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!
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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
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.