Parents must discuss many difficult topics when going through a divorce. The most difficult of these often revolves around visitation rights and child custody because most parents desire to see their kids as much as possible following a divorce.

Parents frequently agree to joint custody plans, but occasionally one parent might file for sole custody to be a child’s primary caregiver. Deciding who a child will live with and who will be responsible for him or her can have a lifelong impact. The importance of this decision is why courts frequently intervene to determine what living conditions and visitation plans are in a child’s best interests.

Other Important Relationships

Children begin developing relationships with their immediate family at a very early age. They bond with their siblings and rely upon their parents for food, clothes and shelter. However, other important relationships can be cultivated as well, especially when a child develops a close bond with his or her grandparents.

Many grandparents are unaware that they may petition a court for visitation rights or custody of their grandchild. According to the Pennsylvania Custody and Grandparents’ Visitation Act, grandparents may petition a court for partial custody and visitation under specific circumstances:

  • Upon the death of a birth parent
  • When parents are divorced or have been separated for six months or more and a divorce has been filed
  • When a child has resided with a grandparent for 12 months or more, followed by the child being removed by a parent

In each of these instances, a court will try to determine what situation will be best for the child and what will best serve the child for his or her future. Before a court will award visitation or custody, however, many factors are taken into account including:

  • The child’s emotional, physical and emotional well-being
  • The past relationship between the child and his or her grandparents
  • The child’s preferences (if applicable based on age)
  • The potential impact on a child’s social and intellectual growth (schooling and extracurricular activities)

Seeking Visitation or Custody

It is important to present your custody or visitation case in a way that shows a court you have the best interests of the child in mind. As a result, it can be helpful discuss your situation with an experienced grandparents’ rights attorney who can help develop persuasive arguments on your behalf.

Adoptions are permanent, so prospective adoptive parents should understand exactly what they are taking on before beginning the process. Adoption will establish all the legal rights, duties and responsibilities as exist for natural born children. Those rights and duties include, but are not limited to, the right of the child to inherit through you and your family, the legal obligation to financially support the child, the right of the child to seek support from you, the principle that these rights and duties would continue if you and your spouse separate or divorce as well as if the child develops any physical, psychological problems or becomes ill or disabled for any reason in the future.

At the final adoption hearing, your attorney and/or the Judge will confirm whether you understand the legal consequence of finalizing the adoption matter. You will also need to submit any additional documentation required by law that has not already been filed with the court. For example, certification of service for any interested parties, original birth certificate, background checks for prospective parents, home study report or Act 101 notices. The hearing is intended to be a happy occasion. Other family members and friends can attend along with the prospective adoptee and parents. The Judge presiding over the case will often allow for pictures at the conclusion of the proceedings.

If the natural parent(s) do not agree with the adoption, there is a hearing to determine if their rights should be involuntarily terminated. In any contested adoption, an attorney must be appointed to represent the interests of the adoptee(s). This person is often referred to as a Guardian Ad Litem. An attorney may also be appointed for the parent contesting the adoption. In addition to determining whether grounds exist to involuntarily terminate a natural parent’s rights, the court must also consider the needs and welfare of the proposed adoptee(s). This is often where the role of the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is most important.

The GAL should ascertain the existence or extent of any emotional bond between the natural parent and child as well as potential consequence of severing that bond. A parent’s representation of love and affection for a child without further corroboration, are not sufficient to prevent termination of their rights based on the best interests of the child. The GAL may also weigh in as to whether the adoption proceeding would be in the child’s best interests and whether the benefit of adoption outweighs any harm from the termination. Other parties, such as social workers involved in the case, can also offer an opinion as to the welfare of the children and any possibility of irreparable harm in severing the parent-child relationship. If a final decree of termination is entered by the court, the case may proceed with adoption.

It is always necessary to give all interested parties proper notice of pending adoption proceedings. A copy of the adoption petition should be served on all interested parties, e.g. persons with parental rights to the minor child(ren) involved. Acceptable methods of service include personal service or certified mail, return receipt requested, restricted delivery. Proof of service should be filed with the court and/or submitted at the time of the hearing. If you do not have a good address for an interested party you can petition the court to permit service by an alternate method, such as publication in the newspaper where the party was last known to reside.

