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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.
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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

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.
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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.  


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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. 


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