Surviving Divorce
Through mediation or traditional divorce, Karen Ulmer Pendergast and her team of attorneys at Karen Ann Ulmer P.C. help clients move forward with their lives
by Sharon A. Shaw

The end of a relationship can make any individual feel alone, and not just for the loss of a partner. Many also feel isolated from the support system of friends and family. During a divorce, separation or custody dispute, it is crucial to have an experienced advocate who understands not only the legal issues but also the emotional hardships one must endure.

Karen Ulmer Pendergast, Esq., understands her clients’ concerns because she has experienced many of them firsthand. “I’ve been through the system,” says Ulmer Pendergast, who has since remarried. “I’ve been to custody-support hearings and have had to deal with those issues. I can relate to a lot of clients’ issues, what they are thinking about or what they have to deal with in a custody schedule, as well as concerns on finances.”

Ulmer Pendergast grew up in the area, graduating from Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia. In college she studied psychology, with the intent of becoming a therapist, and earned her B.S. in psychology from Duke University in Durham, N.C. After speaking with a law student on the long train ride home for break, she was inspired to go to law school. “The field sounded like it might excite me,” she says. “It offered diverse paths to choose from and the opportunity to provide a service to help others, which resulted in concrete outcomes.”

In 1995, while raising a newborn daughter and holding down a steady job, she obtained her Juris Doctor from Widener University School of Law. A year later she obtained an advanced law degree in securities law from Georgetown University Law Center, but her own experience with divorce and custody pushed her away from this specialty and, instead, into the practice of family law.

She remained in Bucks County to be near her family, as well as to share custody of her daughter with her ex-husband in a way that allowed both families significant involvement. Inspired by the success of other self-employed role models, and as a way to have more control over her workday, Ulmer Pendergast began her own law firm in 2000. “With my daughter starting kindergarten, I wanted to be at the bus stop and be able to go to school functions,” she says. “Flexibility was important.”

Experience has taught Ulmer Pendergast that, in a divorce when children are involved, one must consider the child first. As a result, decisions should always be made with children’s best interests in mind. “Couples have to try to remember, if you have a child with this person, to reflect on the good in the other parent and appreciate those qualities to come up with something that is fair,” she says. “Too many parents use children as pawns and alienate the other parent as a form of control. I wanted to change this.”

Such a mindset pushed Ulmer Pendergast into the area of mediation, an increasingly popular alternative to a litigated divorce. According to Ulmer Pendergast, couples who are able to divorce using this method—in which a neutral third party is utilized, outside of the courtroom—are more likely to preserve a peaceful relationship going forward. “It can be difficult to repair that relationship after litigation,” she says. “With mediation, both parties feel it is agreeable and therefore more amicable. They often feel better about outcome when they have had that control.”

Ulmer Pendergast has undertaken extensive mediation training and received multiple certificates for mediation in the area of family law. While mediation can be handled by any properly trained individual, she believes her background as an attorney can help her better identify issues that need to be addressed. Mediation can also be less expensive when compared to the legal fees involved in a protracted divorce achieved solely through litigation. “Even if you don’t come to a mediated agreement, you have not wasted money,” Ulmer Pendergast says. “If you have been able to resolve 95 percent of your issues—even if you can’t agree on them all—you have benefited.”

Finances are an important aspect of any divorce, and Ulmer Pendergast advises that one of the most important things a couple can do to prepare is to get their financial documentation together. “Many people are not organized, and this is one of the things that can delay divorce,” she says. “The court can only allocate equitably what it can verify you have.” Ulmer Pendergast notes that much money is wasted on discovery, which is a process. She also suggests that clients can see tremendous savings on legal fees if they have their financial records available.

Mediation is not the only area in which Ulmer Pendergast is focused on resolving conflicts. She previously served as a board member and past second vice president of the Peace Center, a Langhorne-based nonprofit devoted to promoting peace in the community. In addition, she was appointed to serve on the Bucks County Women’s Commission and was involved in activities such as a Day for All Women. She is also a member of the Family Law section of the Bucks County Bar Association, the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA), as well as a member of the Committee on Women in the Profession.

She has been actively involved in the PBA’s Mock Trial Competition for high school students since 1997 and has served as the regional chair for Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties for that competition. “It’s great to see young people who are passionate about the law,” she says. “These kids are only in high school and they put a lot of effort into it. The judges often comment on how they can’t believe these are high school students.” In addition, she has lectured about custody and divorce issues through the National Business Institute, enabling her to not only inform fellow attorneys but also help them obtain much-needed credits for continuing education.

“I enjoy giving back,” Pendergast says of her service. Her alma mater, Widener University School of Law, for whom she serves on the board of the Alumni Association, is an especially important cause to her. “Many graduates come out of school resenting the debt they have accumulated but failing to appreciate that their education allows them to serve and do what they love. I think that it is important, even when you are under stress yourself, to give back because it creates a mindset of abundance. If you cannot give money, give of your time.”

She enjoys giving in her practice as well, and even if clients cannot afford an attorney, she offers coaching at an hourly rate. She also provides free information on the divorce process on her website via download of the e-book, “Surviving Divorce in Pennsylvania,” at The firm has locations in Doylestown and Langhorne, as well as a satellite office in Princeton, N.J. All firm attorneys are licensed in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In its family law practice, Karen Ann Ulmer P.C. deals with everything from prenuptial agreements to divorce and custody. The firm, however, has extended its reach to include estate planning and asset distribution, both of which are handled by associate Michael D. Raisman, who focuses primarily on estate and probate work and real estate.

Karen Ann Ulmer P.C.

Three Office Locations
174 Middletown Blvd., Suite 300
Langhorne, PA 19047

44 E. Court Street
Doylestown, PA 18901

475 Wall Street
Princeton, NJ 08540

Photograph by Allure West Studios