The court would indicate for how many weeks the notice must be published in the newspaper. The newspaper provides a certification as the publication that can be submitted to the court as verification that the required publication was completed. This adds to the costs of the adoption matter as it can cost several hundred dollars to publish. You should also be careful to include all necessary information in the publication so that the court can accept the publication as acceptable service.

Establishing paternity can be as simple as the father executing a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form. The acknowledgment indicates the father is waiving his rights to any genetic testing or trial on the issue of paternity. An acknowledgment acts as conclusive evidence that the person who signed the acknowledgment is in fact the father of any subject child(ren). Once an acknowledgment of paternity is signed, it is very difficult for a father to then try to allege the child is not his. 23 Pa. C.S. Section 5103(g) discusses grounds for rescission of an acknowledgment. It can be revoked within the first sixty (60) days of signature. After 60 days, it can only be rescinded by court order following a hearing. A hearing can be requested by filing a Petition with the court.

The party challenging paternity must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that there was fraud, duress or material mistake of fact when signing the acknowledgment. Even if a party believes they can prove one of the above, there is a second hurdle based on the concept of paternity by estoppel. Paternity by estoppel acts to impose an obligation on the party who holds themselves out as a father to the child and supports the child to continue to support the child even if there is no biological connection. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that the purpose of paternity by estoppel is to protect the best interest of the child by shielding them from claims of illegitimacy and, potentially, a broken family. The courts have refused to order genetic testing to revisit paternity if a party has been acting as a Father under this legal principle. You should never sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity if you have any doubts about the actual parentage of the child. Instead, you should file for genetic testing right away before assuming the role of parent, caring for the child, and building that relationship.

National statistics show that very few alimony recipients are men, even though a rising number of men may be eligible to receive this financial support.

Spouses getting divorced in Langhorne may be awarded alimony and/or spousal support, to address financial inequalities during and after divorce. State family law courts use various factors to determine how much spousal support should be awarded and how long this support should continue. These considerations are gender-neutral, so support is equally available to divorcing men and women. However, statistics suggest that many men do not receive the support that they may be entitled to.

According to Forbes, Census data shows that about 400,000 Americans receive alimony. However, just 3 percent of those people – or about 12,000 individuals – are men. This seems to reflect a gap between the number of men who receive alimony and the number of men who are eligible for it. According to the same data, women act as primary breadwinners in about 40 percent of U.S. households.

Less formal data suggests that the number of men receiving alimony might be increasing. According to Reuters, in 2012, an American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey focused on the number of women paying alimony. About 47 percent of the AAML members who responded stated that more women were paying spousal support to their ex-husbands. Still, a large number of men may go without spousal support that they could benefit from.

In Pennsylvania, many men may be eligible to receive support. When awarding support and alimony, family law judges in the state consider various financial factors, including inheritances, current property, income, retirement accounts and future earning potential. Men with limited personal assets, income or earning opportunities may qualify for support.

The court may also assess less easily quantified factors. These include one spouse’s contribution to the other’s education or career; the marital standard of living; and the liabilities each spouse will incur while caring for the couple’s children. When these variables are weighed in, many men might be eligible for at least limited support.

Unfortunately, statistics indicate that many men do not receive the support that they may be entitled to. Forbes notes that there may be various explanations for this pattern, including the following:

Traditional stereotypes about gender roles may make some men reluctant to seek financial assistance.
For similar reasons, divorcing women may be more inclined to fight against paying support or alimony.
Unconscious biases may make judges more likely to award men limited support or decline to award it.
Despite these potential barriers, men should strongly consider exercising their rights to pursue support before divorce proceedings are complete. After a settlement has been finalized, spouses cannot change their minds about choosing to seek alimony.

For this reason, divorcing men may benefit from consulting with a family law attorney with experience in high-income divorce and support/alimony awards. An attorney may be able to offer advice on a spouse’s rights or assist the spouse in seeking needed support.

