Legal Question in Family Law in Pennsylvania

Responding to a divorce complaint/summons

We both live in PA. I was served with divorce papers December 5th. I am a stay at home mother and have no money to retain a lawyer (no, legal aid in PA does not help with divorce nor custody cases). I have consulted with a few who have told me that I have 90 days to respond if I want an no-fault, and up to 2 years to respond to the original complaint before the divorce hearing. I'm hearing from other people that you're supposed to respond within 20 days (which is no longer possible as that time has passed). I'm scared that my lack of money has cost me everything now! I can't lose custody of my daughter! The complaint asks for HIM to have physical custody. I still have no money to retain an attorney and all I can do are consultations! Can anyone clarify this? If I didn't respond in 20 days, have I completely screwed up?

I have read through the complaint many times, and through the letter sent with it, and there is nothing at all said except that I needed to ''promptly respond'' but no dates/times/requirements stated.

Asked on 1/16/09, 1:57 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Audrey Buglione Law Office of Audrey Buglione

Re: Responding to a divorce complaint/summons

Responsive pleadings to a divorce complaint are not required. Responsive pleadings to a custody complaint are not required. In Pennsylvania, parties can consent to divorce and a decree will be issued, based on consent of both parties, after 90 days from the date of filing have passed. If written consent is not obtained then the Plaintiff, here, your husband, must petition the court to enter a divorce decree based on either one of several fault grounds or based on two years of separation. You will then have the opportunity to challenge the petition. As to custody, default judgments (ie. a judgment based on no response by the defendant) are not allowed. Either a hearing date or a concilliation date will be set. You will then have the opportunity to present the court with evidence of why you should be the primary custodian of your child. In regard to financial concerns, spouses have a statutory duty to support each other. If your husband earns more money than you he must provide you with financial support, either in the form of spousal support or alimony pendente lite. You must request this and you are only entitled to the support from the date of filing the request, not retroactively. You should be able to do so through your local domestic relations office. You do not need an attorney to petition for support. In addition, if your daughter is living with you your husband has a statutory duty to provide you with child support. Again, you must petition the court through your local domestic relations office. You do not need an attorney to file for child support. You can request both spousal and child support at the same time. My office is located in Dauphin County and I practice family law, including divorce, custody and support in the surrounding counties. 7988-LAW If you cannot afford an attorney you should contact your counties' local bar association. They can refer you to an attorney in your area that handles family law cases and participates in modest means representation.

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Answered on 1/18/09, 3:57 pm

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