Child custody matters are not always ripe for family court

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.            3 minute read

Dear Potential Child Custody Clients,

I want to remind you that your children are unique. They are very special. They are one-of-a-kind. When you cannot come to an agreement with the other parent regarding some aspect of your child’s life, it is usually best to attempt to keep trying. Most excellent family law attorneys are good negotiators. They can help facilitate a fair resolution to child custody matters, often without court intervention. I realize that some parents can be hard-heads. Or passive-aggressive. Or mean. Or toxic. Or intoxicated. Or recalcitrant. Or oppositional. Or spiteful. Or jerks. Or all of the above.

Sometimes the other parent will undermine everything you say or do, even if they know what you are trying to do is clearly in your child’s best interests. I have even handled child custody matters where the “toxic” parent has nothing better to do than to try to thwart the other parent’s attempt to make a better life for their child. It happens all the time. There are ways to deal with the problem parent. An experienced family law attorney can help guide you.

Think twice before rushing into child custody litigation.

The point of this post is to have you think twice before using the family courts to decide your child custody matter. Nobody knows your child better than you know your own child. When called upon, family courts work very, very hard to try to make decisions that “are in the best interests of the child”. Unfortunately, family court judges are human. They cannot possibly observe your child as often as you do. They could never know as much as you know about your own child.

When you search for a child custody attorney, try to remember that the more decisions that you can make that impact your child, without involving the courts, the better. The family courts should be used as a last resort, not your initial move. Too often, I see cases where one parent rushes to file a custody petition, even before they have tried to come to an agreed, amicable resolution with the other parent that would truly benefit the child. Sometimes one parent (or both) let the emotions of the divorce or separation interfere with putting the needs of the children first. Always remember that your child did not choose to be involved in a custody conflict. Keep your focus where it needs to be: on the best interests of your child.

Feel free to contact my office if you are in a high conflict child custody situation. Perhaps not all is lost, and things can be resolved without the time and costs associated with litigating in the family courts. I welcome your inquiry.


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Why you want a Smart / Savvy Lawyer, not a Rude / Obnoxious Lawyer

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.       5 minute Read

Smart, focused, savvy lawyers nearly always beat rude, obnoxious, bombastic lawyers in Family Court. 

As a family law attorney who has been involved in some epic battles, I want to share some insight. When all is said and done, the smart, focused, savvy and hard working lawyers nearly always beat the rude, obnoxious and bombastic lawyers in family court. Most excellent family law attorneys do not get caught up in the mindless and counterproductive fighting brought on by their adversary. The best lawyers are focused on winning their cases, and achieving favorable outcomes for their clients.

When lawyers fight with each other, progress grinds to a halt. Yet the meter is still running for the client.

When lawyers fight with each other, the client does not benefit. Skilled litigators are not baited by opposing counsel.

I am not sure why some divorce, child custody, and family law attorneys think that they must “put on a show” for their clients. I can’t tell you how many nasty letters and emails I have received from opposing counsel where they make absurd allegations about my client that are neither truthful, nor relevant to the issues in the case. Some letters even make ad hominem attacks on me for skillfully protecting and advancing my client’s rights. I find it interesting that some lawyers actually believe that the nasty, bombastic letters they send me will somehow positively impact the outcome of the family law matter in favor of their client. These letters are nothing more than an ill-advised or ignorant attempt by opposing counsel to demonstrate to their client what a “nasty shark” their client has hired. Then the “nasty shark” lawyer bills their client for the totally ineffective letter. The smart, savvy, and hard working lawyers are not at all impacted by nasty shark tactics. The smart and savvy lawyers can (and do) nearly always beat the nasty shark in every area of family law cases.

Nearly all nasty, obnoxious letters I receive are from opposing counsel who either a) do not know me well, and/or b) they do not know any other way to act. Some lawyers only have one mindset, and they only know one method to approach every case. They cannot understand the difference between motion and progress. Avoid hiring these types of lawyers to handle your family law matter, unless you enjoy wasting time and money.

These attorneys love to “put on a show” for their client. In nearly every situation, the nasty letters do nothing more than inflate the billable time opposing counsel charges their client, while doing nothing to resolve the legal issues in the case. In other words, inflammatory letters exchanged between lawyers are rarely (if ever) effective in resolving important legal issues and moving a family law case forward. They are only an effective tool in costing clients time and money.

