Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Need a copy of your tax return?

If you need a copy of your tax return -- you can order it from the IRS.  Click here for more information.

More on the perils of social networking

We recently posted about the oversharing of information on the internet and how that can impact divorce and custody cases: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter - Oh My.

Today we ran across this interesting and informative article: Facebook is divorce lawyers' new best friend.  I have certainly had the opportunity to discover plenty of information that people freely share on the internet-- and it has been helpful in my cases -- for example:

- The Dad who proclaimed on his site that he earned over $250,000 per year and had full custody of his children -- he had told the court that he was earning nothing and, due to his erratic behavior, the court had granted him only supervised visitation of his children.

- One Dad testified in court regarding the date he met his girlfriend -- yet his Facebook page showed pictures with her over a year earlier.

- A parent testified that he closely supervised his children when they were in his custody.  However, when presented with Facebook pictures of his teenager drinking and smoking in his basement - the judge realized he was lying.

- On man announced his engagement on his blog -- before telling his soon-to-be ex-wife.  She was so angry -- she dragged the divorce out much longer --- causing him a lot of extra expense and aggravation.

So, we cannot say it enough --- guard your online presence vigorously!!!!!!  When you are on the internet - you never know who is watching.

Need a copy of your Pennsylvania marriage certificate?

If you are filing for divorce in Philadelphia County, the clerk requires that you attach a copy of your marriage license to your Complaint in Divorce.

If you were married in Pennsylvania, marriage certificates/licenses are usually available from the courthouse, government building or city hall in the county where you were married.  For a list of Pennsylvania counties and contact information, click here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

We get our cars maintained . . . why not regular check-ups on our marriage?

One of the first things I ask during my initial consultations for divorce clients is, "Have you tried marriage counseling?"  The answers vary.  Sometimes clients say they tried one or two sessions.  Others indicate that their spouse refuses.  Others answer with an emphatic "No." 

I always encourage marriage counseling and I have had a few clients reconcile over the years.  Even the ones who are intent on splitting up can use counseling to make the break-up easier -- providing them a forum to air their concerns  and smooth out the divorce process.

Today's New York Times included an interesting article, Seeking to Pre-empt Marital Strife, by Tara Parker-Pope addressing the possibility of using marriage counseling throughout the marriage as a way to keep a check on the health of the marriage along the way.  However, the author suggests online marriage counseling services that request participants to provide data and then identify potential problem areas.  Various studies have been done on this method but the idea is still new.  You can read the entire article here.

Quote of the Day

"Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tired of waiting on hold?

This company has a service that will wait on hold for you:

If you pay for your wife and later file for divorce, do you get a refund?

If you buy a television and it malfunctions, you can return it to the store for a refund. What if you pay your Wife or your Wife’s family for her hand in marriage? If you are disappointed - can you get those funds returned to you?

This month, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division decided a case wherein an ex-wife appealed the trial court’s order which directed her to return a payment of $12,500 that she had received from ex-husband at the time of the wedding. Although this case has not been published, and is therefore not precedential, the facts are interesting and give guidance to the court’s thinking. Notably, this case addresses New Jersey procedure and the consequences of a default divorce, more so than whether, substantively speaking, the court can direct the return of payment for arranged marriages.

In this case, the parties participated in a marriage that had been arranged by their families. At the wedding which included a civil ceremony, both spouses agreed that they were married and united “under the law of Islam.” Apparently, pursuant to Islamic custom, the wife received $12,500 as an initial payment of a “sadaq” or “mahr.”

Unfortunately, Husband and Wife lived together only briefly. Husband testified that his new Wife slept all day, took antidepressants (without a prescription), refused to work, refused to engage in sexual relations and, to add insult to an already troubling situation, refused to practice appropriate hygiene. (In other words, the Wife was a big disappointment to Husband). Wife moved out of New Jersey approximately one year into the marriage. Husband then file a Complaint for Divorce or Annulment.

