Coronavirus Update - Helpful Information for Our Clients

Articles Posted in Custody

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

Divorce if never easy, but if you have children, the issues are complicated in a way that differs from economic issues.   Spousal and child support and division of property involves mostly you and your spouse, if you have children, however, they are affected at every stage of your divorce. And how you deal with your children from the very start of your separation through the children’s adulthood can have profound impact.

Oftentimes parents think they can protect their children from the struggles of their parents. Unhappy couples may stay together for the sake of the children.   Child psychologies differ on whether, in fact, this does children well.   Children are extremely sensitive and pick up upon the tension, anger, and hurt that parents may be experiencing even if parents may be “putting on a good face.”   Thus, the idea of “sticking it out” until the kids are grown, while well intentioned, may not be the best choice—especially if the level of discord between the parents is high.

If you have decided to separate, involving your children in suitably in the separation and divorce process is exceedingly important. Child development experts agree that being upfront with children and telling them what is happening is important.   Edward Kruk, PhD., advises that you should talk with your children about divorce.

Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania provided some helpful clarification for custody litigants. The case, R.L.P. v. R.F.M., involved a custody order which was delivered orally by a Judge sitting in Montgomery County. This means that the Judge explained the Custody Order on the record and subsequently let the transcript of the hearing serve as the order. The Superior Court’s opinion clarified that all custody orders have to be delivered in a separate, written order.

This is important for several reasons. Custody Orders are frequently complex, and rightly so. Parties should walk away from a custody trial with no confusion as to how they are going to co-parent their children. In R.L.P. v. R.F.M, the transcript of the trial (which subsequently became the order) was 46 pages long, and included corrections and confusions. The Superior Court noted that when an order is confusing or contradictory, it is significantly harder to enforce.

When a Judge explains the intricacies of a Custody Order in the courtroom, oftentimes it becomes difficult to then enforce that order. In this case, the Superior Court noted that in order to understand the terms of the order, one had to read the transcript several times. A separate, written order gives both parties a tangible document to look to for guidance if a disagreement regarding the children presents itself. A Custody Order delivered orally on the record is just one example of a very dangerous phenomenon in family law: vague orders.

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Divorce  never is easy, but if you have children the issues are complicated in a way that differs from the economic issues.   Spousal and child support and division of property involves mostly you and your spouse.   If you have children,  they are affected at every stage of your divorce. ..and how you deal with your children from the very start of your separation through the children’s adulthood can have profound impact.

Oftentimes parents think they can protect their children from the struggles of their parents. Unhappy couples may stay together for the sake of the children.   Child psychologies differ on whether, in fact, this does children well.   Children are extremely sensitive and pick up on the tension, anger, and hurt that parents may be experiencing — even if parents may be “putting on a good face.”   Thus, the idea of “sticking it out” until the kids are grown, while well intentioned, may not be the best choice—especially if the level of discord between the parents is high.

If you have decided to separate, involving your children suitably in the separation and divorce process is exceedingly important.  Child development experts agree that being upfront with children and telling them what is happening should be a  major consideration.   Edward Kruk, PhD., advises that you should talk with your children about divorce.

  • Provide facts about what is happening between mommy and daddy without going into the reasons.   You can let your children know that their parents have differences and will no longer be living together, but you do not have to give the reasons why.
  • Allow children their questions, and answer them honestly. This is essential. Your children may want to know what will happen to them; where they will sleep, will they still see their friends and family, whether they will have to move. Be clear about what will happen in your children’s lives.
  • Remind the children that both parents love them and that the cause of the parent’s split has nothing to do with the children this is critical.

Children may fantasize that parents will get back together.   It is best to not let them indulge this fantasy to excess.

Dr. Fran Walfish a family and relationship psychotherapist and the author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child adds the following tips for the newly divorced or divorcing parents: Continue Reading

In today’s day and age,  more commonly grandparents are playing a direct role in raising their grandchildren.  Whether this occurs as simply a child care option during the parent’s work day or a permanent solution to an absentee or even deceased parent, often grandparents find themselves being significantly involved in their grandchildren’s everyday lives.

Too often, however, a contentious custody battle may arise leaving grandparents cut off from access to the grandchildren.    As a result of  changes in custody law in Pennsylvania, Grandparents  (and certain other interested adults)  seeking legally enforceable ways to see their grandchildren  no have more avenues through which they can proceed depending on the type of custody they wish to establish.

Standing and In Loco Parentis

To seek custody in a courtroom setting, an individual must have “standing,” or meet certain requirements to sue.  In the custody setting this requires that the individual have a pre-existing history of parenting the child in question, or stand in loco parentis to the child.   Grandparents and great-grandparents are the only type of relative (other than a biological parent) who are explicitly given the right to sue under state law for custody or visitation.