Family Law Attorneys who Encourage Fights – A Big Red Flag When Choosing Legal Counsel

Family law cases get emotional. Divorce and child custody issues are rarely easy for either party. Emotions run high. If your attorney is encouraging fights over trivial matters, that is a red flag. Great lawyers can and do make terrific arguments on points that really matter to help you get a favorable outcome in your case. That is the bottom line.

Is your divorce or child custody lawyer listening to you?

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.                  4 Minute Read

Last year I wrote about choosing your divorce or child custody attorney very carefully. Based on the number of contacts I am receiving from people who want to retain me as their second, third or fourth family law attorney, it seems as though some people are rushing to hire the first attorney they meet. It is usually best if you are not constrained to switch attorneys before your family law case is concluded. I realize that things do not always work out as planned when you hire a family law attorney. However, early due diligence on your part could save time, costs, and stress. Here below are some of “red flags” to consider when choosing a family law attorney.

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The more in sync you are with your family law attorney, the more you may increase your odds for a favorable result. Working closely as a team can also help your family law matter move more quickly. This could help drive down costs.

RED FLAG # 1 – BEWARE IF YOU HEAR “DON’T WORRY, I’LL HANDLE EVERYTHING” BEFORE FULLY EXPLAINING THE FACTS OF YOUR CASE

Sometimes family law matters can get emotional. Clients are usually stressed. Tensions run high. Much is at stake. It is at this moment that you need to be sure that any potential attorney you may hire is carefully listening to the facts of your case and clearly understanding your goals. Any lawyer who rushes you, or tries to minimize your specific situation, is likely not someone who will get you the best results. If your concerns are constantly met with “don’t worry, I’ll handle everything”, even before you have finished explaining the facts of your family law matter, you should probably continue interviewing potential legal counsel.

RED FLAG #2 – BEWARE OF THE LAWYER WHO SAYS “I HAVE SEEN THIS ALL BEFORE, DON’T WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING”

In my opinion, with very limited exception, there is no such thing as a “routine” family law matter. Every situation is a little bit different. For example, sometimes very small nuances in a child custody case can be a decisive factor. If one or both parties are predisposed to conflict, small nuances can sometimes blow up into  unnecessary battles. It is nearly always a good idea to try to minimize potential conflict. A competent lawyer who fully understands your position is normally in the best position to advocate for you, while trying to minimize conflict. A level-headed attorney who actively listens and understands your goals is usually in the best position to help deliver the best results.

RED FLAG #3 – YOUR CALLS AND EMAILS ARE RARELY RETURNED.

Attorneys who handle divorce, child custody, child and spousal support, Protection from Abuse (PFA’s), and other family law matters are in court a significant amount of time. That means your calls or emails may not be returned until after 5 pm. If your calls or emails are often not returned at all, you should find out why. This may be a red flag.

INTERVIEWING A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY BEFORE HIRING HIM OR HER IS TIME WELL SPENT. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO SEARCH VIGOROUSLY. TAKE NOTE OF HOW JUST WELL YOU ARE BEING HEARD. IF YOU ARE IN SYNC WITH YOUR FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY AND YOUR CASE IS MOVING TO A SUCCESSFUL CONCLUSION, I CONGRATULATE YOU IN THE SELECTION OF YOUR LEGAL COUNSEL.

I invite your inquiry. (610) 256 4843. jonathancnobleesq@gmail.com

 

 

Without Making a Good Record at Trial, Get Ready for an Uphill Battle on Appeal

by Jonathan C. Noble                                3 minute read

YOU MUST PRESERVE YOUR RIGHTS AT TRIAL IF YOU WISH TO PURSUE AN APPEAL. ISSUES THAT ARE NOT PRESERVED AT TRIAL ARE NORMALLY WAIVED ON APPEAL.

I am sometimes contacted by a family law litigant who wants me to handle their appeal. They do not agree with some aspect regarding the outcome of their family law matter. For example, they are convinced that their divorce decree is somehow unfair, or they allege the court mistakenly allowed damaging hearsay testimony during a child custody trial, or that unauthenticated documents were improperly admitted in evidence during a final PFA hearing.

Many potential appellants mistakenly believe they get to re-try their entire family law case on appeal. For pro se family court litigants, pursuing an appeal is usually the first time they seek to hire an attorney. Unfortunately, even the best appellate lawyers cannot undo the damage that has already been done at the trial court level.

IN PENNSYLVANIA APPELLATE COURTS, REVERSIBLE ERROR ALONE IS OFTEN NOT USUALLY ENOUGH TO PREVAIL ON APPEAL.

