Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jack of all trades, but master of none . . .

If you broke your foot, would you seek treatment for a cardiologist?

If your Honda Accord experienced engine problems, would you take it to a mechanic specializing in repairing diesel trucks?

If you were looking to purchase a commercial property, would you use a realtor who specialized in selling residential condominiums?

The answer to all of these questions should be "no."  Sure, a cardiologist could probably treat a broken foot -- he is a doctor after all and is trained in all types of medicine.  A truck mechanic could probably find his way under the hood of a Honda Accord.  Additionally, a residential realtor could check out commercial listings and show you potential properties. However, you are asking all of these individuals to perform a task that they may know how to do in a general sense but they cannot bring the benefit of specialized training and experience to the task.  Therefore, in all likelihood, you are not being well-served.

Similarly, to be well-served by your lawyer, you should choose someone who regularly practices the type of law for which you seek representation and someone who practices in the county where your case is litigated so that he is familiar with the local rules and procedures and even the court staff and judges.

Most of my practice centers around the various types of family law (divorce, child support, child custody, division of assets, alimony, separation agreements, etc.)  At this point in my career, I have handled hundreds and hundreds of cases and I have the benefit of that experience.

In addition to my experience, I regularly attend Continuing Legal Education Seminars on family law matters in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I am a regular at the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section  two yearly meetings that include two to three days of seminars, conferences and social gatherings for Pennsylvania Judges and attorneys.  New Jersey holds similar meetings and a try to attend one of their main events each year.  When my schedule permits, I attend local bar association meetings in the Pennsylvania Counties where I practice (Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Montgomery and Delaware).  I am also a member of the Philadelphia and Montgomery County Inns of Court in which Judges and attorneys meet monthly nine months out of the year for continuing legal education and discussions on trends in the law.

Getting back to my cardiologist or realtor example, I imagine those professions have meetings and educational opportunities similar to what is available to attorneys.  Accordingly, in addition to the generalized knowledge that comes with a particular profession, individuals specialize and become proficient in their particular area of practice.

In deciding who you will hire as a family law attorney, you may be tempted to hire the person who did a great job on your personal injury or medical malpractice case or perhaps someone who assisted a friend with a complex business matter.  However, why hire someone who is only dabbling in family law?  You will be much better served by someone who actually practices family law in the county where your case is being litigated.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Child custody when the parents live in different states.

Child custody disputes are often a companion to divorce. Although a divorce in and of itself is a stressful and tiring situation, child custody often can be even more overwhelming. Many factors go into a court’s decision when dealing with matters of custody. The best interests of the child is the primary factor that courts will consider. As part of that consideration, the courts will look to the needs and abilities of each parent. Furthermore, the schedules of the parents should be a consideration when deciding child custody, but the location of each parent should also be considered. 

Recently, in Durning v. Kurdilla, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania discussed the issue of child custody when the parents live in different states. The Court held that although the parents lived in different states, the mother should have primary physical custody and should be able to relocate with the child to North Carolina. 

In this case, the child lived with mother for the majority of the child’s life. Under the child custody agreement, mother and father shared legal custody; however, mother had primary physical custody. Mother also received the right to relocate to Alaska with the child. Because mother lived in Alaska and father lived in Pennsylvania, father was granted partial physical custody for the summer months. 

While in Alaska, mother became ill and asked father to watch the child while she underwent treatment. Father was unable to go to Alaska to care for the child due to economic concerns associated with the cost of travel. Accordingly, the child’s maternal grandmother took the child back to Pennsylvania, and took care of the child while mother was sick. During the child’s stay in Pennsylvania, the maternal grandmother allowed the paternal grandparents to exercise overnight partial custody. Rather than return the child to maternal grandmother after an overnight visit, father decided to keep the child with him. Father then filed a Petition to Modify Custody in order to attempt to obtain primary physical custody of the child. When mother recovered, she traveled to Pennsylvania to pick up the child. Once there, father refused to allow mother to resume custody of the child. 

The trial court entered a final custody order awarding the parents joint legal custody of the child, while awarding shared physical custody of the child on an alternate week schedule. However, by awarding this custody agreement, the trial court overlooked the fact that mother was not a Pennsylvania resident. Rather, mother was still a resident of Alaska, and soon to be a resident of North Carolina. Therefore, the trial court effectively ordered that the child continuously travel. 

