Monday, June 30, 2008

Testimony of Mediators

In a recent unpublished decision, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey denied a Father’s attempt to have the written Opinion of a court appointed custody/parenting time mediator considered as evidence in a custody dispute. The court noted the difference between parenting coordinators and mediators, and their respective roles in custody cases.

The case addresses a rather sad family situation in which a Father is estranged from his eight unemancipated children, only having contact through gifts, cards and letters that he delivers to their schools. When the schools would no longer accept the items, Father went to the mediator who recommended that the parties utilize a neutral site for the distribution of items. Father filed a motion, using a written recommendation from the mediator as evidence of his position. However, the trial court denied the motion.

You can read the brief Opinion here. Please note that this Opinion is not for publication so it does not have precedential value. However, a review of the case will give you a brief explanation of the role of parenting coordinator versus mediator.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

High Income Child Support

In Pennsylvania, we calculate child support using the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines. Those guidelines are designed for families in which the parents make a combined monthly net income of up to $20,000. By way of example, if the non-custodial parent earns $20,000 net per month, and the custodial parent earns nothing (and has a zero earning capacity), the basic child support amount for one child would be $2,301 per month. When the combined net income of the parents exceeds $20,000, the court is required to perform a budgetary analysis pursuant to the case of Melzer v. Witsberger.

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently addressed a case in which Melzer v. Witsberger applied because, together, the parties earned more than $20,000 net per month. These types of cases involve a comprehensive review of the budgets of both parents. Therefore, litigants must be prepared to demonstrate their reasonable needs budgets to the court, as well as back up documentation for those expenses. The more detail you provide, the more credible you will appear! The Opinion includes a detailed analysis of issues important to the court when reviewing these types of cases. Read the Opinion here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves - Victor Frankl.

Support Philadelphia Music

A break from all things legal . . .

Over the years, Philadelphia (and the surrounding area) has produced some amazing musical talent. The eclectic mix from the City of Brotherly Love includes John Coltrane, Schoolly D, Jill Scott, The Roots, Boyz II Men, Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff, Teddy Pendergrass and even Chubby Checker.

My friend, G. Love, is at the top of this list. He is Philly's ambassador and his catalog of music over the years is peppered with songs about our city (I-76, City Livin, Jungle Gym . . ). Yesterday, he released his tenth (10th!!!!!) record, SUPERHERO BROTHER, continuing to build on a career that has spanned 15 years. Each record gets better and better.

So support this talented homegrown Philly artist, and check out his music.

Download on ITUNES (ranked #12 as of this morning!)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Chocolate Butter

Raising children in two separate households presents unique challenges. When parents and children live under the same roof, theoretically, the parents are openly communicating regarding the children (needs, development, problems, successes, etc.). When parents separate, often that communication becomes strained.

Children react to the separation in a variety of ways. Some children, even at an early age, learn to take advantage of the dysfunctional communication status between the parents and pit one parent against the other. Some children become confused because rules and policies are different from household to household.

I have a quirky, young nephew who began to develop code words to let adults know what he was thinking. (His parents are happily married so this is due to his own unique personality - not as a result of divorce). One of his favorite phrases is "chocolate butter." He uses this to let adults know that he has had enough (whether it is playing, rough housing, tickling or running). The first time he used this phrase with me, I had no idea what he was saying or how to respond and I kept asking him what it meant. He became frustrated that I did not understand that he was saying "chocolate butter" in order to signal to me that he wanted to stop the game. My brother finally clued me in as to the meaning of the code. My nephew, however, did not understand my cluelessness.

I imagine children with separated parents often run up against this type of situation. What they say in one household may mean one thing, while in the other household it may be interpreted differently. Children most likely begin to develop their own coping mechanisms. However, divorce is difficult enough. If parents can learn to communicate better, they may help to ease the burden on the children.

Try to get on the same page with the other parent about the basics: schedules, policies and discipline. Communicate developmental milestones to the other parent - especially the cute ones like "chocolate butter!" The children will realize that parents are communicating and it may lessen the chance that the children will attempt to play one parent against the other. If communication breaks down, try getting help, such as through co-parenting counseling or with a parent coordinator. Granted, this will not always be possible. However, make your best effort, as your children will benefit.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Palimony in New Jersey

In New Jersey, unmarried persons may have a duty to support each other under a theory of palimony, which is when the facts show that the parties formed a marital type relationship and made an enforceable promise of support. Basically, the parties must enter into a marital type relationship and then conduct themselves accordingly. Under those facts, a promise for support may be enforced.

