If you are involved in a family law matter in Bucks County, bringing your kids to court is not a good idea for practical reasons, how it may be perceived by those in the courtroom, and the harm it may do to your kids.  

Bringing your kids along may be interpreted as a “power play” by a judge, the other parent, and their attorney. Kids are not accessories to be used along with the right clothes to show you are someone to be reckoned with. This approach in a custody dispute may backfire because the judge may see you putting your interests ahead of your child. 

This Is Not a Play or a Sporting Event. Parents are Airing Their Grievances About Each Other 

It is crucial to shield children from conflict and allow them to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with both parents. Parents can protect their children from unnecessary stress by keeping them out of the courtroom and preserving the parent-child bond during a challenging time. 

Family court proceedings can be stressful and emotionally charged, with heated arguments and conflicting testimonies. Exposing children to these intense and potentially confrontational situations can cause significant emotional distress.  

Children may feel caught in the middle, torn between their parents or family members, leading to confusion, anxiety, and insecurity. Witnessing parental conflict in a formal courtroom setting can have long-lasting adverse effects on children’s emotional well-being and may contribute to relationship difficulties in the future. 

The Truth Should Be Spoken in Court. The Fact Your Kids are There May Make That More Difficult 

Kids’ presence in the court can distort the process. There is a risk a parent may say something for the child’s benefit. They may want the child “on their side” and put on a show to ingratiate themselves with the child while painting an overly negative picture of the other parent.  

The opposite might also be true. A parent may hold back on what they might otherwise claim about the other parent to avoid hurting the child’s feelings and drawing them deeper into the conflict. A manipulative parent may bring their kids to court with this in mind as a shield to try to blunt what the other parent may say about them. 

Your Children are Going Through Enough. They Do Not Need to be Humiliated 

An essential reason for settling family law issues is if you do not, they will be discussed in a courtroom open to the public. All of the family’s dirty laundry may be aired. A child in a courtroom may hear things about their parents or siblings that they do not need to know in a way that can be very harmful.  

They may also hear their personal issues discussed in a room full of strangers, which may humiliate them. Respecting their privacy is essential for maintaining their dignity and protecting them from potential stigmatization or unwarranted attention. 

Distractions Can Make a Bad Situation Worse 

If a child is very young or emotionally sensitive, they may create a distraction in the courtroom. An infant not feeling well, hungry, or with a dirty diaper will make their presence known. They know nothing of courtroom etiquette. Distraught over what they hear, an older child may also respond with tears, sharp words, and lashing out. There is too much going on in the courtroom, and it is too important to be subjected to these distractions. 

Contact Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., if you have questions or believe you will need legal assistance with a child custody dispute, whether or not it’s part of a divorce. Call us at (866) 311-4783 or fill out our online contact form today. 

If you are involved in a custody dispute, there may be at least one child custody evaluation. It is a psychological assessment involving the parents’ living conditions, family dynamics, mental health problems, and other relevant concerns to recommend what is in your child’s best interests.  

Court-ordered evaluations are usually performed if the parents disagree on custody. If one is done fairly and competently, its recommendation may push the parties to settle on terms consistent with its findings. 

Who Will be Interviewed? 

Court-ordered custody evaluations are established by Pennsylvania and New Jersey court rules. The parties can also commission their investigation. A custody evaluator should interview: 

  • The child 
  • The parents 
  • Other people residing in their homes  

They may also speak to teachers or counselors at school and review relevant medical or psychological treatment records. 

What Will be the Basis of the Evaluator’s Findings?  

The evaluator will consider: 

  • The facts 
  • Their understanding of the parties and the situation 
  • The parents’ views 

The ultimate purpose of the assessment is to determine what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest. The evaluator will consider the factors the court will use when making a decision, including: 

  • The parents’ stability 
  • The child’s relationship with them 
  • A parent’s drug or alcohol abuse 
  • A parent’s physical, mental, and emotional health 
  • A parent’s willingness to encourage their child to continue their relationship with the other parent 

A custody evaluation could take months and cost several thousand dollars. If the parties cannot agree on who will pay for an assessment ordered by the court, a judge may decide for them. 

How Should I Prepare for the Evaluation? 

You, your child, and any other family members interviewed should not see an evaluation as an invasion of privacy or a burden. It is an opportunity to tell your side of the story and address any concerns the other parent has raised. 

There will be a visit to your home, so put yourself in the evaluator’s shoes. What would you look for? Your home should be clean and neat. Any obvious defects or problems with your home should be repaired. Mow your lawn. Dress neatly and comfortably. 

You are not going to court, but you are not going to the gym, either. 

What Should I Say to the Evaluator? 

To be most effective, those interviewed (especially your child) should be open and honest. You will not be considered credible if you are overly critical of the other parent, appear biased, and are found not to be telling the truth. 

