When you are going to meet with your family law attorney, what should you bring? Family law partner, Carolyn Mirabile discusses which documents can help your attorney gain a better picture of the marital estate for the divorce in this Let’s Talk Family Law podcast episode. These documents include tax returns, liabilities and bank account statements. Learn more about what you should bring to your first family law appointment by listening to this podcast on your favorite app. Click here to listen.
When filing for divorce, everyone always asks how much does it cost to get divorced and what makes divorce so expensive? In this Let’s Talk Family Law episode, family law partner John Zurzola looks at the process, opportunities, and pitfalls that can make divorce expensive. He starts with how attorneys are paid and how you are charged for services. Click here to listen.
The Verdict is In: Does the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Mean Anything for my Divorce, Custody and Family Law Case?
By John Zurzola
By now you have seen the news that Johnny Depp won….. sort of. He prevailed on all of his counts, and Amber Heard was successful on one of hers. He gets $15 million, and she gets $2 million. Quantitatively, he wins, and whether he can collect the money from her remains to be seen. This was not a divorce, child custody or even a domestic violence case, but like many family law cases, it had elements and common facts related to family law.
This long national nightmare was actually a defamation trial held well after the divorce was settled. Pro tip: you may think the bad-mouthing stops when the judge issues the divorce decree, however, Johnny Depp now has 13 million reasons to demonstrate that it is not the truth. Now that it’s over, it is worth considering whether this non-family law case, the issues it showcased, and the decision the jury made might have any effect on the garden variety family law case involving allegations of domestic violence. I don’t know the answer, but it probably should.
First, we were both lucky and unlucky enough for this case to be televised. Throughout the trial, we were shown many videos of their interactions – including a clip of Johnny Depp stumbling around drunk in the apartment and saying nutty things. Text messages from him about what he wanted to do to Amber Heard were also painfully read aloud. At that point, it looked like Johnny made a big mistake and I’m sure many will never forget who he showed us he really was. This happens frequently in family courts. Allegations are made against the husband and wife by the other party, then a video or texts are produced to make that party look bad in the judge’s eyes (no juries in family law, you know). The next thing you know someone‘s rights to see their children are reduced or they are kicked out of their house. This happens all the time and you can’t really blame judges because their first job is to protect children and others from potential harm and abuse.
In this case, though, it was the allegations themselves that were really on trial and their effect on the lives, careers and reputations of the people they were leveled against. This is almost never considered in the family law courtroom where the worst things are said about the other person, and, whether proven or not, can have a devastating impact on the outcome and the individual.
We often see very unscrupulous parents who classically “put the children in the middle” and think nothing of alleging sexual abuse claims against the other parent to simply gain the upper hand in their custody case. We also see requests for restraining orders alleging fear of the other person only after we learn that the victim stays with their alleged abuser for days or weeks incident free and only then goes to court to have the other person evicted and made to stay away.
Now, it must be stated here that domestic violence is serious business and credible allegations should never be taken lightly no matter how remote they are from the incident of abuse. Indeed, the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Statute and the many state restraining order statutes do a great job in immediately addressing potential domestic abuse against adults and children and include powerful tools and remedies to prevent possible harm from happening or continuing to happen. But, just as powerful as these statutes can be as a shield for victims of domestic violence, they can be used as sharp swords by those who might abuse the remedies to get an upper hand in family law. In cases where one of the parties is a sociopath, a narcissist, or both this is often part of the strategy. I wonder if any of the jurors in Depp v. Heard saw any of this in either of the parties?
In the child custody context, I once knew a practitioner who advised his clients to file for a restraining order for the kids instead of seeking emergency child custody, especially on a Friday when the restraining order would be the “better remedy” since there is always a chance that a judge might not entertain child custody questions right before the weekend. This situation could easily be an abuse of the system for protecting against domestic violence and is probably all too common.
Back to Captain Jack and his former princess bride. This trial, regardless of the outcome or what you personally think about it, highlighted the damage that arbitrarily labeling someone an abuser might have. This is a different context than we see in divorce, child custody, and domestic violence cases, of course, where people are seeking different remedies for different reasons, but the same kind of abuse is often alleged. Viewing it on TV this time may have been a good exercise. It allowed us to see how nasty these cases can get and also appreciate the implications of using and possibly abusing themes of domestic violence, if, in-fact, that’s what the jury determined happened here. Make no mistake, there was likely obvious domestic violence demonstrated in the Depp v. Heard case. Hopefully, lessons on the seriousness of domestic violence allegations can be gained from us all having to live through this trial these past weeks.
By Carolyn Mirabile
As the end of the school year arrives and you are ready to make summer plans, now is the time to review your Custody Order about summer vacation details. Most Custody Orders require parents to provide advance written notice regarding summer vacation plans. The notice usually requires the following.
- Dates of vacation
- Location, including addresses of hotels or rental homes
- Contact information
- All parties attending.
- If traveling by plane a parent will also need:
- To provide airline information including flight times and locations.
