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Family Law

PFA, Adoption, Marital Agreements and more.
Name changes, Adoption, Prenuptial Agreements, Parental Rights and other family law answers from experienced lawyers.

Attorney Sommer and Attorney O’Donnell are happy to assist with all of your Family Law needs. Besides the services that come along with Divorce, Custody, Support and Estate Planning, there are several other areas of the law in which you may seek advice.

Prenuptial Agreements

In Pennsylvania, there are several requirements for a validly executed prenuptial agreement.
  1. The agreement must be in writing; there are no oral prenuptial agreements.
  2. The agreement must be executed voluntarily; if it is found that either party signed the agreement under duress or unfair pressure from the other side, it will not be enforced.
  3. The agreement must not be unconscionable; if it leaves one party destitute or places an unreasonable burden on one party, it will not be enforced.
  4. The agreement needs to be validly executed by both parties “in the manner for a deed to be recorded;” in other words, the prenup needs to be notarized.


The requirements for a valid prenuptial agreement not only are necessary at the time of the agreement’s signing, but they must also be last for the duration of the marriage in order for the agreement to be enforceable should the marriage end in divorce.  For example, one of the conditions of a valid prenuptial agreement might be that the marital home will go to one of the parties upon divorce. This might be conditioned upon that party making the mortgage payments directly from his or her income.  However, if the couple decides to co-mingle their income and use that co-mingled income to make mortgage payments, the otherwise valid prenuptial agreement may be held unenforceable by a Court.


As previously mentioned, prenuptial agreements do more than just protect a party who is entering a marriage with a disproportionately large amount of assets.  In the absence of a prenuptial agreement and without a valid will, the law will decide what assets go to the surviving spouse no matter what the true intentions were of the deceased spouse.  Moreover, it just makes sense for couples to understand what their financial rights and responsibilities are prior to entering into marriage.


Anyone thinking about entering into a prenuptial agreement should seek an attorney for every step of the process as there are too many legal considerations to take care of without professional help.  Both Attorney Sommer or Attorney O’Donnell are here to assist you if you would like to discuss this issue further.

Postnuptial Agreements

Private Adoption

Step-Parent Adoption

A step-parent adoption in Pennsylvania can be a fairly simple process, and it can be a wonderful step to take to complete the family unit. When the adoption is completed, the child will have the following benefits:


  • New name is established (if desired)
  • New birth certificate
  • Two legal parents active in the child’s life
  • Ability to inherit from adoptive parent


The child will have a relationship with the adoptive parent that is the same as if the child were born to the step-parent. The child’s new birth certificate will show the child’s new name and will have the adoptive parent and the natural parent listed as the child’s mother and father.


Attorney Sommer or Attorney O’Donnell can answer any legal questions you may have regarding a step-parent adoption.

Who Can Adopt?
  • Step-mother, or
  • Step-father


A step-parent in Pennsylvania can file to adopt his or her step child. The step-parent must be legally married to the child’s parent.


In Pennsylvania, a domestic partnership and same-sex marriages, as well as, Grandparents or other family members may also petition to adopt under the step-parent adoption laws.

Parental Rights?

Both the biological father and the biological mother have parental rights to the child. In every adoption, the absent or consenting parent(s) parental rights will have to be terminated.


Some of the common grounds for termination of parental rights are:


  • Abandonment of the child
  • Incompetency and/or Neglect of the child
  • Lack of financial suppor
  • Sustained lack of contact
  • Incarceration of a biological parentPutative or presumptive father is not the bio-father
Child’s Consent

In Pennsylvania, if the child is over 12 years of age, the child will be required to sign consent to the adoption.

Protection From Abuse (PFA)

What is a protection for abuse order (PFA)?

A protection from abuse order is a paper that is signed by a Judge and tells the abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences. It offers civil legal protection from domestic violence to both female and male victims.

How can a protection from abuse order protect me?

