Coronavirus Update - Helpful Information for Our Clients

Articles Posted in Divorce

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.

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.

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?

 

A few weeks ago I went to the annual Pennsylvania Council on Mediators Conference.  One of the wonderful things about going to a conference is that it gives me time away from the day-to-day practice to refresh and reconsider.  The positive energy in the  seminar rooms reminded me that for many couples there may be a kinder way to dissolve their marriage,  and  I came away with renewed dedication to promoting  the tools in my alternative dispute toolbox  to make the divorce practice less stressful for our clients.

Much of traditional divorce practice  can devolve into a win/lose strategy.   When the Court titles the case  Smith versus Smith or  Jim versus Jane, the matter organically starts out as he against she fight.    So,  when we begin with Jim  fighting Jane, or vice versa,  it seems reasonable for the parties to think they need a “heavyweight” in their corner.    Indeed,   in our office we sometimes field calls from potential  clients asking   if we can fight for them like a bull dog?    We understand that clients may be  hurt and/or angry and think they need  a lawyer  who will  bark and roar and bite if necessary  to win,  but we think this approach to divorce  oftentimes  results in long-term destruction to family good will, and fractured lives– especially if children are  involved.    Alternatively, if the divorce process can be framed not as a one versus the other, but as an action in the best interests of the family  to move forward with the least destruction all the parties (children included) may come out more whole.

Consider Alternatives to the Traditional Process

Traditional divorce often is a closed, rather than an open process.  An adversarial  couple may dispute  sharing  child custody,  schedules,  routines, etc,   child and spousal support may be litigated and  equitable division of assets may be hotly disputed.    Not surprisingly, the more unresolved feelings between the spouses,  usually the more issues  end up  in court rather than worked out through negotiation and settlement.   Custody may end up being decided by a third party who really does not know the child(ren).     Nasty things may be written in  pleadings filed with the court.    A  court appointed Master may determine how much a spouse will pay to support a family.      Parties reluctant to divide assets fairly may try to hide assets.      Costly discovery becomes necessary when there is distrust and fear of hidden assets.   The attorney must do due diligence  to look for the hidden assets.    Parties may return to Court numerous times  for hearings.    The process can drag on,  and costs  will  escalate.    In the end neither side may be happy with the results,  nor with the aggressive attorney that the party wanted so desperately to  hire at the start.  Indeed,  one or both parties  may find that the “bulldog”  chewed up a lot of  assets,  and  tactics employed unintentionally may have destroyed any goodwill that still was  intact  in the family. 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.

ANGRY EMAILS? … HOSTILE TEXTS? … NASTY LETTERS?  

Consider the BIFF RESPONSE® METHOD

Have you been the recipient of angry tests, nasty emails, and ugly outbursts in public?   Has your ex said nasty things about you on a social media site?   Has the parent of your child said bad things about you?  Have the things said made you angry, embarrassed, humiliated, or infuriated?   Have you reacted and then perhaps regretted your reaction.  Have you found yourself in a hearing with the threat that nasty texts between you and your partner were going to be presented to a judge?      In our family law practice we come across all kinds of situations and people.  The cases that present the most conflict, however,  often involve one party who seems to thrive on hostilities.   Our philosophy is to minimize conflict.    Our goal is to reduce the anger and angst of family matters,  so when a case presents with communication difficulties between the parties—especially  unkind, nasty,  accusatory messages–  we seek out ways to help clients learn skills to deal with  the high conflict people who  engage them and the attendant situations.  Thus, we are sharing the BIFF  Response Method of Conflict Resolution here.

One of the more common questions a client asks when consulting a divorce attorney is “how much will this cost?”  There is no easy answer to this question, as it depends on any number of factors- is the spouse in a fighting mood? Is their attorney not prone to encouraging settlement? Are there complex assets at stake that take time and money to understand?

A lengthy and protracted divorce can cost thousands, and even individuals receiving monetary support from the spouse they are divorcing can run up against mounting bills. If the parties establish separate residences, suddenly both are attempting to sustain a household with only their income, where once they had a partner. This all coincides with a monthly expense few people account for in their personal budgets- attorney’s fees.

These booming expenses may result in parties getting creative about their finances.  Some choose to try and cut down on living expenses, some charge it on a credit card and hope for a favorable payout at the end of the road, and some dip into their retirement just to get by.

Should I Use Retirement Funds?

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If the parties to a divorce own a business, or a share in a business, it is a valuable asset to be considered and should be valued.   In cases where only one spouse works in the business he/she may suggest that they both know its’ value because for years they have lived off the business and there is no reason to spend  money hiring experts.     What a business “throws off,” or what the parties have been taking out of the business, however, even if accurate, is only one aspect of its worth– not its true value.   For example a dentist may bring home a certain amount each month; but the dental practice has value  extrinsic to the dentist’s salary.  There is value in the practice  client base, its equipment, its reputation, its’ location, perhaps its’ building—and a certain amount of the value of the business may be based upon the  personal “good will” and reputation of the dentist.

The Business is a Marital Asset and Gets Divided

The party who has built up the business and worked it day in and day out,  may feel that it is his/her business and the other spouse has no entitlement to it.   He/she may resent having to share the business upon divorce.  Unfortunately, the harsh reality is the business is a marital asset, and just like the marital home, bank accounts, and retirement, etc.,  it is  subject to equitable division.   And, unless the business is being sold,  reasonable and fair division is not possible without a proper assessment of its value.

Hiring a Qualified Business Valuation Expert

Each party has the right to hire a Business Valuation Expert.    When considering whom to hire, the qualifications and background of the expert is important.  While an accountant may be able to review the numbers, it is preferable, especially for in-court testimony, that the expert have a recognized national certification as a CVA (certified valuation analyst).

The  business valuation  report should include an in-depth analysis of numerous factors essential to a final conclusion.   Among those factors should be:  the company background and history;  company financial information and analysis (including historical data and future income stream);   a discussion of personal goodwill (if relevant)  and  the method used for the valuation.   The valuation should include a comparative analysis of similarly situated entities both locally and within a market that is relevant.   Oftentimes when each party has hired well-qualified business valuation experts the valuations come back within amounts close to each other–giving the parties greater comfort in the quality of the valuation.

Should You Stay on As a Partner in a Business Post-Divorce?

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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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