This week, the Supreme Court of New Jersey, issued an Opinion on palimony in a case where a woman sued her long time boyfriend to enforce what she perceived to be a promise from him to support her for life.

The parties met when the woman was 23 years old and began working as a receptionist for the 51 year old man in his medical practice. They began what became a long term relationship, even though the man remained married to his wife. The parties never lived together and, in fact, the man returned to sleep at the house he shared with his wife on most nights, even though he frequently had dinner and spent time with his girlfriend.

The man had promised that he would divorce his wife and marry his girlfriend for many years. He even went so far as to purchase a condominium and allow his girlfriend to live in it. However, approximately 20 years after their relationship had begun, the woman finally obtained another boyfriend (hopefully an unmarried boyfriend). The man was then denied entrance to the condominium where she was residing and he filed a successful lawsuit, having her evicted. She then turned around and filed a Complaint for Palimony against him.

The trial court denied her claim after a hearing, saying that even though the man had made general promises to her, and she had become somewhat financially dependent on him, he had never promised lifetime support and they had never lived together. The Appellate court affirmed that Order. The New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the issue in a comprehensive Opinion, which included concurring opinions from two of the justices, denying the woman’s Complaint for Palimony but specifically stated that cohabitation is not a prerequisite to a claim for palimony. Instead, the Court stated that cohabitation is one of the many factors that a trial judge should consider when deciding whether or not there is a marital type relationship and a valid cause of action for support.

These cases are highly personal and extremely fact specific. In this case, not only was the woman’s palimony claim rejected, but she undoubtedly furthered her negative financial situation by most likely spending a great deal on counsel fees. The man in this case actually asked the court for an order directing the woman to pay his fees, but the court ultimately decided that neither party should receive an award for counsel fees.

If you would like to read the entire Opinion, you can do so here. As these cases are extremely fact specific and subjective, if you feel that you might have a claim for palimony, or you are concerned that someone has a claim for palimony against you, you should consult with an attorney regarding your rights. As with any he said/she said situation, the facts can be difficult to prove.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Thought To Consider

A long dispute means both parties are wrong - Voltaire.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Beware the First Wife!

A joke passed to me that I would like to share:

Jennifer's wedding day was fast approaching. Nothing could dampen her excitement -- not even her parents' nasty divorce. Her mother had found the PERFECT dress to wear and would be the best dressed mother-of-the-bride ever! A week later, Jennifer was horrified to learn that her father's new young wife had bought the exact same dress! Jennifer asked her to exchange it, but she refused. "Absolutely not. I look like a million bucks in this dress, and I'm wearing it," she replied. Jennifer told her mother who graciously said, "Never mind sweetheart. I'll get another dress. After all it's your special day." A few days later, they went shopping and did find another gorgeous dress. When they stopped for lunch, Jennifer asked her mother, "Aren't you going to return the other dress? You really don't have another occasion where you could wear it." Her mother just smiled and replied, "Of course I do, dear. I'm wearing it to the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding.

Friday, June 13, 2008


I will be a guest on Court Radio this Sunday, June 15, 2008 for a special Father’s Day program, discussing family law issues with the host of Court Radio, Richard Harris. Tune into 107.9 WRND-FM from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. this Sunday.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Forgo your anger for a moment and save yourself a hundred days of trouble.
— Chinese proverb

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Jurisdiction in a Relocation Case

Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed an issue wherein Mother and Father had lived in Pennsylvania at the time of separation. They litigated the custody action in Montour County, Pennsylvania. Subsequently, Mother moved to Florida. About a year later, Father filed a petition in the Pennsylvania court, seeking primary custody of the children. Mother responded by asking the Pennsylvania court to relinquish jurisdiction of this matter to Florida.

The trial court denied Mother’s motion to relinquish jurisdiction. Subsequently, the Appellate Court reviewed the case and included a detailed outline of the case law and statutes in this matter. Ultimately, the Appellate Court directed the trial court to reconsider the issue based on a more complete review of the portion of the statute that requires the child to continue to have a significant connection with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Relinquishing jurisdiction can be a complex issue. A review of this case will give you some familiarity with the court’s thinking. However, for an application of your particular matter to the cases and statutes, you should consult with an attorney familiar with this area of the law. Read the full Opinion here.