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Years of effort led by the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law community paid off on June 28, 2018, when Governor Wolf signed into law the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law Act.  The new law creates a uniform standard of procedure and practice in Pennsylvania for parties opting to proceed with collaborative divorces.  The purpose of the law is to make the legal process of collaborative divorce more uniform across Pennsylvania.

Collaborative Law is a method of dispute resolution which some divorcing parties opt to engage in, requiring both of them to sign a participation agreement to stay out of court.  The process  was created by Stuart Webb, a Minnesota attorney who sought a method that would permit divorcing parties to retain decision-making and control over the complex yet often emotional decisions regarding their divorce, including separation of assets, custody of their children and financial support. Continue Reading Collaborative Law – Another Option for Divorce in Pennsylvania

This article was first published in the Lancaster Bar Association’s quarterly newsletter to reflect on the life of David Greer, a friend, colleague and influential member of the Lancaster legal community, who passed away in August of 2015. David spent his last few years practicing law with Russell, Krafft and Gruber and everyone in our office feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with David.

Remembering David Greer

I met David Greer when he joined Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in 2008. He joined us at a time when he was ready to begin winding up his practice of more than 30 years. My partners and I all wish that our relationship with him would have begun earlier, as he was a pleasure to work with and to learn from. He spent the majority of his legal career working with Carl and Louise Herr and Judge Jay Hoberg, and managing their firm, Herr, Greer and Hoberg. That partnership formed the basis of Dave’s lasting footprint on the Lancaster legal community. However, we are grateful for the time we spent working with him, as it provided us an opportunity to get to know him both as a professional and as a friend.

At Dave’s memorial service held on December 9, 2015, Jon Gruber mentioned that we found Dave to be a very calming presence within the office, and he was. He was mild-mannered, yet jovial, and he lit up when he spoke of his wife, Linda, his four daughters, and his grandchildren.  By the time Dave came to work with us, his practice had become concentrated on advising businesses and estate planning and administration. He enjoyed the relationships he had with his clients and was always available – even after he retired – to weigh in or assist where his expertise was needed.

Dave loved sports, so much that he followed those events in which our office staff and/or their children participated with the same interest that he showed for Penn State football or the Philadelphia Phillies. His passion for boxing was paramount, though, and he judged professional boxing bouts in Maryland and Pennsylvania. He was regarded in that circle as a fair and consistent judge.  The Executive Director of the Maryland State Athletic Commission described Dave as a “true gentleman,” words which we have used in our office to describe Dave both before and after his death.

David and Linda travelled extensively throughout their lives and loved to find new places off the beaten path.  Afterhe retired,  they embarked on a cross country trip travelling the “blue highways,” visiting friends and national parks along the way.  He made sure to send us friendly postcards letting us know of their whereabouts. One postcard, sent in 2012 from Yellowstone National Park, reads:

Yellowstone never gets old, no matter how many visits one makes. This time there was lots of snow, ice covered the lake and bison abound.

There are others he sent from the Redwood National and State Parks and from the home of Lyndon B. Johnson in Texas, where he noted that he was “writing from the home of Chris Hausner’s favorite politician”. We still display all of his postcards in our office kitchen, as he remains part of our firm’s culture, even though his time practicing with us lasted just a few years. In a relatively short period of time, he made a lasting impression on all of us at RKG. He was our colleague, mentor and friend.  He is and will continue to be, missed.

Julie Miller is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Dickinson School of Law and practices in a variety of areas including Collaborative Law and traditional Family Law.

Recently, the Family Law Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association supported the enactment of a Collaborative Law Act in Pennsylvania. This is an important step forward for the collaborative process and demonstrates that legal professionals recognize the growing popularity of collaborative law among the general public.  In addition, support from the Family Law section of the PBA reflects other attorneys’ approval of collaborative law as an alternative process to traditional methods of conflict resolution in divorce. Continue Reading Family Law Section Approves Proposed Collaborative Law Act

I read a lot of articles online about divorce, and all aspects of it.  Not many of them contain content that is worth sharing. However, I found a recent post on Philly.com that I find insightful and provides a healthy perspective about divorce, and overcoming the emotional aspects of extracting oneself from a bad marriage.

