Joe: Now, you guys are dealing with very hot button issues. You’re dealing with finances and potentially living situations like divorce, custody…but the courts operate on a limited basis. What do you do to help the listeners move their cases forward in Family Court?
Cooper: Well guys, what we’re seeing right now are delays and postponements…people that have been waiting sometimes six to nine months to have a hearing date. Now, it’s been postponed and they don’t know when it’s going to be, so we’re definitely seeing more interest in mediation. For divorce cases, or for child custody matters and support cases, with mediation or arbitration (you can reach a conclusion).
Union guys are familiar with arbitration, right? You guys know that when you have two sides that may not agree on everything, but they need to get a deal done, sometimes that’s the best way to do it. Sometimes, that can save our clients a good deal of time and a good deal of money. And they end up with a pretty similar result as what they might have gotten by going through the court system.
Our firm provides this service. It can be very useful, especially in light of the strains on the court system right now.
What to expect from the stimulus?
Joe: Pat, tell us how the stimulus comes into play in your world.
Cooper: Well, on the family law side of things, first of all, I’d like to say that many of our clients have reported that they have not received their funds yet. If you didn’t have your tax refund direct deposited into a bank account last year or maybe you didn’t get around to filing your last year’s income tax return. You may not receive your’s digitally.
You may need to get it through the mail. So, hopefully, you didn’t move recently or you may not get it. A few of our clients have actually received notices in the mail that their stimulus checks were intercepted for child support arrears. And obviously, that’s an issue.
Kevin mentioned earlier that he’s got guys that have been out of work for weeks and weeks. I’m sure they were relying on that stimulus check. And now, child support arrears that they were dealing with legitimately through the courts, now it’s been intercepted for child support arrears. The overdue amount that can accrue when a paying parent goes through a period of underemployment or unemployment.
Is that normal?
Cooper: I think this happens in various trades from time to time where you may have a job (in)consistently for nine months straight. Then you have a few months or a month where you don’t have work. If you’re not filing to modify your support payment and you’re not making direct payments directly to the other parent or directly to the court, then you’re going to accumulate some arrears.
Normally, this is not that big of a deal because you pay a little bit extra every month. So you (are able to) catch up.
The issue though is that right now you’re looking for your stimulus check in the mail and then you get a notice that it’s been completely seized. That can happen with the tax refund, that can happen with the stimulus check, and that’s what we’re seeing happening right now.
Will divorce cases increase?
Joe: And having said that, we’re all cooped up in the house. High rates of unemployment, a lot of stressed people. Pat, how do you see this?
There are all kinds of jokes about it on the internet, but the truth is it’s not a joke. How do you see this pandemic affecting divorce?
Cooper: Well, Joe, there’s always some truth in every joke. After discussing this with other divorce attorneys and my colleagues, we do expect that there will be a rise in divorce filings. Probably a significant rise.
There are a number of reasons why we think this. We’ve seen a slight uptick in inquiries regarding divorce even throughout the pandemic. There are various countries in Europe and Asia who have already seen post lockdown filing rates rise.
I think people are realizing that if they weren’t happy in their marriage before, that life is too short. And then on top of that, now, (in some cases) they’ve been forced to spend every waking minute in the same houses as their spouse. Which you know, it’s not easy.
Joe: It’s not easy with a good marriage guys. And I can attest to that, by the way, it’s definitely a stressful time.
Cooper: It’s not only that you’re in close quarters but you’re (also) financially stressed.
A lot of people are uncertain. I mean, I’m assuming it’s going to vary between industries but there’s no question about that. You know, it’s just a stressful time.
Does it matter who files for divorce first?
Joe: What are some of the reasons to be proactive and hire a lawyer to file? If you are in that situation, cause I’m not joking when I say…if you feel like you’re not going to make it through this, especially with your marriage, why is it more important to file before your spouse does? Is there an advantage?
Cooper: Well, Joe, I’d say the first thing is you want to get in touch with a lawyer. That really is the first step and I think that goes back to just like anything else in life, you know, do you want to have the knowledge at your fingertips?
Do you want to be able to plan ahead? And if there’s something that you want, do you want to wait for somebody else to do it for you?
I think that the answer is yes to the first couple (questions) and no to the last thing because you want to be proactive. You want to know going into it what your rights are.
Could not filing cost you?
Cooper: One major reason that many of my clients don’t always realize that they should be more proactive is that the longer you stay married, the more of your assets may become divisible in your divorce. For example, if you have a 401k or a pension or another retirement benefit the portion of that benefit that your spouse might be entitled to, and divorce, is measured by the length of your marriage prior to separation.
So, if you’re just kind of sitting around and not being proactive about it, it could be costing you.
Another major issue is alimony. And that’s a word that a lot of people are familiar with. I get a lot of confused questions about alimony. Truth is, Pennsylvania does indeed have alimony and if you stay married for long enough and you’re the higher-earning spouse, then the court can order you to pay your divorcing spouse monthly alimony for a period of time.
Usually, that’s one year for every three years of marriage after your divorce is final.
The attorneys at Sadek and Cooper Law Offices have handled hundreds of divorces in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties of Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, and Chester. We are also licensed in the State of New Jersey. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation at 215-545-0008.