A Lawyer's Pointers For Controlling The Speed And The Cost Of Your Legal Matter

A Lawyer's Pointers For Controlling The Speed And The Cost Of Your Legal Matter

By Inna G. Materese

Ask any family law attorney what clients want to know most and you'll likely hear the same answer. Clients generally have two burning questions: 

“How long will this take?" and “How much will this cost?"

You've probably asked your attorney these questions at one point or another and received a decidedly equivocal answer. To both of these questions, the honest answer is almost always, "I don't know, it depends."

Though the question sounds simple enough, the factors your attorney must consider in trying to give you a time and cost analysis are quite complex. The reason it is difficult to estimate the cost of a family law case is because much of what happens is driven by factors outside of the control of the lawyer and a client.  

It is important to keep in mind that your family law matter may involve four, five, or even six individuals - you, your ex-spouse, your attorney, his/her attorney, and perhaps even expert witnesses. The efficiently and speed with which your particular matter can be resolved depends on all of those people working with efficiency and speed.

For example, obstinate spouses and difficult or unresponsive opposing counsel can delay resolution of even simple issues and drive up fees significantly. As frustrating as it may sometime feel, the case is only as efficient as its weakest link. 

In addition, no matter how proactive your attorney may be in filing motions and meeting deadlines, the unpredictable pace of the court system can be a headache for clients. We are all familiar with TV and movie legal dramas, such as Law and Order, where an entire case is neatly wrapped up in an hour. The perception is that access to the court system is easy and swift. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Our court system can be sluggish and reactive, rather than proactive, due to the volume of cases brought to the court's attention at all times. Court schedules are quickly filled, judges are often backed up on their caseloads, and procedural tasks must be accomplished before you are able to present your case to a judge. These issues can (and do!) take time and can drive up legal fees, as well. 

Further complicating predictability, issues often arise after your case has begun that may require additional work and attention. A matter that may have seemed straightforward at first blush can become more complex based on events unforeseen at the time of the divorce filing.

For example, a medical issue may arise with a child. You or your spouse may lose your job or get a new job. You or your spouse may begin a new romantic relationship.  Either of you may need to relocate. The twists and turns your life may need to take cannot be predicted by your attorney. Predicting the length and cost of your family law matter is so difficult for your attorney because your case is ever-evolving. 

So what can you do to keep your costs down and keep your case moving?

Get information to your attorney in a  timely manner.
Your attorney will likely ask you for supporting documentation, a summary or explanation, and/or other needed information during the course of their representation of you. Ask your attorney when he or she would ideally need the requested information and provide it in a timely manner. Failing to do so may result in delays in your case and/or additional legal fees. 

Be a planner! 
Though emergencies do happen, they are few and far between. Most issues will not be deemed a true emergency in the eyes of the court. If you anticipate an issue arising in the future or may need to take a course of action in the near future, notify your attorney as soon as possible. He or she will need time to negotiate a resolution with the other side or get a hearing date

Be judicious with your communications.
We live in world of instant communication and access. While your attorney is there to address your legal needs, remember that legal fees associated with multiple communications to your attorney can add up. If you have questions, grouping several clear and concise questions in one e-mail can be more cost-effective than several emails regarding various topics throughout the day. 

Likewise, it is often hard for clients to recall exactly what his/her attorney explained regarding a legal concept or course of action during a phone call or meeting. If having something in writing would make it easier for you to thoughtfully consider an issue or response from your attorney, tell him or her so. Your attorney will be happy to send you a letter or email with his or her thoughts instead. 

Three Back-To-School Tips For Parents

Three Back-To-School Tips For Parents

By Inna G. Materese

The beginning of a new school year may not just be nerve-racking for your child - it can also be nerve-racking for you and your co-parent. Here are some tips to help you adjust:

Talk to your co-parent (whether in person, on the phone, or via email) regarding everyday arrangements that must be accounted for. Having a plan for transportation, extra-curricular activities, tutoring and other school-year needs will guarantee a smoother transition for your child.

Be straightforward about responsibilities toward your child. Remember that exchanging sports equipment and uniforms, ensuring your child has appropriate clothing for school, providing appropriate lunches, purchasing school supplies, etc. should be the responsibility of both parents.

Making sure your child completes their homework and is ready to learn the next day is your responsibility when your child resides at your home. The same goes for your co-parent. Coordinating with your co-parent regarding schoolwork can also help your child succeed in school. Let your co-parent know about important due dates and if your child did not complete something before it is time to switch between homes.

