West Chester Divorce and Child Custody Lawyers
Though it contains suburban neighborhoods, West Chester, Pennsylvania has an urban landscape. The seat of Chester County and home to West Chester University, this city is young, ethnically diverse, and growing.
The "median age" is 24, and of the 19,000 or so residents, only 23% are married while 7.2% are divorced. Compared to surrounding areas, fewer people are married and slightly more are divorced.
If you’re planning to divorce in Chester County, it is strongly recommended that you have an attorney to answer all your questions and help you through the complex legal process.
Who Handles Divorce in West Chester?
If you’re right now living in West Chester, you’ll file all your paperwork through Chester County. In Chester County, the Family Court Administration handles divorce and equitable distribution, custody, protection from abuse, and Masters’ level support. The divorce paperwork is submitted to the Prothonotary’s Office.
The Domestic Relations Office handles child and spousal support, both requests and enforcement.
These offices are housed within the Court of Common Pleas at the Chester County Justice Center in West Chester.
Mutual Consent or No Fault Divorce
Under Section C of Pennsylvania’s divorce code, two individuals who agree to end their marriage must fill out and sign the divorce action forms and pay a filing fee specific to Chester County. There is a mandatory waiting period of 90 days before the judge grants a decree of divorce, but a court hearing will probably not be necessary.
If the couple has been living apart for more than two years, the defendant’s consent may not be required in order for the judge to grant a divorce. Similar forms must be filed with the Prothonotary.
If a spouse has been institutionalized for at least 18 months prior (and it is believed he or she will be for another 18 months, at least), divorce may be granted by reason of "insanity."
Contested or Fault Divorce
Pennsylvania has six grounds for fault in a divorce:
- Abandonment without cause for more than one year.
- Abuse or cruel treatment, putting a spouse’s life or health at risk.
- Adultery, when one spouse has cheated on the other.
- Bigamy, when one spouse is legally married to another person besides his or her spouse.
- Incarceration of a spouse for more than two years.
- "Indignities" inflicted by one spouse that make life unbearable for the other spouse.
If your spouse doesn’t agree to a divorce, you’ll have to prove two things: first, that you are "innocent and injured"; second, that misconduct by your spouse caused the breakdown of the marriage. Each spouse needs his or her own attorney in a contested divorce. The proceedings will take longer, be more complex, and cost a whole lot more than a mutual consent or no fault divorce.
Child Custody in West Chester
If at all possible, try to hammer out an agreement with your former spouse when children are involved. Both of you love your children; try to ignore your anger and hurt feelings, and do what’s best for them. It’s always a good idea to have an experienced child custody lawyer on your side, working to find the best arrangement for you and your children.
If you cannot agree over custody and visitation, a Chester County family court will require parenting classes and mediation; and if that fails, a full custody trial. Psychological evaluations may be ordered as the court decides what is in the child’s best interest. Your lawyer will advise you of legal rights, work as a go-between for you and your spouse, and represent or defend you in court.
Divorce Resources for West Chester
Support Groups and Divorce Resources
School and Child Care
Sit Down with West Chester Divorce Attorney Sheryl R. Rentz
In a bustling urban center with a young, growing population, there are likely to be more marriages, divorces, and custody issues in the future. If you need legal answers to questions about divorce, mediation, child custody and support, alimony, annulment, bankruptcy, or asset division, call the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C at toll-free (866) 290-9292. Our Chester County family law attorneys have experience in local courts and can set you on the right path. First consultations are free.