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Do you need an attorney for your family law case? How do you find the right attorney for you? When it comes to family law, it’s essential to have the right attorney by your side to help make informed decisions. In this podcast episode, Lawrence J. “Skip” Persick provides tips on how to find the right family law lawyer for you. Learn more by listening to this podcast on your favorite app by clicking the icon below, and share this episode with others who may be interested.
Mediation. Arbitration. Conciliation. Three words that sound alike and come up frequently in the family law context but have different meanings and implications. I could write a blog post on each one, but here is the “down and dirty” on what you need to know about each one so you can talk intelligently with either your spouse or a lawyer and do not get tripped up along the way.
Mediation is a process where two parties meet with a qualified and neutral third party and discuss their various issues to try to come to an agreement or a series of agreements on those issues. The third person is the mediator. The mantra of good mediators is “getting to yes.” The mediator’s job is to facilitate dialogue and achieve agreement.
In the family law context, mediation is usually parties alone, without lawyers, but any good mediator is going to suggest that each party retain his or her own lawyer because the mediator is not there to give legal advice or assess the pluses and minuses of a proposal. The mediator’s only job is to get the parties to agree.
I have several clients going through some form of mediation and they generally check in with me either before or after each mediation session to discuss either the issues to be addressed in the session or the proposal for a resolution that has come out of the last session. Also, mandatory mediation is of growing popularity among the county courts around Pennsylvania for child custody cases.
For mediation to work, the parties need to feel that they are dealing with each other on equal footing and one party is not using the mediator to “double team” the other party. Another aspect of the parties being on equal footing is full and fair disclosure on the part of the two parties. This is where the skill and experience of the mediator come into play. A good mediator will set the ground rules and expectations of the parties in the first session then build from there.
Mediation is a form of a concept with growing popularity in the legal system called alternate dispute resolution or ADR. A second form of ADR is arbitration. Arbitration is different from mediation in that there are no discussions about working out the parties’ differences. There is a neutral party who listens to the two parties and then makes a decision to which the parties have contractually agreed to be bound. In essence, arbitration is a private court system.
Crowded court dockets and backlogs in recent years have fueled an increase in arbitration as an alternative to the court system. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the court system have increased even further the interest in arbitration. The benefits of the arbitration process are efficiency and a relatively quick resolution of the dispute, at least as compared to the court system. The downside is twofold. First, there is the issue of cost. The two parties are paying the arbitrator hourly. Second, if one party is not happy with the result in the arbitration, there are only limited rights to appeal. Those appeal rights are limited to some fault in the arbitration process and generally do not go to the result, hence the term “binding arbitration.”
Arbitration lends itself to economic family law issues like child support and equitable distribution. Traditionally, child custody has not been an area where arbitration has been used; however, some recent changes in attitudes inside the court system and a proposed piece of Pennsylvania legislation may change the process.
The third of our “-ation” words is conciliation. Conciliation is a part of the child custody procedure in most Pennsylvania counties. When filing an initial complaint for child custody or when seeking a modification of an existing child custody order, the parties will be sent to a custody conciliator to try to resolve the issues. The custody conciliator is a court employee paid by the court system. All the custody conciliators I am aware of are lawyers, some work full-time for the court system and some work part-time.
Depending on the county, some custody conciliators have more authority than those in other counties. After a custody conciliation conference, all conciliators make “recommendations.” In some counties, without question, those recommendations become an interim custody order. In other counties, the conciliator’s recommendations do not carry significant weight. In every county, the parties have the right to a custody trial in front of a judge after the conciliation conference.
Finally, in a bit of an overlap, some Pennsylvania counties have both custody mediation and custody conciliation. In mediation, there are no lawyers, and nothing is binding unless agreed by both parties. In conciliation, lawyers are involved. If there is no agreement, the court can impose a decision, at least in the interim, upon the parties.
The family law attorneys at Weber Gallagher have experience with all three, mediation, arbitration, and conciliation, and can answer any questions you may have. Also, my colleague, Carolyn Mirabile, acts as a Montgomery County Custody Mediator and acts as a mediator in both custody and equitable distribution cases.
