Coronavirus Update - Helpful Information for Our Clients

  As you know if you are a regular  reader of  this blog,  I am a big fan of Mediation generally.   I favor Mediation in Family Law because it gives  parties ownership and control over their destiny.   I always believe that Mothers and Fathers, Husbands and Wives know more  than a Judge about their own  lives and what is best for their  families.    In the time of COVID-19,  I am an even greater proponent of Mediation.  Mediation  now  gives you the opportunity to have a  ready forum  to resolve your dispute.  If you are waiting for a Judge to hear your case-  dig in–you may be waiting for  months or even a year.   If you decide to mediate –you may get the resolution you need before we come out of quarantine.

kXIFyY23T22wQsCbjKzeVw-300x225Why Mediate Now?

I just got off one of the many Zoom calls about Family Law updates that I am on weekly, and the news I have to report is that in our courts  family law matters are NOT likely to resume soon.  While technically many Philadelphia area  courts may be re-opening on June 1st,  nothing will be business as usual.  The backlog is enormous.  All filings continue,  but  only emergencies are being heard.    The four county area of  Delaware County, Chester County, Montgomery County and Philadelphia County, each are handling their re-openings differently, but the essential message from family court Judges and administrators  is  to expect disruption and delays for a long time into the future.

So MANY QUESTIONS …  ASK YOURS AND Learn More… join our  FREE Webinar on DIVORCE, CUSTODY AND COVID-19.  Friday April 10 at noon    to register send an email to phyllis@bookspanlaw.com and you will be sent a link.

Cooperation is Key in Time of Uncertainty

It feels like the world has shut down, and we don’t know what will come next.    If you are  in the midst of  a family transition, like divorce, the situation may  feel even more uncertain.   Sheltering in place at home may not feel like shelter.    Custody exchanges that once were amicable, now may be  contentious and fraught with  fear of  transmission of a deadly virus.   Children are scared, as well as parents.   If you are receiving and/or paying support,  you may be wondering what will happen  if you are furloughed or lose a job.     So how do your concerns get answered.?     There is much information circulating and it should be read with care.  With  respect to your  questions and  your matters  the answer may be …   It depends.  Let’s discuss further…

Should I file for Divorce now?

Beth and  John live together in the same house, but for the past six months have been sleeping in separate bedrooms.  They don’t eat meals together and speak only when necessary.  She has been wanting to file for divorce but was waiting until their son graduated from high school this June.  Now their son’s school is closed, and graduation may be cancelled.   She doesn’t think she can continue another day in her situation.

Is this you?  Have you  been unhappy in  your marriage, and considering filing for divorce?   Is  now  the best time to file that Divorce Complaint?   Perhaps not. The world is changing daily and we don’t know what tomorrow may bring.    At a time of uncertainty, stability is important.    Do you know how much you  depend upon the institution of marriage for emotional support?     However,  if your  marriage is beyond saving,  if  sheltering at home is not feeling like a safe harbor,  and if the time has shown  beyond any shadow of doubt that you want out,  then perhaps now is the time to file.    The date that a complaint is filed triggers many legal things, that will affect a divorcing couple, and could be to the advantage of the filer.     For example, the filing date begins the tolling period for when a final divorce can issue,  it begins the unassailable date of separation, which is important for determining things like division of assets,  and it can begin the right to  receive spousal support.

So, what to do now  should include  a careful weighing of the situation, a  discussion between client and attorney,  and  a  prudent review  of the most recent investment and retirement fund statements.

I Filed for Divorce and Everything is “on Hold”…. What should I do?

The Courts  in almost every jurisdiction are closed for everything except Emergency Proceedings.  No matter how much your divorce may feel like an emergency to you,  it is not.

Continue Reading

Hello again dear clients and friends of BFL,

This new  coronavirus is serious and  likely will be with us for a while.    The most important thing is that you take all necessary precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe.  Stay Home and follow the most current directives of the CDC.

BFL is open and ready to help you while we all learn to live differently in this unprecedented time.   We are working from our homes, and monitoring your cases.  We are available to meet with you by video and talk by phone.  Of course,   you always can email us, as usual.

