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.

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?

The Pennsylvania Support Guidelines contain provisions with regard to payment of unreimbursed medical expenses when parties have a support order through their local domestic relations office. The procedure for reimbursement of unreimbursed medical expenses by the party not receiving support can vary from county to county in Pennsylvania and for many, the process can be confusing.

In Lancaster County, all support orders contain a provision that the individual receiving support is responsible for the first $250 of any out-of-pocket medical expenses before the individual paying support has any obligation to contribute to unreimbursed medical expenses. This $250 amount is often referred to as “the cash medical deductible.” If you are receiving support and you have incurred an out-of-pocket medical expense, what should you do? First, have you paid $250 out-of-pocket?  All expenses must be submitted to the insurance provider and only what is not covered by the insurance provider is considered out-of-pocket. You must pay $250 in a calendar year to meet the threshold.  Then you are able to request reimbursement of the amounts that exceed $250.

Requests for reimbursement are best made on a quarterly, biannual or annual basis.  Submitting requests every time a bill is received can create an unnecessary hassle.  Typically, I advise clients to keep track of all of the unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed the $250 deductible and request reimbursement from the other party on a schedule that works for your financial circumstances. The request must be made in writing with proof that you have paid $250 out-of-pocket, include the amount that has been incurred and paid above the $250 amount and then include the calculation of what the other party owes according to the terms of your support order. For example, your support order would say Payor (the person paying the support) is responsible for 53% of all unreimbursed medical expenses and Payee (the person receiving the support) is responsible for 47% of all unreimbursed medical expenses. Those percentages are then applied to the unreimbursed medical expenses above $250 to determine the amount which should be reimbursed to you. Continue Reading Support Guidelines and Unreimbursed Medical Expenses

The holidays are typically a joyous time spent with family, but following a divorce or separation, the idea of not being able to spend every minute with your children can put a damper on your holiday spirit.

Speaking from experience, Christmas with your children following a divorce doesn’t have to be that different.  And more importantly, both you and your children will make it through just fine!

Here are a few tips that may help to make this an easier transition for both parents and kids. Continue Reading Holiday Custody Issues

In the world of you just can’t make this stuff up, a woman recently swallowed over $7,000 in cash to keep it from her husband.  Apparently she had been saving for a vacation to Panama and was concerned that her husband would take it during a recent dispute.

There are several ways this woman could have protected those assets rather than swallowing them.  The most obvious answer would be a bank account in her name only.  While the couple is married and the money, if earned during the marriage, would be considered marital property in Pennsylvania in the event of a divorce, it would have been protected from him squandering it or taking it from her.  If she was so concerned about him taking her money, a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage could have protected the entire sum and then some.  If this distrust of her husband is a new development, she may want to speak with an attorney about her rights and how to protect this money.

Swallowing any sum of money is not a good idea.  It does make others question one’s capacity.  Perhaps a guardian may need to be appointed to protect her assets.  According to doctors, $5,700 was recovered from the woman during emergency surgery.  Which begs the question- what happened to the rest of the money?

Lindsay Schoeneberger 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.

Back in 2015, I wrote a blog post asking “Is Co-Parenting Possible?”  The article highlighted one family’s path to co-parenting.  Slowly, I’ve begun to see more and more success stories about co-parenting.

Recently Lancaster Online featured a story about a local family that has decided that co-parenting is in their daughter’s best interest.  For the Hawkeys of Lancaster and Bankerts of York, co-parenting wasn’t always easy.  They struggled at the beginning, simply going through custody exchanges without much interaction.  But recently they realized they needed to do more for their daughter.  When a rare family dinner made their daughter so happy, they decided to do more.  In mid-March the family decided  to go on a co-parenting family vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida.

This is a great example that even if it takes a while for everyone to be in a place where they can work together, when they can, the children really benefit.  However, I will repeat my prior caveat – not all families can or should co-parent.  But when they can, it is remarkable what can happen.

Lindsay Schoeneberger 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.
Nala Blu
Nala Blu

Earlier this year, much to my husband’s chagrin, we drove over an hour to Maryland to spend a Sunday afternoon at the home of a stranger.  We left with our new four-legged baby- Nala Blu.  More and more people choose to open their homes to rescue pets.  I must admit, it is a pretty fulfilling feeling to know that you were able to save the life of an animal whose fate was once questionable.  Our girl happened to be thrown into a cardboard box with her 8 brothers and sisters and left next to a dumpster in Tennessee.

This Sunday, April 30, just so happens to be “Adopt a Shelter Pet Day.”  Each year, more than 3.2 million pets are rescued from shelters across the US.  Each one comes with their own special story and leaves with their own special place in their new families’ hearts.

If you have ever had a pet, you know that almost immediately they become an integral part of your family, and are treated just like (or maybe even better!) than children.  But what happens to our four-legged kids when a marriage falls apart?  Some may find it hard to believe, but people do fight over their pets.  And unfortunately, in 49 of the 50 states, courts will refuse to step in to help.  In fact, the courts have labeled our beloved pets as nothing more than property.  In its 2002 decision in DeSanctis v. Pritchard, the Pennsylvania Superior Court went so far as to equate a dog to a table or lamp.  I can’t imagine that analogy won the hearts of those who read it.

Under Pennsylvania divorce law, personal property is distributed between the parties as the court sees fit after analyzing a list of factors.  And because a pet is considered personal property, they will be lumped into the “equitable distribution” of all property.  So if you want to keep your furry friend, you may have to give up that new big screen TV. Continue Reading Pet Custody in Pennsylvania

As income tax season is quickly ramping up, I am commonly asked by clients which parent can claim the children as dependents when they are separated from the other parent. And like any good lawyer, I often say it depends.

So what exactly does it depend on? According to the Internal Revenue Service, in order to claim a child as a dependent he or she must be a qualifying child. Assuming your children are qualifying children, only one exemption can be claimed per qualifying child. The IRS has determined that the “custodial parent” gets the to claim the exemption. The IRS has its own definition of “custodial parent.” According to their regulations, a custodial parent is the parent with whom the child lived for the greater number of overnights in the calendar year. Continue Reading Tax season – Who Gets to Claim the Kids?

In a historic 2014 ruling, the U.S. District Court in Whitewood v. Wolf made same-sex marriage legal in Pennsylvania. This ruling, while finally allowing a sizable segment of the population the same legal freedoms heterosexual couples have always enjoyed created problems for some same-sex couples that had done their best to take care of one another in a pre-Whitewood world.

Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, it was not uncommon for same-sex couples to go through an adult adoption. This was the only method available to them to create a legal family unit. By one partner adopting the other, couples were able to enjoy some of the protections and benefits only available to families. One of those benefits was a reduction of inheritance taxes. Prior to the Whitewood ruling, when one partner of a same-sex couple died, the other partner would have to pay 15% inheritance tax because the surviving partner was simply viewed as “other heir” under the tax code. Imagine paying 15% tax on assets you helped acquire during your relationship, while married heterosexual couples were taxed at 0% on the same inheritance. By adopting one’s partner, same-sex couples created a legally recognized family unit and reduced inheritance to the 4.5% of lineal heirs. While a vast improvement, the solution was far from perfect. Continue Reading Legalization of Same-sex Marriages in Pennsylvania Causing Adoption Reversals

During the holidays, we all become nostalgic about the things in our lives that have touched us, have changed us in some way or has simply been a blessing.  When I think of those things at this time of year, I immediately go to the blessings of my family and dear friends.  For so many of us family is the most important part of our lives, and I have been so lucky to have had the pleasure of being part of adding to many of my clients’ families over the last 20 years.  Continue Reading Adoption The Greatest Gift of All