As a result of the Jerry Sandusky /Penn State child abuse scandal on July 1, 2015, a new law, Persons Required to Report Suspected Child Abuse, 23 Pa.C.S.A.§ 6311, went into effect in Pennsylvania. Its’ impact is widespread. Parent volunteers in schools and others who come into close contact with children now may be required to obtain child abuse clearances before school districts or other organizations permit contact with students. Clearances must be obtained from the state police, and if the volunteer is not a Pennsylvania resident for 10 years he/she must be cleared by the FBI. For many parents volunteering in their children’s schools, chaperoning trips or coaching little league and soccer is a rite of passage. Since the law is relatively new, it has taken many by surprise. Some are annoyed by the bureaucratic paperwork requirements, quite a few are confused, and others simply are reducing their community involvement. Some background perhaps puts the motivation and need for this change in perspective.

Enhanced mandatory child abuse reporting harkens back to the spring of 2008, when the mother of a 15 year old high school freshman reported to the principal that her son had been sexually assaulted. The perpetrator was a prominent retired football coach and local philanthropist whom the student met through a charity organized by the coach to help children from disadvantaged families. The school principal, mandated by state law to report child abuse allegations, referred the student to the county Children and Youth Services department. The matter was investigated by a young social worker unfamiliar with renowned Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. She reported the results of her interview with the student to the Pennsylvania State Police. Ultimately the matter was referred to the Attorney General’s office, which obtained a grand jury indictment of the coach.

In 2011, Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 criminal counts involving at least 7 victims over many years. In 2012, Sandusky was convicted of child sex abuse and is serving a 30 to 60 year sentence. In the process, storied football Coach Joe Paterno’s reputation and legacy were tarnished and Penn State University officials still face trial on perjury charges stemming from their failure to report suspected abuse to authorities.

Or whose money is this anyway?

Usually the two largest assets for most families are their retirement savings and their home. As more people opt to leave unhappy marriages later in life, understanding the ins and outs of retirement benefits and planning for retirement in divorce is essential.

Life Expectancy

Keep your eye on the full picture

it is essential to know what financial resources will be yours after divorce. When calculating your full financial picture be sure to consider social security benefits–your own or those of your ex-spouse. Yes, even if divorced, you may be entitled to claim social security retirement or disability benefits based upon the earnings of your ex. If you were the lower wage earner, you probably are entitled to claim on your former spouse’s earnings record. And, you also may have a right to collect a social security survivor benefit of your former spouse. The rules vary, but one essential key to the right to collect in both scenarios is that your marriage lasted ten (10) years or longer.

Social Security Retirement Benefit

Partial Physical Custody and Proactive Contact

Divorce is a challenging event in the life of a family. Children and parents see and experience divorce differently. While parents are coping with the emotional, psychological and financial disruption they may be experiencing, children, no matter their ages and emotional maturity, experience disruption and confusion. As everyone navigates new territory, children look to their parents for guidance and security as they process the often conflicting feelings they experience.

In every divorce involving children, legal and physical custody is established based on the best interests of the children. More often than not, parents retain joint legal custody and have an equal interest and voice in medical, educational and religious decisions. While a growing number of families successfully share physical custody, most parenting plans still involve primary and partial custody in some form.

Yes, it’s frightening to contemplate shaking up your comfortable life in your fortys, fifties or sixties, but it is happening with greater frequency these days. The US Census American Community Survey shows the rate of divorce among the 50- 60 year old population is increasing. href=”http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_11_1YR_S1201&prodType=tabler The reasons for this increase need further study, but perhaps as we live longer and healthier lives, we are demanding more fulfillment from our later years. The realization that a sour marriage is not the place for us to achieve this fulfillment may come with a sense of questioning, disappointment, sadness, embarrassment, dread, or even fear. It is important to acknowledge and work through those feelings. And, if the marriage cannot be saved, it is equally important to realize that there are a host of positive new feelings that will come with closure.

Middle age divorce presents its challenges as well as promises. Surely, there will be upheaval. There is the prospect moving or of living alone, something some people may never have done. You may have to leave the comfort of your established marital home, or the community in which you raised a family. There may be financial set-back as you divide assets. However, with these challenges also is opportunity. The community that you love may no longer suit your needs, you may have outgrown it, but without a catalyst you would not move. Divorce can provide just the motivation to branch out, perhaps move from the suburbs to the city. Or it may motivate you to downsize to a more manageable home, allowing you more time to spend on yourself.

Today, more and more people are living alone, and enjoying the independence and privacy it permits. The latest US Population Survey finds that in the 55-64 age group individuals living alone increased from 13 to 23 percent.–surpassing those age 75 and older. The changes discussed here do not mean isolation or losing the old friends, but rather an opportunity to branch out and find new friends –even lovers– who may enhance your life in all sorts of different ways.

Do we need lawyers if we are doing mediation? Isn’t that redundant? Tihis is a question we are asked frequently.

