Of all the areas in which family law lawyers practice, custody is by far the most difficult. While that statement is true for obvious reasons, I often wonder what my clients are thinking when they do and say things over and over again that they know will not only jeopardize their standing in any future custody proceeding but more importantly, significantly harms the emotional well-being of their children. Most family law lawyers could write a hundred blog posts about the mistakes their clients make in contested custody matters but most of those posts would say the same thing and most of the information would be related to these five simple suggestions.

  1. Keep good records. I often refer to this as a “Custody Log.” We are all human and often once something significant happens, we believe that we will never forget the details, but that is naïve. Keep a detailed Custody Log because no one remembers everything and often times, custody trials are comprised of recitations of facts as perceived by the other party and the better the recollection, typically the better the testimony.
  2. Good communication. This suggestion seems obvious when you’re parenting a child in two separate households. If you communicate well, not only will your child be better off, but your life will be much less stressful. However, time and again clients refuse to communicate appropriately. I often suggest to my clients that communication should be via email and that each communication should be written as if he or she is sending an email to a professional coworker. This will allow you to communicate in a civil, respectful, and non-emotional way and typically allows you to convey the facts necessary without adding extraneous and often derogatory information.
  3. Don’t bad-mouth the other parent to your children. So many clients set out to gain an edge in custody by attempting to manipulate their children by persuading them that the other parent is bad in some way. Even if the information being provided is true, the emotional ramifications of doing this to a child, regardless of their age, are significant. In some cases, such manipulation even backfires and instead of a child having a negative impression of the other parent, the child becomes defensive and ignores even valid things that a bad-mouthing parent suggests. In other cases, the bad-mouthing is effective for a period of time and a child may even be alienated from the other parent. However, most children eventually learn what they live and the bad-mouthing parent’s comments are acknowledged as untrustworthy and inaccurate. In these cases, the bad-mouthing leads the child to further bond with the other parent because the child can no longer trust or believe what the bad-mouthing parent says or does.
  4. Social media should not be your sounding board and don’t count on privacy. Many clients believe that social media is a great place to bad-mouth the other parent, complain about their circumstances, or to manipulate the facts and circumstances of their current situation. Many social media posts are not truly private and if you post it, I may find it. There is nothing more ironic or satisfying when cross-examining a parent who has spent hours testifying about how he or she is so concerned about the other parent’s behavior, whether it be drinking too much, going out too much, having multiple intimate partners, etc. only to then cross-examine that parent with the voluminous posts and pictures of the parent doing the exact thing that they are complaining that the other parent does. Remember that many things that you post on any social media outlet are discoverable: even if you have deleted things or taken an account down completely, those accounts could still exist somewhere and often times your “friends” have printed out your ridiculousness and shared it with me.
  5. Grow up. If you are old enough to have a child, then don’t act like one. Your child’s emotional well-being is not something to play with and in the end, no one is the winner. But there is definitely a loser and that loser is your child. Having a child participate in custody litigation or even without that, to grow during his or her formative years with parents that cannot behave like adults, communicate respectfully, or enjoy the time that they have with their child is extremely detrimental. Regardless of your feelings towards the other parent, you can always conduct yourself appropriately, be courteous, be respectful, and be reasonable. Children grow up and when they do, they will remember the parent who behaved like an adult and the parent who did not. Children of divorced families who had parents who behaved like adults and acted reasonably grow up mostly unaffected by separate homes. However, children that grow up seeing the opposite often have relationship problems of their own, higher rates of drug and alcohol use, mental health issues, and are generally less happy.

This is not brain surgery or rocket science. These tips are not new and I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Still, parents often are unable to remember simple ways in which to behave that not only positions them better in custody proceedings, but can actually minimize their stress and allow their entire family a more peaceful life. Most importantly, their child can live in a less contentious world where his or her parent puts their child’s needs ahead of their own.  Isn’t that what parenting is all about?

Holly Filius is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Family Law.

