If your husband is no longer living at the residence, you should immediately file for support at Domestic Relations as you will be responsible for the housing, utilities, etc. If you are not working, you should immediately seek employment because you will most likely be required to work to offset expenses.
What should a woman consider when choosing a divorce attorney?
You should consider experience, compassion, creativity when seeking a divorce attorney. Many times, the most expensive part of the process is when the attorney has to attend court – our office works creatively to avoid such appearances when possible. We negotiate settlements, custody, support stipulations all the time which keeps our clients – and us – out of court. Experience is also critical when there is a divorce that is emotionally charged, including domestic violence, in order to protect the client and ensure the process is safe and fair. Our firm provides both with over 50 years of combined experience.
What is collaborative law and how is it different from mediation?
Our firm does not participate in “collaborative law” arrangements which require the parties to negotiate without court interference. However, most of our divorce matters are handled through negotiation with opposing counsel and are resolved by agreement. The use of the court system is sometimes necessary to have an effective negotiation process. We do recommend mediation, when appropriate, as this gives the parties an opportunity to work with a mediator, without attorneys, to see if they can resolve some, most, or all of the issues in their particular situation. With mediation, both parties can still seek separate legal counsel to review any mediated terms, and then legal counsel also prepares the actual legal documents for filing with the court. In a non-confrontational divorce with property issues, this is typically recommended as the mediator’s charges are typically less and then it is just a review process for the attorney representing the client.
What is the top mistake you see women making during a divorce?
The top mistake I have experienced is that women do not react quickly enough to seek full employment and make arrangements for childcare for children, if they had not previously done so. Even the best of situations is tenuous economically. Support orders are only effective if the payments are made – and the client cannot rely on the other party for their economic safety. If there was already full employment by the Wife, the top mistake would be to not have a clear picture of their marital property – assets and debts. Numerous times, the Wife is not on title to assets or is unaware of the full extent of liabilities in the Husband’s name. This makes the process more difficult because the divorce needs to include the full picture of the marital estate.
What to do with the marital home? Should a woman move out if she plans on divorcing? Should a woman keep it in lieu of other marital assets?
In addressing the marital home, the most important question is “Can you afford it without receiving support?” Many times, this is not possible with mortgages, home equity lines, taxes, utilities, repairs, etc. Although a support order may be issued, if the spouse goes on unemployment or quits his job, the support payments will go into arrears – but you will not receive it until the spouse becomes re-employed. Additionally, many times the Wife will agree to have the spouse pay the mortgage in lieu of child/spousal support. However, if the Wife/children can live elsewhere more cheaply, it makes more sense economically to not put all the support into an asset that you will later split with your husband. Keeping the house for the children is usually not recommended if it puts the Wife in economic jeopardy in the future.
What advice would you give clients to get a divorce with the least possible conflict and pain for all of those involved?
Unfortunately, it is not possible to minimize conflict and pain when there are tough economic issues in the marriage. In my experience, if both parties have cooperative attorneys that are experienced in the law, this minimizes conflict and pressure on the parties because there are certain factors which are considered in every divorce. By educating the parties on these factors and likely consequences, both parties are able to make choices that are fair.
If a woman feels that her spouse is neglecting the children or putting them in danger, what are her options as far as supervised visits and obtaining full physical and legal custody?
This is a dangerous situation and may call for immediate, emergency action on the part of your attorney. Depending on the severity of the facts, an emergency petition may be warranted. Otherwise, we file a modification for custody, present the facts, and request fewer visits that are supervised until it is proven that the other party has adjusted his behavior. It is never recommended that you simply withhold the child or take matters into your own hands. If you witness a dangerous situation (driving under the influence, striking a child, etc.), you should contact the police immediately to come to the location and make a report.
If a woman’s husband and his attorney is lying about her or marital property to the courts, what should she do?
If property is being hidden, it is your attorney’s responsibility to prove that it exists. There are numerous ways to do so, but the simplest method is for the Wife to locate statements, tax returns, etc. that will identify these assets for court ordered production of documents. Sometimes, a private investigator is necessary.
Are women judged more harshly than men during divorce proceedings, if they had extra-marital affairs?
No. The courts do not consider extra-marital affairs at all in their deliberation with regard to divorce proceedings. It may become a factor if one party has alleged a “for cause” reason for the divorce, such as abandonment, indignities, etc. However, even if that is the case, it goes to the date of separation, not the evaluation of equitable distribution of the estate.
How does social media affect the divorce proceedings?
We strongly urge ALL clients to remain OFF of social media – internet, facebook, texts, emails, etc. are all admissible in court. Conversely, if you have evidence of missing assets, lies, etc., from the other party, we use that information in negotiations and court documents.
Is there any other advice you would like to give women who are just beginning the divorce process?
You must get separate, independent counsel to protect your rights. Many firms offer a consultation where you can review the process, and address your questions, prior to hiring the attorney. This provides you the opportunity to judge whether or not this individual is the right fit for you and your situation. Even if you want to use a mediator, seek independent counsel first so you know what the basic rules are and what questions to ask. Our firm in Chester County offers a consultation of approximately one hour for $150 with an attorney to review your matter. Then, you can decide if you want to move forward and engage our firm for your representation. This has proven time and again to be very effective for those in the early stages of divorce.
Janet Satterthwaite, Esq.
110 Hopewell Road, Suite 200, Downingtown, PA 19335
Years in Practice: 26
Is there anything else that you would like potential clients to know about you?
Juris Doctorate -Georgetown University Law Center 1987; Bachelor of Science in Accounting – Villanova University 1984; Member Chester County Bar Association; “2013 Top Lawyer” Main Line Today