 As we enter the uncharted territory of the COVID-19 pandemic,  the implications of the virus  changes everyday life as we know it.     As the stock market plummets,   supply chains are interrupted,  workers are furloughed and/or laid off, the implications of the novel coronavirus go well beyond what the pandemic means for individual portfolios.     The most vulnerable  in our society –those in need of family supports, such as child and spousal support may be hit hard.  

 Child support is one of the largest sources of income for families. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nationwide, the child support program serves one quarter of all U.S. children and half of all U.S. children in poor families—totaling 17.5 million children.   Research shows it reduces child poverty, promotes parental responsibility and involvement and improves children’s educational outcomes.    Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce, and  many women, especially mothers with children, fall into poverty after divorce.    As the COVID-19 spreads,  this group may become the silent victims of  this contagion.

 In almost every state,  child support  and spousal support is tied to the income of the parties.  Should that income diminish due to reduced work and layoffs, or dissipate completely as a result of job terminations,  support payments can change radically.  Payments may dry up if pay checks disappear.    Payors  with reduced income may ask for  downward modifications in their support orders.   Payees who receive support and were working at the time an order was entered may lose a job, and be unable to replace it through support, if the payor also has lost income.  The ramifications are broad, and might affect the day to day survival for many.   

At Bookspan Family Law, LLC we meet many  of you at a vulnerable time in your lives.  Our goal is to help you through life transitions and ease your way to a better future.  Foremost in our minds now is the health and well-being of  you —our clients,  our friends and colleagues.  I am continuously reviewing and assessing the recommendations and requirements of applicable state, local and federal authorities, as well as the World Health Organization and the CDC, to implement necessary precautions and protective steps. As we face the coronavirus global pandemic together,  I want to assure you that we are continuing to work for you.

A note about financial obligations such as child and spousal support and alimony…

If you have lost your job, and or been temporarily laid off, it may affect your support payment (obligation and or receipt).    In Pennsylvania,  parties who either pay or receive support have a statutory obligation to report to Domestic Relations  a change in financial circumstances   As we have not faced  before anything like coronavirus and the interruptions in work and financial security it may bring, we may be in uncharted waters.  However, if you are laid off for a significant period of time, or lose you job, this is a change in circumstance that should be reported.  Alimony payments also may be affected.  Depending upon how alimony was provided for in your property settlement  agreement,  it could be impacted by a recent  financial change.    Please let us know if this is the case, and we will evaluate any next steps with you. For further discussion on financial security and cCvid-19, and a financial webinar,  see more information below.

You decide not a stranger

The range of emotions that arise when a family with children splits up can be overwhelming.   Complex decisions  have to be made around the lives of children, which can cause  among other things, anxiety, anger, stress, and resentment.   Depending upon the age and developmental stages of the children they may be more or less attuned to the changes happening around them.   Even the youngest of children is aware of stress and knows when mommy and daddy is, or is not, around.   As the children get older, they may feel  confusion or “caught in the middle.”    Normalizing decisions around custody and keeping a sense of control and harmony over this difficult situation is essential to the child(ren)’ s well-being.

Unaware of the potential or possibility of mediation in custody matters,  many families  begin a case by filing for custody and the matter ends up in court—before a master or a judge.   We suggest that  keeping custody cases out of court,  whenever possible,  is perhaps one of the kinder and wiser things you can do for your family.     Afterall, who knows  your child or children better than you?   How can a judge who does not know your children or the quirks of your family possibly be better at deciding what is better for your children than you?

Private mediation is a viable and underutilized option in custody.  There are many things that can be decided by parents in a safe setting with appropriate guidelines.    Among these are the obvious:

  • custody – how the child’s time will be split between two homes, and when each parent will have time with the child(ren);
  • Vacation and holiday schedules;
  • Changeover times and places can be agreed to, including transportation arrangements.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.   Once the  initial details are agreed to,  parents in mediation can discuss and reach agreements about  the things that are just superficially addressed in other settings.  These are  what we call the rights and responsibilities      Even if parents have reached an Agreement or a Custody Stipulation in the traditional arena,  we find the nitty gritty details are not fleshed out because the document was written by lawyers.  In mediation, Parents set the  rights and responsibilities agenda and fully discuss issues and reach agreements.  Among the topics, they may discuss:

  • rules for each house- bedtimes, use of electronics, when children can be left alone, etc.;
  • information sharing- medical information, school reports,  events;
  • communications- how will they talk with each other,  how will the children talk with the parents, when,  how often, on what devices;
  • changes to routines;
  • travel plans—family travel, business travel;
  • changes in family makeup- introducing new “friends,”  can someone move in, remarriage;
  • new children etc.

