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.

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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“What state law will be used to interpret and enforce my prenup?”

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

No, this isn’t a bar exam question. It is real life. How many adults do you know who have lived in the same state their entire life? Probably not too many. People are more mobile today than ever. A properly drafted and properly executed prenuptial agreement will help answer what state law will control in the event the prenup needs to be enforced. Since we live in a mobile society, and state laws vary widely, this issue could “make-or-break” the enforceability of your document.

Prenuptial Agreements are carefully crafted documents, tailored to suit your specific situation and your specific needs and goals.

I love when people inquire about prenuptial agreements. It shows they are taking a cautiously optimistic, yet pragmatic view regarding how life can and does change. People change over time. Circumstances change. Laws change. In the unfortunate event of divorce (or death), a properly drafted and executed prenuptial agreement can make the divorce process easier, more efficient, and help ensure you do not lose all that you have amassed. Properly drafted, and executed, a prenup is one very useful document.

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

Prenups make sense. When properly written and executed, prenups save time and money. They can help you exit from a non-functioning marriage without paying a king’s ransom to your lawyer and/or being potentially victimized by a non-cooperative, or unrealistic, soon-to-be ex-spouse. Prenups can help protect assets that you have earmarked for your children from a prior marriage. Prenups can help protect your assets from being depleted by the well meaning, but often slow churning, and over-burdened court system. As a very general rule, the less time you spend in court fighting over divorce related issues, the better off you will be at the end of the divorce process.

I believe the best legal advice is forward thinking, with the aim to keep you out of court as much as possible. A well drafted and properly executed prenup should be part of a pragmatic, forward thinking strategy.

Prenuptial agreements are never standard or “boilerplate” agreements. 

No two prenuptial agreements are exactly alike. Everyone has different assets, different goals, different financial histories and different family histories. While most prenuptial agreements are put in place in the event of divorce or death, no two marriages share an identical set of facts and circumstances.  You should never take a prenuptial agreement written for someone else and simply substitute your own information.

Like all contracts, the parties must enter into a prenuptial agreement voluntarily. Prenups require full disclosure. No surprises. 

If you are thinking about springing a prenuptial agreement on your significant other during the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding, you can forget it. In most, if not all jurisdictions, a prenuptial agreement will not be enforced if the party seeking to have the prenup set aside can prove they were not given adequate time and a reasonable opportunity to review the document with independent counsel of their own choosing. Presenting a prenup for the first time and demanding it be signed a few days prior to a wedding is inviting trouble down the road. Some jurisdictions require a minimum amount of time for the parties to retain separate counsel,  to examine, and to sign a prenup. The earlier you handle discussing and putting a prenup in place, normally the better. Getting a prenuptial agreement properly wrapped up before the wedding invitations are mailed is one suggestion that deserves serious consideration.

If you are planning to marry and would like to learn more about how a prenuptial agreement can help protect you, please feel free to contact me via email at jonathancnobleesq@gmail.com or call my office at 610 256 4843 to set up an initial consultation.

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Social media can create marital problems

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

More than one-third of divorce complaints in the United States include some form of social media as factor in divorce. According to a recent survey, the word “Facebook” appears in over one-quarter of divorce actions. It seems that the digital age has created a vehicle for marital unrest to creep into the sanctity of holy matrimony. Recently, one woman filed for divorce because she alleged that her husband of two months refused to change his Facebook relationship status from “single” to “married”. Hopefully, she lives in a “no-fault” state.

Jonathan C. Noble, Esquire
Jonathan C. Noble, Esquire

The rules of evidence are important.

The rules of evidence play a vital role in the admissibility of certain documentary evidence. E-mails, text messages, tweets, snap-chats, Linked In messages, What’s App communications, Facebook postings, Tweets on Twitter, and the like provide some of the best evidence in family law matters. However, all documents introduced at trial are governed by the various rules of evidence. Simply put, the probative value of any piece of evidence must outweigh the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion, or misleading the fact finder. All potential documents you want introduced in evidence must also be relevant and authentic. Courts are given wide latitude when making rulings on the admissibility of evidence. A skilled lawyer can navigate the rules of evidence and put your case in the best possible light.

