Chester County Same-Sex Family Law Attorney
Equal Representation in All Chester County Family Law Matters
The evolution of civil rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community has changed drastically throughout the 21st century, leading to massive changes with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. For Pennsylvania residents, same-sex marriage has been legally recognized by the state since 2014 when a U.S. federal district court ruled the state-wide ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. Thus, our state and court systems have a step ahead of much of the nation in resolving same-sex family law issues, from adoption cases to custody disputes to divorces. What ever your situation is, you likely need legal representation to navigate the often complex laws in Pennsylvania when filing for divorce or upholding your rights in a custody battle.
That is where Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C. can be of service. Founded in 1992, our law firm has more than 25 years of experience providing clients of all sexualities and genders with equal representation in and outside of the courtroom. If you need the legal aid of an experienced Chester County same-sex family law attorney, contact our offices at (610) 645-0100. We are here to help and offer sound legal guidance.
How Can Our Firm Help You?
After you have gotten married, and even well beforehand, you hope that your relationship with your spouse remains cordial and respectable throughout your relationship, even when you are going through tough times. But people and situations change. You may have started a new business since getting married, had children, bought a house, or inherited a large sum of money or property. This can complicate your relationship and spark some concerns about your legal rights. You may be worried about your financial future if you ever choose to get divorced or are unsure about how to determine alimony or child support. You may even know exactly what you want out of a divorce but are not sure how to get it.
In any situation, you will need the aid of a skilled and experienced attorney. You don’t want to just pick the first attorney you find online or from a local billboard. You will want to vet their experience, review their awards, and read up on their previous client testimonials. You will, of course, want to meet with the attorney that will be representing you. That is why, here at Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., we offer each potential client a free, one-hour consultation to discuss your case and determine if we are the right fit for you.
Before coming to our offices, you may wish to read up on the various cases that we handle. Our lead attorney has more than 25 years of experience and has handled a wide variety of cases throughout Chesco, from contentious divorces to pre-marital agreements to even pet custody cases. We can provide strong and compassionate legal guidance in cases of:
- Child Custody
- Child Support
- Pre-marital Agreements
- Grandparent and Stepparent Rights
- Bankruptcy and Divorce
- Domestic Violence
- Parental Alienation
- Cohabitation Agreements
If you have questions about a family law case, reach out to us either online or by phone. We can explain to you your rights, suggest detailed solutions, work to bring you and your spouse or soon-to-be-ex-spouse to a resolution, and represent you in a court of law, if necessary.
Pennsylvania Laws on Divorce
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there is no major difference in divorce proceedings for same-sex couples than heterosexual couples. You will essentially go through the same process as any other divorce, no matter your gender identity or sexual preference. But before you begin that process, we want you to be aware of your rights throughout a divorce.
First, you can only proceed with a divorce in Chester County if one of you has been a resident of Pennsylvania for at least six months. Your residency can be verified with a driver’s license, utility bill, pay stub, a deed to a house, or apartment lease.
Once you have established residency, you will need to file a complaint with the court of Common Pleas, which is located at the Chester County Justice Center in West Chester. There are two types of complaints that you can file for a divorce in Pennsylvania: fault (contested) and no-fault (uncontested).
Fault divorces mean that one member is filing for a divorce due to an irreconcilable difference such as adultery, sudden and unexplained separations for at least one year (malicious desertion), child abuse, or domestic violence. Fault divorces are considered much more contentious and can lead to strict court orders, such as one parent receiving sole custody, and require a court appearance.
No-fault divorces, in contrast, are handled out of court. Spouses may agree that the relationship cannot continue and instead choose to work together to prepare the terms of their divorce.
What If We Do Not Want to Go to Court?