Amendment to  the PA Custody Law 

Recently, the Pennsylvania legislature amended Sections 5324 and 5325 of the Custody Act to expand the definition of individuals qualified to sue for custody of a child. This expansion occurred in large part due to the enormous impact that opioid addiction has had on children’s lives in homes across the state, and the desire of the state to allow family members to intervene for the children’s better interests.

Looking to the Needs of the Children Continue Reading

TO MOVE OR NOT TO MOVE …

One of the more frequent questions that come up in our practice is whether a party can or should move out of the marital home before or during a divorce proceeding. The answer, unfortunately, is not a simple yes or no. And often it comes up after someone already has moved out!

Reasons why one might want to leave a marital home before or during a divorce are: physical and/or emotional abuse; infidelity; new employment; the emotional need to get away, etc.   The are equally compelling reasons to stay in the home during divorce proceedings   and perhaps live separately under the same roof, such as the financial considerations –savings offered by not having two residences, convenience; parental obligations or concerns about parenting. Each situation is different.      It is wise not to be impulsive about the decision of whether to leave or stay.   Consultation with an attorney is best, to learn fully what your rights and responsibilities are.   At a minimum there are certain items, which must be considered,

 Custody, In Loco Parentis and Reproductive Assistive Technology

With more couples building families through reproductive assistive technology, custody questions  may become an issue  if the original family is no longer is intact, if the parents never married, and/or if the non-biological parent did not adopt the child.   More and more courts are being asked to determine custody in these cases.   There are steps that couples can take to help avoid or minimize this intervention.   The  facts and result in a recent Pennsylvania case are instructive.

In the  case of C. G. v. J.H.,  J.H. conceived a child by artificial insemination.    C.G. and J.H. were not married and Florida (where they resided)  did not recognize same sex marriage at that time.   J.H. was the biological mother.   The child, J.W.H. , was born in Florida in October 2006, while C.G. and J.H. were living together as a same-sex couple.   C.G. and J.H. continued to live together for about five more years.   The relationship, however,  began to wane and J.H. moved with the child to a separate residence in Florida and then moved to Pennsylvania in July 2012.

About three years later, in 2015, C.G. petitioned the Pennsylvania Court for shared legal and partial physical custody, alleging that she, C.G. “also acted (and acts) as a mother to the minor child …[and] the minor child was conceived by mutual consent of the parties with the intent that both parties would co-parent and act as mothers to the minor child.”    Since C.G, was not the biological parent,  J.H. alleged that she did not have  “standing” to bring the matter at all.    Because the parties were not married at the time of conception, and because C.G. did not adopt the child,   the trial court held extensive hearings looking into the roles of each party to determine whether there was sufficient status for C.G, to raise the claim for custody.   iStock-517851326-300x220

As might be expected, the testimony conflicted.   Just as in a traditional custody case, the parties presented extensive evidence including  who attended to the child’s “[p]hysical, [e]motional, and [s]ocial needs.”   Testimony including facts of  day-to-day life was considered by the judge, as were facts regarding  decision-making about the child’s medical and educational needs, child care, financial support and other items.
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The Republican Tax Bill  brings sweeping changes to the nation’s tax code.  As the country adjusts to the revisions and comes to understand the implications, we take some time to highlight the immediate impact this law will have on  families –both intact and those who are facing divorce.     Follow this blog for more details later.

Revisions in the tax code will affect:

           EDUCATION:   529 accounts are expanded to include private school and home schooling.

Currently families can save for children’s college education with the use of tax protected 529 accounts.  In a 529 account your money grows free of any capital gains taxes and  currently it can be withdrawn without any penalty to pay for higher education expenses.   Under the new bill,  the use for money in 529 accounts is expanded.  You  now will be able to withdraw up to $10,000.00 per child, per year,  to pay for private school or for educational expenses that are used for home schooling.   Money that is in a 529 account also may be rolled over to ABLE accounts, which are used for people with disabilities.

            ALIMONY: Alimony is no longer deductible for the payor spouse and no longer taxed to the recipient spouse.  

This  change in  the tax provision regarding alimony does not go into effect until 2019; however, parties in the midst of divorce must be aware of it now as it may have a significant effect on negotiations in equitable distribution agreements.   Understanding the effect of this dramatic change in the tax implications of alimony is important.   If you currently are receiving or paying alimony your agreement may be modified with certain specific language to comply with the new tax rule.  Your attorney should have access to the modification language. Continue Reading