Although Wife had an attorney, her answer to the divorce was ultimately suppressed by the court due to some defect and she was later considered in default. At the eventual hearing, the court accepted Husband’s expert who testified as to Islamic law and that the payment and retention of the sadaq was contingent on neither party committing a fault that led to the termination of the marriage. Because Wife was considered in default of the divorce pleading, she did not present evidence. Since Wife committed a fault (not living up to Husband’s expectations and eventually leaving), Husband believed he was due a refund of the $12,500 and argued same to the trial court.

The Appellate Court noted that in matrimonial actions, the standard of review is limited. Additionally, Wife’s appeal was based on a variety of factors that had not been raised at the lower court, including that there was a conflict of interest with the expert and that the trial court made an error in ruling that she had to return the payment. Notable, had Wife appropriately answered the divorce and complied with the court rules, she may have had more of an opportunity to prove her case at the appellate level. Her failure to act caused her to lose rights. If you would like to read the entire Opinion, you can find it here.

A divorce, while addressing issues so personal in nature that it cannot be compared to the type of litigation that occurs in civil court, it is still a legal action with procedural rules and statutes to be followed. Additionally, divorce laws are complex and deadlines are often involved in various claims. It is in everyone’s best interest, no matter how simple they think their divorce will be, to consult with an attorney who is experienced in the area of family law and practices in the county where you reside.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More Philadelphia Family Court drama . . .

Controversy continues to swirl around the project to build a (desperately needed) new Family Court Building in Philadelphia.  The Inquirer included another scating story today.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bogged down with scheduling and organizing?

I just ran across this task management website -- it may be helpful - especially for parents juggling schedules and people trying to manage court dates and other aspects of litigation.

Producteev is a task management website and application for your smartphone.  I have not yet tried it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The best laid plans of mice and men (and Husbands and Wives and Moms and Dads) often go astray

Enjoy this post by Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire:

When parties draft and sign a property settlement agreement, they, more than likely, believe they are achieving finality. While a property settlement agreement divides assets and debts at the end of a divorce, it also serves to provide the parameters within which the parties will interact in the future if there are ongoing issues, such as a business or children. Often these agreements attempt to anticipate situations that will arise in the future and provide solutions to these potential sources of discord between the parties.

A prime example that arises for New Jersey divorced couples with children is a provision that relates to the financing of the children’s post-secondary education. However, despite divorced parties’ best attempts to provide for all future scenarios, it is impossible to anticipate all variables. College education clauses are minefields that need to be addressed carefully and comprehensively.

A recent June 2010 New Jersey Superior Court case titled Dehere v. Booker (docket no. A-3385-08T1, not yet approved for publication) provides a clear example of a property settlement agreement failing to anticipate all future sets of circumstances. In this case, the parties divorced while the children were still school-aged, and the property settlement agreement anticipated that the father would make a monthly child support payment until the children turned eighteen years old or until the children had completed four academic years of college education. Additionally, the parties agreed that each party would make contributions toward “reasonable expenses of higher education.” Lastly, the father agreed to pay one-half of each child’s education expenses until each child completed his or her education or reached the age of twenty-three, under the condition that the child was “in legitimate and diligent pursuit of such education.”

Despite the parties’ attempt to provide for the children’s higher education via the terms of the property settlement agreement, the father did not help finance the children’s education, claiming that they had not diligently pursued their education. (Really -- that phrase is so broad -- who can know what the parties intended?) Ultimately, the Superior Court decided that it was necessary for the trial court to look at the specific facts of the situation, make a factual finding as to whether the children diligently pursued their education as anticipated by the property settlement agreement. If you would like to read the court opinion in its entirety, click here. Sometimes, the appellate courts returns cases to the trial court (called remanding) for more detailed reviews of the evidence.

In short, the parties in the Dehere v. Booker case, more than likely thought at the time that they drafted the property settlement agreement that they were clearly providing for their future path. However, language can have different meanings to different people, especially years after it was drafted. No one has a crystal ball and life’s circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. While you cannot plan for every scenario, take the time to thoroughly review your agreements as drafted. I suggest putting them away for a few days so you can review later with fresh eyes and a clear mind. Try to think about things that could happen (new marriages, new children, different jobs, etc) and to the extent possible, try to draft your agreement to allow for the twists and turns of life.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

School for parents!

