Thursday, March 27, 2008

STOP! Are You Sure You Are the Father?

Before you acknowledge paternity on a birth certificate or another official form, consider obtaining a genetic test if you have any doubt whatsoever.

Reversing that admission can be an expensive, drawn out legal battle. Additionally, think of the best interests of the child -- before you establish a relationship and hold yourself out as the father. Imagine the hurt and irreparable harm to the relationship if you find out later that you are not the genetic parent.

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania deals with this issue yet again in this opinion. In this case, the father signed the birth certificate in 1995. Throughout the years, he paid child support, and saw the child intermittently. In 2006, by private paternity test, he realized that he was not this child's biological father. He petitioned the trial court and lost. The Superior Court reviewed the issue and remanded it back to the trial court so he may win after all.

Whatever happens, it is now 2008. This gentleman could have saved himself years of child support, as well as expensive and time consuming litigation, if he had been sure before he ackowledged the paternity at birth.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Your Employee’s Divorce Can Devastate Your Business

Small Business Owners Beware!

"Get out of the office," Comedian David Letterman said to his audience, referencing the Governor Spitzer prostitution scandal. "Who is running the state, for the love of God."

"I cannot allow for my private failings to disrupt the people's work," Spitzer said at a news conference in New York City. (March 12, 2008)


Too late, disgraced Governor Spitzer – you already did. During the week the scandal broke, high level New York officials busied themselves with the governor’s prostitution scandal - gossiping about it, planning around it, worrying about their job security — spending precious little time on the affairs of New York State, instead, steeping themselves in the affairs of Client 9.

New York State Government can absorb the cost without serious repercussions (other than voter disgust). After all, New York enjoys a budget in the tens of billions of dollars. One week of scaled down productivity will most likely barely register in the overall scheme of things. However, one week of scaled down productivity in a small business could torpedo revenues (and profits) for weeks to come. And the longer the scaled down productivity, the greater the fall out.

Running a small business involves dealing with human accomplishments - and human failings. Employees can be the most valuable asset to a company - but sometimes an employee’s actions turn them into a liability.

How could an employee’s divorce or other domestic problems affect a small business? People first think about the obvious: a distracted, possibly depressed employee, preoccupied with the implosion of their family life. How is that person concentrating on work? Another problem is missed work due to court appearances. Filing for a divorce involving children in Philadelphia can result in two separate court appearances in a very short time period: one for custody and one for child support. Unless the case settles quickly, more court dates are scheduled. Complicated cases can be as onerous as any lawsuit: depositions, motion hearings, burdensome discovery requests and extended trials. Accordingly, the employee could be at the office, distracted, or be out of the office, attending to the business of divorce.

Exposure of information that a company may want to keep private can be another devastating consequence to a small business. Competitiveness, merger talks and expansion plans are just a few of the many reasons a small business would want to keep their financial affairs private. However, divorce concerns income and assets – and the spouse is entitled to discovery. Private company documents are all of a sudden in the hands of a spouse – possibly a disgruntled, bitter, vengeful, scorned wife or husband.

In some complex cases, company executives could be subpoenaed – this resulting in lost time from work. Many times, this will require consulting with, or the attendance of, the company’s corporate counsel (at a high billable rate) – further upping the cost of the entire fiasco. Additionally, a company’s accountant could spend countless hours gathering information responsive to a subpoena or other document request.

Since most court records are public, the information revealed in a divorce could be accessible for years to come. How can the small business protect itself?

As with many business matters - a little foresight.

1. Protect confidential information. Once employees reach a point where they have access to confidential information, consider having both employees and spouses sign off on agreements regarding confidentiality. This should be first discussed with corporate counsel. The spouse’s signed agreement may have limited enforceability, depending on circumstances. However, it could still serve as a deterrent.

2. Set clear policies. At the outset, in an employee manual or other employee communication, advise employees that they may be responsible for extra costs that the business incurs due to their personal issues. This could possibly alienate employees. Each business should determine their own risk tolerance for these types of costs.

3. Be upfront. Attempts to hide information often result in a spouse just digging deeper – convinced that there is some big payout available. Make your paystubs easy to read so there is no questions as to compensation – and deductions. If you use abbreviations on your paycheck, have an easy to read key available. List out the perks and benefits - are they employer paid, employee paid – or a hybrid?

4. Refuse to tolerate shenanigans. Advise employees that they must notify the company of significant life changes: marriage, divorce, etc. If an employee attempts to remove a spouse as a beneficiary (from a retirement plan, life insurance or health plan), ask for a reason in writing. In some cases, you may want to obtain the spouse’s signature before taking away a benefit. (Certain federal or state protected benefits require a spouse’s waiver in writing).

A proactive, thoughtful plan regarding employees’ heartbreak and family betrayals could save your small business a significant amount of headache – and lost revenue.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

This Guy Takes the Concept of "Moving on" to a Whole New Level

Breaking up is hard to do.

Click here to read about a guy who is putting his entire life up for auction: his house, possessions, friends, job, etc . . . . . in an effort to start a new life, and leave the memories of a failed marriage behind. You can visit his website and bid yourself.

