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.

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.

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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.

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