A protection from abuse order can offer the following protections for you and your children. It can:


  • Order the abuser not to abuse, harass, or stalk you, your relatives or your minor children;
  • Order the abuser to be removed from the home where you both live and grant you possession of the home; Note: Under certain circumstances, if you are living in a home where the abuser is the only owner or tenant, the Judge can still remove the abuser from the home or, with your consent, order him/her to provide you with suitable alternate housing.
  • Award temporary custody or temporary visitation rights of your minor children;
  • Order the abuser to pay financial support (including medical bills, health insurance, rent or mortgage payments) to you or your children;
  • Prohibit the abuser from having any contact with you or minor children, including staying away from your or your child’s place of employment or business or school;
  • Order the abuser to turn any of his/her firearms, other weapons, and ammunition to the sheriff or police, if s/he used them or threatened to use them during the abuse, and prohibit him/her from getting additional firearms;
  • Order the abuser to pay you for reasonable losses resulting from the abuse (this may include the cost of medical/ dental care, relocation and moving expenses, attorney and counseling costs, as well as loss of earnings or support); and
  • Grant any other appropriate relief you request.*


Whether or not a Judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6108(a)

What is the legal definition of domestic violence in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, there are a few different types of protection from abuse orders (“PFA”).  The type of PFA you may initially get depends on whether the Judge believes you need protection or not.


Emergency Order

If you need immediate protection when the courts are closed (such as on a weekend, late night or holiday), you can call your local police department or 911.  They will tell you which Magisterial District Judge is on-call that night, and provide you with the telephone number where you can reach her or him.  If the Judge thinks you are in immediate danger, s/he may grant you an emergency order.  An Emergency Order will only last until the next business day.  An Emergency Order is designed to give you protection until a court opens and you have a chance to ask for an ex parte temporary PFA.  If you do not go to Court on the next business day to apply for an ex parte temporary PFA, your Emergency Order will expire.*


Ex Parte Temporary PFA

When you ask the court for a PFA, a Judge will give you an ex parte temporary PFA if s/he finds that you or your minor children are in danger of further domestic abuse and need immediate protection.  “Ex parte” means that the Judge will make this decision based only on the information you provide, without the abuser being in court.  This Temporary Order will last until your full court Hearing for the final PFA where the abuser has an opportunity to testify and present evidence.  A Hearing is usually scheduled within 10 business days.  If the abuser has a gun or weapon, be sure to tell this to the Judge when applying for your ex parte temporary PFA so that the Judge can order the weapon to be immediately turned over to the sheriff.**


Final PFA

After a Hearing in which you both have an opportunity to tell your side of the story through your testimony, evidence, and witnesses, a judge can grant you a final protection from abuse order (PFA).  A final PFA lasts up to 3 years and can be extended under certain circumstances.***


* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6110(a),(b)
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6107(a),(b)
*** 23 Pa.C.S.A.§ 6108(d),(e

What types of protection from abuse orders are there? How long do they last?

This section defines abuse for the purposes of getting a protection from abuse order.  Abuse is the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members:


  1. Attempting to cause or causing (with or without a deadly weapon);
    • Bodily injury or serious bodily injury;
    • Rape;
    • Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (oral sex, anal sex, vaginal or anal penetration with a foreign object performed under force or the threat of force, or while unconscious)*
    • Sexual assault or statutory sexual assault;
    • Aggravated indecent assault (vaginal or anal penetration with a finger or other body part under force or threat of force, or while unconscious)**
    • Indecent assault (touching a person’s intimate parts for the purposes of arousal without consent, under force or threat of force, or while the person is unconscious)***
    • Incest; or
  2. Placing another in reasonable fear of immediate serious bodily injury;
  3. False imprisonment;
  4. Physical or sexual abuse of a child; or
  5. Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.****


* 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3123(a)
** 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3125(a)
*** 18 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 3126(a); 3101
**** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102(a)

In which county can I file for a protection from abuse order?

You can file a Petition in the county where you live (permanently or temporarily) or work, in any county where the abuser can be served (i.e., where s/he lives or works), or in the county where the abuse took place.  However, if you are going to be asking the Judge to remove the abuser from the home you share, you MUST file the Petition in the county where your home is located.*


* Pa.R.C.P. 1901.1(a)-(b)

Name Changes in PA

Many people wish to change their names, or the name of their minor child, in order to get a new start in life. Pennsylvania law governs the procedures by which a person’s name can be changed in the state of Pennsylvania.  The Office of the Prothonotary in your county of residence is where you will submit the documents necessary to change your name.  There are different procedures to follow, depending on the reason for changing your name and whether it involves an adult or a minor child. It is up to the Court whether to order a name change after a Hearing before a Judge.

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