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What is family law, and what does it include? Family law attorney Skip Persick discusses the basics of divorce, child custody, child support, and more. This episode provides information on what is included in a divorce, how to obtain protection from abuse orders, adoption, and marriage.
By: Carolyn Mirabile
Is travel during the holidays safe? Many parents who usually would travel over the holidays may have to change their plans. Parents should observe all quarantine rules and restrictions specific to each state. Make sure to research any and all locations you plan on visiting, and the relevant restrictions associated with these destinations, before making travel plans. You can view all travel restrictions for each state on the CDC’s website here.
Whether you’re traveling with a child or not, it’s important to share your travel plans with the other parent as soon as possible. Doing so may help you eliminate the uncertainty relating to custodial issues. If you’re able to document this communication, even better. Having a trail of communication that proves you did your part to clearly and consistently notify the other parent of your travel plans will only benefit you in the long run.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Your child’s safety is of the utmost importance. With this in mind, parents should consider if flying, driving, or taking a train with children on a trip is safe. Which mode of transportation is best for you and your family? You have to weigh the pros and cons of all transportation options to make the decision that’s right for you. If traveling out of the country, a COVID-19 test with pre-quarantine measures may be required before leaving. Parents should ask whether this can be easily facilitated while exercising custody.
Restrictions related to COVID-19 are constantly changing at a local, state, and international level; and as the number of confirmed cases and deaths continues to rise, greater restrictions are being implemented and enforced. Therefore, above all else, parents need to be flexible when it comes to travel plans. When in doubt about the safety of you or your child, a staycation is the best option. It may not be as fun as you’d like, but quality family time at home and in your neighborhood does offer many benefits.
If you have questions regarding your custody order and the holidays, Weber Gallagher’s Family Law attorneys are here to help!
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How are child custody orders being affected during the COVID-19 pandemic? Family law attorney John Zurzola discusses custody litigation during the lockdowns, the timeline of cases, how lockdown ordinances affect custody agreements, and quarantine requirements. This episode provides examples of child custody procedures for Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties. John also discusses invoking legal custody and emergency custody due to possible COVID-19 exposure.
By: Carolyn Mirabile
We live in unpredictable times. Schools are opening, schools are closing. One week they’re using a hybrid model for learning, the next week it’s completely virtual — forcing us to be resilient and adapt on the fly. This constant state of flux has parents asking themselves a variety of questions. Is your child’s school opening back up? Are you trying to decide if your child should be virtual or return to the classroom? Do you share custody and need to make important educational decisions with the other parent? Many parents are weighing their options, and shared custody can have an impact on the end decision.
Shared Legal Custody
Parents who share legal custody have a right to participate in making joint decisions regarding school. Some parents believe children need socialization and they think in-person learning is better than virtual learning on a screen. Others think children should remain at home and learn virtually. Each family has different circumstances impacting their decision.
Is it Safe to Return?
One major question is at the center of it all: is it safe to return? Parents should consider whether they have any vulnerable people in their homes, such as elderly grandparents, or someone with an immune-compromised condition. Parents should also seriously evaluate the types of protocols the school will have in place. How will social distancing be maintained? Will students be wearing masks the entire day? Will the school provide transportation? What cleaning remediations will be in place? What if a student or teacher tests positive?
Here When You Need Us
If parents disagree on whether a child should return to school, Weber Gallagher’s family lawyers can assist with filing a Petition to the Court or reviewing your child custody order. You don’t have to go it alone when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We’re here to help you and your loved ones navigate this treacherous terrain, and we always have your best interests in mind.
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There are different avenues to adopt, such as step-parent, birth, grandparent, international, juvenile dependency and adult adoptions. Each family’s road to adoption looks a little different. Join Weber Gallagher partner Lawrence “Skip” Persick as he sits down with partner Caitlin Goodrich to learn more about adopting. Caitlin provides a unique insight as an adoptive parent and her road to adoption through fostering. Skip and Caitlin also discuss what potential adoptive parents should consider, expectations, and the process through the court.