Having contact with your co-parent may not always be comfortable for you. However, actively participating in events important to your child's well-being can help you maintain a strong relationship with your child. If possible, attend school orientations, parent-teacher conferences, sporting events, recitals or any other important events on behalf of your child.

A Look At Expenses For Summer Camp And After School Activities

A Look At Expenses For Summer Camp And After School Activities

By Elizabeth J. Billies

With the summer winding down, it's time to think about the upcoming school year and, gulp, maybe even camp for next year. Do your children attend camp and/or participate in after-school activities? Do those activities cost money? If so, you may be asking, who pays for those expenses if the parents are separated? Are they part of the basic child support order?

In addition to determining basic support, the court can also allocate additional support expenses and include them as part of your support order.  Examples of those additional expenses are childcare costs, health insurance premiums, unreimbursed medical expenses, summer camp expenses, private school expenses, and after-school activities. With these expenses, remember to provide your attorney with written documentation of the actual costs and proof of payment. The court wants to see documentation of the actual expenses before they are going to order your co-parent to contribute. This will also help to show that the proposed cost is reasonable given you and your co-parent's incomes.

Summer Camp Expenses

The court will allocate summer camp expenses if there is a need for the expense and the expense is reasonable given the circumstances, both financial and otherwise. Generally, the division of the cost will be proportional to the parties’ respective incomes. 

There are a few ways to share this expense. If the total expense for camp is already known, then it can be included in the support order as part of the monthly support obligation. Or, the court can order the payor to pay his/her portion of the expense directly to the camp or the other parent when the expense is incurred. 

Although a camp expense is generally only incurred in the summer, the court will generally divide the total amount over a twelve-month period so that the monthly support order remains consistent.  What if the expense is not included in the monthly support order? Then, the party incurring the expense must provide documentation of the actual expense and request reimbursement from the other parent. 

What if you and your co-parent disagree about summer camp?

Generally, the biggest issue about camp is the cost. For example, one parent may want to send a child to an expensive sleep away camp, while the other parent may prefer (and only be willing to pay for) the local YMCA day camp. You may be asking what happens in this scenario.

This is both a legal custody and a child support issue. If you and your co-parent disagree on which camp to send your children to for reasons other than the cost, then you will have to resolve this dispute in custody court. In general, the court will look at whether the objection against the camp is reasonable. If not, then the request for permission for the children to attend the requested camp will likely be granted.

If the issue is cost only, then the court will look at whether the expense is appropriate given your finances. For example, is the cost of the overnight camp almost half of what you and your co-parent collectively earn in a year? If so, the court is not going to order that you share in that expense. In the alternative, if you have the resources and have sent your children to the same overnight camp for many years, the court is likely going to find the cost reasonable and order it to be shared.

Expenses for After-School Activities

As you know, many children are involved in regular after-school activities which come with a cost. The allocation of extracurricular activities is not specifically set forth in the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure relating to support. However, those rules do say that a court can allocate “other needs” which have “not been factored into the Basic Child Support Schedule.” Extracurricular expenses have consistently been found to be considered “other needs” by the Pennsylvania Superior and Supreme Courts.

Examples of after-school activities include equestrian activities, music lessons, dance lessons, community sports leagues, travel sports, Boy/Girl Scouts, after-school clubs and racquet/swim club memberships. Really, anything that your child regularly participates in that is outside of school. It does not include vacations, trips to amusement parks, movie tickets, or video games.  

In determining whether to divide the expenses for these activities, the court will again look at whether they are consistent with the family’s collective standard of living and station in life.  If the court finds these expenses reasonable, then the cost will likely be allocated commensurate with the party’s incomes.

What is an after-school activity expense?

So, now that we know what an after-school activity is, what is an after-school activity expense? In general, registration fees, tournament fees, lesson fees and membership dues are an after-school expense. In addition, any equipment or uniforms needed are also included.  However, other costs such as, transporting the child to the activity, meals out, snacks for the team, and hotel rooms for weekend tournaments are grey areas.

If you are looking for your co-parent to contribute to those expenses, you need to show: (1) how the expense is benefiting the child directly; and (2) that it was required so that the child could participate in the activity. If possible, discuss these types of costs and how you are going to handle them with your co-parent first before incurring the expense.

Like camp, the cost can be included in the monthly support order. It can also be paid outside the court system via paying the provider directly or reimbursing the paying parent. In general, I see after-school expenses paid outside the court system as they fluctuate more than summer camp costs.