One of the most important things I do as a Litigation attorney is explain to my clients what has happened, and is likely to happen, in their lawsuit. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to do that using abstract legal jargon as though everyone uses these terms as often as I do. So, rather than leaving you searching Google to find out what your lawyer is talking about, let’s start by going through some common legal terms in Pennsylvania lawsuits:

Who is Involved?

  • Plaintiff – The party or parties who starts a lawsuit against a
  • Defendant – The party or parties being sued by a Plaintiff. Even if both parties have claims against each other, the Plaintiff is the one who files first regardless of the size of their respective claims.
  • Litigation –The process of taking part in a lawsuit. “Litigators” are lawyers who practice Litigation.
  • MDJ – Short for Magisterial District Judge. A MDJ presides over “small claims” court in Pennsylvania for disputes worth less than $12,000 or disputes about issues like landlord/tenant claims.
  • Court of Common Pleas – The Pennsylvania court level where elected judges preside over claims. It is the step above and MDJ and can hear almost any type of claim.

What is Being Claimed?

  • Complaint – The document a Plaintiff files that usually starts a lawsuit. Its numbered paragraphs lay out the facts of the case, legal theories supporting their position, and what they want the Court to give them.
  • Answer – The document a Defendant files in response to a Complaint. It responds to each of the numbered paragraphs in a Complaint either by admitting that what the Plaintiff argues is true or denying it and explaining why it’s denied.
  • Reply – This document is how a Plaintiff responds to any new claims made by a Defendant in an Answer.
  • Default Judgment – If a Plaintiff or Defendant doesn’t respond to a Complaint or Answer in time, the other party can ask the Court to win automatically. The other party has given up by not defending themselves. (NOTE: if you get a “Notice of Default” warning you that a default may be entered, you need to seek legal counsel at once).
  • Motion – A formal request for the Court to do something. It is for tasks more complex and less administrative than those of a Praecipe. Among the most common are requests for the Court to rule in one party’s favor (either dismissing a claim or awarding a Judgment).
  • Praecipe – Pennsylvania’s mini-motion. It is a request for the Court to do something more administrative. For example, notifying the Court you have hired a new lawyer to represent you.
  • Brief – A writing submitted to the court by a lawyer, usually in connection with a Motion, that argues their client’s legal theory. It’s the lawyer version of an essay or paper.

Continue Reading Explaining PA Lawsuits Using Plain Language (Part I) – Key Legal Terms

I think Millennials get a bad rap these days. I recently heard a gentleman who was likely in his late 50’s, early 60’s suggest that Millennials are self-absorbed, lazy, lacked generosity, and were not community-minded. I spoke to this gentleman a little while after his comment telling him that I think his perception was skewed. While it may be true that Millennials are not likely to work for the same company for 30 years, may not want to sit on non-profit boards, and are happy not owning real estate, those characteristics do not necessarily translate into the adjectives he used to describe a generation. Instead, he needs to look outside of his comfort zone and realize that Millennials are self-motivated and loyal, they just may not want to spend their entire career at one company and instead use their time and talent to do good work for multiple entities. They are not necessarily fiscally imprudent just because they do not want to own real estate. Instead, they do not want the ties that bind one to real estate, rather they want the freedom to travel to different parts of the country or the world to experience new things and make their mark. Millennials tend to be community-minded and extremely generous but they may not want to sit on a non-profit board that meets every month and plan a golf outing. Instead, they write a check during the Extraordinary Give or donate to a GoFundMe account.

You are probably wondering what all of these comments on Millennials have to do with your obligation to pay child support. The tie-in is that many Millennials are perceived to have “failed to launch” because they have returned to their parents’ home to reside after college rather than going into the workforce and living independently. However, that does not make them bad people, it just makes them appear more dependent than the greatest generation. So, does this  lengthen the amount of time a parent has to pay child support for their child? In Pennsylvania, parents are obligated to pay child support for their child until she turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. However, that time period can be different depending on other factors like an earlier emancipation date, a child with special needs which extends payment to at least 21, and agreements to pay child support for a child past his 18th birthday or graduation from high school. Continue Reading Failure to Launch: How Long Do I Have to Pay Child Support?

