Declaratory Judgments in Family Law

Declaratory Judgments in Family Law

There are many ways to bring an issue before the court in a family law matter.  When seeking to have a contract validated or to determine a legal right, then filing a motion for a declaratory judgment is one of those options.  The Declaratory Judgment Act states “Courts of record, within their respective jurisdictions, shall have power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations.”  See 42 Pa. C.S.A. §§7531-7541.  The following are some specific ways that declaratory judgments can be used in family law.

Prenuptial Agreements: Prenuptial agreements often make the process of divorce proceed much more smoothly, as the parties have already set forth their agreement on many issues including division of property, counsel fees and support.  There are instances, however, when one party seeks to challenge the validity of a prenuptial agreement.  If the parties do not agree on whether a prenuptial agreement is valid, then a motion for declaratory judgment can be filed.  A judge will hear all evidence and argument and then decide whether the contract is valid.

Validity of a Marriage: Section 3306 of the Pennsylvania Code states that a declaratory judgment can be filed when the validity a marriage is denied or doubted.  This occurred more frequently in the past when common law marriages were a part of Pennsylvania law, but is still an option when the validity of the marriage itself is being challenged.

Determination of a Legal Right or Status: Declaratory judgments have also been used in the family law context when a legal right is at issue.  For example, if one party seeks an exemption from mandatory vaccinations for a minor child based on a legal right provided by statute, such as the religious exemption, then a motion for declaratory judgment can be filed to have the court to determine that right.

A declaratory judgment is a unique tool in the family law practitioner’s tool kit and can be used for many different purposes.  If you or someone you know is seeking help with a family law matter, click or call 610-892-3877 and we can determine if this type of motion is right for your case.

About the author

About Melissa Towsey

Melissa graduated from the University of Virginia in 2002 with a double major in Sociology and Foreign Affairs. After working for several years as a paralegal in Washington, D.C., she attended The University of Villanova School of Law and graduated in 2010. During law school, Melissa was involved in several public interest organizations and published an article in Villanova’s Environmental Law Journal, “Something Stinks: The Need for Environmental Regulation of Puppy Mills” 21 Vill. Envtl. L.J. 159 (2010) http://www.animallaw.info/articles/arus21villenvtllj159.htm. After law school, Melissa clerked for the Honorable Thomas G. Parisi, Administrative Judge of the Criminal Division in the Court of Common Pleas, Berks County.