Three Dischell Bartle Dooley Partners Named Super Lawyers and Two Attorneys Recognized As Rising Stars

Three Dischell Bartle Dooley Partners Named Super Lawyers and Two Attorneys Recognized As Rising Stars

Three Dischell Bartle Dooley partners have been named Pennsylvania 2019 Super Lawyers and a partner and an associate have been named 2019 Rising Stars.
 
Frank Bartle, Mark Dischell and Bob Iannozzi, Jr. are Super Lawyers and Liz Billies and Inna Materese are Rising Stars. George Saba, of counsel to the firm, was also named a Super Lawyer. 
 
Dischell Bartle Dooley has a long tradition of Super Lawyers and I am proud that Mark, Bob, Liz, Inna and George have been recognized for their excellent work,” said Bartle, the firm’s managing partner. “They all understand that results matter to our clients and are constantly working to achieve the best outcome for them.”
 
Frank Bartle, Dischell Bartle Dooley managing partner, is a Super Lawyer for the 11th year in a row. For more than 35 years, he has counseled corporations, individuals, non-profit organizations, municipalities and school districts on real estate, zoning, land development, business, labor, litigation and personal injury matters. He is recognized as an expert by peers and often is a consultant to other attorneys.  

Mark Dischell, a firm partner, is a Super Lawyer for the 16th year in a row. Recognized as a leader in family law, Dischell is a litigator with more than 35 years’ experience in divorce, support, child custody, property distribution and grandparents’ rights. Dischell is known for the long-standing relationships he maintains with the clients and families he assists. He has been named to “Best Lawyers in America” by his peers for 25 years in a row and chairs the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Family Law section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
 
Bob Iannozzi, Jr. , a firm partner, is a Super Lawyer for the first time. He was named a Rising Star for 10 years in a row starting in 2008. His practice is focused on real estate, land use, zoning, municipal law, property assessments, general litigation and wills and estates. An effective communicator, he has strong persuasion and legal-writing skills with an adept ability for preparing organized, well-reasoned legal documentation. His superior case handling is the result of strong organizational and time management skills and a careful attention to detail.
 
Liz Billies, a firm partner, was named a Rising Star for the 5th year in a row. Billies handles all areas of family law, including preparing pre- and post-nuptial agreements, obtaining no-fault and fault divorces and litigating and settling equitable distribution, custody and support matters. Clients value her collaborative and cost-effective approach to legal representation.
 
Inna Materese, a family law associate, is a Rising Star for the second time. Materese’s focus is helping her clients achieve their individual goals through a collaborative, resourceful, pragmatic and compassionate approach. She handles all areas of family law, including high-asset divorce, complex custody issues, protection from abuse and support matters.
 
George Saba, of counsel, is a Super Lawyer for the 15th time. His practice is focused on personal injury, complex litigation, construction, professional liability and insurance coverage. Saba is certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in both trial and pretrial advocacy. He has handled complex, multi-million dollar claims in various jurisdictions across the United States, including serious personal injury claims.
 
Super Lawyers, part of Thomson Reuters, is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area.
 
To be eligible for inclusion on the Rising Stars list, a candidate must be either 40-years-old or younger or in practice for less than 10 years. While up to five percent of the lawyers in Pennsylvania are named to Super Lawyers, no more than 2.5 percent are named to the Rising Stars list.

Liz Billies Named One Of PA’s 10 Best Family Law Attorneys For Client Satisfaction

Liz Billies Named One Of PA’s 10 Best Family Law Attorneys For Client Satisfaction

Dischell Bartle Dooley family law attorney Elizabeth J. Billies has been named one of the 10 best “Family Law Attorneys for Client Satisfaction” in Pennsylvania by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys.

The American Institute of Family Law Attorneys (AIOFLA) is a third-party attorney rating organization that publishes an annual list of the Top 10 Family Law Attorneys in each state. Attorneys who are selected to the "10 Best" list must pass AIOFLA's rigorous selection process, which is based on client and peer nominations, thorough research and AIOFLA’s independent evaluation.

This is the sixth year in a row that Billies, a Dischell Bartle Dooley partner, has been honored as a “10 best” family law attorney.  Her practice areas include divorce, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, equitable property distribution and child custody and child support.