Whenever a farmer needs zoning approval for an agricultural project, they cannot leave any detail to chance.  If anyone opposes the project – be it the Zoning Hearing Board, the Board of Supervisors or a group of neighbors – anytime the farmer misses even the smallest detail, it could be grounds for getting the project denied.

In Berner v. Montour Township Zoning Hearing Board, the Zoning Hearing Board (twice) and the County Court of Common Pleas (twice) approved the farmer’s zoning application for a swine nursery barn. The Zoning Hearing Board in particular put a lot of faith in the work of Todd Rush from my friends at TeamAg.  Unfortunately, there was an organized group of neighbors that opposed the application.  The Commonwealth Court eventually ruled that the Zoning Hearing Board was wrong, and that the farmer should not have received the approval for the swine barn.

Most of the Commonwealth Court’s denial dealt with very small differences between the language of the Zoning Ordinance and the Nutrient Management Act.  The Zoning Ordinance required the applicant to “submit facility designs and legally binding assurances with performance guaranties” to ensure that the operations will be “conducted without adverse impact upon adjacent properties.”  Since this sentence appears to deal with the design of manure storage facilities and manure and wastewater management, the Zoning Hearing Board decided that these requirements were preempted by the Nutrient Management Act. After all, the NMA does not allow a municipality to regulate practices related to storage or application of manure or the construction or operation of manure storage facilities. Continue Reading Zoning for Agricultural Projects: Every Detail Matters

As a business attorney, I try to understand my clients’ businesses and keep up with trends that may help my clients address problems they may encounter as their business grows. Three of my favorite podcasts that help me do that include Mac Power Users, which helps you get the most out of your technology, Cortex, which features business and productivity tips from independent content creators, and Free Agents, which discusses the trials and tribulations of starting your own business. On all three shows, the hosts have mentioned that they have hired virtual assistants to help them with various aspects of their growing businesses.

While browsing LinkedIn, I noticed that Frances Annis, a connection I met through the Southern Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, had recently moved to a Lancaster-based virtual administrative support company called My Reliable Admin. Fran put me in touch with My Reliable Admin founder, Angie Mobarak, who explained that the company provides virtual administrative support to busy professionals and business across the country, utilizing technology and flexible plans and pricing to suit the needs of their clients.

Angie described My Reliable Admin’s approach to providing a positive client experience: “The VA (Virtual Assistant)/Client relationship hinges greatly on trust and communication. The highly responsive nature of our Assistants creates an in-person feel even though clients may reside in a different time-zone from their VA. Full transparency is also critical in building trust as our clients can always know how their Assistant’s time is being spent by viewing a task tracking portal we provide.” Continue Reading Need Administrative Help? Consider Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Our favorite coworking space, The Candy Factory, and Ben Franklin Technology Partners has officially announced that they are teaming up to create a technology incubator in Lancaster City. The formal announcement can be seen in this Lancaster Online article: State-backed incubator for small, new tech businesses in Lancaster County to open March 29.

Last month, Brandon Harter and I attended a sneak preview headlined by Steve Fafel, Director of Business Development and Portfolio Manager for Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP). He introduced BFTP’s role as a state-funded economic development group helping early-stage technology and technology-related companies in Pennsylvania. It does this by providing direct financial resources along with indirect resources like mentoring, facilitating connections, and professional support. Mr. Fafel emphasized that encouraging and helping these entrepreneurs is better for all residents of Lancaster County, as it helps combat issues such as an aging population leading to decreased tax revenue over time, and a population that, for the seventh year in a row, has seen more households leave Lancaster County than move in. Continue Reading The Candy Factory Teams up with Ben Franklin Technology Partners in Lancaster City

https://pixabay.com/en/walt-disney-tigger-tiger-character-238128/A recent homeowners association case pitted the association’s board against Tigger.  Yes, that Tigger – the trusty friend of Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin and the rest of the Hundred Acre Woods.  Actually, the problem was a mailbox that was shaped like Tigger.  In this case, the Association’s Architectural Guidelines bounced the Tigger mailbox right of the neighborhood.

