Viewing entries tagged
custody

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.

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.

 

New PA Law Grants Guardianship Rights to Grandparents While Parents Undergo Drug or Alcohol Treatment

New PA Law Grants Guardianship Rights to Grandparents While Parents Undergo Drug or Alcohol Treatment

By Elizabeth J. Billies | Esquire

The opioid epidemic continues to ravage many communities around the country, including those in Pennsylvania.  As a result, many of the Commonwealth's children are being raised by family members and not their parents struggling with addiction.

Those custodial relationships are often informal and not memorialized by any court order. This can be because the parents are reluctant to relinquish legal custody of their children to another without an end date. As such, these family members have difficulty obtaining benefits for these children as they do not have actual legal rights to them, causing financial strain on the family members and denying these children access to medical and education services that they desperately need. 

On October 23, 2018, Governor Wolf signed a bill into law that would assist those family members, particularly grandparents, by allowing them to obtain temporary guardianship (in three month increments) of such children, thus providing them with access to benefits only afforded to those who have actual legal guardianship.  Governor Wolf also signed a second bill which would give these guardians access to kinship benefits which can assist them in providing financial resources and other services. 

Click here for NBC10's coverage of this bill, which includes a link to the legislation.

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. 

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. 

Can Posting Videos of Your Kids Get you in Trouble?

Can Posting Videos of Your Kids Get you in Trouble?

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

In November, we explored how the life we post on social media can have serious consequences. Sadly, one need only look to recent news reports to see an example.

Youtuber "DaddyOFive" and his wife have recently lost custody of his children as a result of "pranks" the couple played on them, recording and posting the incidents for public viewing. The posted "pranks" ranged from  smashing the youngest child's Xbox with a hammer in front of him, to convincing the child that he was being adopted out of the family for his bad behavior, to cursing at him for spilling ink on his bedroom floor. In several of the videos, the child can be seen crying and seems to be visibly, and understandably, distressed by what has happened.

While these videos went viral and garnered the couple thousands of online views, the results were devastating. The couple lost custody of the children based on a court's finding that their behavior was abusive. Read more.... 

 

When It Comes to Custody, Hard Circumstances and Choices Abound

When It Comes to Custody, Hard Circumstances and Choices Abound

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

Courts and legislatures across the country are grappling with the question of what to do when the parent seeking custody has committed an egregious act in the conception or birth of that child. 

In Maryland this week, a legislative bill that would prevent a man who impregnated a woman through rape from seeking custody of the child conceived and born of the rape has fizzled out. The bill, which had support on both sides of the political isle and the state's governor, lost traction and left Maryland as one of a handful of states without such legislation. In another state, Washington, a 19 woman who threw her newborn child into a trash compactor is "on track" to regain custody rights of her son. After receiving a six-month sentence for felony abandonment, she was recently awarded supervised visitation with the child and is expected to see her time increase if she continues to follow the court's instructions. 

These shocking circumstances beg the question: In these drastic situations, what is really in the best interest of the child?   

Rhode Island Latest State to Move Toward Recognition of Pets in Divorce Cases

Rhode Island Latest State to Move Toward Recognition of Pets in Divorce Cases

By Elizabeth J. Billies | Esquire

Taking the lead from recent legislation passed in Alaska (read all about it here), a state representative in Rhode Island has introduced legislation that would require judges to consider the welfare of the family pet in divorce cases when deciding which party should be awarded custody of the animal.  Presently, Rhode Island's divorce statute treats domestic pets no different than couches or cars.  Will Pennsylvania be next?  Read more about the proposed law here.

Preparing for Your Family Law Matter

Preparing for Your Family Law Matter

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

We know that initiating a family law matter is generally a last resort for our clients. The process is often stressful, emotionally wrought, and can be costly. However, when the last resort becomes the only option, preparing in advance can be helpful. Being prepared can make an otherwise seemingly-daunting process a little less so. Here are some things you can do to prepare for your family law matter:

  1. Create your own "case file." Mastering the nuances of your own circumstances is a crucial first step in preparing for a family law matter. Create a chronology of events and/or a list of important facts. Create a record of important family circumstances and/or points to discuss with your attorneys. You are a wealth of information about financial, logistical, and historical aspects of your family. Maintaining a list of important points, conversations, schedules, locations, transactions, events, and/or other information will help you remain organized and will ensure that your attorney is aware of the complete picture.
  2. Gather your paperwork. Our clients are often unaware of many aspects of their financials and/or familial circumstances. When this is the case, family law litigation (whether divorce, custody or support) and the rigors of providing "evidence" to the court are often overwhelming and difficult. Thinking (and preparing!) ahead can help keep the process manageable. If you are preparing for a divorce matter, make sure to gather a copy of current bank, retirement, credit card, and/or mortgage statements. Gathering documentation regarding the property owned by you or your spouse is crucial to any divorce matter. If you are preparing for a support matter, gather complete copies of your tax returns, W-2s and 1099s, pay stubs, and/or employment benefits. If your believe you will be a litigant in a child support matter, make a list of the activities in which your child participates and gather documents (such as invoices, receipts, payment confirmation, etc.) evidencing the cost of those activities. In custody matters, preparing information about your child can be crucial. If you have specific concerns about your child or your child requires extra considerations (such as in the case of special needs children, kids with health needs, and/or educational and therapeutic needs), collect as much information as you can about the issue. Past and current report cards and school records can also be helpful in custody matters. 
  3. Understand your financial situation. Once you gather all the necessary paperwork, it is helpful to get a sense of your assets versus your debts. It is important to understand the nature of your finances and keep looming expenses in mind. Understand when bills are due, whether deadlines for any important decisions are coming up, and/or whether financial changes are on the horizon. Understanding your finances can assist you in deciding when and how to initiate your family law matter.
  4. Figure out your living expenses....now and after the start of a case. One of the most important planning tools for our clients is a monthly budget. Understanding the carrying costs of your life under your current circumstance, as well as how they might change when you initiate a family law matter, is essential. For example, your attorney may ask you whether you can afford to stay in the family home or whether you can afford to move out. The fear of being unable to maintain living expenses can be one of the most distressing aspects of litigation. It is therefore important to consider how income is currently being used and what changes can/should be made if the need arises. 
  5. Don't make any sudden moves. If you believe litigation is on the horizon, making big purchases and/or changes can have a negative impact on your future case. Preserving the status quo will give you an opportunity to discuss any possible changes with your attorney to determine the viability and advisability of the decision. For example, avoid purchasing a new car or new home if you are contemplating a divorce. If you believe a support matter is in your future, discuss any possible changes in your employment and/or income with an attorney before committing to the change. In custody matters, changing your child's residence, school, medical providers, etc. can be detrimental to your future case. In short, check in with your lawyer before making a big decision. 

Who Gets Custody of Fluffy (In Alaska)?

Who Gets Custody of Fluffy (In Alaska)?

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

Last month, we touched on an issue that is in the minds of many divorcing couples: Who gets custody of the dog? In our December 19th post, we asked you to consider the international custody case surrounding Berryhill Thinkingsman Crumpet. Berryhill is a dog whose owners were litigating how much time he should spend with each owner. As is the case throughout the country, the court in that case noted that pets are property, rather than family, and refused to apportion custodial time to the once-coupled owners.

As of last week, at least one state has taken steps away from treating pets as property and toward recognizing them as part of the family. In an amendment to its divorce statute, Alaska became the very first state to require courts to “take into consideration the well-being of the animal” and to explicitly empower judges to assign joint custody of pets. Read more….