Articles Tagged with “middle age divorce”

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.

Mediation is a semi- formal process for resolving conflicts. The parties come together in a comfortable setting with a neutral third party who should be a certified mediator. The mediator is there to facilitate a process whereby the participants can safely discuss their issues and come to an agreement. It can be used in Divorce, Custody, Support and many other situations involving conflict. Mediators take specialized classes to prepare them for different types of mediations such as: family, labor, international, etc. If the parties are ready and suitable, mediation can be a wonderful solution because it allows the individuals to work out an agreement between themselves.

As an alternative to the traditional method of divorce, mediation has pros and cons. The positive attributes are that it is an opportunity for the parties to openly and honestly discuss the matters that brought them to this point in their relationship. It is a chance for them to work through some of the emotions, and to see to the future. It can be a time to make decisions (personal and joint) and to show caring and respect for the other party. With the help – but not legal advice of the mediator–the parties will decide how to divide their property in a way that feels fairest to them. The equitable distribution laws of the State of Pennsylvania, or of any other state do not bind them. If children are involved, the parents and not a stranger get to make the decisions about things such as where their children will live, who they will spend holidays with, how college might be paid for, who will be responsible for taking the children to the doctor, etc.

The cons of mediation are related to the pros. Since the parties do all the work, it is important that they are ready to mediate; that they are open to and trust the process; and that they be somewhat equally situated. If one party wants a resolution, but the other is being “pulled along,” the process is not likely to work. If one party is not trustworthy, or is unlikely to keep a promise made in mediation, the process will fail. If one party has all the power in a relationship, the couple usually is not suitable for mediation. Power in a relationship can be manifested in many ways. It can be economic, it can be emotional, and it can be physical. If there is a power imbalance the mediation could result in an unfair agreement.

One of the issues facing divorcing couples, especially women, is how medical coverage will be provided for her, and perhaps the children, after the divorce. In most families, medical coverage is provided by the husband through his employer or a business. After divorce, along with the loss of many other financial securities, this coverage goes away. Women who did not work outside the home, or who had part-time positions with no health benefits can find themselves overwhelmed at the prospect of no insurance. Obtaining a “swing” period of medical coverage post -divorce is a valuable benefit to many women that could be the basis for some to negotiate away other valuable items. Some women, perhaps those closer to Medicare eligibility, might choose to remain in less than happy circumstances, rather than risk losing their health insurance.

A positive and perhaps unintended effect of the Affordable Care Act (AFC) is that it benefits those facing divorce–particularly the non-working spouse. Because under the AFC everyone can purchase insurance, and it is based upon their ability to pay (“Affordable”), no one will be left without insurance after a divorce. Moreover, through the “portability” provision in the Act, the non-employee spouse facing divorce may be able to take the family insurance. Going forward, no one will have to give up valuable assets for a few extra years of medical coverage. No spouse will have to worry whether she/he will qualify for or be able to afford individual insurance coverage. if a woman has breast cancer or hypertension, she no longer has to fear divorce, because the AFC bans discrimination on the basis of illness or pre-existing condition. Nor will the newly divorced have to worry about affording coverage because under the new law the average person should pay less rather than more for health insurance coverage.

Divorce is not easy for anyone. Removing one of the most stressful issues–how we take care of our health and the health of our children–is a benefit of the Affordable Care Act. As Judy Resnick of Johnston Resnick Mittman Group commented to MarketWatch “It gives the non-working spouse the freedom to move on and not worry about their health… It will take one of the fears out of divorcing–I think it ‘s huge.”

In this age of e-mail, social media and electronic communications, people leave behind an inviting trail of information that a curious, jealous or controlling spouse or boy/girlfriend may be tempted to view. If someone suspects his/her spouse of cheating he/she may want to search through emails or text messages for evidence of another romantic or sexual partner. Suspicious spouses even have been known to put software “snooping” devices on a partner’s computer to track communications.

Is it legal to read your husband’wife’s email? Interceptions of electronic communications can violate a number of federal and state laws. Reading another person’s email or texts ( even your spouse’s) without their consent is a violation of privacy. But the answer to whether this always is illegal is it depends.

Whether reading emails or other communications is legal or not may depend upon a number of factors, including: whether the email is sitting on a server or is downloaded; the type of device the communication is on; whether the device is personal or shared with others; whether the device is password protected; and if password protected, whether the password is shared. As a general rule, the greater the protections taken to keep communications private, the more likely it will be that intercepting such a communication will be illegal.

Under the revised Pennsylvania Child Custody Act, which took effect in January 2011, the rules for re-location 23 Pa C.S.A. 5337 are specific. Relocation requires the consent of both parties or judicial approval. The process requires the parent who wants to re-locate to provide written notice by certified mail to the other parent sixty (60) days before he/she intends to re-locate. The definition of “relocate” can mean more than a move out of state. It appears to have expanded to include any residence change that significantly may affect the non-relocating parent’s custodial rights.

The notice provided to the other parent must provide specific information including the new address of the re-locating parent, phone number, persons who will live at the new address, ages of who will be living there, information about the new school, the reason for the re-location and a schedule of visitation. It behooves the moving parent to do as much research into the new location as possible before filing a notice so that the notice is thoughtfully presented.

The other parent then has thirty (30) days within which to respond by counter-affidavit in writing to the notice. He/she can agree or oppose. If a parent opposes, a formal hearing will be held at which each party can present evidence, testimony and experts. If the non-relocating parent does not file a counter-affidavit within 30 days he/she is foreclosed from objecting to the relocation.

When a child lives in one state and a parent files for custody of that child in another state a question of jurisdiction over which state can hear the custody case arises. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that in such situations the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) 23 Pa C.S.A. § 5401 applies.

So, for example, if Father lives in Pennsylvania and Mother lives in Maryland and Father files for custody of the child in Pennsylvania and Mother wants the case to be heard in Maryland, and asks the Pennsylvania court to defer jurisdiction to Maryland, how is the proper forum determined? In cases such as this, Pennsylvania will use the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act or the UCCJEA.

Under the UCCJEA a Pennsylvania court will look to the child’s “home state” to determine jurisdiction. The child’s home state is determined by the place that the child resided for six months consecutively immediately preceding the filing of the custody action. The UCCJEA provides that “the state with the closest connections to, and the most evidence regarding a child should decide a child’s custody.” If the child is very young, or has moved around a lot, and has no home state, then the courts use other factors to determine home state. Among those other factors are significant contacts the Child has with the jurisdiction, such as family contacts, medical contacts, school, etc. The Court also may consider which jurisdiction is more convenient for the child.