Whether you are making the choice to consider separation or divorce, or your spouse has made that decision and you are scrambling to make sense of it all, making the most of your initial divorce consultation with a divorce attorney is vital. Initial consultations are called initial consultations for a reason: you only get one. Some firms will offer free initial consultations, and others will charge a lower flat fee than an attorney’s typical hourly rate. As such, you are getting either free or discounted legal advice one time and should take advantage of that.

First and foremost, choose local counsel who is experienced in family law. Don’t call your father’s business attorney, your best friend’s bankruptcy lawyer, or your hairdresser’s personal injury guy. Family law cases are often decided on specific nuances that exist only in your case, and often cases are presented with local judges’ preferences, unwritten local rules, and consideration of the temperament of opposing counsel in mind. So, local counsel is a must. Experienced family law lawyers are easy to investigate, and ones who come with personal recommendations from prior clients are always the best option. There are many marketing tools that attorneys can use to hold themselves out to the community as experts in certain fields of practice, and some who assert they are rated “super-lawyers,” “best in their field,” etc. While those lawyers may, in fact, be “super-lawyers” and “best in their field,” those rating systems are not necessarily indicative of an attorney’s experience level, expertise or reputations, but may be purchased marketing items. Going with a locally known, respected, and personally recommended attorney is always best.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.


Continue Reading

When spouses separate and wish to divorce, there are many issues they must address before receiving a divorce decree. If spouses have acquired property during their marriage, that property must be divided between them before a divorce decree can be entered. If not, the property becomes the sole possession of the titled spouse post-divorce and any jointly titled property must be divided pursuant to a separate legal action called “Partition.”

So how do spouses divide their property (equitable distribution)? Quite simply, they either agree how it will be divided, or they don’t. If they don’t, the Court will hold a hearing to determine what property or portions of property each spouse will retain. If they do agree, a written contract between the parties is required to memorialize their agreement and ensure the enforcement of that agreement in the future if one of the parties does not comply with the terms of their agreement. That contract is often referred to as a Postnuptial Agreement and can also be called such things as a Marital Settlement Agreement, a Property Agreement, a Divorce Agreement, etc. Regardless of the name of the document, it is a legally binding contract enforceable under contract laws in the state of Pennsylvania.
Continue Reading

  • 5329. Consideration of criminal conviction. 

(a)  Offenses.–Where a party seeks any form of custody, the court shall consider whether that party or member of that party’s household has been convicted of or has pleaded guilty or no contest to any of the offenses in this section or an offense in another jurisdiction substantially equivalent to any of the offenses in this section. The court shall consider such conduct and determine that the party does not pose a threat of harm to the child before making any order of custody to that party when considering the following offenses:

23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5329 and § 5330 address a number of criminal offenses that may give rise to additional custody proceedings under certain circumstances in addition to participation in a custody conference.  Those enumerated offenses, in addition to an involvement with a County Children and Youth Agency or the Protection From Abuse (PFA) system, are required to be addressed under PA law prior to a Court entering a Custody Order.  Many County Courts have struggled with the best way to address this requirement when considering the timeliness of custody decisions, the cost of prolonged litigation, the additional strain on the calendars and resources of the Court system and, most importantly, the effect on children and families.
Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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