In my practice, I’ve never met a client who has been happy that their marriage failed.  This article recognizes that there is life beyond the divorce process (whether collaborative or litigation), and that life does include happiness. With the right information and team in place, a divorcing spouse can find emotional and financial security, and a future of opportunity and reward.

If you are considering a divorce, are in the midst of the process, or are recently divorced, take some time to consider your vision for your post-divorce life.  Understanding your options when choosing the right team of professionals and friends to surround you and assist with the process may be as important as the process itself.  If you are interested in learning more about different process choices for divorce take some time to look into collaborative divorce.  It is not the correct choice for everyone but, depending on your circumstances, it is an option that you may wish to consider.

 Julie Miller is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Dickinson School of Law and practices in a variety of areas including Collaborative Law and traditional Family Law.

In 1996, I was a legislative research analyst in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives when the General Assembly enacted the statute specifically prohibiting the recognition of same sex marriages.  That statute provides as follows: 

It is hereby declared to the strong and longstanding public policy of this Commonwealth that marriage shall be between one man and one woman. A marriage between persons of the same sex which was entered into in another state or foreign jurisdiction, even if valid where entered into, shall be void in this Commonwealth.

I recall listening to the floor debate in my office on the day of the Bill’s final passage and discussing it with other staff members.  While I was not involved with the drafting or passage of the Bill, I very clearly recall the urgency among the elected members of the House to move the Bill quickly because there was a great fear that some judge in Hawaii could force the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to recognize a marriage between same sex couples. And so it passed, unremarkably, and moved to the Senate for final approval before enactment.

But Tuesday was a remarkable day for same sex couples in Pennsylvania who have been governed by that 1996 law.  Pursuant to Whitewood v. Wolf, 2014 WL 2058105 (U.S.M.D., May 20, 2014), the statute has been declared unconstitutional and same sex couples can now marry in Pennsylvania.  There are headlines in every newspaper and on-line media outlets and videos on the internet and the news.  There was a line at the Dauphin County courthouse yesterday morning when it opened of same sex couples wanting to apply for licenses. In Lancaster County, the first same sex couple to apply arrived at the Register of Wills office around 8:45 a.m.  It’s historical, no question, and it is now the law of the Commonwealth.  

Continue Reading You’ve Got Your Marriage License – Is That All You Need?

I read in a Fox News article a few weeks ago that Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband, Chris Martin, attended a party together, even though they have publicly announced their separation, which they have referred to as “conscious uncoupling”.  When the pair announced that they were “consciously uncoupling”, there seemed to be a lot of public questions (and skepticism) about what this is, and, if it exists, whether it can be accomplished successfully.  I, too, raised an eyebrow, wondering why it is headline news and why any of us care what happens between them in the privacy of their own relationship. In part, the story generated so much interest because of the use of the term uncoupling in place of divorce.

The term and idea of the “uncoupling” of married people is one that I have heard used in collaborative divorce cases.  In my experience, many people are drawn to collaborative law because they desire to end their marriage and resolve their economic issues in a process and a timeframe that they control together. Generally, they value what’s left of their relationship with their spouse, namely the joint parenting of children and often, that reason is their primary factor in selecting collaboratively-trained counsel to assist with the divorce. Collaboratively-trained professionals, particularly coaches and therapists, refer to the term “uncoupling”, as a way for both spouses to envision themselves moving forward with their lives, independent of each other.  Because the collaborative process is based on the parties’ development of their individual needs, concerns and interests, it necessarily requires them to think about their future and how their financial settlement and parenting plans will be structured to enable them to achieve that.

Continue Reading Can There Really be Such a Thing as “Conscious Uncoupling”

Most people know that grandparents have some custody rights under Pennsylvania law. What they may not know is what exactly those rights are. What happens when a grandchild is taken out of the grandparents’ custody when the parents have already agreed that the child could live with them?  Can grandparents have primary physical custody when there is still one parent in the picture? The Pennsylvania Custody Act answers these questions and gives grandparents rights to intervene in a custody action in certain circumstances.

According to the Pennsylvania custody law, grandparents have standing (the right to legally intervene) in a custody action to ask for periods of partial physical custody or supervised physical custody of their grandchildren if certain criteria are met. These criteria include the death of a parent, separation/divorce proceedings between the parents or a situation where a child has already been living with a grandparent or great-grandparent for over a year. Even if the criteria are met, grandparents should consult a family law attorney when they are seeking custody so that they are aware of their rights and the steps they need to take.

