We are delighted to announce that our physical office is re-opening to our existing and new clients. To provide safety to both our clients and staff, we are adapting the CDC guidelines for social distancing while we are in the yellow phase. Rest assured, that we have and will continue to regularly clean all areas of the office especially the high-traffic areas. All attorneys and staff will have their temperature taken daily and will be wearing masks when interacting with clients. Any attorneys and staff with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will work remotely. They will then be required to follow CDCrecommended steps, including not returning to work until the CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation are met.

As the health and safety of our clients and their families is our top priority, we are asking that our clients follow the procedures below during the yellow phase:

  1. Upon entering the building, we ask that all persons wash their hands or hand-sanitize. We will be providing access to soap, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
  2. We will also be taking temperatures with non-contact thermometers upon entering the office.
  3. Our office is set-up to comply with social distancing of six feet. In the conference and mediation rooms we are asking that each person sit a minimum of one chair apart from attorneys and/or staff at all times.
  4. Masks are available and will be provided open request.
  5. Teleconferences Zoom meetings, and FaceTime are available in lieu of inperson meetings if requested.
  6. We will continue to have the drop-box available for delivery of documents.

In the event that anyone is sick or have been exposed to COVID-19, we ask that you reschedule your appointment or utilize the electronic forums listed above.

As each county determines the procedures that will be followed, please ask your attorney of the specific procedures regarding the county in which your case in pending.

Please note that we will also continue to accommodate the needs of new clients, who are welcome, and as always we encourage and appreciate referrals. During this uncertain and unprecedented time, please stay safe and remember that Sweeney Law Office, LLC will remain by your side for all of your family’s legal needs. We ask that you have patience during this challenging time.

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Collaborative divorce in Pennsylvania: An introduction

This is an alternative dispute resolution process that involves a commitment to negotiate to resolution outside of the court process.

Many people who find themselves in an unexpected place where divorce may be in the future do not know that there are alternatives to traditional divorce. In traditional divorce processes, the parties usually try to negotiate a settlement agreement through their lawyers. Issues they cannot agree on are contested and must be decided by the Pennsylvania state court judge presiding over the divorce.

Divorce trials have the potential to get adversarial and stressful. Nowadays, collaborative law and mediation are alternative processes to come to resolution of disputed matters in divorce. In this article, we will introduce the basic concepts of collaborative divorce.

The main hallmarks are:

  • The parties enter into a participation agreement setting out the terms of their collaborative process.
  • They agree not to go to court, but rather to respectfully negotiate resolution of all of the legal issues in their divorce through a series of four-way meetings with their lawyers.
  • The process uses neutral professionals hired jointly by the divorcing parties to provide information and guidance needed in the process. These may include financial experts, accountants, appraisers, real estate professionals, parenting coaches, child psychologists, mental health experts and others.
  • The parties commit to behave with dignity and respect; to keep proceedings confidential; and to voluntarily provide all information needed.
  • Should the collaborative process fail, the parties must hire new lawyers.

Parties that may especially want to consider collaboration are seniors, parents of minor children and couples with high assets or family businesses, but it can work for anyone if the situation is right. Potential benefits of collaboration include:

  • Less stress
  • Better post-divorce relationships, especially where children are involved and the parents must co-parent after divorce
  • Less expensive, although not always
  • More creative solutions
  • More privacy than court

On June 28, 2018, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law Act, to take effect in 60 days. The Act sets out procedures for lawyers and parties to follow throughout the collaborative process. According to a press release by Rep. Kate Klunk, R-York, author of the bill, “hundreds of attorneys in the state” are already practicing collaboration and the law “creates a uniform standard for collaborative law” in the state.

Klunk cites statistics from the Pennsylvania Bar Association that collaborative divorce proceedings have a success rate of 93 percent. Five percent of these couples decided not to divorce and the remaining 2 percent used traditional divorce proceedings.

Collaboration is not for everyone. Sometimes the animosity is just too much to sit down around a table and negotiation is not going to be fruitful. If a party has mental health problems, substance abuse issues or a history of abuse or violence, the likelihood of a healthy negotiation is slimmer. In fact, the new law contains specific procedures attorneys must follow if considering collaboration when a party has a history of violence.

If you are a Pennsylvanian facing divorce, you should sit down with a family lawyer who has taken training in collaboration, experienced in mediation and practices traditional divorce law. A knowledgeable lawyer like this can listen to your circumstances to discuss the pros and cons of each process for your situation, so that you can make an informed decision whether collaboration might be favorable for you.

The attorneys at Sweeney Law Offices in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, are specially trained in the collaborative process and represent divorcing spouses across the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in collaborative divorce, mediation and traditional divorce.