Pro Tip: Get Involved and Stay Informed In Your Family Law Matter

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.          3 minute read

The best case outcomes in many family law matters depend on active, ongoing client involvement and two-way communication between attorney and client. A good working relationship between attorney and client is often essential for a good outcome in family law matters.

Unlike some other areas of law practice, family law matters depend on open, ongoing, two-way communication between lawyer and client. Divorce and child custody matters are often emotional. Events often take place during family law litigation that could impact the outcome of a case. Unless the client and his or her counsel have an open line of communication, the chances for the best possible outcome can decline.

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

Common reasons why some clients are reluctant to keep their counsel abreast of new developments in their family law matter. 

a) Some clients feel like they will be overcharged for sending their lawyer a short email or asking a simple question. If you find yourself in this situation, bring it up to your lawyer without delay.

b) Sometimes a client will think that newly discovered information will hurt their case, so they say nothing and hope it goes unnoticed. This is a big mistake. Let your lawyer decide what is important. If you don’t keep your lawyer informed, you could get blindsided at trial.

c) Some family law clients are simply not in an emotional state to stay on top of the issues involved in a high conflict family law matter. This is common. The best thing to do is seek professional help. Mental health treatment can be a key component to becoming the best person you can be. There is no shame or stigma for reaching out for professional help, especially in times of great stress. Do not wait.

Your attorney is your advocate. Forming a great working relationship can often impact the result in your family law matter. I invite your inquiry. Feel free to contact my office at (610) 256 4843.

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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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Why you want a Smart and Savvy Lawyer, not a Rude and 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.

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.

Without Making Timely Objections on the Record at Trial, Get Ready for an Uphill Battle on Appeal in Your Family Law Matter

by Jonathan C. Noble                                3 minute read

YOU MUST PRESERVE YOUR RIGHTS AT THE TRIAL COURT LEVEL 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.

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

IN PENNSYLVANIA APPELLATE COURTS, REVERSIBLE ERROR ALONE IS 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

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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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

 

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.

Roadsign different directions BLUE

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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