You can maximize your ability to tell your story by: 

  • Discussing your child’s parenting history, including both parents’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • Talking about your child, their interests, needs, and any difficulties they have had. 
  • Addressing how your child has changed since you and the other parent separated or the event, if any, that created a perceived need for the evaluation.

You are best served by focusing on your child’s best interests and managing your emotions. Balance stating your legitimate concerns about the other parent while not bad mouthing or bashing them. You should also avoid playing an amateur psychologist by diagnosing them with a condition you think they suffer from. 

What Happens to the Report? 

The findings, including a recommendation, will be in a confidential report to the court that you and your attorney can read. If either party objects to the report, the evaluator can be cross-examined at a trial. If your case does not settle, the judge will probably rely on a court-ordered evaluation when issuing a ruling, but they should be open to fair criticism and legitimate assessments, if any, paid for by the parties. 

Child Custody Attorneys You Can Trust 

Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C. attorneys are skilled in developing the evidence that judges need to make child custody decisions. We will work with you to build a persuasive case to achieve your goals and protect your rights. If you have questions about custody issues or need legal representation, call us at (215) 752-6200 today.

If you are emotionally ready, starting a new relationship after a divorce may be a good idea. Depending on your situation, living together may be a bad idea because it may jeopardize, among other things, the alimony you receive and child custody arrangements. 

Could Cohabitation Impact Alimony? 

Pennsylvania statute 23 P.A.C.S. § 3706 states that cohabitation bars receiving alimony

“No petitioner is entitled to receive an award of alimony where the petitioner, subsequent to the divorce pursuant to which alimony is being sought, has entered into cohabitation with a person of the opposite sex who is not a member of the family of the petitioner within the degrees of consanguinity.”  

“Cohabitation” under this statute has been interpreted as meaning: 

  • Two persons of the opposite sex residing together 
  • In the manner of husband and wife 
  • Mutually assuming those rights and duties that usually come with marriage 

Cohabitation may be shown by evidence of: 

  • Financial, social, and sexual interdependence 
  • Sharing the same residence 

This statute, strictly speaking, only applies to opposite-sex couples, though a divorce agreement could ban alimony if a party cohabitates with someone of the same sex as well. 

Could Cohabitation Impact Child Custody? 

Courts should make custody and visitation decisions based on the child’s best interests. Starting a new relationship, especially if it reaches the point where the two of you live together, could result in the other parent (rightly or wrongly) challenging your custody (whether that has been decided by a court in the past or it will be determined in the future): 

  • What is your relationship history? Have you had several partners moving in and out? The more unstable your household, the higher the number of people living with your child, the bigger the problem 
  • Does your partner have problems? Do they use illegal drugs, abuse alcohol, or suffer from poorly managed psychological issues? Do they have a criminal record? Are they a potential threat to the child? 
  • What is the relationship between your partner and your child? Does your partner care about your child or are they indifferent? Do they treat your child well or are they abusive? 
  • Does your partner degrade the other parent in front of the child? Do their words show they are trying to alienate your child from the other parent? Do they lobby you to ignore parenting time arrangements so the other parent sees their child less often? 
  • Are you also living with your partner’s children? If so, how does that affect your child? How do those children treat your child? How has that impacted your child’s relationship with you? 

You should live your own life, but if you share custody of a child with another person, they can have a say in what is going on if your lifestyle, and the people you share it with, negatively impacts their child. That may include your loss of custody if a judge sees it is not in your child’s best interests. 

If you are in a positive, stable relationship, and your partner is a good influence on your child who is benefitting from their presence, that relationship may make your argument for custody stronger. 

Work With Experienced Alimony and Child Custody Attorneys You Can Trust 

No matter which side you are on, if cohabitation becomes an alimony or custody issue, work with an experienced family law lawyer from Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., who has an in-depth understanding of Pennsylvania and New Jersey laws and court procedures. Call us at (215)752-6200 or book a consultation online now

No matter which side of a child support dispute you are on, it is best you follow the law, obey the child support order, and act in good faith. A parent may genuinely be unable to pay for support, or their failure can be a ploy to extract a concession from the other parent.  

What is Child Support? 

Child support is an ongoing, periodic payment by a parent for the financial benefit of a child. This can be done through a private agreement or a court order. Child support arrangements can be between parents who never married or who divorced. Although payments go to a parent, they are to benefit a child.   

How is the Amount Determined? 

The amount of child support in a court order is based on statewide guidelines established by the state’s Supreme Court. Both parents’ incomes are calculated, and the number of children (among other factors) is considered. The guidelines are meant to ensure that similarly situated parties are treated similarly. Once the amount of support is identified, the amount is divided between the parents based on their incomes and the custody schedule.  

Can the Amount Change? 