Partial or Supervised Physical Custody

One situation where grandparents are allowed to intervene for partial custody or periods of supervised custody is when a parent of a child is deceased. Grandparents may also seek partial custody when the parents of the children are separated or divorced. If either parent has filed for divorce or if the parents have been separated for at least six months, grandparents have legal standing to seek custody.

Sometimes, grandparents already have had physical custody of a child for a period of time, and suddenly a parent decides to remove the child from their home. There are rights for grandparents in these situations too, as long as the child has been living with the grandparents for a period of at least one year. If that is the case, the grandparents must file an action for custody within six months of when the child was removed from their home.

Continue Reading What Rights Do Grandparents Have Under The Pennsylvania Custody Act?

Custody can be a tricky issue no matter what the child’s age. When you add a teenager into the mix, it can be even more difficult to navigate the correct procedures for custodial parents and non-custodial parents to follow. Teens often have strong opinions on which parent they prefer to live with, opinions that can change rather often or unexpectedly. The issue becomes even more clouded when a teen is close to age eighteen. Parents often wonder to what extent they should treat their teens like adults in making major decisions such as which parent to live with.

In my family law practice, I have encountered situations where a non-custodial parent wants to follow the wishes of a teenager and allow him or her to move into their home.  For example, the question may be, “Can my sixteen-year-old daughter just move in with me? Even though the Custody Order gives my ex primary physical custody, isn’t she old enough to decide where she wants to live?”

I always caution parents in this situation. Do not allow your teenager to just move in with you on a whim or because he or she is upset with the other parent. The existing Custody Order is an enforceable legal document and non-compliance could result in contempt proceedings being brought against you. Regardless of the fact that the teen could be only months away from the age of majority, a Custody Order is a directive from the Court, and both parents are obligated to comply with it.

Continue Reading Teenagers and Custody Issues

As family law attorneys, we often encounter the issue of relocation in custody situations. I previously wrote about the top custody myths in Lancaster County and addressed a common myth that parents have in custody situations — "I can move wherever I want and take my children with me." This assumption, as I point out and as Holly Filius expands on in her blog post about changes to the Pennsylvania Custody Act, can be hazardous for parents who do not understand or know about the notice requirements of the law. These requirements are discussed frequently in family law sites and blogs, but what many clients wonder is how far a move has to be in order to trigger the notice requirements required by law. Is it okay to move to the next neighborhood? The other side of town? What about 30 miles away?

The Custody Act defines relocation as any move that significantly impairs the non-custodial parent’s ability to exercise custodial rights to the children. Any move that falls under this definition requires the custodial parent (the parent who has physical custody of the child or children the majority of the time) to follow the notice procedures of the Act. This begs the question, how far can a move be before it "significantly impairs" the other parent? Here in Lancaster County, a move is usually considered relocation if the custodial parent proposes to move with the children to a different school district. Changing districts could make it difficult for the other parent to complete the necessary custodial exchanges and take the children to any events or appointments they have while under their care. Although there are some Pennsylvania school districts that are geographically small, rural ones can be spaced far apart so that even moving to the "next district over" could create a significant distance to travel. 

Continue Reading How Far is Too Far? A Must-Read for Custodial Parents Seeking to Move

I once had a client call me on Thanksgiving Day because she had a custody dispute with her ex-husband about who was to pick up their child at 4 p.m. The police were called and actually intervened, their child was distraught and the entire holiday was ruined for everyone, extended families included.

Without fail, every year after the holiday break I receive calls from clients with concerns about problems that arose during a custody exchange or the late arrival of a parent. Folks, juggling holiday activities with children is difficult even for intact families. It only gets more difficult when parents are separated and have their own individual plans for celebrating. My advice for making sure that you and your kids get through the holidays without a lot of aggravation and stress about custody issues is to plan ahead. Know what the holiday schedule will be well in advance of the holidays. If that means hashing it out with your ex weeks or months in advance, then do it.  If you’re having difficulty reaching an agreement about a schedule, transportation or exchange times, seek the input of an attorney to clarify what your rights and obligations may be.

Embracing the holiday and focusing on making this a joyous time for your children can help you to successfully make it through the holiday season . 
 
Julie Miller is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Dickinson School of Law and practices in a variety of areas including Family Law.