By: Carolyn Mirabile
Domestic violence is always a serious issue, but during a pandemic, when people are trapped at home, away from work or school, and have little ability to leave, the situation worsens. Domestic violence victims should be aware that there are free resources to help, even during these difficult times.
Below are several resources for victims in the five-county area in need of help:
- Bucks County: A Woman’s Place
- (800) 220-8116
- Chester County: The Domestic Violence Center of Chester County
- (888) 711-6270
- Delaware County: The Domestic Abuse Project
- (612) 874-7063 x232
- Montgomery County: Laurel House
- (800) 642-3150
- Philadelphia County: Women Against Abuse
- (866) 723-3014
While some of these organizations have “women” in their names, domestic violence works both ways. These organizations also provide aid for men or a person in a same-sex relationship with an abusive partner. Anyone can be a victim of a domestic violence.
These wonderful organizations are here to assist victims in any way they can. Let’s take a look at a couple examples. Laurel House in Montgomery County can provide counseling, schedule appointments with doctors, and even find a safe place for you to stay. The Domestic Abuse Project’s (DAP) client services include therapy, advocacy, and case management. DAP’s case managers offer holistic support services to all members of the family, aiding program participants with basic needs, including referrals to support for food, shelter, transportation, employment services, legal aid, mental and medical health, and chemical dependency, among others. I encourage you to look into the services provided by these organizations because they offer much more than most people realize.
As always, Weber Gallagher’s Family Law attorneys are here to assist and discuss your options. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions. We’re here to help you however we can.
Every so often, I meet people who feel financially and emotionally trapped by a former girlfriend or boyfriend. They have a child by this person, and the other person has no interest whatsoever in the child. Sometimes the client is or was married to the person, but most of the time, the two parents were never married. Sometimes the child was conceived as a result of the classic one-night stand. Most of the time, the parent talking to me just wants the child to have a second parent and certainly would appreciate the benefits of child support payments.
While neither the parent talking to me, nor I, can make the person on the other side do the right thing, some things can be done to address the financial burden of raising a child alone.
The obvious reaction is to file for child support.
While some people are fearful that filing for child support will encourage a custody complaint coming from the other side, others feel pursuing support is a pointless endeavor because other parent is either continuously unemployed, mentally ill, has a substance abuse issue, or some combination of all three. Basically, what is the point of getting a support order the other side will never pay?
I always suggest to these people to file for support anyway because you just never know. It might be that tens of thousands of dollars in support arrears accumulate with no payments being made for years, but that is the point. In Pennsylvania, various lump sum financial awards are subject to attachment for child support arrears. These include IRS refunds, federal economic stimulus payments, lottery winnings, worker’s compensation awards, personal injury settlements and awards, proceeds from real estate; basically, any monetary award is subject to attachment for back child support. What would be a better prize for a single parent who has financially struggled for years than to get a payment on support arrears of $25,000.00 because the other parent just hit the lottery?
In some of these scenarios, the support obligee does not need to do anything; in some, the obligee may need to reduce the back support lien to judgment and transfer it to another state. The common prerequisite for this is that the person needs to have first filed for child support.
I recently received a telephone call from a woman I met almost ten years ago. She had a child with a guy who could not have cared less. He had no contact with the child, lost his professional license and then bounced from menial job to menial job, never making any money. When we first met, I told her to file for support. She did not because she did not want the aggravation. Her child is now 17. The father’s mother just died, leaving him several large tracts of land and other assets.
He suddenly has money. Since the child is now 17, she has a right to a year of child support, but wouldn’t it have been nice for her to finally have gotten the financial help she always deserved, even if it has been long-delayed?
The family law attorneys at Weber Gallagher are familiar with the issues surrounding the collection of back child support because, as I say above, you just never know. So should you need any assistance, please reach out to our office at 610.272.5555.