On review, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania vacated the holding of the trial court. The Superior Court performed a best interest of the child analysis to assess the custody arrangement. Under this analysis, and in conjunction with other factors, the Court found that it was in the child’s best interest to be with mother. Specifically, the Court held that shared physical custody of a young child by parents who do not live near each other does not create an environment of stability at home or at school. Furthermore, the Court held that custody agreements should only be altered when they are no longer in the best interest of the child. Although the Court looked at several factors, it placed significant emphasis on maintaining the home life that the child knew.

The Court also reviewed mother’s anticipated move to North Carolina from Alaska because of mother’s husband’s military base change. Applying the Gruber factors, the Court held that mother’s move was not on a whim, nor were her motives questionable. (Note: Recently, Pennsylvania overturned Gruber by specifically outlining custody relocation standards in the new custody statute.) Moreover, mother’s move to North Carolina from Alaska made it easier for father to see child if he chose to exercise his visitation options. Therefore, the Court saw no problem with the relocation of mother and child to North Carolina.

Ultimately, there are many considerations for the courts when deciding custody and relocation cases. If you think that a change in custody would be best for your child, or you have a custody order in place and are considering moving, then you should contact an attorney to discuss your best course of action. 

Written by Liz Smith, law clerk at Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC.  Edited by Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire, associate at Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tips for making divorce easier on your children

When you go through a divorce, it is obviously and understandably a difficult transition for your children.  Read this article for some tips on how to make the process easier for your children.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Other persepectives

The Psychology Today website contains links to a plethora of articles about all aspects of divorce.  Check it out here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The real problem underlying Congressman Weiner's Twitter photo scandal

The Weinergate scandal (Congressman tweets a photo of himself in his boxer shorts and then denies it, blaming it on a hacker) comes as no surprise to anyone in my field.  Day in and day out, clients come to divorce lawyers with scandalous and embarrassing emails, photos, Facebook pages, text messages and lists of tweets of their own making (or from the hands of their spouse).  It gets worse with every incident, and this type of digital diarrhea makes emotional and complex domestic relations matters even worse.

I have some really obvious questions about the Weinergate scandal that will probably never be answered.  For instance, does he think sending a photo of his dingy boxer shorts actually qualifies as flirting?  Exactly what kind of a woman does he want to attract -- and are there really women out there who would be flattered or would welcome such a pathetic come on?  My real concern, however, lies with Weiner's judgment --- do we really want someone who cannot manage their online presence to be in Congress, proposing and voting on legislation that significantly impacts our country?

As of the time I am writing this post, Weiner continues to refuse to resign, despite an increasing chorus of his colleagues joining together, urging him to leave Congress and get help.  He apparently is attempting to get help, and is taking a leave of absence, but so far he refuses to actually resign.

The Weiner shenanigans continue to fuel our twenty-four (24) hour news cycle.  Some commentators express wonder at Weiner's profligate use of social media -- how did he have time to continuously photograph his private parts and send them through cyberspace.  (Side note:  they are called private parts for a reason!)

The sheer volume of his cyberspace antics does not come as a surprise to me, or, most likely, to most divorce lawyers.  In many cases, when clients present me with scandalous and embarrassing internet oversharing, my first thought is: where do people find the time?  Presumably, if you are working and managing your own life and that of your family's, you generally do not have time to play with your camera phones all day.  Unfortunately, this means that other aspects of their lives are not getting the attention they deserve.   Their own personal lives, their loved ones and/or their work become victims of neglect.  Because excess of anything can often signal a much bigger problem, I think that Congressman Weiner's wife, family, friends and constituents should consider that his camera phone/"sexting" fascination is only the tip of the iceberg.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thought of the Day

"The only causes of regret are laziness, outbursts of temper, hurting others, prejudice, jealousy and envy."

 - Germaine Greer

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Take Action at the Threat of Foreclosure

If you have a mortgage you cannot pay, the worst thing you can possibly do is ignore the problem.

Yet, this is how most people react -- and they dig themselves deeper.  This past weekend, the Philadelphia Inquirer included a great article from their Real Estate columnist, Al Heavens on how to react to the possibility of a foreclosure.  His article, Home Economics: What to do when foreclosure looms, is worth a read.