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Parenting Coordination Returns To Family Law

Parenting Coordination Returns To Family Law

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in August issued new rules for Parenting Coordination. Effective March 1, Parenting Coordination will again be a part of Family Law. It was eliminated by a Court ruling in 2013.

The new rules state that a “Parenting coordinator shall attempt to resolve issues arising out of the custody order by facilitating an agreement between the parties and, if unable to reach an agreement, recommend a resolution to the court.”  

The Parenting Coordinator does not determine major issues such as who obtains physical custody or a parent’s relocation, but rather the nettlesome issues such as places and conditions for transitions, the child’s participation in recreation, childcare arrangements, clothing, and many more mundane issues that trouble parents and custodians.
 
“Parenting Coordination is a very good thing for clients, lawyers, the courts and, most importantly, the children of the Commonwealth,” said Dischell Bartle Dooley attorney Mark Dischell.
 
After a final custody order has been entered, a judge may appoint a parenting coordinator to resolve parenting issues in cases involving repeated or intractable conflict between the parties affecting implementation of the final custody order, according to the Court’s rules. A parenting coordinator should not be appointed in every case. The appointment may be made on the motion of a party or the Court’s motion, the rules state.
 
A Parenting Coordinator must be licensed to practice in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as either an attorney or mental health professional with a Master’s degree or higher, according to the Court’s rules.  
 
A Parenting Coordinator can be helpful when the parties in a custody dispute have difficulty reaching an agreement, Dischell said.
 
“There are times when the parties in custody litigation can’t emotionally or financially continue with a process in the courts,” Dischell explained. “Parenting Coordination is an important option in those situations.”
 
For more information on Parenting Coordination, call Mark Dischell at 215-362-2474 or click here to email him.

 

Liz Billies Authors Book Chapter

Liz Billies Authors Book Chapter

Family law attorney Liz Billies has written a chapter for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s upcoming book on “Child and Spousal Support.” Liz’s chapter is on child support adjustments to basic obligations. The book will be available this spring. Liz is an experienced family law attorney with expertise in divorce, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, equitable distribution and custody and support matters.  She has been honored as one of the “10 Best Family Law Attorneys for Client Satisfaction in Pennsylvania” by the American Institute of Family Lawyers for five consecutive years.  

Click Here to File for Divorce

Click Here to File for Divorce

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

These days, you can complete nearly any task from your digital device. Purchase groceries? Done. Print photos? Yep. Design your perfect bedroom and purchase furnishings? Absolutely. Send a payment to a friend for last week's lunch? In seconds. 

File for divorce? In China, you can now do this, as well. 

The Chinese app WeChat, which is used by one billion active users worldwide, rolled out a new function permitting its users to schedule appointments with their local divorce registration office. In addition, the app permits users to enter information regarding themselves and the spouse they intend to divorce and store personal documents. Indeed, WeChat is so widely used across China for a multitude of purposes that in one case a woman was contacted via WeChat during a court proceeding when she failed to appear in court. 

Swipe right to file for divorce? Read more here

FAQ’S: FILING FOR CHILD SUPPORT

FAQ’S: FILING FOR CHILD SUPPORT

By Elizabeth J. Billies | Esquire

1. How do I begin a support action?

In order to initiate a support action, a party must file a Complaint for Support and an Application for Support Services at the appropriate Domestic Relations Office.  Those forms are generally available on the appropriate Domestic Relations Office’s website.   Parties may file a Support Complaint in person or by mail. Make sure to check the website to see if there is a filing fee.  The other party must be served with the Complaint as well as notice of the support conference date. It is best to serve the other party quickly after filing, as they will begin to receive notices from Domestic Relations whether or not they have been served.

2. What happens at the support conference?  

 In all counties, the support action will first be addressed at a Domestic Relations Support Conference before a Domestic Relations Support Conference Officer.  Conferences are scheduled before the Officers (who are not attorneys) approximately four to six weeks after the filing of the Complaint. At this level, the parties may appear with their attorneys or without counsel. The Conference is relatively informal, with the Support Conference Officer reviewing the documents and data submitted by parties.  Counsel and the Officer may also ask relevant questions regarding the income and expenses of the parties and needs of the children, particularly if one party doesn’t bring the information required. 