58 Pages on Paul and Heather

Click here to see the divorce judgment of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Imaginative Proposal Idea Floats Away

Sometimes a marriage is over before it even begins.

Click here to read a story about an imaginative guy who put the very expensive diamond ring in a balloon -- only to see it float away to the horizon. His girlfriend was not impressed.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick, born in Great Britain when it was controlled by the Roman Empire, was captured and taken as a slave to Ireland when he was a teenager. He later escaped, entered the church and returned to Ireland as a missionary.

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, celebrates his life and is believed to be the date of his death. St. Patrick’s Day parades, often celebrated on the Sunday closest to March 17, date back to the 1700s. Boston, Massachusetts has held its parade since 1737 and Philadelphia is not far behind, with our parade dating back to 1771.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and may the luck of the Irish be with you!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Single Dads

Click here for a great article regarding the life of a single dad - who has custody of his four kids!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Overdue Child Support and Personal Injury Awards

The advantage to the person receiving child support to having that Order collected through the Pennsylvania Support Collection Disbursement Unit ("SCDU") is that arrearages (overdue support) accrue by operation of law. The law vests SCDU with powerful enforcement mechanisms. One of those mechanisms is the ability to lien against monetary awards, such as personal injury actions.

The Superior Court recently addressed the issue when a payor owed over $12,000 in child support arrearages. He then settled a personal injury claim for $10,000. The trial court attached the award in the amount of $5,000. However, the payor petitioned the court to limit the attachment to $1,800.93. This petition was based on the rule defining net proceeds which is "monies in excess of $5,000." Accordingly, when the payor settled his personal injury claim for $10,000 and then subtracted out his attorney’s fees and then the $5,000 statutory minimum, the balance was $1,800.93. Thus, the payee (the person receiving child support) only received $1,800.93 of this $10,000 settlement, even though the payor’s arrears exceeded $12,000. However, had the child support not been payable through SCDU, it is unlikely the payee would have received anything.

You can read the full opinion here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sex and the Single Parent

A local author, Ellie Slott Fisher, recently sent me courtesy copies of her two books:

Mom, There’s a Man in the Kitchen and He’s Wearing Your Robe
(DaCapo Press 2005)

and

Dating for Dads
(BantamDell 2008)

I have not yet had a chance to read them in depth but they appear to include humor, ideas, advice and thoughtful comments on dating for single parents. You can visit the author’s website at www.elliefisher.com.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Indefinitely Retroactive?

New Case Law in Pennsylvania

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania just handed down a case regarding the duty to continually exchange income information when a child support order is in effect.

Essentially, pursuant to this case, if you are paying support and do not notify the person receiving support of an increase in your income, you may be liable to pay retroactive support, back to the date your income increased. Read the full opinion here. If you feel this could affect your current situation, you should immediately consult with an attorney.

Online Dating - Verify That Info!

As a divorce lawyer, more often than not, my clients send me their estranged spouse’s online dating profiles. In many cases, I am struck by the completely false descriptions that people provide on these sites. When I say false, I am not referring to subjective terms such as likes and dislikes or descriptions of personalities. More often than not, the profiles I see in some of my bitter cases contain simply untrue information.

By way of example, I have one case where the other party is steadily unemployed, has accrued over $80,000 in credit card debt, lost custody of his children and the divorce is still pending, which means he is, technically, still married. In his profile, however, he lists his income as over $175,000, with two children living at home. Under occupation, he describes himself as self-employed. Perhaps he is creating a snapshot of the person he would like to be. In another case, the person was persistently unemployed, fighting to stop the divorce every step of the way, yet advertising on a dating site as single, successful and available.

By the same token, I have viewed profiles that were 100% accurate portrayals. Accordingly, I am sure misinformation is not universal to divorced or separated individuals. However, these anecdotes demonstrate that sometimes people are simply not truthful. Therefore, if you are venturing into online dating, do not take the information placed on a profile at face value.

On the other hand, the positive benefit of online dating after a divorce might outweigh the occasional inconvenience of sifting through the spread of misinformation. Sometimes, a big part of a successful divorce is moving out and moving on. A new relationship may be just the ticket to make a divorce slightly less painful.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Law Dictionary

Nothing substitutes for legal advice.

A competent, thorough lawyer will analyze the facts of your specific situation and apply the law (and experience) to those facts to provide you with thoughtful analysis and advice. That said, independent research in order to educate yourself (and make you a more informed consumer of legal services) may increase your chances of a favorable result.

Click here for an online law dictionary. If you receive a document with an unfamiliar term, you may be able to find a definition on this site.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Children and Divorce

I am shocked, sometimes, by the similarities in the many stories I hear regarding children affected by divorce.

In an unscientific observation/review of my own cases, it seems like many children from divorced or separated families experience some of the same behaviors: declining school performance, social difficulties and adjustment issues. I recently consulted a psychologist friend about this and was told: most of these children do overcome these obstacles. However, the parents must work together, with the help of a thoughtfully prepared custody arrangement, to address the child's best interests. Click here for a thoughtful essay written by an adult whose parents divorced when he was in his teens.