When I interview a potential client regarding an appeal, I dig into any possible reversible error made by the trial court.  However, unless a specific and timely objection is made on the record before or during trial, most reversible errors made by a trial court are almost always waived on appeal. In other words, unless a litigant (or his or her counsel) makes a timely objection to any aspect of the proceedings, at trial or before trial (i.e. filing a motion in limine), and unless the objection is noted on the record, the issue cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but the exceptions are rare.

NON-LAWYER, PRO SE LITIGANTS IN FAMILY COURT ARE OFTEN DOOMED ON APPEAL, BECAUSE THEY DID NOT KNOW HOW TO MAKE AN ADEQUATE TRIAL COURT RECORD.

Making an adequate record in the trial court is one of the many skills necessary to preserve your rights on appeal.

I have seen my fair share of non-lawyer, family court litigants attempt to represent themselves in family court. This is a mistake that often leads to a less than optimal outcome. Often without recourse. Most non-lawyers are not familiar with the Rules of Civil Procedure. Most non-lawyers do not understand the Rules of Evidence. Non-lawyers are not familiar with the statutes and decisional law that courts are constrained to follow. Non-lawyers (as well as many practicing trial attorneys) are not familiar with the Rules of Appellate Procedure. A non-lawyer who represents himself or herself in family court is analogous to a person walking in a mine field, with a blind fold on. You may get a good result by getting to the other side unharmed, but if you do, you will be beating the odds.

DO NOT GIVE UP WHEN SEEKING LEGAL COUNSEL IN ANY FAMILY COURT MATTER, OR ON APPEAL. YOUR FUTURE MAY DEPEND ON IT.

Last week, I saw a bumpersticker that read: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”. The same holds true for having competent legal counsel on your side in any important legal matter. If you can’t afford the attorney of your choice, contact your local bar association for a referral until you find an attorney who you trust, and can afford. Some local county bar associations have a “legal access project” where some attorneys take certain cases at a reduced fee. If you qualify as a low income party, you should contact your local legal aid office. In addition, some law schools may have a family law clinic, where third year law students are permitted to represent clients in certain family law matters. The bottom line: do NOT give up when seeking legal counsel in family law matters.

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Why Parents (not courts) are in the Best Position to Resolve Child Custody

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

I recently worked on a custody matter involving the parents of a beautiful preschooler. The parents were never married. They do not even like each other very much. In fact, they hardly communicate at all. They have both entered into new relationships. Their five year old is now part of two new blended families. Everybody wants to be with the child as much as possible. It was very easy to understand why.

Keep your child out of the middle

One of the major issues in the custody case centered on where the child would be over the holidays. Christmas Eve. Christmas Day. New Year’s Day. Memorial Day weekend. Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Labor Day weekend.

After about 20 minutes of the parents complaining about who was responsible for the demise of their ability to communicate, and each dredging up old allegations of misdeeds by the other parent, everything suddenly changed. The two parents started talking to each other about what made sense for their 5 year-old. Once the parents focus shifted off of their needs and wants, and onto the needs and best interests of the child, the parties were able to come up with a comprehensive, agreed custody order, which the court ultimately approved. The comprehensive custody order was then placed on the docket, and became an Order of Court.

THE COURTS NORMALLY CANNOT KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR CHILD, AND WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR CHILD, THAN YOU KNOW

With very limited exception, (i.e. a parent who has a drug or alcohol problem, who neglects or abuses a child, who has a serious untreated mental illness impacting the well being of the child, etc.), parents (not the courts) are usually in the best position to know what is in the best interests of their own child. Some kids can transition easily from household to household. Other kids need a day (or two) to settle in after a custody exchange. Parents are normally in the best position to determine what matters most, and how children will react.

In my case example above, many of the minor, but important details started to emerge as the parents of the child opened up the lines of communication with each other, with the focus on their son. Bedtime, food likes and dislikes, doctor well-visits, preschool, vacation schedules, visitation for both sets of the child’s grandparents, who wished to spend quality time with their grandchild. Once the parents focused on their child, the meeting took on a life of it’s own. In less than 90 minutes, every open custody issue was discussed, resolved, memorialized, and ultimately made an Order of Court. Not easy, but worth it.

NOTEWORTHY BENEFITS WHEN PARENTS AGREE ON THE CUSTODY OF THEIR CHILDREN: THE FINANCIAL AND EMOTIONAL COSTS TO RESOLVE THE CUSTODY DISPUTE PLUMMETED. 