They have school for driver education -- why not a school on how to be a parent?  Raising children, while rewarding, challenges even the most sturdiest of souls, especially today, when children are exposed to so much more, at such a young age.  The Center for Parenting Education, located in Abington, Pennsylvania, offers workshops. discussions, presentations, parent coaching and presentations.

The Center even as a portion of their ebsite devoted to tips for parents.  They also have online workshops.

Parenting involves balancing love with discipline and limits, providing opportunity while also encouraging independent thinking and being supportive while promoting growth and maturity.  If you are divorced or separated, your job as parent usually becomes exponentially more difficult.  Do not be afraid to take advantage of other resources.

Friday, June 18, 2010

If you REALLY want to learn about taxes

I know anything relating to taxes can be absolutely daunting and terrifying.  However, if you are willing to learn, tax law can actually be extremely interesting.

The Internal Revenue Service publishes all sorts of great materials, on a variety of topics.  If you would like a basic guide to individual taxes, click here.  You will at least be able to read your own tax return -- and understand deductions and other issues specific to income.  Good luck!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Facebook, myspace, twitter, OH MY!

Enjoy this post by Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire:

“Social networking” – it is the thing to do these days. It is how you reconnect with long lost friends, it is how you share your pictures and life milestones, it is how you look for jobs and it may be how you make a divorce or a custody proceeding even messier and more complicated.

Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social networking sites can provide great benefits to their users, if used appropriately and cautiously. I use the word cautiously because when used with the naïve belief that the information posted is private or will not be used against you, social networking sites can cause great strife for individuals.

For example, a Philadelphia teacher recently lost her job because of a posting she made to her personal blog. The teacher wrote online about her life, job and experiences. All was fine until she negatively wrote about an unnamed student. Although she withheld the child’s name, it was clear to the parents that it was their child. They were outraged that their child became the subject of this teacher’s online universe. Ultimately, the teacher was fired and likely believed that she had protected the student by not explicitly naming her. Unfortunately for the teacher and her career, she was very wrong. If you are interested, you can read the full story from the Philadelphia Inquirer here.

As social networking becomes more and more popular, these stories are going to become more commonplace. To protect yourself from the troubles that social networking sites may bring, here are some tips for positively using social networking sites:

• Take time to understand the site’s privacy policy and actively monitor your settings. Share your information with close friends and family only.

• Even when you monitor your privacy settings, remember that you should never post anything that you do not want your grandmother to read or see!! Or that you do not want to explain to your child - or, heaven forbid, your ex-spouse’s lawyer.

• Remember that a comment or status update read out of context could be construed negatively against you. For example, a status update that you are meeting up with friends when you have visitation with your child could be read by your child’s other parent as a failure to appropriately parent your child.

• Do not share pictures of you engaged in drinking or like activities. Although you may know that your behavior was reasonable, a picture can easily be construed otherwise.

• Keep your passwords and accounts secure!!! Change them frequently and do not use obvious words that others can guess.

• Remember that even if you delete a posting that you later regret, it will be out there, somewhere, forever.

Despite problems with privacy and people’s willingness to over-share information and pictures, social networking is here to stay. So go ahead and use it keep in touch with friends and family or to look for a new job, but always be cautious. Once information or pictures are out there in the online world, you cannot take them back. The comment or picture that you never though twice about posting could drastically change your life in negative ways you could never have anticipated. Use caution and common sense as you enjoy the benefits of social networking.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Thought of the Day

"Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well."

- Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Linda's Links

Disgraceful behavior from a mother apparently intent on a scorched earth approach in her custody case.  A  judge sentenced a Long Island woman to jail for repeated and vengeful interference with dad's custody time.  THe judge called her "the barbed wire standing in the way of her two daughters."

A bankruptcy judge ordered a couple responsible for a $1.5 million dollar mortgage over their claims that the signature was forged by their nephew.  THe judge found that the husband had indeed signed the mortgage and even if the wife had not, she had a long history of allowing others to sign her name.

