Gone are the days of the Tender Years Doctrine where it was presumed that a child under a certain age (3) should be in the primary care of his or her mother as a mother is best able to meet the needs of a child from birth to 3 years. The so-called Tender Years Doctrine fell by the wayside in the law several years ago, but many believe the theory behind it holds true. That is, by anatomical default, a mother has a more significant bond with a child born to her and from her body thereby placing her in a better position to continue that bond and meet a young child’s needs. However, that thinking to many people is antiquated and the role and importance of a father’s bond with their children at the moment of birth going forward has gained popular consideration and is now being recognized by courts. Continue Reading Shared Custody: Presumed to be in the Child’s Best Interest, Perhaps for Some?

Every year, the stroke of midnight on December 31 brings with it a host of resolutions and the promise of changes for the new year.  In light of this, NBC News ended 2018 with an article highlighting some interesting new laws taking effect across the country in 2019.  One city will see a change in what to expect from take-out orders, and one state will have a much more difficult choice of what beer to buy in grocery and convenience stores.  Sorry, the last one is not Pennsylvania!

One state is even taking an interesting approach in trying to increase its dwindling population.  Vermont is offering $10,000 to those employed by out of state employers who are willing to make the move.  If Ben and Jerry’s and maple syrup are your thing, and your job allows you the opportunity to work remotely, then pack your bags! Continue Reading Ringing in the New Year with Alimony Tax Changes, Pet Custody, Moving to Vermont, and More!

With the implementation of the changes to the Federal Tax Code proffered by the Trump Administration, alimony payments post-December 31, 2018 will look a little different. Actually, a lot of different. In fact, the tax ramifications are gone.

Pre-December 31, 2018, alimony payments were taxable income to the recipient and deductible by the Payor. These tax ramifications were often vital tools in negotiating settlements in divorce matters where tax consequences were important to the parties and could be used as leverage in negotiation. While parties were free to agree to something other than alimony payments being taxable income to the recipient and deductible by the Payor, court ordered alimony awards were taxable income to the recipient and deductible by the Payor. Continue Reading Adios Alimony Tax Ramifications

Christmas is typically filled with tradition. Maybe you head to the Christmas Eve service followed by dinner at grandmas. Or maybe it’s Christmas Eve with the In-laws and Christmas day with your parents.  But if you share custody of your kids, traditions may be difficult to maintain and could possibly even have to change.

A typical custody schedule issued by the Court includes a holiday schedule laying out with which parent the kids will spend each holiday.  Most often, the holidays included are Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  Some parents may rotate holidays on an every other year basis.  Others split each holiday into two separate periods of custody.  When it comes to Christmas, the norm is that one parent has the child Christmas Eve through Christmas morning with the other parent having the remainder of Christmas day to celebrate the holiday with their kids.  This can be quite the adjustment for both the parents and kids alike.  For some tips on how to make the change a little easier on all involved, check out my post from last year.

Ideally, you can create a new tradition that is flexible to your changing schedule.  I was fortunate in that my family was more than happy to help create new traditions.  While my aunt always cooked Christmas Eve, and my mother Christmas day, we changed it up to help make the day more enjoyable and special for the kids.  Our new tradition is that whichever day the kids are at our house, we host Christmas dinner and whoever can make it is welcome. And my mom and aunt take turns cooking dinner when the kids aren’t with us. Continue Reading Custody and The Holidays

When it comes to seeking custody of their grandchildren, grandparents face many challenges. Between navigating the impact such an effort has on a grandparent’s relationship with their own child against whom they are filing for custody and establishing standing to file for custody, grandparents in this situation face a difficult path.

Grandparents can attempt to obtain standing in any of the following three ways:

  • the grandparents stand in loco parentis to the child, meaning that they are acting in place of the parents;
  • the grandparents do not stand in loco parentis, but they have a prior relationship with the child and either the child has been deemed dependent by the court; the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity; or the child has resided with the grandparents for at least 12 months and has been recently removed from the grandparents’ home by a parent; or
  • the grandparents have a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the child and neither parent has any form of care and control of the child.

You can read a more in-depth analysis on the third form of standing in my previous post, which can be found here.

In some cases, the path is made more difficult where two sets of grandparents are attempting to gain custody of their grandchild(ren) at the same time. Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued an opinion clarifying the provision of the custody statute that allows grandparents to seek custody when the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity and two sets of grandparents are seeking custody of a child. Continue Reading More Love to Go Around: The Pennsylvania Superior Court Clarifies Standing Rules Where Two Sets of Grandparents Seek Custody

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing.  That would be the sound of a text message showing up on my phone, watch, iPad, and computer all at the same time.  Don’t worry, I actually have the sound turned off on all but one of those devices, so I don’t drive myself and everyone around me insane.  I love the convenience of it.  No matter which device I am using, I can easily respond to a text or call without having to figure out where the heck I left my phone. And because my fiancé has sworn off all things Apple, I never have to worry about him seeing any surprises I’m planning.

But we’re not like most couples.  Most couples I know have the same type of phone and if it is an iPhone, they often share the same Apple ID.  Sure, this is convenient for a number of reasons.  But what happens when a couple decides to separate and forgets that their ex has access to all of their text messages?  Or can see their emails?  Sadly, I’ve had more than one client who discovered their spouse was unfaithful because the spouse forgot their devices were linked.  I’ve had clients who can’t figure out how their ex found out about someone they were talking to months after separating even though they were never seen together publicly and most communication was limited to texting.  If you shared an account or had your texts or calls going to another device that you do not have exclusive control over, you need to be mindful that your ex may still have access to what you assume are private calls or text messages. Continue Reading Electronic Devices and Divorce

On December 5, 2016, the law in Pennsylvania as it relates to the required length of separation in order to establish grounds for divorce reduced from two years to one year.  This reduction was highly contested for many years in our legislature and had been proposed on multiple occasions during the last decade.  While the pros and cons of the reduction in the length of separation were argued multiple times, the legislature finally determined that the reduction was appropriate.

The reduction of the two-year waiting period means that any spouses who physically or legally separate after December 5, 2016 now will only have to wait one year before they have established grounds for divorce unless otherwise established.  In no-fault divorces, there are only two ways to establish grounds for divorce.  The parties consent to the divorce, or complete a separation period which has now been shortened to one year.  Continue Reading Change to One Year Waiting Period for Divorce in PA Useful Now

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

When we think of grandparents, we often think of sweet older men and women who sneak candy from their purse to their grandsons or pull quarters out from behind the ears of the granddaughters. As a new parent, I know better than to call my mother “older,” but I am sure she will be sneaking my son candy from her purse as soon as he learns how to chew. In fact, she has already called dibs on giving him his first French fry!

Throughout our lives, many of us have been fortunate to enjoy traditional grandparent/grandchild relationships either as children running to the door when Pop Pop comes for a visit, as parents who are relieved when Nana volunteers to play with the baby to allow mom and dad to catch up on sleep, or as grandparents who look forward to spoiling their grandchildren and letting them do things Mom and Dad won’t.

However, it is becoming more and more common for grandparents to take on the non-traditional role of sole caregiver for their grandchildren. It is estimated that in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there are 82,000 grandparents who act as “parent” to nearly 89,000 grandchildren. These numbers continue to increase as the opioid and heroin epidemic spreads and claims the competencies and lives of the parents who would otherwise be caring for their children.  Continue Reading Expansion of Grandparents’ Standing for Child Custody in PA

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.