Party to Divorce Action FAQ
A Divorce Master is an attorney with experience in family law who has been appointed by the Court of Common Pleas to conduct the trial in a contested divorce action. The Divorce Master will meet with the attorneys and the parties before a trial is scheduled in order to identify the contested issues (which could include any or all of the following: fault divorce, two-year separation, irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, distribution of property, temporary alimony pending the litigation, alimony after the divorce, counsel fees, costs, or expenses). The Divorce Master will help the attorneys and the parties obtain the information necessary to resolve these issues (called "discovery"). This will help eliminate some of the disagreements and may enable the parties to resolve their issues through negotiation. The Divorce Master will then conduct the trial with respect to issues that cannot be resolved between the parties. This trial will be conducted with the same formality as if were being conducted by a Judge. After the trial, the Divorce Master will then write a formal report to the Court, recommending a resolution for these issues. If either party disagrees with the recommendation, he or she can ask a Judge to review it for errors by filing "exceptions." If the Judge finds errors in the Divorce Master’s Report, then the Judge may adopt a final order that differs from the Report. If exceptions are filed, the Judge will review the entire report, not just the parts addressed in the exceptions.
- Dress in a fashion consistent with the respect that a lawyer expects the public to have for the profession. Hang overcoats or other wearing apparel on coat racks designed for such wear. Do not present an issue to the court while wearing your overcoat. If in the courthouse on business not requiring a court appearance, remember that the courthouse is the center of the judicial process and dress accordingly. The same formality of dress that is appropriate for the courtroom is expected for an appearance before a judge at the judge's office or in the judge's chambers. Soda, coffee and other food items may not be brought into the courtroom by anyone.
- Advise clients and witnesses of the appropriate dress and the conduct that is expected of them when appearing in court. Educate the client and witnesses as to the procedure and decorum that is expected while they are part of the judicial process. Chewing gum, soda, coffee and other food items are not permitted to be brought into the courtroom. Do not wear shorts, tank tops, tube tops, halter tops, clothing that exposes your bare navel, or T-shirts with pictures or words on them. They are NOT appropriate in any Court proceeding.
- The proceeding shall at all times be conducted in a dignified and formal manner. Courtesy shall be exhibited by everyone to everyone in the courtroom. At all times, communication in the presence of clients and witnesses shall be conducted with respect and courtesy.
- When addressing the court, counsel is reminded as follows:
a. Ask permission to address the court by prefacing remarks with the phrase "May it please the court."
b. Stand when addressing the court. It is recognized that some judges may have different policies on this issue. To be certain, check with the court's tip staff, law clerk or secretary to ascertain the particular judge's policy.
c. At the beginning or each proceeding, the moving party's counsel should identify themselves and opposing counsel, identify the proceeding and state whom they represent.
d. Lawyers should directly address the court and witnesses.
e. Extraneous comments are to be discussed outside the presence of the court and the jury.
f. Lawyers are expected to stand when addressing and conducting voir dire of a jury.
g. If making objections, stand and state a brief reason for the objection. If it is necessary to expand the record after an objection during a jury trial, lawyers should request they be permitted to approach the bench and quietly, out of the hearing of the jury, state their reasons. No argument should be presented in front of the jury. Request permission to approach the bench before doing so. While at side bar, lawyers must stand in a dignified manner, recognizing they are in view of other participants in the proceeding. Lawyers must make certain their voices are heard and assure that witnesses can also be heard.
- Lawyers must avoid initiating conversation with jurors who have served on a jury in a case they were trying.
- All participants should avoid admonishing anyone or making disparaging comments or actions to anyone in the courtroom.
a. Participants shall not, by their facial expressions, nodding, or other conduct, exhibit any opinion, adverse or favorable, concerning any testimony or other behavior that is presented.
b. Both judges and lawyers must be cognizant of the effect of gender specific terms when addressing others included in the judicial process since such language tends to degrade the recipient in the eyes of all participating.
c. In addressing a witness, opposing counsel, clients or the court, their title should always be utilized. For example, use Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Your Honor, Attorney, etc.
d. Counsel or the court may request that a side bar conference may be held to discuss any inappropriate conduct of this nature.
- Lawyers, even if they disagree with an approach taken by the court, must always protect the dignity and independence of the judiciary, particularly from unjust criticism and attack.
- All cell phones and beepers shall he turned off while any person is in the courtroom or in chambers.
- The court staff is not permitted to assist any attorney or attorney's assistant without permission of the court. Copying of documents, faxing documents, use of telephones, etc., should be done at the attorney's office. The attorney, and not his or her staff, is responsible for seeking the court's permission.