A change in the income of either party or a change in the custody schedule can affect the amount. If you are having problems making payments, contact our office. We can try to modify the existing court order by successfully showing a judge that a material and substantial change in circumstances makes it impossible for you to continue making the payments.  

This is usually a difficult hurdle to overcome, but it can be done. It can include such circumstances as the payor suffering from a chronic illness or disability impacting their earnings, the birth of another child, or the other parent increasing their income. What is not relevant is that the other parent is not living up to custody or visitation arrangements. Two wrongs do not make a right when paying child support. 

If you are paying support and know that you will be facing financial problems or they are already impacting you, it is best to discuss this with the other parent and try to reach a resolution. Suddenly stopping or cutting your payment will not improve the situation. 

What Efforts Can Be Used to Compel Payment? 

If you are the one not getting a full or any payment, we can engage with the other parent or their attorney to try to resolve the problem. They may be acting in good faith. This may be a temporary problem or the start of a long-term issue. Though you may be frustrated and angry, this is not a valid reason to ignore your visitation or custody obligations to try to punish the other parent. 

If a motion to modify support payment fails or no motion is filed, the court will assist in monitoring compliance with the order. It should consider petitions for contempt and enforcement for lack of compliance. Depending on the circumstances and whether this is a recurring problem, the non-paying parent faces measures consistent with state and federal laws, including: 

  • The amount can be withheld from paychecks, worker’s compensation, and unemployment benefit payments. 
  • Bank accounts can be seized.
  • The non-custodial parent’s driver’s, professional, or recreational licenses can be suspended, not renewed, or denied. 
  • Lottery winnings and federal tax refunds can be withheld. 
  • The application for a passport can be denied. 
  • Consumer credit bureaus could be notified, potentially affecting their credit rating, impacting their ability to get loans, or increasing their interest rates. 
  • Liens can be put on property.
  • Payment of the other parent’s court costs can be ordered.
  • They can face jail time, fines, or probation.  

To achieve these outcomes, you will probably need the services of an attorney experienced in handling child support disputes. If you have questions about child support or want to schedule a free consultation, call Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C. at (215) 752-6200 today. 

Discovery is a critical piece of any divorce here in Bucks County.  Discovery refers to the sharing of information by both parties.  It can be formal (involving court orders) or informal when both attorneys are satisfied that ALL information has been shared. Although there are limits on what must be disclosed, both parties should cooperate fully and honestly when they provide information and documents so that the issue can be resolved completely and fairly. 

How Does Discovery Work? 

Discovery happens after a complaint is filed and, depending on the case, could take months or years. It includes: 

  • Questions (or interrogatories)   
  • Documents in physical or electronic form (or requests for production) 
  • Admission or denial of factual statements (or requests for admissions) 
  • Opportunity for a party’s attorney to question the opposing party and their witnesses under oath while the process is being recorded or transcribed (a deposition)

These requests need to be relevant and not overly complex or argumentative. Certain things are out of bounds, like communications between a party and their attorney. Inquiries into what happened long before the marriage or about issues that will not shed any light on what is in dispute (something lawyers like to call a “fishing expedition”) are also inappropriate.  

The attorney representing the party receiving such discovery requests can object to them and not respond or only respond partially. If the attorney propounding the requests wants to push the issue, they can ask the case’s judge to decide whether the objection is valid or not and, if so, what limits there can be to the response. 

Is Discovery a Big Deal? 

The importance of discovery varies on the complexity of the matter. If it is fairly simple, like a divorce between a couple with few assets and no kids, it is less critical. The more complicated the case, the more important discovery becomes. If a: 

  • Spouse owns a business, there will be questions asked and documents requested concerning its financial situation, how profitable it is, and whether it is being used to hide marital property 
  • Spouse is accused of abusing or neglecting kids in a custody dispute, those allegations need to be proven. Parties and witnesses will be deposed to determine if there is any substance to the claims 
  • Party uses an expert to put a value on a family-owned business or marital property like real estate or an art collection, questions about that can be asked, and the expert should be deposed. The same is true if a parent involved in a custody dispute hires a child psychologist to evaluate a child and their relationship with their parents  

Discovery helps both parties fully understand the facts and issues involved. They can adjust their strategy if the facts are not what they expected. Additional facts may fuel new legal issues. 

This improved understanding also puts the parties in a better position to negotiate a settlement. All the relevant facts should be known, and the strengths and weaknesses of both sides’ cases should be more apparent. Instead of having a judge or jury decide the matter, the parties take control and resolve the matter themselves. 

Get the Help You Need from an Attorney You Can Trust 

If you are considering a divorce or have questions about the legal process, call our office at (215) 608-1867. We can speak over the phone, via a teleconference, or meet in our Doylestown or Langhorne offices.