We won’t tell you that divorce is easy. Contentious cases can become drawn out, bring up unruly emotions, and be just plain expensive. However, if you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse are willing to sit down and work through the legal and financial matters of your divorce together, then mediation may be the best option for you. Mediation is often far less expensive than going to court for a divorce. Instead of having your case overseen by a judge, a mediator will act as neutral ground in the discussion. Both halves of the relationship will have to have their own attorney, but these meetings are far less formal than going to court. You can both speak more freely about your dispute and work together to divide your assets, decide on a custody schedule, and resolve any other legal requirements. While it is not a full-proof process, it is often a more relaxing experience than a lengthy divorce.
How Is Child Custody Determined?
While child custody proceedings should follow the same procedures for same-sex parents as they do for heterosexual parents, the laws are a little more complicated since they were originally designed for heterosexual parents. The legal landscape has not fully adjusted to the ramifications of same-sex marriage nor the general advancements in LGBT rights. You may need to educate the court on your gender identity, such as if you are transgender or non-binary, and clearly explain that you are legally the parent of your child.
Legal parentage can become complicated depending on how your child came into your life. If you adopted your child, then you both would have legal parentage and should not have any extra issues when you go to decided custody. However, if one of you had a child before your relationship and the other is considered a stepparent, custody may not be as clear cut. The courts do recognize stepparent rights in Pennsylvania, meaning the stepparent can seek visitation. But, to receive custody, you would need to have adopted the child during the marriage.
However, if you had your child through artificial insemination, the courts may debate whether or not the non-biological parent has legal custody if they never signed a birth certificate. This is why establishing legal custody after artificial insemination is extremely important. That being said, your attorney can argue in court that you have a clear right to custody based on your parental relationship, whether or not you are the biological parent.
What type of custody you receive can vary. The courts in Pennsylvania typically want both parents in the life of the child and for parents to develop a custody plan that works for everyone involved, including the child. However, they are designed to act in the best interest of the child, meaning they can choose to give one parent more custody rights than the other if there are extenuating circumstances, such as domestic violence or child abuse.
The types of custody you can receive are divided into legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody means you can make decisions regarding your child’s education, health, and legal rights, while physical custody means the child lives with you. One parent can have legal custody, while the other has physical custody. These situations are referred to as sole legal custody and sole physical custody. However, you may receive joint custody, where the child spends some time with each parent and both of you must agree on legal matters.
It is important to discuss all scenarios with a family law attorney. Custody can become complicated if one parent would like to move out of state or out of the country, so you will want to have your opinions acknowledged by the court so that you do not lose your relationship with your child.
Pre- and Post-nuptials
While many family law matters start with a divorce or separation, a family law attorney can provide guidance before you even get married. Clients have come to us with financial matters that they worried would be become even more complicated if they ever got divorced. In these instances, we were able to guide each half of the relationship through the process of creating a pre-nuptial agreement. Pre-nuptials allow engaged couples to legally outline how their assets should be divided if they ever get divorced.
But what if you’re already married? Well, that is what a post-nuptial is for. Post-nuptials provide the same legal and financial guidelines for how a divorce should proceed and how assets should be divided. However, it is important to note that neither agreement is foolproof. Chester County courts can overrule an agreement if they determine that it is unfair to one-side. In addition, child custody plans and support cannot be determined by an agreement. While the courts will take in mind each agreement, they do have the final say. They also tend to favor pre-nuptials over post-nuptials, so it is best to create one before marriage.
One last note on pre- and post-nuptials: if you have a cohabitation agreement, then you should be aware that it does become void once you become married. This could mean that any cohabitation agreements that outlined financial matters could be absolved after you get married, but you can move those same agreements over to a pre- or post-nuptial to secure your financial future.
Schedule a Free Consultation Today
Navigating the murky waters of family law can be extremely confusing, no matter how you identify. That is why, if you are unsure of your rights in a divorce or need representation in a custody battle, you should speak to a Chester County family law attorney at Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C. Our founding attorney can help set your mind at ease during a consultation and work with you throughout your case to achieve positive results. At the end of the day, our goal is to ensure that your needs are met under the law. If we take you on as a client, we will keep a thorough line of communication open with you to ensure you are not left adrift at sea when you need us. If you need legal guidance with a family law matter, reach out to us at (610) 645-0100.