Parents should also be aware of airline restrictions regarding the age of children who are traveling alone and if you need prior written authorization from the noncustodial parent especially when traveling out of the country. Due to COVID restrictions still in place, testing may be required to travel back into the United States, and this should be taken into consideration when booking your flight.
Additionally, parents should pay close attention to specific terms regarding how many days a parent may take vacation, whether the vacation must start on the custodial parent’s weekend, whether there may be an adjustment if vacation results in one parent getting three weekends in a row, and whether a vacation falls on the other parent’s holiday.
The best advice is to provide as much advance notice as possible to the noncustodial parent to avoid any disappointments or last minute emergency petitions.
By: Lawrence J. “Skip” Persick
Effective April 1, 2022, Pennsylvania revised an existing procedural rule of court in child custody cases. The rule covers appointment of an attorney for the child, the court’s interviewing of the child, and a child’s attendance at court proceedings. The purpose of the change is to make the rule more fair to self-represented individuals. For this post I will focus on the court’s interview of the child and the child’s attendance at any court proceedings.
The new rule states the court, which means either a judge, a hearing officer, or a custody conciliator, may interview a child in open court or in the judge’s inner-office. If the court chooses to interview the child and it is an “on-the-record” proceeding, the child’s interview is also on the record. Also, if permitted by the court, a party’s attorney or a party may observe the interview. As part of the interview process, the court shall permit either: the parties’ attorneys to question the child under the court’s supervision if all parties are represented by attorneys; or, if one or both parties are self-represented, they may submit written questions to the court which the court may include in the interview. (Emphasis added throughout.)
While the court is charged with assessing the child’s best interest and the child’s preference based on the child’s maturity and judgment, based on this rule, the court is not required to interview a child; however, for children over the age of four, where the court does not have a report from a psychologist or someone else who previously interviewed the child, the court is going to speak with the child.
If the court decides to interview the child, the interview is on the record, but the court is not required to allow attorneys or parties to observe the interview. If there is a court interview, only the court and attorneys can question the child, but parties and attorneys may submit written questions to the court which the court may use in the interview.
The final part of this revised rule states the child is not required to attend any custody proceeding unless the court has ordered the child’s attendance.
In my experience courts are protective of children. Nothing gets a custody conciliator or judge upset more than a party showing up for a custody proceeding with the child when the court has not ordered the child to appear. Similarly, for some parents it is a fear, and for others it is almost an expectation that their child is cross-examined by either the other parent or the other parent’s attorney. At least in the custody context, that scenario is close to impossible. Usually in a custody trial, the child is interviewed by the judge in the judge’s inner-office, called the judge’s chambers, with a court reporter present; the lawyers are sitting in the back of the room. I know of one judge who offers the child the services of the court’s comfort dog if the child so desires. The judge then asks the child a series of questions that are a combination of questions the judge has previously used and submitted by the attorneys. If one side has an attorney and the other does not, a similar process occurs with the child at counsel table with the parties in the gallery behind the child so the child cannot see them.
The attorneys at Weber Gallagher are experienced in custody trials and would be happy to discuss your custody situation in greater detail. Please feel free to call or email.
By Lawrence J. “Skip” Persick
I am not sure why, but I have noticed a recent uptick in questions dealing with what I will call “pet custody.” Usually, I hear the caller or emailer out and then offer that it is almost always more cost effective — meaning cheaper — to get a new dog than it is to pay a lawyer to fight about the existing dog. Incidentally, I have never had a question about a pet other than a dog. When the potential client tells me that I do not understand how special their dog is, I relent and after a month or two of bills, the client heeds my advice and gets a new dog. In terms of the law on situations like this, there is a case that originated in Chester County, Pennsylvania that offers some guidance. The case is Desanctis v. Pritchard, 803 A.2d 230 (Pa. Superior 2002). Factually, the couple married in 1991 and divorced in 2000. Shortly before their separation, the wife purchased a dog named “Barney” from the local SPCA. The parties’ divorce decree references a property settlement agreement that devoted a significant amount of space to “custody” of Barney. The parties agreed that Barney would be the wife’s property but that the husband would have the right to continue visits with Barney after divorce. When the wife moved from Chester County to Bucks County, she cut off the visits and the husband filed suit in Chester County seeking, among other things, to mandate “shared custody” of the dog and enforce the agreement.
The Chester County judge wanted nothing of it. He granted the wife’s preliminary objections, dismissing the case. The husband appealed to Pennsylvania’s Superior Court which affirmed the Chester County Court. The Superior Court Opinion focuses on the fact that despite our love for our pets, they are not people and a court cannot get into granting “custody” of pets. The court found that pets are personal property along the lines of a table or a lamp and, as absurd as it would be to grant a custody schedule for a table, it is equally absurd for a court to set a custody schedule for a dog. The interesting thing about this case is that the parties went so far as to work out, draft, and sign a custody schedule for Barney, and the courts refused to enforce that agreement. So, what does that mean for the party getting divorced when there is a dispute over a pet?
