Coronavirus Update - Helpful Information for Our Clients

Articles Posted in Stress and Divorce

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.

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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.

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

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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Until recently if one party to a marriage would not consent to a divorce in Pennsylvania  there was a mandatory  two year waiting period before the moving party could proceed with a divorce.   On October 4, 2016, Governor Wolf signed House Bill 380, which reduces the waiting period from two years to one.   The new law goes into effect this December 2016.

This law is a major victory for parents and children in Pennsylvania.     Divorce, as we have written here previously, is one of the most stressful times in the life of a family.   It  can be a time of  uncertainty,  anxiety, anger,  fear and depression.   Children may be confused and scared.   A prolonged  waiting period  between unhappy parents  can have serious detrimental effects upon spouses and the children who  may bear witness to fighting and experience instability.

The original legislative intent behind a  waiting period was for family reunification.   Our lawmakers felt that  a longer waiting period would encourage reconciliation.  They  respected keeping families together,  and did not want to be quick to endorse family break up.  In reality, their intention was not realized.

By the time one party makes the heart wrenching decision to consult an attorney and proceed with a divorce filing, the likelihood of a family reunification is almost nil.   Continue Reading

Alcohol and/or other substance abuse is a known factor in many domestic relations cases. If one party drinks to excess, or uses drugs it can have an significant impact on the marital relationship and on the children. Tensions build, it can lead to secrecy, alienation, breakdown in communication; there may be episodes of violence, the substance abuse may lead to economic problems if it impacts ability to work or sustain a job, and it causes numerous other problems. Oftentimes, the effects of substance abuse on a relationship take years to manifest because one or both parties may be in denial.

A happy, successful, outwardly stable family can become unstable through the pain of alcoholism. Regardless of what triggers the alcoholism, if this is a factor in your family dynamic, it is important to acknowledge it.

The Pennsylvania Courts take substance abuse very seriously. Because the best interests of the children are primary, Courts carefully will consider evidence of substance abuse in any custody determination. If there is any concern that the health or welfare of a child is endangered by being in the custody a parent who is an alcoholic or substance abuser, primary physical custody could be granted to the other parent , and the substance using parent might be denied physical custody or granted limited supervised partial custody.

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