“Liz is a tireless advocate for her clients who practices with a high level of compassion and attention to detail,” said Dischell Bartle Dooley Managing Partner Frank Bartle. “She is very deserving of this recognition and we congratulate her.”

Happy Coparents, Happy Life?

Happy Coparents, Happy Life?

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

What would you do in the name of coparenting? Gwyneth Paltrow and her new husband Brad Falchuk are doing something that would be surprising to most married couples. You see, the actress and her writer/director husband are choosing to only live together part-time in the name of coparenting.

Due to a custodial arrangement that has Falchuk assuming custody of his children from a previous relationship three days per week, the couple maintain their own residences and cohabit in Paltrow’s home only four days each week.

The non-traditional setup is a type of “nesting” schedule. “Nesting” is a transitional arrangement whereby, typically, divorced or separated parents attempt to maintain a stable next for their baby birds by rotating in and out of the home and taking turns being on duty for the kids. The child or children in such arrangements stay put in the home while their parents transition from home to home. While such an arrangement may have its benefits, in most circumstances it is temporary given the possible cost thereof (both financial and otherwise).

While this form of marital arrangement may not be for everyone, the couple are proving that effective coparenting can be done. Read more here.

Aretha Franklin’s Handwritten Wills Show Benefit Of Formal Wills

Aretha Franklin’s Handwritten Wills Show Benefit Of Formal Wills

When Aretha Franklin died last August, lawyers said she did not have a will. But in early May, the singer’s family found three handwritten wills in her Detroit home. A hearing is now scheduled in probate court in mid-June.

Dischell Bartle Dooley partner Jack Dooley says handwritten wills are considered valid. A holographic will, as a handwritten will is called, must be in the handwriting of the testator, the person making the will, and must be signed at the end. Evidence that the person writing the will lacked capacity is permitted to be entered as part of a challenge to the will, Dooley said.  

Although Pennsylvania is liberal in providing for heirs in the event of a death without a will, Dooley says a formal will can help avoid challenges while establishing who is in charge of your estate and how your property is to be distributed.

“Developing a will does not have to be a complicated process,” says Dooley. “It is time well spent and can often save your heirs further stress after a family member’s passing.”

Place Of Residence Can Impact Child Support

Place Of Residence Can Impact Child Support

Child support laws vary from state to state, particularly when it comes to whether a parent will be obligated to pay for post-majority expenses relating to college. 

In Pennsylvania and Delaware, the law is such that children are considered emancipated upon the age of 18 or graduation from high school, whichever occurs last. Thereafter, neither party has any obligation for basic child support or to contribute to college tuition and related expenses.  Conversely, in New York and New Jersey, a parent can be obligated to pay for post-majority support, as children are not necessarily considered emancipated until after college graduation. 

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently addressed the differences between Pennsylvania’s and New Jersey’s approaches to college support in the case of Flynn v. Flynn.  In this case, the parties were divorced in Pennsylvania.  Their child support obligation was initially determined in the Commonwealth and was part of their Property Settlement Agreement, which was incorporated into their Divorce Decree.  Sometime thereafter, both parties and the child moved to New Jersey and registered the Decree there. 

After high school graduation, the parties’ son began attending college, thus resulting in the issue of whether the parents could be held responsible for payment of his college expenses.  The trial court found that, because the parties and the son resided in New Jersey, the payment of college support could be compelled pursuant to New Jersey law.  However, the appellate court found that because Pennsylvania initially determined the support obligation of the parties, Pennsylvania law should still be applied. Applying Pennsylvania law resulted in the termination of both parties’ child support obligations upon the son’s graduation from high school.  Thus, neither could be compelled to contribute to his college expenses or basic support. 

The Pennsylvania appellate courts have not yet addressed such a scenario.  This is interesting, as it is rather common for people to move from state to state, particularly between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The Flynn decision raises a lot of questions.  First, what would Pennsylvania do if the situation was reversed?  Moreover, the fact that the parties had gone to court in New Jersey about support since moving there did not seem to make a difference to the appellate court as to whether Pennsylvania law should still be applied. 

I find it interesting that the fact that the initial Support Order had been litigated and modified after its initial determination in Pennsylvania carried no weight in the New Jersey appellate court’s decision.Also, what about situations in which only one party move to a state with post-majority child support?Finally, how many people are going to consider all other states’ possible child support rules when they are determining an initial support award? I am sure parties are not considering what a potential move to another state five or ten years later will do to their support obligation.  It will be interesting to see if the Flynn decision results in further litigation regarding this issue in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 

If you have an interstate child support issue or any other questions related to child support, please contact our Family Law attorneys by calling 215-362-2474 or by email at info@dischellbartle.com.

