Using Social Media in Child Support and Child Custody Cases

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.                             3 minute read

Use Social Media With Extreme Caution During Your Child Support or Child Custody Matter 

Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms are fertile grounds for family law attorneys to gather evidence in support or custody cases. Skilled attorneys can navigate the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence to get the social media postings authenticated, and admitted in evidence.

Heavy Drinking, Drug Abuse, and Reckless Behavior Should Not Be Undertaken and Then Documented on Social Media if you are in a Custody Battle. 

It always amazes me how some people doom their own family law case by posting damaging evidence on their own social media accounts.

I recently represented a father in a high conflict child custody case. The mother had dozens of postings on her social media profiles proudly displaying her hard partying, illicit drug taking, intoxicated lifestyle. In nearly every photo she posted on her social media accounts, this mother was holding a beer can, or a shot glass, or a marijuana pipe, and she always appeared impaired and disheveled. The young child who was the subject of this custody dispute also appeared in many of the mother’s social media postings.

A good lawyer will have relevant social media postings admitted in evidence at trial.

I properly authenticated every single social media posting of the mother that my client obtained off of the mother’s social media accounts. Every piece of evidence was admitted in evidence. Needless to say, I was able to secure a great result for the father. Pictures don’t lie. Especially when you have dozens of pictures, all with the common feature of mother’s frequent heavy drinking, and frequent heavy cannabis use, while she had  physical custody of the young child. In the days before social media, obtaining this type and quantity of evidence would have been much more difficult, if not impossible. I am amazed that some people have no idea how they continue to doom their own child custody case via their use of social media.

Evidence From Social Media May Be Used in Spousal and Child Support Cases

In recent years, evidence retrieved from social media platforms has been used by savvy attorneys to support allegations of hidden assets or the underreporting of income. Social media postings by litigants in support cases who post details of frequent exotic trips, and their fancy new six-figure automobiles, can and do work against certain litigants in a support case. I am amazed how often litigants unthinkingly post photos of their new exotic sports cars, and expensive trips (often with their new paramour), even though they have a pending, hotly contested, support case where they claim an income that cannot possibly support such a lifestyle.

If you are a litigant in a support matter, use proper discretion when posting personal information about your new Italian sports car on social media.

For some reason, certain family law litigants seem to create problems for themselves by making bad decisions, being reckless, then documenting their recklessness on social media platforms for the whole world to see and discover.

Always try to think things through, with a clear head, and make good decisions that will impact your family law case in a positive manner.

Feel free to contact my office at 610 256 4843 to schedule a consultation about your family law matter.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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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 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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Is your divorce or child custody lawyer really 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.

in-sync-rowing-with-your-lawyer
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

 

 

Child Custody – Why Parents (usually not the courts) are in the Best Position to Decide Child Custody Issues

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.25.00 AMAVVO TOP CONTRIBUTOR CHILD CUSTODY BADGE

 

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


by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

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 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.

First, most family court judges are sensitive to this tactic. 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. You can also be charged with the court costs, attorney’s fees, and other sanctions associated with filing a bogus PFA petition.

Second, I have seen far too many family court litigants file PFA petitions as a substitute for family therapy, relationship counseling, or mediation. I sometimes see questionable PFA filings occur when one person in a relationship is certain the relationship is ending, while the other person wants the relationship to continue, no matter what. In an ill-advised moment of anger or revenge, one (or both) people file a questionable PFA petition. Filing a PFA petition to keep the inevitable breakup from occurring, or for retaliating against the other person, is never a good idea. It can (and often does) backfire on the filing party.

Third, 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 a situation that actually requires court intervention to protect someone from being abused.

Some counties in Pennsylvania have a PFA intake coordinator. These coordinators help screen out potentially meritless PFA filings before they are filed. One Pennsylvania county (Montgomery) recently incorporated an innovative PFA Friend of the Court program where 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 become enforceable orders of court. The original PFA petitions are almost always voluntarily withdrawn on the record upon reaching an alternate, enforceable, written  agreement. The PFA Friend of the Court program is a win-win alternative to the standard PFA filing and hearing process.

PFA petitions are absolutely necessary 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.

Why it is always best when divorced parents can agree on the custody of their child, without requiring court intervention

Divorce is difficult on children. In a shared physical custody situation, kids are often forced to live between two households. Younger children are often disoriented, caused by the house-to-house transitions. Cell phones, computer chargers, text books, lunch boxes, dancing shoes, and lacrosse sticks always seem to be at the “wrong house” at the wrong time. Even if you have two sets of everything, things will inevitably be misplaced or lost in the household transitions. Keep your child out of the middle

When divorcing parties cannot agree on a custody schedule, they often turn to a custody mediator. In many Pennsylvania counties, custody mediation is mandatory prior to seeking court intervention. Many counties also require parenting classes.

Despite the best intentions of every person involved in your custody dispute, it is almost always best to try to settle child custody matters amicably, without the need for court intervention. Unfortunately, sometimes avoiding court intervention is simply not possible.

NO PERSON KNOWS YOUR CHILDREN BETTER THAN YOU KNOW THEM

Even though courts try extremely hard to make decisions “in the best interests of the child”, the truth is, compared to the parents of the child, the courts often have a very limited view of a child’s daily life and special needs. On the other hand, the parents know much more about their own child than a stranger could ever learn during a short interview with a minor, or during a court proceeding. Pennsylvania child custody law requires the courts to consider 16 factors when making a child custody determination. The weight the court gives to each factor is left to the court.

KEEPING YOUR CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS AT THE VERY TOP OF YOUR PRIORITY LIST

Kids do not usually ask for their parents to divorce each other. Kids are often innocent bystanders. One way to help protect your kids is to try to remain open minded and flexible about their custody schedule. I have seen custody disputes ignited out of one parent making a huge deal out of the other parent being 10 minutes late for a scheduled drop off, due to heavy traffic. I have also seen a mother deny the father custody of their toddler because he fell a little behind in his child support payments. Withholding custody due to late child support payments is not only impermissible under the law, it ends up hurting the child.

For some parents, it is easy to get caught up in the emotional aspect of going through a divorce. Where your kids are concerned, it is important to simply “do the next right thing” concerning their well-being and best interests. Keeping your kids out of the middle of a custody dispute with your former spouse is always in the kids best interests. Think about it. Practice it. Your kids will appreciate it.
Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.25.00 AMAVVO TOP CONTRIBUTOR CHILD CUSTODY BADGE

Social media is one key growth driver in divorce

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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