Child support in New Jersey is determined using the state’s child support guidelines. A worksheet evidencing the calculations to arrive at the child support order should be completed in every case. Primary considerations include the income of the parties and the custody arrangements. As it relates to the custody arrangements, there are different worksheets for use: sole parenting or shared parenting. The sole parenting worksheet is to be utilized when one parent has all the time or greater than 78% of the overnights. The shared parenting worksheet is appropriate if the alternate parent has the equivalent of at least two overnights per week under the regular schedule.

The other primary consideration is income. For purposes of a support calculation, income includes all earned or unearned income including, but not limited to, salary/wages, tips, commissions, interest/dividends, rent received, bonuses, alimony payments, pension or retirement distributions, lawsuit settlements, worker’s compensation, unemployment benefits, severance pay, gambling winnings. For self-employed individuals income consists of the gross receipts of the business minus necessary business expenses. What may be acceptable as an expense as far as filing taxes with the IRS is not necessarily an expense that would be deducted in a support calculation.

Accurate income information should be disclosed as part of the Case Information Statement submitted in virtually every family court action. Verification of the income information provided should be attached. Examples include tax returns, W-2 statements, pay stubs, profit/loss statements, etc. Taxes, prior child support orders, mandatory union dues should be subtracted from the gross taxable income and combined with any gross non-taxable income to determine the amount of income available for support. Certain benefits for the children must also be accounted for in determining income such as derivative benefits (e.g. Social Security Disability).

The basic child support award is arrived at by looking at the total number of children and the combined net income of the parents. Once the basic support award is identified, adjustments can be made for other regularly occurring expenses such as child care costs, health insurance costs, and other recurring expenses. The final figure is then broken down based on each parent’s percentage share of the combined income also taking into consideration the parenting time.

In low income cases, the final figure may still be adjusted to ensure the party owing support has an appropriate self-support reserve.

Child support is modifiable as circumstances change. For example, any substantial change in income or overnight custody time should be examined to see if a change in support is warranted. New Jersey builds in a routine cost-of-living adjustment for all support orders. Methods of payment can include direct payment, direct payment through the Probation Department or wage garnishment. The Probation Department is responsible for enforcement of all support orders.

Depending on your custody arrangement, summer can be a time for your children to spend more time with each of their parents. It can be difficult to juggle vacation plans and visitation for two different households; occasional confusion may arise and compromise is necessary. But when your ex is consistently failing to follow through or seems to be intentionally sabotaging your summer plans, you need to take action, for your sake and your children’s.


Keep records of all communication

Keep all interaction with your ex civil. This is very important, not only because it may bring about the desired results, but because if you need to file a motion, the court’s judgment will be influenced by which is the more reasonable, mature parent. You want to be that parent.


If possible, do all communication about summer arrangements with a paper trail. Use email or a parenting portal that is admissible in court and tracks when parents receive messages, so your ex cannot argue that he or she never received your message.


Track all phone conversations, record if possible (and let your ex know you’re recording), and keep a detailed log.


Try to keep your communications positive. When you feel you cannot respond respectfully or calmly, wait until you’ve calmed down and consult with your custody attorney about the best way to respond. When necessary, let your attorney handle negative communications, which he or she can do dispassionately.


Remind your ex of the terms of divorce and custody agreements

In writing, remind your ex of the divorce agreement and/or custody agreement. If the agreements are clearly being violated, you have good standing to demand they be followed, and you are not required to give in to what your ex wants.


Create clear boundaries

If your ex isn’t breaking any agreements but is just being unreasonable – repeatedly making changes at the last minute, calling at odd hours, or blaming you for plans falling through – keep documentation, but also protect yourself and your children. Create clear boundaries – in writing – for when you will accept calls and/or how much notice you need for schedule changes.


These are reasonable requests. If your ex will not follow them, hold firm. Do not answer the phone or read emails outside the time stated, and do not accept last minute changes. Obviously, if your ex was supposed to pick your children up from summer camp and suddenly can’t, you must do so, but do not set yourself up for another sabotage. If he or she will not abide by these simple guidelines, it may be time to file a complaint with the court.


Avoid future summer conflicts

If you have kept a clear record of ex-spouse sabotage or lack of cooperation in co-parenting responsibilities, petition the court for changes in the custody agreement that will prevent another summer of frustration. Consider requesting that you both attend co-parenting counseling. You do not want a battle over your children for the next however-many summers. It’s not good for you or your children.