3. What do I need to bring to the conference?                        

Both parties should bring the following documents, if applicable. Remember, if you don’t bring verification of an expense it may not be considered! Also be sure to bring at least three copies of all documents, one for you, the other side and the officer to review. 

  • Completed Income Statement form which is provided by Domestic Relations with the conference date notice;
  • Most recent federal income tax return with W2's and 1099's;
  • Six months of pay-stubs;
  • Medical insurance documentation;
  • Verification of child care, tuition, and summer camp expenses;
  • Mortgage, real estate taxes and homeowners’ insurance documentation;  
  • Documentation relating to any social security derivative benefits received on behalf of the children and/or;
  • Any other information relating to any deviations being requested (i.e. multi-family deviations or shared custody adjustments).

4.  What happens after the Officer looks at the documents? 

After reviewing all of the information provided, the Officer will enter the data into the PASCES support calculation software and share his/her verbal recommendation with the parties.  The Officers will also generally show the parties their calculations so that the parties can understand how the recommendation was calculated.  The Conference Officers strongly encourage the parties to reach an agreement.

If the parties agree to accept the recommendation, or some other amount is agreed to, the Officer will prepare a Support Order for the parties to sign and the support proceeding is complete.

5. What if we can’t come to an agreement?

If a final agreement cannot be reached, the Officer will enter a temporary Order and the matter will be scheduled for a hearing before a support master or judge, depending on the county. That hearing is generally scheduled before the parties leave the Conference, so be sure to bring your calendar.  The Conference Officer will also provide payment instructions to the obligor and direct deposit information to the obligee at this time.

Five Years of Client Satisfaction!

Five Years of Client Satisfaction!

For the fifth year in a row, DBD Family Law attorney Elizabeth J. Billies was honored as one of the 10 best Family Law Attorneys for Client Satisfaction in Pennsylvania by the American Institute of Family Lawyers. Congratulations Liz!

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A Messy Process Made a Little Messier...

A Messy Process Made a Little Messier...

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

In December, we touched upon an emerging challenge for family lawyers and litigants alike: crypto-currency. Unfortunately, this new form of asset acquisition continues to be an ephemeral safe-haven for those determined to shield assets in a divorce action and, in the process, makes an already messy divorce process even messier. 

As reported by Bloomberg, not only is crypto-currency volatile, making it difficult to value, but it can be traded with relative anonymity. Crypto-currency holdings that are traded online can be traced and valued with a bit more ease, while holdings that are moved offline (and to a USB) are much more difficult to assess.  

As regulatory agencies grapple with the best method of tracking, disclosing and reporting crypto-currency, it is safe to say that some couples may encounter even more bitterness and frustration in their divorce matter. 

KIDS DON’T DECIDE THEIR OWN CUSTODY AND FAULT DOESN’T MATTER

KIDS DON’T DECIDE THEIR OWN CUSTODY AND FAULT DOESN’T MATTER

*This article was written and originally publish by Judy Malmon on SuperLawyers.com and can be found in its original form here.

By Judy Malmon

Divorce is ubiquitous. Many of us know someone who’s been through the process, or have been divorced ourselves. Stories of divorce are on TV, social media, the internet—nearly everywhere you look. Despite this, there remain a surprising amount of misconceptions.

What you think you know about divorce isn’t necessarily true.

Kids Don’t Choose

Lansdale family law attorney Elizabeth Billies, of Dischell Bartle Dooley, says that one of the most common errors she encounters is the belief that children over a certain age (usually 12 or 14) can decide their own custody arrangement. I have so many people that come in and say, ‘My kid can decide where they want to live.’ And I have to tell them, ‘No, that is not what the law says.’”