Philadelphia family court was on track for a brand new building, which would combines aol court services under one roof, rather than in the dilapidated and disgraceful buildingas at 11th and Chestnut and 1801 Vine Street.  Unfortunately, scandal now rocks the project.  We may be in for a long wait for the new building while all of this gets sorted out.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Thought of the Day

"In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test.  In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson."

 - Tom Bodett

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Thought of the Day

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts."

 - Winston Churchill

Saturday, June 05, 2010

So what is a custody trial really like?

Ever wonder what really happens at a custody trial?  Here is an informative essay about what to expect, by Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire, Associate at Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC:

Approaching a courthouse, finding a courtroom and walking through that door can be a daunting experience, especially when you are there for a child custody trial. There is much at stake, yet often it is impossible to know how your life will have changed when you walk back out of the courtroom.

You can reduce the anxiety of the unknown, particularly the unknown with regard to your future and your child’s future, by learning a bit about what might happen during your child custody trial. Below are some answers to questions that you may have, and if any questions are not answered below, then you should approach your lawyer with your questions and concerns before your trial date. First and foremost, understand that court is nothing like it is portrayed on television or in the movies!

Q: What can I definitely expect to happen?

Courthouses have metal detectors and security, so expect you and your possessions to be scanned and searched. Many courthouses do not allow litigants to bring in cell phones or other electronic devices. You should check with your attorney ahead of time.

Like any legal trial, there are certain formalities that will occur during a child custody trial. These formalities include sitting before a judge who wears classic black robes, having a court reporter take an official record of every word that is said in the courtroom, witnesses being sworn-in under penalty perjury and, of course, questioning and perhaps some argument by your attorney and the attorney for the other parent.

Q: Why does the court get involved in custody of my child?

If you are in court to determine custody of your child, it more than likely means that, despite your best efforts, you and the child’s other parent have not been able to reach an amicable agreement about the custody of your child. To protect the best interests of the child, the court system is set up so that a theoretically neutral party can step in and assist in creating a custody arrangement that protects and nurtures your child’s best interests. However, any type of litigation can be frustrating and unpredictable, and many litigants end up disappointed by the custody court process. You should discuss strategies with your attorney so that you can manage your expectations.

Q: What should I bring?

This is something that you can ask your lawyer because they may have particular documents or items that they would like for you to bring with you that are relevant to your specific case. In general though, it potentially could be a long day. In anticipation of sitting in a courtroom most of the day, you may want to bring a water bottle and a snack. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being in a quiet courtroom and worrying that everyone can hear your stomach growling! Some courthouses, however, do not allow food or beverages in the courtrooms, so check with your attorney first.

More than likely, if your trial lasts all day, everyone, including the judge, will want to keep a lunch break short so that they can keep moving forward. With this in mind, you may want to bring a light lunch or at least have cash so that you can find a quick lunch near the courthouse.

Other little items you may want to bring include: paper, pens and maybe even something to read on any breaks. You may also want to bring a sweater or jacket with you, in case the courtroom is too cool for your comfort. In short, plan ahead for items that you may want or need during a long day.

Lastly, if you have your child with you that day, you should bring appropriate items with you to ensure that the child has everything that he or she could need to stay comfortable and relaxed.

Q: Does my child have to come to court?

Whether your child needs to appear in court ultimately depends on the judge and the lawyers. If your child is a bit older, it is likely that the judge may want to speak with the child to understand the child’s point of view; whereas, if your child is young or even an infant, the judge may not want the child to be present. Certainly it is appropriate to ask your lawyer prior to the trial date if you should bring your child with you. If your child does not need to present for the entire trial, you should arrange for child-care options for the child as both parents likely will be in the courtroom and thus, unavailable to care for the child.

Q: Do I have to talk to the other parent of my child?