PAL Carnival Sponsorship

PAL Carnival Sponsorship

Dischell Bartle Dooley proudly sponsored the Pottstown PAL Carnival.  As a result, several children were able to enjoy unlimited rides. Davis and Alana, featured in the photo, were two of the kids who benefited.

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Proposed PA House Bill Addresses Void In Custody Law

Proposed PA House Bill Addresses Void In Custody Law

Anyone who has dealt with the family court system knows that it doesn't always punish rule breakers as much as one would like or think they deserve. 

One such example is in the area of child custody contempt.  After a party violates a custody order, the other party will generally file a custody contempt petition seeking redress in the courts. An often cited reason for contempt is that one parent has withheld the child/children from the other parent in violation of the physical custody terms of the order. 

However, as the law presently stands, Pennsylvania judges are unable to award make-up time to the aggrieved parent for this violation. That remedy is not specifically set forth in the custody contempt rules.

Legislators in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are hoping to change that.  Members have proposed House Bill 437, which would specifically state that an award of make-up time can be a resolution of a custody contempt petition.

While the bill has some detractors, the bill's sponsors are hopeful to have it passed this year.  Stay tuned for more updates.

If you are experiencing custody issues, please contact our office to consult with our experienced family law litigators.

Dischell Bartle Dooley Helps Bring Ainsley’s Angels To Montgomery County

Dischell Bartle Dooley Helps Bring Ainsley’s Angels To Montgomery County

Dischell Bartle Dooley will again welcome Ainsley’s Angels Yellow Stairway 12k/6k to Montgomery County this May.

The Lansdale law firm is returning as the presenting sponsor for an important event that spreads the message of inclusion. The race begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 11 in the parking lot of the Pennbrook Parkway office complex, where Dischell Bartle Dooley is headquartered, at 1800 Pennbrook Parkway.

With a mission that believes everyone should be included, Ainsley’s Angels welcomes individuals of all ages and all disabilities to join its angel family and compete in endurance races of all lengths. All rider athletes participate in races for free and racing chariots are provided for free to everyone who needs one to compete. While most road races focus on the runner as the priority, that is different for the Yellow Stairway and all other Ainsley’s Angels Race Series events.

“The Yellow Stairway Race is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when we come together as a community,” said Dischell Bartle Dooley Partner Bob Iannozzi Jr. “Dischell Bartle Dooley is proud to once again host the riders and the runners on this very special day.”

The Yellow Stairway is the third race of the 2019 Ainsley’s Angels Race Series. The race series is a culmination of 12 endurance events being held across the nation where the main focus is getting as many individuals with special needs off sidelines and over finish lines. Race locations in 2019 include North Carolina, New York, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia and Texas.

“Ainsley’s Angels has been in our community for four years and we are thrilled to be bringing back an inclusion themed race to the area,” said Monica Miller, Yellow Stairway Race Director. “I am in awe of the support we’ve received from our community to help us put on this spectacular event. After months of planning, we look forward to race day where we get to see smiles on our rider’s faces. Their happiness just beams from those racing chariots and it gives fuel to the individuals who are lending their legs. It is truly a magical day to witness.”

PA's New "Clean Slate Law" Makes Sealing Of Criminal Records Possible

PA's New "Clean Slate Law" Makes Sealing Of Criminal Records Possible

While expungement is still available to those seeking to completely remove certain offenses from their record, Pennsylvania now has a new and broader law that provides for the sealing of eligible criminal records.
 
The state’s “Clean Slate Law” went into effect in December. The law allows residents of Pennsylvania with non-violent misdemeanor records to have those records sealed if they have stayed out of trouble for 10 years and paid all fine.
 
Sealing will occur automatically between June of this year and June of next year for some cases. In other situations, a petition must be filed with the court. Dischell Bartle Dooley attorneys can assist with the filing of a petition before automatic sealing starts. Our attorneys can also help you with a petition to have a criminal record expunged. 
 
Why is it a good idea to seal your record?  Criminal records are widely used on a day-to-day basis, for example, by employers seeking to hire or landlords making a determination of which tenant they would like in their property.  Sealing your record gives you an opportunity to move forward from past mistakes.
 
If you are interested in sealing or expunging a record, call our attorneys at 215-362-2474 or click here to email our office.