My first bit of advice goes back to the beginning of this post; it is cheaper to get a new pet than to pay a lawyer to fight about an existing one. Second, while title to marital property is generally irrelevant when it comes to equitable distribution, in these situations it may become relevant. Some dogs are registered with the American Kennel Club and have ownership papers. The same is true for some cats. If you are the party with title to the pet, you certainly have a stronger position to retain possession of the pet if it is, in fact, your individual property. Another point goes back to the definition of marital property subject to equitable distribution. If the pet was acquired before marriage by one of the parties, it is not marital property and belongs to the original owner.
Finally, as you may have gathered from reading this, courts do not want to get involved in pet custody cases when time is better spent on child custody cases. So, in these situations possession really does count for 9/10’s of the law. It is very difficult to use the courts to wrest possession of a pet from the other party. While I am not suggesting that a “dispossessed” spouse use self-help to obtain custody of a pet, I did have a situation once where the spouse formerly in possession of the couple’s dog was left with no recourse to get the dog back after my client essentially took the dog. However, that exercise leaves open territory for another future blog post, how in family law every action by one party leads to an equal and opposite reaction by the other.
Pennsylvania tax filers will not be provided any automatic extensions because of the pandemic and will need to have their 2021 Federal and State Taxes filed by Monday, April 18, 2022. If you do not file your income taxes by April 18, you must pay any estimated taxes due and request an extension. The Child Tax Credit and Recovery Rebate Credit will be two adjustments tax filers should be looking for when filing their taxes.
The Child Tax Credit for 2021 is at $2,000 but will phase out depending on the taxpayer’s income and whether they file Single, Head of Household, or Married Filing Joint. Individuals going through a divorce with children must evaluate which parent has more custody and meets the dependent and income requirements to be eligible for the credit.
The American Rescue Plan also grants a stimulus payment in the amount of $1,400 per person.
Negotiations of these payments should be discussed with your family law attorney.
What is the difference between mediation, arbitration, and conciliation? How does each of these affect a family law case such as divorce or child custody? Who needs to be present during each of these proceedings? Learn more about what you need to know about mediation, arbitration, and conciliation by listening to this podcast on your favorite app. Click here to listen.
During a divorce, parties will often sell property. The parties might own an investment property, a vacation home, or a marital residence. As the parties get ready to sell the house, the buyer asks the parties right before settlement if they will accept Bitcoin or some other form of cryptocurrency towards the purchase price. Should the parties accept the cryptocurrency?
In the world of the Meta Universe where virtual real estate is being sold for tens of millions of dollars is there an inherent risk in accepting cryptocurrency? Professional athletes are now negotiating in their contracts they be paid in Bitcoin. People can purchase items online, even cars, for Bitcoin. Additionally, attorneys may also be asked if their bill can be paid in crypto. What’s the downside? Of course, Bitcoin is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange so the risk is if you accept Bitcoin the monies you received for the purchase of your new home may be less than what you negotiated. Of course, the reverse is also true, and you may get a windfall.
Whether parties to a divorce will soon be negotiating their settlements in cryptocurrency will be something to keep an eye out over the next year or so. Bitcoin, as with other publicly traded investments, is like stocks that also are subject to market fluctuations maybe just not as volatile as cryptocurrency. The family law practitioner needs to be aware of the possibility of the parties in a divorce may soon be facing choices regarding the buying and selling of cryptocurrency. It is important for all parties to have a working knowledge of cryptocurrency to protect everyone’s interest.
Weber Gallagher’s Family Law Group often reviews payments made through popular mobile apps, including Venmo and Apple pay, in discovery and for support purposes. Clients who utilize one of the many mobile payment platforms available to pay for services and goods assist attorneys in keeping accurate and timely records of such payments. For instance, the babysitter is ready to leave after a long night, a client can send money to the sitter instantly via Venmo. Or maybe a client wants to buy something on Etsy for one of the kids. The buyer can go on Apple pay and, voila, the seller has the money, and the buyer has a gift. Well, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) now wants to get in on the action. Beginning January 1, 2022, all mobile payment apps, including Venmo, PayPal, and Cash App, must report annual commercial transactions of $600 or more to the IRS.
The change to the tax code was part of the American Rescue Plan Act passed in March and will have a drastic impact on how people do business. This was a dramatic change from when the IRS taxed mobile payment apps only if there were 200 commercial transactions per year and the amount exceeded $20,000 in total value. Now, all babysitting payments and other services or purchases for commercial goods which meet the threshold will require mobile apps like Venmo to file and furnish a Form 1099-K. The new IRS rule will also apply to online craft businesses or purchases made on eBay. However, it will not apply to personal charges to friends and family for splitting a dinner bill. Interestingly, Zelle’s payments are not subjected to the 1099-K requirement because Zelle is between financial institutions and does not hold accounts or handle the settlement of funds. It is important to be aware of calculated payments on these apps in determining whether the transactions will be taxable.