Pennsylvania custody law outlines 16 factors that go into a judicial determination of custody based on finding what would be in the best interest of the child. Within these factors is one that takes into account a child’s “well-reasoned preference.” But this is only a factor, not dispositive in itself, and is considered in light of their maturity and judgment.

Billies shares a story from early in her career to illustrate the rationale behind this law: “In one memorable case I worked on, the girl was 15 or 16, back when MySpace was popular. The dad lived out of state, and he found evidence in his daughter’s MySpace postings that she was hanging out with guys who were 19 years old and drinking. They showed in the custody trial that mom was trying to act like a friend, not like a parent, and exercising poor judgment. In that case, custody was transferred to dad, and the child had to move. Obviously, that was not the child’s preference, but it was in her best interest, and is an example of why preference can’t rule the day. Because why should a 12 year-old know what’s best for them?”

No Fault Means Exactly That

Another common misconception Billies sees regularly has to do with property distribution under no-fault divorce. “People think if someone cheated on them, abused them, was not good with money, that should really count for something in the division of property. And it just doesn’t.”

In a no-fault divorce there is no examination of the behavior of the parties related to the dissolution of their marriage. “When it comes time to divide up assets, I tell my clients to look at it as a dissolution of a business,” says Billies. “It’s a business transaction. That makes the emotional piece really different.”

Billies recommends working on emotional issues with a therapist or friend, while keeping the legal end of things more practical. This also helps keep the legal bill down, as fighting with your ex through your lawyer can be very costly.

Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, meaning that property between divorcing spouses is not divided evenly in half, but apportioned according to what a judge considers fair in light of factors such as relative income of each spouse, anticipated retirement income of each, duration of the marriage, and other factors deemed relevant (but not fault-related behavior). Assets that were owned prior to the marriage or a gift or inheritance are generally not part of the marital estate.

Prevalent misinformation can leave you with incorrect assumptions about your divorce or custody situation. Talk to an experienced family law attorney to make sure you have the best information and advice.

The Expanding and Evolving American Family

The Expanding and Evolving American Family

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

"What do you call, for example, your stepmother’s son’s live-in girlfriend’s 11-year-old son?" inquires Ben Steverman of Bloomberg. This question gets to the heart of a consideration many family law litigants and practitioners may be encountering more and more.

Us family law practitioners are mostly consumed with what occurred during our clients' marriages, what is taking place during the pending litigation, and protecting our clients' future financial prospects. However, though we may wish our clients well and love to receive updates, we don't always know how their families evolve and grow after the completion of their family law matter. 

With many American families reconfiguring through divorce and remarriage, there is no doubt that many families expand in unexpected ways. Perhaps taking the complexities of post-divorce families into consideration is an important part maintaining familiar relationships. 

The New High Tech Trend in Hiding Marital Assets in Divorce

The New High Tech Trend in Hiding Marital Assets in Divorce

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

It's hard to read or see the news  these days without running into mention of bitcoin, the crypto-currency that has exploded onto the scene and exponentially increased overnight. Even so, most of us are left scratching our heads when it comes to understanding how it all works or what it all means. 

For family law litigants and practitioners, the prospect of a "bitcoin divorce" is even more of a puzzler. Are bitcoin divisible in equitable distribution? If so, are these asset in the nature of currency or personal property or stocks? Are bitcoin transactions traceable and able to be regulated? Perhaps most importantly, can bitcoin and/or other crypto-currency be withdrawn or sold for actual dollars?

There are currently few definitive answers to these questions. However, we are already seeing the impact of the electronic cash system on divorce matters as some appear to be using the currency as a high-tech method of hiding cash

If you or your partner own crypto-currency, consult with an attorney regarding the best way to deal with this new type of asset. 

Tax Reform Bill Takes Aim at Adoption and Alimony

Tax Reform Bill Takes Aim at Adoption and Alimony

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

The recently-released House Tax Reform Bill has seemingly sent analysts and experts in all kinds of field scrambling to determine how the proposed changes may impact the rest of us. 

