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

 

 

Family pets and divorce in Pennsylvania – dogs are property in the eyes of the law, they are not treated as children

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

Based on Pennsylvania equitable distribution law, if you come to the marriage with a pet, it will be your property if the marriage ends in divorce. 

Golden Retriever at the Museum
“A Golden Retriever at the Museum” appears courtesy of the artist Tom Mosser. Facebook Page: “A Golden Retriever at the Museum”.

In Pennsylvania, with limited exception, any property acquired during the marriage is martial property, subject to equitable distribution. This may include, but is not limited to money, real estate, retirement savings, furniture, artwork, dogs, cats, and other pets. In Pennsylvania, your family pet is treated as property, subject to equitable distribution, just like a piece of art, a piece of furniture, or a bank account. When a person owns a pet prior to getting married, the pet is normally considered pre-marital property. That means the person is entitled to keep the pet as their separate property upon separation or divorce.

In Pennsylvania, there will not be an enforceable “custody schedule” for your family pet. 

Dogs, cats and other pets are not subject to a custody schedule under Pennsylvania law.  Even though most people love their pets as if the pet was a child, the courts in PA do not treat pets as children. Any agreement regarding a custody schedule of a family pet upon divorce will not likely be enforceable in court. Of course, if the parties remain on good terms, they can informally decide whatever arrangement suits the dog and themselves.

Like everything else in a property settlement agreement, it never hurts to “think outside the box” where a family pet is concerned.

Just like a piece of furniture, an automobile, or any other piece of marital property, it is certainly possible to negotiate who will get the universally loved family dog. For example, if the other party wants an item that you may not particularly care about, perhaps a deal can be worked out whereby you would take the dog, but relinquish rights to the item coveted by the other party. “Pet visitation” is usually not a good idea in the context of a divorce, since it can prolong the ability of some people to move on with their life. It can also be another source of potential conflict.

Children, shared physical custody, and family pets. Something to think about. 

Many divorcing parties have a shared physical custody arrangement for their children. Sometimes family pets, (especially dog breeds that are historically good with children) travel back and forth with young children who spend time with both parents in two separate households.  Some label the dog a “transitional object”, which provides a sense comfort and security to children who now must spend time in two households through no fault or choice of their own. If the parties can agree to such an arrangement, and the children want to be with their family pet in both households, it is usually a positive experience in an otherwise negative situation for the children. Of course, the dog must have the right disposition to travel between households without problems.

Laws vary widely from state-to-state. Consult an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction for legal advice on the subject.  

In cases where the parties cannot agree on what happens to a pet, the courts are left to decide. Some states do recognize certain factors regarding where family pets should reside when parties separate and divorce. Courts may inquire as to who  primarily cares for the pet. This may include who usually feeds the dog,  takes it to the vet, walks the dog, etc. In rare cases, the court can order the pet sold, with the proceeds split between the divorcing couple.

The more issues resolved by the parties, without court intervention, the better. Normally, nobody knows your pet (or children) better than you do.

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Finding and choosing the right family law attorney – 4 points to consider

Choosing the right attorney for you is one of the most important elements in any family law matter. Here are a few things you may wish to consider:

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

#1) Depending on the nature of your case, you must have a very good working relationship with your family law attorney. A good working relationship with your attorney may help you achieve a better result, and do so more quickly. Thorough and honest two-way attorney-client communication is one essential element for getting good results, and moving on. 

There is no way around it. You will likely spend considerable time communicating with your family law attorney. If you don’t get a good feeling during your initial meeting, speak to another attorney. If you are not comfortable, you are certainly entitled to, and frankly should, meet with another attorney before hiring anyone. You are free to consult with as many attorneys as you like prior to hiring one.

Consulting with an attorney to see if there is a good fit does not mean you must hire the attorney. Some attorneys may charge a reduced fee for an initial consultation. Some attorneys offer a free initial consultation without really getting to know the details of your family law matter. Never feel pressured to hire an attorney. Choosing an attorney is an important decision that must be made with care.

Consider this: if you needed major surgery, you would probably get a second or even a third opinion. Going through a divorce or other family law issue is an important life event. Search vigorously, choose wisely.

#2) Every family law matter is somewhat unique. It is important to have a plan of action and set goals early in the process. You do not want to get aboard a runaway litigation train. 

Nobody ever goes into a marriage expecting to need to find and hire a divorce lawyer. It is normal to be confused. It is normal to have your emotions turned upside down. You will have many questions along the way. This is perfectly normal. Your lawyer should guide you through the sometimes foggy legal landscape. Relying on advice from a friend or loved one is usually not a substitute for hiring an attorney.

Many people are ambivalent about getting a lawyer involved. It is easy to understand why. I do not take it personally. Unfortunately, if a divorce or other family law matter seems imminent, the longer you wait, the messier things may become. In the context of a divorce, preparation is important. Setting an early course of action, guided by a client’s realistic goals, is very often a successful formula. A good attorney will be pragmatic, will be honest with you, will help you keep things in perspective, and will keep the process moving forward while zealously advocating for your interests. All while keeping you informed.

#3) Make sure you and your lawyer see the forest from the trees. You must try to work toward the same goals from day one.  Making the process more difficult than it needs to be is almost always counterproductive. 

In a divorce action, be sure you understand all of your options. Divorce Mediation, Collaboration, Binding Arbitration, Litigation, etc.

Pick your battles wisely. As I mentioned in another post, the more you and your (soon to be) ex-spouse can agree on, without unnecessary conflict, the less financially and emotionally draining the divorce process will be. Burning the earth for the sake of winning a relatively unimportant battle can be counterproductive, while increasing your costs. Sometimes a fine line exists between zealous representation to protect a client’s interests and acting like a junk yard dog.  A skilled family law attorney need not act like a junk yard dog to get excellent results.

 #4) Ask questions. Stay informed. Get educated about the process. It will help you overcome fear and move forward.

Some counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have a free law library. If you live near a law school, perhaps you can pay a nominal fee to use their law library. Some law schools have a family law clinic.  Many courthouses have a law library for public use for a nominal fee or free. Sometimes being well-informed relieves stress, allows for clearer thinking, and helps move your legal matter to a successful conclusion.