- The practice of standing for the jury will no longer be used after January 1, 2004, and participants shall only stand for the judge.
The Divorce Masters Office strongly recommends that every party to a divorce action should consult with an attorney before deciding whether or not he or she needs an attorney. The law permits you to represent yourself in a divorce action, but there are several disadvantages to this course of action. Parties who represent themselves are referred to as “self-represented” parties. You can overcome the disadvantages of being a self-represented party through research and preparation, but it will take a great deal of time. You will be held to the same standards as an attorney in terms of complying with the rules and statutes, and you will not be given any leeway because you have chosen to represent yourself. If you are a self-represented party, it is vital that you keep the court informed of the mailing address and telephone number at which you can be contacted. Please see Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure (Pa.R.C.P.) 1930.8. The court has a specific form that you can use to report this information. You can download a copy of the form that you can then fill out and file with the Prothonotary by clicking on this link:
If you don’t have an attorney, you should contact “Attorney Connection,” the lawyer referral system of the York County Bar Association at (717)854-8755 or Mid Penn Legal Services at (717) 848-3605.
If you do not have money and meet the financial requirements, you might be able to obtain a lawyer for free. To find out, contact: Mid Penn Legal Services, 29 N. Queen Street #1, York PA 17403, Telephone No. (717) 848-3605
Various steps in obtaining a divorce must be done in precisely the right order and certain time limits must be observed. It’s not uncommon for Pro se parties to miss a deadline or try to do things out of order. This just complicates the case and delays the entry of a decree. If you miss a step completely, you may waive important legal rights.
Legal procedure in general is complex and the procedures in divorce cases are among the most complicated of all. There are multiple forms to file, and they must all be filled out correctly or you may lose important legal rights. No one at the Divorce Masters Office is permitted to help you. Remember, the Divorce Master is like the umpire at a baseball game. The umpire’s job is to call the game fairly without giving aid or assistance to either team. You wouldn’t ask the umpire at you child’s Little League game to give your child tips on how to pitch or hit. Don’t ask the Divorce Master (or the office staff) to give you tips on how to prepare or present your case. Instead, you should read the Divorce Code, 23 Pa.C.S.A. Sections 3301 et seq. (Part III), which is available at the Court Self+Help Center (located in the Northeast corner of the Fourth Floor of the Judicial Center) or on-line at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/23/23.HTM. Then you should read the Pennsylvania Rules of Court (again available at the Court Self+Help Center or at http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/231/partItoc.html) and the York County Rules of Civil Procedure (at the Court Self+Help Center or http://yorkcountypa.gov/images/pdf/YorkCountyCivilRules.pdf ).
Much of the divorce law in Pennsylvania is derived from decisions of the Superior Court and Supreme Court. This “case law” is not easy to find in the statutes or Rules of Civil Procedure, but must be researched at a law library or on-line through a service such as “Lexis” or “Westlaw.” These services are not provided for free, but are available only through subscription. Other research tools are available for free through the website of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, but you may find them very difficult to use.
If you can’t afford an attorney, you may qualify for legal assistance. Try contacting “Attorney Connection,” the lawyer referral system of the York County Bar Association, at (717) 854-8755 or Mid Penn Legal Services at (717) 848-3605. If this doesn’t work, many family lawyers offer a service where they provide legal advice on how to get a divorce, but don’t actually represent you in court. This service costs less than traditional representation.
If you still want to proceed without an attorney, you will be considered a “self-represented party” subject to the requirements of Rule 1930.8 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. Please read the rule carefully. York County also has a standardized form that you can use to enter your appearance. If you move or change your telephone number before the final resolution of the case, you will be required to file a new form.
You can find forms and instructions for a simple no-fault divorce that does not involve any economic issues (alimony, distribution of property, etc.) by following the applicable link below. Please read the disclaimers and notices carefully before you decide whether to use these forms. The York County Divorce Masters Office recommends that you consult with an attorney before attempting to use these forms and instructions. Use them at your own risk.
If you have an attorney, you should call that attorney and ask. If you do not have an attorney and your case was filed in York County, then the Prothonotary can tell you which documents have been filed and whether any court proceedings have been scheduled. You can call the Prothonotary at (717) 771-9611. If you are simply waiting for the decree to be signed, then the District Court Administrator can tell you whether the file has been sent to a judge for signature. You can call the District Court Administrator at (717) 771-9234. Do not attempt to call an individual judge or hearing master to ask about your case. If you do, you will be told to call your attorney, the Prothonotary, or the District Court Administrator.