Obviously, no one can make you talk to the other party, and it may not be advisable to talk to the other party if you cannot speak with him or her without arguing or yelling. However, if you can be civil and polite with the other party, and you anticipate that he or she can act in the same way, then it is appropriate to briefly greet the other party. It is not necessary to discuss anything regarding the trial or anything of substance for that matter. All of that said, it is always important to remember that the other party, no matter what your relationship with them is like, is also your child’s parent and in most, if not all, cases, it is in your child’s best interest for you to cooperate and be cordial with the other parent.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Keep those passwords secure!

When going through a divorce or separation, one of the first security measures you should take is to change all passwords and keep those new passwords safe and secure.  Unscrupulous ex-spouses may take the opportunity to invade your email, cell phone, online accounts and personal computer.  For an excellent articel on how to choose a secure password, click here.

In addition to changing your passwords, you should also change your "account security questions."  Remember -- your ex-spouse knows the answers to those questions and could simply click on "forgot password" and reset your usernames and passwords. Make up new answers for those security questions like your birth city, Mother's maiden name and high school mascot --- that way -- someone who knows you well will not be able to trick their way into your accounts.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

If the custodial parent must leave the home temporarily, should the court award custody to the other parent during that time period?

Recently, in an unpublished decision, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, decided a case wherein Mother, the custodial parent of a nine year old boy, was called away from her home in New Jersey  to active military duty in Kuwait for one year.  For the past few years, Mother and child have been living with her Mother, the maternal grandmother.  Mother petitioned the court, asking that maternal grandmother be awarded custody for the year. 

Father, who lives in Georiga, objected, stating that the child should be transferred to his home while Mother was overseas.

The court heard testimony, including that the child suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and participates in a specific educational plan, developed by his school.

Ultimately after a hearing which lasted over ninety-one pages of transcribed testimony, the court declined to transfer the child to his Father's home in Georiga, citing the disruption.  Father appealed, noting he is able, willing and a fit custodian.

The Appellate Court noted that although the presumption is to award custody to the natural parent over a third party, in this case Mother's trip abroad is temporary.  Accordinlgy, to avoid the extreme disruption in the child's life, the Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's order allowing the child to stay with maternal grandmother. You can read the full opinion here.  Notably, the original trial court order was issued in June 2009 and the Appellate Court's decision came out in May 2010, almost twelve months later.  Practically speaking, the Mother will probably be home from overseas soon, making the entire dispute moot.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

When does child support end?

Separated and divorced parents often ask the question:  How long will I receive child support?  (Or: How long will I pay child support?)

The answer depends on the jurisdiction which governs your child support obligation.

In Pennsylvania, absent extenuating circumstance, the courts deem children emancipated when they reach their eighteenth (18th) birthday or graduate from high school, whichever is later.  To determine if your case, consitutes extenuating circumstances, consult with an attorney.  Generally, extenuating circumstances would exist if you and the other parent have a binding and enforceable agreement to extend child support or if your child is disabled.  However, an attorney can evaluate your case according to your specific facts.

In New Jersey, the courts do not automatically emancipate children at a specific brithday or life event.  Therefore, child support, and costs for post high school education, often extend well past the high school years.  More than twenty-five years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court opined: "[I]n appropriate circumstanaces, the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children."  Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 NJ 529, 543 (1982).  This has remained the law in New Jersey and is, unfortunately, often litigated.

Recently, parents took their dispute regarding child support and college expenses for their twenty-five (25) year old son and twenty-three (23) year old daughter to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division.  Notably, the parties have apparently frequently gone back to court in the fifteen (15) years that have elapsed since their divorce.  You can read the full opinion here, which includes some background on this family's tortured litigation history as well as a review of the law governing appeals and child support and education contribution for post high school students.

Yes, New Jersey law completely differs from Pennsylvania law on this issue.  Consult with an attorney as to your own individual circumstances.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Get a handle on those bills

Divorce, custody, child support, alimony, equitable distribution . . . . virtually every domestic relations matter requires that you know your income and expenses so that you can prepare a budget.  The task can sometimes seem overwhelming, especially when you have no organized methos for filing and paying your bills.  To get a handle on your budget, first get your file system under control.  Click here for some tips and a helpful video from