The community in question had fairly typical Architectural Guidelines.  The Declaration of the community provided that the Board needed to approve all installation, construction or alterations of any “decks, fences, permanent play equipment, ledges, pools, storage tanks, accessory buildings, or any other structures on the lot.”  The Guidelines also provided that any proposed modifications need to be compatible with the architectural character and design of the community.  The list of items specifically requiring approval did not include “mailboxes.”

One of the unit owners replaced their standard mailbox with a new mailbox that looked like Tigger. The Association determined the mailbox violated the Architectural Review Guidelines and instructed the unit owners to remove it.  The unit owners refused, and five years of litigation ensued. Continue Reading Disney Character Mailbox Gets Bounced from Homeowners Association

Last week, I had the honor and privilege of being admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States. The trip is organized on an annual basis by the Lancaster Bar Association. Since we were allowed one guest, I invited my mom to attend with me.

The admission ceremony occurred prior to two oral arguments before Court. After going through security to enter the building and spending some time in a conference room waiting for the next step, we were ushered into the Courtroom. My first reaction was surprise at how small the Courtroom actually is. This was immediately followed by nervousness – I was sitting about 15 feet from the bench where the nine justices of the Supreme Court would soon be seated. Continue Reading A Trip to the Supreme Court of the United States

Even though winter is (hopefully) almost over, it is a good time to talk about snow and plan ahead for next year.  Every winter, condominium and homeowner association boards all over Pennsylvania face the same question:  When do we need to call our snow removal contractors?  This is a divisive topic in the community.  Some people believe that no matter what the snow amount, the grounds crew should be there around the clock to remove the snow.  They may threaten to sue the Board if there are any slips and falls on Association property.  Board members want to know what is their legal duty to remove snow and ice from the Association’s roads, sidewalks, driveways, etc.?

The Association’s potential liability for slips and falls on an ice or snow-covered surface is covered by the “Hills and Ridges Doctrine.”  This says that the Association has to remove snow and ice within a reasonable time after the accumulation in order to prevent a dangerous condition.  An Association cannot allow snow and ice to accumulate in hills and ridges, if the accumulation is a danger to pedestrians.

The key to the Association’s responsibility is that it needs to act “reasonably.”  That does not mean immediately after the last snowflake falls.  In fact, Courts have found a landowner not liable for injury when snow fell overnight and the parking lot was not cleared by 7:45 the next morning.  The Courts have also said that the Association does not have to pre-treat sidewalks before a storm, or to salt or sand a parking lot during or immediately after an ice storm.  If there is snow everywhere, people are supposed to know that there may be slippery conditions.  Continue Reading When to Call the Snow Plows

Photo credit: JCT(Loves)Streisand* on Visual hunt / CC BY-NDWhen you think of Barbra Streisand, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it a career spanning six decades, including ten Grammy Awards, five Emmy Awards, a Special Tony Award, and more? The unique spelling of her first name? Is it her first album, titled (you guessed it!) The Barbra Streisand Album? Who could forget about her role in Meet the Fockers as Roz Focker. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is actually none of those things. And I’ll stop summarizing Barbra’s Wikipedia page now.

I would argue that no matter which of Barbra’s many talents you are most impressed with, as a business owner, the top association with Barbra Streisand should be the Streisand Effect. The Streisand Effect is “the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.” It stems from an incident where Barbra Streisand attempted to stop photographs of her house in Malibu, California, from being posted online, which unintentionally drew more attention to the photograph. You can read more about the Streisand Effect here.

Understanding the Streisand Effect is important when evaluating how to publicly respond to negative information about you or your business because it’s possible that taking certain actions could actually make the problem worse. It is inevitable that you will encounter conflict, whether it be with unhappy customers, competitors, disgruntled employees, or maybe you inadvertently get caught up in a conspiracy theory, such as Pizzagate. Negative information about your business may be posted online, or you could hear through the grapevine that so-and-so has been talking about you out in the community. Continue Reading What Would Barbra Do? A Business Lesson from Barbra Streisand