Authenticating documents in family law cases – a potential trap for the unwary. 

Before documents can be admitted in evidence and considered by the trier of fact, they must be properly authenticated. There are several methods to authenticate documents in a legal proceeding. This is another area where skilled legal counsel can employ a pretrial strategy to greatly improve the chances that relevant evidence is admitted in evidence and properly considered.

Custody cases and Social Media – think twice, then think again before acting. Do not be your own worst enemy. 

There have been many reported custody cases where one parent does things to undermine their position. Some people do things without thinking. Some people cannot control their urge to disparage their former spouse on social media sites or in written communications. Other people cannot resist the urge to post photos of themselves doing things that undermine their credibility or that potentially damage the court’s view of their fitness for parenting their minor children.  Simply put, it is always better to refrain from doing anything that can be documented, authenticated and admitted in evidence and work against you in any legal matter. I recommend taking the mindset that you should expect that the finder of fact will be reading anything you put into the cyber world. Once your document, photograph or other electronic communication is out there, it is not always possible to retrieve. Think twice, then think again before acting on social media or before sending any electronic communication. Using common sense and focusing on the best interests of your child usually works well in custody matters. You can help yourself a great deal simply by not being your own worst enemy. Think about it.

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Gordon Gekko and the Art of Family Law

In 1987 Michael Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Gordon Gekko, a wealthy, unscrupulous corporate raider in the movie Wall Street. In one memorable scene from the film, Gekko quotes a line from the ancient Chinese military treatise, Sun Tzu, The Art of War. In the film, Gekko tells a young stockbroker (played by Charlie Sheen) that:

“Every battle is won BEFORE it is fought”.   Sun Tzu Every Battle Quote

In the world of business, this famous quote often rings true. In the context of family law matters, especially contested family law matters, this quote also rings true. In any fight, or competitive contest, whether it is business, legal, sporting, or any other battle life throws our way, solid preparation and planning can often dictate the outcome.

Why am I writing about Sun Tzu  in a family law blog ?

Solid preparation is one key element to getting a good result in most family law matters. My goal is to prepare every matter as though it is going to trial. It is amazing how many family law issues can be settled without court intervention when the case is properly prepared. The need to engage in protracted litigation in family law matters can sometimes be avoided through meticulous preparation and having a sound legal strategy. Many of the battles in divorce and family law are won before they are fought. The key is to pick your battles, (and your counsel) wisely. I wrote about these issues in earlier posts on this blog.

Of course, human emotions can also play a role in family court. Some people insist on “scorching the earth” in search of what they perceive as justice. Some people insist on “making their spouse pay”, despite not having a sound legal reason not to settle, mediate, arbitrate, or collaborate and simply move on. Some people want their “day in court”, despite the unpredictable nature of litigation and the associated costs involved. Some people insist that the law is broken and that their sense of fairness should dictate the outcome of their family law matter.  This is not a recipe for success.

Don’t be like Gordon Gekko. Protect what could become your achilles heel. In family law matters, you should protect your legal rights, however greed is usually counterproductive in divorce proceedings. 

In the original 1987 film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko provides us with a memorable declaration that “greed is good”.  In the end, this mantra becomes his achilles heel, and he pays dearly for it. “Greed is good” is not usually a good mindset in family law matters. Clear thinking coupled with a sound legal strategy usually carries the day during a contentious divorce.

In many divorce and family law matters, greed is often bad. Greed by one (or both) parties can sometimes grind the divorce process to a slow crawl.  This is rarely, if ever, a good thing for the parties involved. You should be thinking about preserving your assets. When counsel fees and litigation costs start to approach the real value of the issue at stake, you need to take a step back and take an assessing view. Hopefully your counsel, therapist, coach and/or family member is helping you put things in perspective.

For example, some people mistakenly believe that upon divorce, they are entitled to much more of the marital estate than the facts of their case and the law will reasonably allow. Their expectations are wildly out of sync with statutory and decisional law. This is where getting assistance to start thinking in a logical manner along with hiring and working closely with the the right counsel becomes critical. Think about it.