Contact us here at Ulmer Attorneys at Law, experts in Pennsylvania divorce and custody law and mediation, to find out how we can help you.

If you’re facing divorce after you dedicated years to staying home and raising your children, you need to act quickly to protect yourself and your children. Follow these important steps:


1. Find an expert in Family Law and Mediation who can help you protect your financial future as well as negotiate arrangements that will be best for the children. You don’t know which direction your divorce will take. You may be able to settle amicably and mediate child support and visitation that’s agreeable to both of you… and you may not. You need a lawyer who is committed to settling out of court if possible but is capable of winning in court if necessary.


2. Make copies of all important financial documents – tax forms, bank statements, bills. Your lawyer will need these to make sure you get a fair division of assets as well as sufficient child support and spousal support.


3. Create a list of tangible assets that are important to you for the settlement. Consider, too, the value of your house and the expense of maintaining it (including taxes). For many people, downsizing is the best option – it frees up cash, decreases expenses, and helps you start over again without painful memories. But every situation is different. Discuss with your lawyer and a divorce financial analyst.


4. Protect current assets and create a personal bank account. Talk to your lawyer about freezing assets in a joint account to prevent your husband from withdrawing everything and leaving you penniless. Also discuss how you can create a stash of cash in your own name to hold you over until the divorce is settled.


5. Consider getting a job. This is tricky for the stay-at-home mom, because if your husband is currently out of work or quit his job and you take a minimum-wage job to keep the roof over your head, you could be considered the breadwinner. But if your husband is still gainfully employed, a part-time job may give you the funds you need until settlement.


6. Consider if/when you will go back to work after the divorce and what you need to do to prepare. If your divorce has to go to court, the judge will consider the age and health of your children, the years of marriage, and your skills to determine if you should be expected to return to work and when. Prepare now for that likelihood by looking at online courses you could take to brush up on your skills and make you more marketable.


7. Have someone to talk to. This is a very stressful time, but with help, you can do it. Your lawyer will work to give you the best settlement you can get, but he or she is not a therapist. You may need a professional counselor or a support group who will give you the strength and support you need to get you to the other side. Consider a counselor for your children as well.


There are other things you need to do, but these are the most immediate. If you’re a stay-at-home mom getting divorced in PA, contact us at The Legal and Mediation Services of Karen Ann Ulmer, Attorneys at Law to see how we can guide you through these and other important steps you need to take to protect yourself and your children.

The very first thing to do if your husband leaves you is to find an expert Montgomery or Bucks County divorce lawyer. You’re in a very vulnerable position, especially if your husband has been the primary breadwinner and you have children at home. You need a lawyer who knows the law and knows how to fight for you.


While you’re finding your lawyer, there are a few more “first things” you need to do immediately to protect yourself and your children.


Protect your finances:

  • Change passwords, withdraw some cash, and contact the bank and other financial institutions. Your lawyer may file a temporary restraining order to prevent your husband from being able to withdraw funds.
  • Close joint credit cards and other joint accounts (i.e., PayPal, amazon, Netflix, Facebook) and open them in your own name only.
  •  Protect valuable assets: transfer them if possible into a protected location, whether that’s a friend’s house or a safety deposit box.
  • Log all communications, including phone calls, with him and what the conversation was about. Check with your lawyer about whether or not you can record them and how to do so legally.  

Save important documents:

  • Save all written communications: emails, letters, scraps of paper he wrote notes on, receipts. Anything could be valuable. Print out anything on the computer including emails so you also have a hard copy.
  • Print out any helpful information on social media accounts: pictures, posts, anything that will help your case.
  • Save all bills, bank statements, credit card statements, tax returns.
  • Save photos that can support your position and help you in court.

Tell the people who need to know:

  • Financial institutions and accountants – they may be able to advise you on what to do to protect your assets.
  • Close friends and relatives as well as your children’s school and doctors –  to avoid disclosure of information to your husband without your knowledge or consent.

Many of these protective measures can be more thoroughly and effectively implemented under the guidance and advice of a seasoned divorce lawyer. The associates at Ulmer are experts in divorce and mediation. Contact us to find out how we can help you.