Family law practitioners, litigants, and policy-makers are no exception. Indeed, the Bill would eliminate certain deductions and exemptions many of our clients rely upon. Some family law veterans are concerned about the Bill's plan to eliminate the adoption tax credit. Others debate the choice to eliminate the alimony deduction used by many litigants and attorneys alike to negotiate as mutually acceptable deal in their divorce. 

As the House and Senate continue to debate the merits of the new Bill, it is important to consider how these changes may impact your case, if your matter is still pending. Be sure to speak with your attorney regarding the possible tax implications of your family law matter.

Your Family Law Case and Counseling

Your Family Law Case and Counseling

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

For better or for worse, mental health and counseling are frequent topics of conversation in the offices of family law attorneys and in family law courtrooms. It comes as no surprise. As a family dissolves and possibly reconfigures in the process of divorce and/or custody, the stability of the all involved takes center stage.

For many clients, however, it can be difficult to differentiate the various mental health terminology and services referenced in their case. Below is a guide to the types of mental health services and counseling you may encounter in your family law matter:  

  1. Marriage Counseling. Marriage counseling, sometimes also referred to as couples therapy, is a type of psychotherapy. Many clients attend marriage counseling prior to separating. Clients are often surprised to hear, however, that the Divorce Code permits the Court to order marriage counseling upon the request of either party (when the no-fault grounds for divorce, as well as the fault ground of indignities, is asserted). Marriage counseling is often provided by licensed therapists known as marriage and family therapists. These therapists have graduate or postgraduate degrees — and many choose to become credentialed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
  2. Anger Management Counseling/Treatment. In the context of custody litigation, litigants  at times assert that their co-parent has anger management issues. An evaluation by a mental health professional is necessary to truly determine whether those claims are correct. If necessary, Anger Management counseling refers to the process by which a person learns how to identify stressors, take necessary steps to remain calm, and handle tense situations in a constructive, positive manner. The purpose of this type of individual counseling is to help a person learn how to control reactions and respond in a socially appropriate manner. 
  3. Co-parenting Counseling.  Co-parenting counseling is by far the most prevalent type of therapy considered and ordered by our family court judges. Communicating and working cooperatively with the other parent can be difficult, particularly in the stressful and oft-contentious process of a pending divorce. Co-parenting counseling allows parents an opportunity to talk about the best interests of their children in a neutral environment, voice concerns and/or issues and, when appropriate, to get input and advice from a professional who is experienced in working with children and families of divorce. Issues ranging from custody schedules to day-to-day parenting can be discussed. Co-parenting counseling may be short-term or long-term, as the litigants may agree or as may be ordered by the Court.
  4. Reunification Therapy/Counseling. Sometimes a child can lose contact with (or be resistant to such contact) a parent during the challenging and confusing process of separation and divorce. Reunification therapy is often sought to reunite an alienated parent with his or her child(ren). The primary goal of the therapy is to reestablish the relationship between the parent and child so that they can resume a healthy parent-child relationship. The process of reunification and the role of the reunification therapist can be complex and much depends on the source of the alienation. 

While not a form of counseling/therapy, many custody litigants will encounter the term "custody evaluation." This assessment is conducted by a mental health professional and strives to analyze the 16 custody factors for the Court prior to a custody hearing. Mental health and psychological evaluations, as well as interviews with the parents and observations of the family dynamics, are utilized. The process is short term but may take several months to complete. It may be agreed-upon by the parties but must often be ordered by the court. 

Speak with your attorney if you believe any of the above forms of counseling can be helpful to your family. 

Divorce Hits a New High AND a New Low

Divorce Hits a New High AND a New Low

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

According a new Gallup poll, "divorce" in America has hit both a new high and low record. While the overall divorce rate has dropped to its lowest point in decades, the percentage of Americans who consider divorce to be morally acceptable is at it's highest level it. Seventy-three percent of Americans consider divorce to be morally acceptable, up 14% since 2001. To read more about this Gallop poll, click here