In the custody matter I describe above, the parents saved a significant amount of time, financial resources, and emotional energy by working together for the benefit of their toddler. No more custody court hearings, and the need to take time off from work to attend. No more custody related attorney’s fees, and costs. Great things happen when everyone focuses on the best interests of the child, and finds a way to work together with a laser-like focus. Again, not easy, but worth it.

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Why proper due diligence matters when selecting a family law attorney – breaking up is often hard to do

On occasion, I am contacted by people who are not happy with another attorney they hired, or how their family law matter is progressing.  Often, they are trying to change family law counsel, midstream. Trying to change your attorney in the middle of a family law matter is often rooted in two problem issues; lack of the client doing proper due diligence when initially selecting their current family law attorney, and / or lack of good two-way communication between the client and their counsel. Excellent two-way attorney-client communication is often essential for obtaining the best possible result in family law matters.

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Make sure that you and your family law attorney are headed in the same direction. Your attorney must understand the specific facts of your case, your goals, and what issues are important to you.

CHOOSE YOUR FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY WISELY

I cannot overemphasize the importance of wisely choosing your attorney before hiring him or her. Taking the time to properly investigate and interview more than one family law attorney is one of the best things you can do to help yourself. Ask questions. Attend your initial consultation prepared. You should never feel pressured or obligated to hire an attorney until you are ready, and you have done your homework. In my opinion, many excellent family law attorneys know this, and they will never have a problem if you want an opinion from another family law attorney prior to making a decision regarding who you want to hire.

Once you choose a family law attorney, sign a letter of engagement, and begin working with that attorney, breaking up can be both hard to do and expensive. Discharging your attorney and hiring new counsel, prior to successfully concluding the original professional engagement, is neither good for the client, nor good for the attorney. That is why performing proper due diligence, and ensuring a good overall fit, prior to actually hiring an attorney is critical.

The initial face-to-face meeting with an attorney is very important. Mutual trust and understanding carry the day. Trust your instincts. Search vigorously, select wisely. Your future may depend on it.

Here below, is one of the short videos I posted on YouTube, regarding choosing counsel in family law matters. If you are seeking legal counsel, I hope you find it helpful. I wish you much luck and success.

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Protection From Abuse filings in Custody Cases – a Word of Caution


by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.  3 minute read

Filing a bonafide Protection from Abuse Petition is an important safeguard.

 

 

Lately, I have noticed an increasing number of persons filing Protection From Abuse (PFA) petitions against each other as a method to gain some sort of advantage in custody or divorce litigation.  Unless you are involved in a bona fide abuse situation, filing a PFA is usually not productive. In fact, it can be counter-productive.

Domestic Abuse is NEVER acceptable.

Most Family Court Judges Are Sensitive to PFA Filings Used To Gain An Upper Hand In Divorce and Custody Litigation.

Most family court judges are sensitive to PFA filings used to try to gain an advantage in divorce and child custody cases. If you pursue a groundless PFA against the other parent, you run the risk of looking foolish and manipulative before the court. This is certainly not something you want.

Some divorce court litigants file PFA petitions as a weapon to try to evict the other person from the home, even though the filing party was not in fear, and the other person did nothing to trigger the filing of a PFA.

Do not ask for protection for the children if you only need protection from abuse for yourself.

If you need protection from abuse, but the abuser is not posing a harm to the children, there is usually no reason to prevent the abuser from seeing the children.

Before, during and after custody litigation, it is almost always better for a child to have access to both parents. Even if one parent believes the children are better off by being only with them, the courts may not agree. Every case is different, but unless there is a clear danger to the child, children should usually have access to both parents. The courts are normally able to distinguish between one parent posturing in advance of a custody battle via a PFA filing and including the children, and a situation that actually requires court intervention to protect a child from being abused.

Some counties in Pennsylvania have a PFA intake coordinator. Some intake coordinators help screen out potentially meritless PFA filings before they are filed. In 2015, one Pennsylvania county incorporated an innovative PFA Friend of the Court program where volunteer attorneys help facilitate agreements between the parties after a PFA petition has been filed, but before the matter proceeds before a judge for a final disposition. Basically, the parties voluntarily enter into written agreements (in the form of a court order), which is signed by the parties, signed by the judge, placed on the docket, and then becomes an enforceable order of court. The original PFA petitions are almost always voluntarily withdrawn on the record upon reaching an alternate, enforceable, written  agreement. In some cases (not all), The PFA Friend of the Court program is a win-win alternative to the standard PFA filing and hearing process.

PFA petitions are an important and necessary safeguard in certain situations. It is important to remember that using a PFA petition for purposes other than what they were designed for, is never a good idea.