Friday, December 27, 2013

Because none of us live forever

How much and what kind of care do you want to receive if you are admitted to the hospital or become seriously ill?  In Pennsylvania, as in most states, you can make decisions about your care ahead of time while you are healthy and can think clearly.  You put these choices in writing and your loved ones and health care providers will know your wishes.

Advance Directives for Healthcare or Living Wills

This document expresses your wishes in the event you become terminally ill or you are in a persistent vegetative state.  In this document, you record whether you would want life prolonging measures such as to be fed by a tube, be placed on a ventilator or have your heart resuscitated.  You can read more about these documents here.

Durable Health Care Power of Attorney

This document allows you to choose someone to act as your agent to make decisions for you.  You can read more about these documents here.

When you have advance directives, you should share them with your family, loved ones, health care team and lawyer so everyone knows your wishes.  Consult with an attorney regarding the specific terms of these documents and to make sure your documents are properly drafted.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Thatcher, our Office Dog showing off our Christmas cards.

We are in the office this week, but with limited staff so if you call and we are not available, leave a message and we will get right back to you.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Penny wise but pound foolish

The name of this case recently decided by the New Jersey Superior Court should be "Penny wise but pound foolish."  Husband and Wife divorced in 2007 and drafted their Marital Settlement Agreement and Divorce Complaint without any input from lawyers.  Although it is not clear from the opinion, it appears as if they cobbled together language from other agreements they found - on the internet or otherwise.

Unfortunately, the poorly written agreement resulted in over three and one half years of subsequent litigation --- beginning in June 2010, the first time the parties started squabbling over the terms of the document, resulting in the hiring of lawyers, depositions, discovery, court hearings, appraisals and ultimately an appeal to the NJ Superior Court.  The moral of the story?  Draft your agreement correctly the first time and obtain competent legal counsel to guide you through the process.  You can read the entire case, captioned Garofalo v. Kutch, here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Why does my lawyer always suggest co-parenting counselling?

When separated parents have trouble getting along, sometimes they instinctively want to file papers to put their disputes before a court.  However, that should rarely be the first step.

Virtually all judges now want parents to learn to settle their differences and learn to work together (assuming that there is no physical abuse or extreme pathology in the relationship).  

A Co-Parenting Counselor guides parents in learning to communicate and share responsibility for the raising of their children in a cooperative manner that promotes the best interests of the children.  If you and the other parent disagree about an issue, whether it is about bedtimes, diet, activities or more significant issues such as the choice of school or medical/health decisions.  While a judge can make those choices for parents, it is neither practical nor reasonable to turn to the court every time there is a dispute.  Considering it can sometimes take months to get a court date, the problem may have to fester while everyone is waiting.

Recently, the New Jersey Appellate Court decided a case wherein the parents exhibited hostility and a lack of any type of cooperation.  You can read the full opinion here.  Notably, in a footnote, the court stated:

"The parties come from different backgrounds, and each party seems to view the other's lifestyle and life choices with some degree of disdain. They might both benefit from parenting counseling aimed at assisting them to see past their differences, in the child's best interests."

Lawyers know that court will not be the best forum to resolve parenting disputes and often recommend co-parenting counselling first.  Call your insurance company and get a list of counselors and find out whether any of the service is covered.  Not only will this route be cheaper, but also you will usually come to a resolution that is better for your children.  If counselling does not make things better, then by all means seek court intervention.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Talking Parents

Divorced and separated parents tend to use text messages and emails to communicate.  When going to court, they have a record of what they said to each other. However, text messages can be difficult to print and emails can often be altered.

Now companies have designed website services specifically to control communications between parents.  I recently received an advertisement for a site called: Talking Parents.  The service appears to be free but if you need printouts of your communications, you must pay for the copies.  If you are in a high conflict situation, consider utilizing a service like this to communicate with the other parent.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Each year for our firm Christmas card, we incorporate Philadelphia's famous LOVE statute located in "Love Park" at 15th and Arch Streets.  For cards from previous years, look here.  Our friend, and talented Philadelphia Photographer, Dominic Episcopo, assists us with the project each year.  In years past, we have combined the LOVE Statue with the Rocky Statue, the Plug Sculpture (located at the Art Museum) and even with a bee (buzz, buzz!).

This year, we wanted to remind people:

Have you figured it out?  

All you need is love.  (Owl -U - Knead - is LOVE).

Merry Christmas
Happy Holidays!
Happy New Year!

Pay attention until the bitter end - and then read, re-read and proofread!

Most family law cases end up settling.  Yes - even the knock down drag out fights full of animosity, bitterness and rage eventually settle.  Many times that settlement occurs at the courthouse after a long day, at an attorney's office after a frustrating day of negotiation or after so many versions of an agreement are exchanged that no one wants to look at it again.

That fatigue that occurs at the end of the case can cause parties to make mistake, overlook details and forget minor points which could become major headaches later.

Read, re-read and proofread!

Late last week, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (our appellate court), issued a non-precedential decision regarding whether a Husband had to continue paying spousal support along with alimony. (A non-precedential decision may not be cited in other cases but are often useful to read to understand the way a court makes decisions and what factors tend to be important in cases.)