Or sometimes our office receives calls, where a party asks will the Mediator answer our legal questions? This question belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the mediation process. In mediation, parties can come to any agreement they wish , regardless of what the law might require or impose in a certain situation.

Unfortunately, myths and misconceptions about mediation exist. While most people generally understand that mediation is a collaborative process between the parties, few truly grasp how self-directed the process is.

Like anything else in life, things usually go better when we prepare for them. Not everyone can prepare for a divorce, sometimes it just comes at us when we least expect it. But if a divorce is something you are contemplating, taking the time to prepare for a divorce, and thinking about how to broach the subject with your spouse can have real benefits.

Understand your finances-
It may seem crude, but finances are a reality that must be considered when contemplating a divorce. You are breaking up not just an emotional partnership, but a financial partnership, as well. Thus it is essential to be knowledgeable about the assets and liabilities of your marital partnership. Gather your financial papers; make copies of recent bank statements, investment accounts, retirement fund statements, credit card statements and other important documents. Get a handle on the monthly living costs are for you and your family.

Consult with an Attorney –
It is wise to consult with an attorney to learn what the divorce, property division, and ,if relevant, child support and child custody laws, are in your state. Having this information may help you decide if divorce is the right thing for you at this time in your life. An attorney also may help guide you about things such as how to think about divorce, inform you about laws that may guide decisions about timing to file for a divorce or support. An attorney also can refer you to other professionals such as a divorce advisor, or divorce financial planner, who can help you make critical decisions.

Schedule a time to meet with your spouse –
Invite your spouse to meet with you at a neutral, quiet and public place. It is better not to meet at home, since for each of you the moment of the talk will be difficult and it is better to limit emotional attachments. One of you may end up living in the family home, and it is better not to have the reminder of “this is the room where he/she told me…”

Plan for the immediate future –
Think about whether you will be moving out of the marital home after you tell your spouse that you want a divorce. , It may be helpful to have a temporary place lined up. If there are children involved, plan for your children. Do not have your children present when you tell your spouse. Your children should be told separately (see blog entry on Talking to the Children) Always it is preferable whenever possible for the two of you to work out custody between yourselves in an amicable way rather than have the Court determine custody.
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Pennsylvania Court Rules that Schools Must Provide Transportation to Homes of Both Parents

When separated or divorced parents enter into a child custody arrangement, numerous issues may be addressed. The terms of a particular arrangement may dictate which parent’s home is the child’s primary residence. This designation may impact other issues. A matter that often can get overlooked is the school transportation for children living within the agreed-upon arrangement. Until recently the designation of one home as primary, even in cases of shared custody, could lead to issues regarding parent’s rights to receive transportation to school for their children. This could create unwanted litigation and expense, as exemplified in the recent case of Watts v. Manheim Township School District, No. 935 C.D. 2013.

sc.jpg In the Watts case, a father (Watts) and his ex-wife shared equally-divided legal and physical custody of their child, C.W., who spent alternating weeks with each parent. Both parents resided within Manheim Township School District, where C.W. attended middle school, but their homes were located on different school bus routes. In accordance with a new district policy aimed at reducing expenses, the school informed Watts that, while it would continue to provide transportation for C.W. to and from his mother’s house, it would no longer transport C.W. between Watts’s home and the middle school. Despite the fact that a bus with unassigned seats could accommodate C.W. without adding an extra stop, Watts had to hire someone to transport C.W. to and from school when CW was living with in the custody of his father.

The Odds are Evened Between Parents

The standard for determining child custody is what is in the best interests of the child. However, before Pennsylvania enacted a major change to its’ custody statute, which can be found at 23 PA C.S. A. section 5328, how best interests was determined could vary significantly from one county to another or from one judge to another. The enactment of the Custody Guidelines was a legislative attempt to provide a gender neutral, fact specific, roadmap for custody court judges.

Under the Pennsylvania Child Custody Guidelines there are 15 factors that a court must consider when it is asked to determine the custodial status of a child. (for a discussion on custody status generally see blog post Child Custody 101). Under recent caselaw it is clear that trial courts must evaluate each factor individually, and weigh it in the context of all the facts before ruling on custody.

Understanding the ins and outs of child custody can be overwhelming to one who never had to think about the concept before. Most of us think of our children as “our own,” and that is it. But if separation and divorce become part of a family story the legal and emotional issues raised by custody can be scary and daunting.

Who and what are our children? Are they property? Are they a part of ourselves? Are they separate precious individuals who we take care of temporarily? Are they all of the above? What happens if parents are in conflict over the children? What happens if grandparents get into the picture and want custody? The answers to these questions are not obvious, and may raise intricate legal issues. If child custody becomes contested, the process can become complex.

If a custody case does not settle and ends up in Court, parents may feel like they are in a foreign territory. When entering a foreign land, having a guidebook with some common phrases often is useful to help calm the nerves. Today’s blog is a short introduction to the types of child custody, including important definitions and concepts.