential, and assets acquired before and during the union.
Take the time to organize important financial and legal documents, including tax returns, bank statements, pension and retirement account data, life insurance, detailed information on employee benefits and investments, mortgage documentation, credit card and bank balances, and proof of current income, as well as a detailed monthly budget.
The more organized and thorough the documentation, the easier it will be for a divorce attorney to ensure a fair and stress-free distribution of assets.
Develop a Support Network
Divorce is not only a stressful process, but it can be a lonely one, too. Couples who used to share the responsibilities of home and family now find themselves facing many of those duties alone. Add to that the need to juggle visitation schedules, and life suddenly becomes more complex and hectic.
Even when negotiations are going smoothly, divorcing couples may have to deal with additional issues, such as changing healthcare coverage, naming new beneficiaries on investments and retirement plans, and getting new bank accounts.
The many expected and unexpected changes associated with the breakup of a marriage can be overwhelming. Don’t try to shoulder the burden alone. Now is the time to lean on a support network, whether it is family and friends, a professional therapist, or a support group of others sharing a common experience.
Hire an Experienced Lancaster County Attorney
An attorney experienced in family law is another important piece of a support network to help individuals navigate through a divorce. A lawyer can help eliminate much of the stress associated with dissolving a marriage by guiding couples through the legal process and serving as an objective mediator when spouses find it difficult to communicate.
A successful settlement requires knowledge of Pennsylvania laws concerning the division of real estate and retirement accounts, alimony and spousal support, and child custody. Navigating the process without an attorney can result in irreversible mistakes, such as loss of marital property. Once a judge approves a divorce agreement, it is difficult to undo. A divorce lawyer can also negotiate a fair custody agreement and visitation schedule that suits a family’s unique situation and serves the best interests of the children.
The Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster can’t guarantee an easy divorce, but we can help make the process less stressful by offering calm, professional support, handling all legal filings, negotiating custody and support, and ensuring a fair settlement. Contact us today.