The parties agreed, in a somewhat confusing agreement, that once Husband had paid alimony in the amount of $10,000, his spousal support (of $947 per month) would end.  Husband planned to make the alimony payments in monthly increments of $500.  Thus, it would take him at least twenty (20) months to pay off the alimony.

Once Husband began making the $500 per month alimony payments, he wanted to stop paying the spousal support.  However, Wife disagreed because she believed he should continue paying the spousal support until she received her complete $10,000.  The parties returned to court, and the trial judge ordered Husband to stop paying the $947.  However, upon appeal the Superior Court reversed.  You can read the entire opinion here.

Much of the confusion, additional legal fees, and squabbles probably could have been avoided if the original agreement was drafted more clearly and all parties had taken ample time to review and consider all of the potential outcomes and pitfalls.  However, at the end of the case, many parties continually say to their attorneys, "I just want this over."  This attitude causes people to rush and not take the time to carefully review all of the provisions of the agreement. 

So -- hang in there for a bit longer and make sure you pay attention to every detail.  If you rush through the final issues, you could end up creating a huge headache for yourself down the road.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Seven ways I foiled a pickpocket, even though he got away with my wallet

Tips and Tricks to Keep Your Wallet Safe

I was pickpocketed last week, an experience as frustrating as it was embarrassing. The police officer told me it usually happens to younger women who are too distracted by life to pay attention to their surroundings.  As I am safely past the forty-year mark, being told your safety skills have something in common with the less mature set did not exactly help matters.

However, due to some foresight and care on my part, while the pickpocket got the cash and the wallet, my credit and bank cards were unusable due to some precautions I had taken.  I recommend everyone take care and follow these strategies:

(1)   Photocopy the entire contents of your wallet, including the front and back of all credit cards.  Within minutes of realizing my wallet was stolen, I knew who to call and all of the account numbers.  I also had all of the identifying information needed to order my new driver’s license and get replacements for the various membership cards.

(2)  The police informed me that thieves usually go to a nearby gas station.  Thieves love gas pumps because you do not have to deal with a live clerk. However, almost all gas pumps require that you enter the billing zip code.  Luckily, my billing zip code is different than my home zip code, which the thief knew from my driver’s license.  I am set up that way purely for convenience but now I realize I have a built in safety mechanism.  The gas station pump declined all of my cards because the thief entered the zip code of my driver’s license, which is not my billing address.  Consider having your bills sent to a P.O. Box with a different zip code, your work address or a friend or family member's house  This makes your credit cards much less susceptible to being used by a thief.

(3)  Do not sign your credit cards.  Ever.  On the back of each of your cards, where the signature line should be, use a permanent marker to clearly print “Ask for Photo ID.”  The thief who got my cards did not even try to use them in a store.

(4)  Request an ATM card without a Visa or Mastercard logo.  Without your PIN number, the ATM card is useless to withdraw money from an account.  The lack of a Visa or Mastercard logo will prevent the thief from using it for purchases.  To be even safer, have your ATM linked to one account used only for cash and keep a limited balance.  This will also minimize losses even if a thief figures out your PIN.

(5) Some credit cards will send you a text message or email when the card is used.  A bonus to this feature is that it could help you curb your spending.  I received an email that one of my cards was swiped at a gas station so I knew my wallet was stolen.

(6) Zip your purse and keep it close by.  Chances are, you are most vulnerable when you feel safest so do not let your guard down.  I admit I did not pay attention to my purse so hopefully a reminder like this will help someone else.

(7)  Clean out your wallet regularly.  Occasionally, I take off my earrings, and put them in my coin purse on the way to the gym.  Remember to take them out when you get home.

Most importantly, call the police if your wallet is stolen.  If anyone does attempt to use your credit cards, a timely police report will assist you in having the charges removed.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

How does the Court in Pennsylvania divide assets and debts in a divorce?

Courts in Pennsylvania rely on the equitable distribution factors in the Pennsylvania Divorce Code.  You can read these factors here.  The statute includes eleven factors but factor ten is divided into three parts so there are effectively thirteen points to consider.  Courts have discretion regarding the importance of each factor in a particular case.  Additionally, procedure and custom can vary from county to county and even from judge to judge and master to master.  Accordingly, a litigant should hire an attorney who is familiar with the customs of the particular county where the divorce is being litigated.

Monday, December 02, 2013

What happens if a custodial parent becomes terminally ill?

Recently, a father asked a judge in Ocean County, NJ for an emergency transfer of custody of the parties' three minor children from their mother on the basis that she suffered from incurable, late stage breast cancer. The mother objected.

In this case, Mother and Father live over three and one half (3 1/2) hours from each other and Mother has primary custody.  While some distance from Father, Mother and the children reside in close proximity to their maternal extended family (aunt, cousins, grandparents and uncle).  Mother presented many witnesses to support her position, including two of her treating doctors, who confirmed that while she has a terminal illness, her judgement is not now impaired.

The court sided with Mother, ruling that Mother shall continue to be the parent of primary residence, unless the parties agree otherwise or unless there is a change in circumstances and a court changes custody.  You can read the entire (quite heartbreaking) opinion here.