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 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.

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?

There are a lot of misconceptions and different definitions for a Notary.  In drafting this blog post I found several different definitions, including one from Google that says a Notary is “a person authorized to perform certain legal formalities, especially to draw up contracts, deeds, and other documents for use in other jurisdictions.”  Wikipedia says “[a] Notary is a lawyer (except most of the United States).”  Neither of these are true in Pennsylvania.  So what is a Notary?  Why do you want something notarized? Continue Reading What is a Notary?

The PA Supreme Court recently denied an appeal by Manheim Township School District holding that the district is required to provide bus services to the homes of both divorced parents when the student spends time at both parents home overnight during the school year. While divorced parents rejoice at the ruling in their favor making split custody arrangements a littler easier, school districts will feel the financial pinch of additional costs and organization associated with having to provide students with transportation to and from different homes depending on the custody schedule. However, this ruling simply requires the schools to allow children to ride a different bus on an already established bus route.  It does not change the requirements for students living outside of the district.

After the recent ruling, school districts can no longer require parents to choose one parent’s home as the sole bus stop, nor can they require a parent to drive the student to a stop that is further away than what they would require a student to walk.  If this situation applies to you, contact your school and get a secondary stop set up for your child.  If you are not sure how this will affect you, we suggest contacting a trusted legal advisor.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and 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.

This headline recently caught my attention Co-Parenting Win: I Lived With my Stepson’s Mother.  The article, fashioned in the form of a letter to the mother of the author’s stepson, chronicles the evolution of the relationship between Mother, Father, and Father’s Wife.  It is a quick, worthwhile read that demonstrates it really is possible to move past the emotional baggage of a breakup to form a new, different kind of relationship that allows everyone to be actively involved in a child’s life.

The article doesn’t assume that everyone can or should co-parent like this.  In many cases, this type of situation would not work.  But, in a world of custody battles that can sometimes turn ugly, it’s great to see a positive story that reminds us of the unique possibilities for relationships between parents and step-parents.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and 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.

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.

Continue Reading What Rights Do Grandparents Have Under The Pennsylvania Custody Act?