In  a custody mediation,  parents should be asked  to  identify their goals,   and perhaps to  think about Continue Reading

     Conflict is an inevitable and pervasive part of human psychology and social relationships.  The traditional approach to conflict is a flight or fight response.  The kinds of emotions that trigger this  response are hurt, anger, fear, vulnerability and pain,  the  triggers that can  bring  a couple or a relationship to the brink of separation and divorce.   When  the level of conflict is high the fight or flight leads to a situation where the disputants want to fight and win.  If someone wins, then naturally the other person loses.

While in the midst of  intense feelings it may be hard to believe that things will change, or that one has the power to make a difference.  Some parties may flee and seek the courts  and/ or an attorney for a remedy.   Some may feel stuck and remain in a negative situation until it becomes unbearable.  Regardless, the conflict is dealt with, either through avoidance or more directly through a form of dispute resolution.   For couples,  when avoidance no longer works,  mediation should be considered because the possibility of a win/win is better than the alternatives.

kXIFyY23T22wQsCbjKzeVw

Mediation is attractive because it allows the parties to take control of their situation and the resolution of their dispute.  In the marital arena  parties can go to mediation for division of property in divorce;  to work out child support and spousal support; to work on parenting issues around children; to work out custody;  and for all of these.  Mediation allows a forum  for the parties to  air their  concerns and grievances, to talk  honestly and work out solutions that they craft together.  Mediation provides a  safe place to  come to a negotiated agreement  and resolve  marital conflict in a positive way.   When parties can work together to craft either a division of property, or a custody schedule or a support plan this, most importantly,  allows for a positive relationship going forward into the future Continue Reading

What is Alimony?

Alimony is a system of ongoing payments made by one spouse to another after the divorce is complete.    It is a remedial remedy,  the purpose of which  is not to reward one party and to punish the other, but rather to ensure that the reasonable needs of the person who is unable to support himself or herself through appropriate employment, are met.  In a  case called Pullett v. Pullett, the  Pennsylvania Superior Court said that  “alimony is based upon the reasonable needs in accordance with the lifestyle and standard of living established by the parties during the marriage, as well as the payor’s ability to pay.”

What is Alimony Pendent Lite and how is it different from Alimony?

 

Mediation is a wonderful tool for resolving disputes.   In divorce, especially, it can be an empowering and healing process.  However, not all marriages can be dissolved through mediation, and you almost never can successfully mediate with a narcissist.   The irony is that living with a true narcissist is a prime cause of divorce.

The shared love, compromise, mutual understanding and support necessary for a marriage to thrive are lacking in a narcissistic relationship.    If you are considering a mediated divorce, before proceeding we suggest carefully evaluating your   current relationship and your partner to see if mediation really can work for you.

The term narcissism is used with almost abandon in common parlance today to describe people who may be self-absorbed and think highly of themselves.   However, a degree of withdrawal into one’s self and having positive feelings about one’s self are not always negative qualities.   Such traits are common in many successful people who may be driven to excel.  Indeed, they may be essential for certain professions and tasks.   Narcissism appears on a spectrum from arrogance and conceit to full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).     If you are married to a successful partner who has become aloof, arrogant, and/or checked out of the marriage, that does not mean that your spouse is not  a good candidate for mediation.   Look closer.

The kind of narcissist not suitable for mediation is one with  real NPD.  About 8% of men and 5% of women in the United States have NPD.   This is a clinical diagnosis for a cluster of traits that define a narcissistic personality.  Psychiatrist, Stephen E. Levick, in his book Clone Being says that “people with Narcissistic Personality disorder have a sense of grandiose self -importance and are pre-occupied with grandiose self-fantasies.  They believe that they are special and unique, and only want to associate with other special high-status people or institutions and may show arrogant haughtiness in the way they relate to others. Requiring excessive admiration, they have an unreasonable senses of entitlement, lack empathy, and are interpersonally exploitative…. Self-righteous rage, exhilaration and shame associated with anxiety are states of mind associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”   The need for admiration, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, and leanings toward exploitation are what make successful mediation impossible with someone with a narcissistic personality. Continue Reading

Contact Information