When parents are going through a contentious divorce in Bucks or Montgomery counties here in Pennsylvania, great care must be taken to ensure the children are not “put in the middle.” One common issue is parental alienation. Children subjected to emotional blackmail by one or both parents may suffer from parental alienation syndrome. These supposedly loving parents try to turn their children into pawns in the divorce. Not only will a parent harm their own interests trying to do this, but they may also cause long-lasting emotional harm to their kids.

Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., represents families in Bucks and Montgomery counties. Parental alienation is an issue that, sadly, we see too often. We help our clients deal with manipulative spouses and make sure courts know the damage they’re inflicting on their children. Contact us today so we can discuss parental alienation and share how we can help.

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Parental alienation syndrome happens when a parent tries to turn a child against the other parent, according to Psychology Today. This attempt at estrangement can be seen as seeking revenge and trying to settle scores, and can inflict pain on the other parent.

This can happen when the parent criticizes, blames, or lies about the other parent to the child. They may try to prevent the child from spending time with the other parent and tell the child they can either love them or the other parent, not both. The alienating parent may also seek the help of other family members to split the child from the other parent.

Who Might Be More Likely to Alienate Their Child From the Other Parent? 

A narcissistic parent would be more likely to play harmful games with their child to punish the other parent. They don’t have empathy for others and they focus on themselves, their feelings, and their beliefs. They build themselves up by tearing others down. While claiming to protect the child, they inflict harm.

What Are the Legal Implications? 

A parent alienating a child from the other shouldn’t have legal custody. Pennsylvania statute emphasizes having both parents in a child’s life within limits. There are 16 factors to be considered by a judge deciding who should have what kind of custody including:

  • The attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent
  • Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party

What Can You Do?

Tell us what’s happening. Your spouse is harming your child and that must end. We can file motions with the court asking that time with the child be supervised or eliminated.

Talk to your child. Tell them if the other spouse says bad things about you, they should get your side of the story. Don’t start bashing the other parent in response, or you may be accused of doing the alienating.

Get the Help You Need From a Lawyer You Can Trust

If you have any questions about or need representation in a child custody or divorce matter, call us at (215) 608-1867 or schedule a consultation online now. We can speak over the phone, via a teleconference, or meet in our Doylestown or Langhorne offices.

Whether or not your divorce will affect your immigration status depends on the stage of the process you’re in. U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) vigilantly watches for possible fraudulent marriages, entered into solely to evade U.S. immigration laws. There are ways to demonstrate your marriage was entered into in good faith, but their effectiveness depends on your stage in the process.

Application for a visa or green card

If your application for a green card has not yet been reviewed or approved and you are applying on the basis of your marriage to an american citizen or permanent resident, your divorce or annulment will end the immigration process. No evidence of marriage in good faith will help at this early stage.

Conditional resident with 2-year green card

If you’ve been approved for a green card but you had not already been married for at least two years, you will receive a 2-year conditional residence. In two years you will be expected to submit Form I-751, asking USCIS to approve your permanent residence. This form is intended to be signed jointly by both spouses, but if you’ve gotten divorced or annulled, you’ll need to file a waiver of the joint filing process.

This, of course, will raise flags, and USCIS will scrutinize your case for evidence of a fraudulent marriage. You will need to provide ample and convincing evidence that you entered into marriage in good faith. It is still possible to get approved for permanent status at this point, but you may want to hire a lawyer expert in immigration and marriage law to help you present the best case.

Permanent resident status applying for citizenship

The N-400 Form is the application for naturalization. Normally a permanent resident must wait five years before applying for citizenship. A person with a green card who has been married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years can apply in three years, as long as the person remains married up to the time of naturalization. If the marriage ends before naturalization, the process stops, but the permanent resident is still able to apply within the five-year period.

Keep in mind that whenever anyone submits the N-400 Form, USCIS will scrutinize the person’s file. If you’ve gotten divorced in that time, fresh evidence should be submitted demonstrating that you married in good faith.

Evidence for marriage in good faith

It’s important to know what USCIS flags as signs of a fraudulent marriage in order to know what kinds of evidence will show yours was a true marriage.

Warning signs to USCIS of a fraudulent marriage include: wide disparity of age; individuals not cohabitating; marriage upon warning of removal; friend of the family; american spouse previously helping people apply for residence; major differences in ethnic or cultural backgrounds; inconsistent answers in separate interviews.

Knowing what USCIS looks for, you can show that you and your spouse engaged in the kinds of behaviors that spouses normally engage in: documents with both names on them (mortgage or rent, joint bank accounts); pictures from your wedding, family get-togethers, parties, and vacations; cards or letters from friends or family addressed to both of you; documents or bills in your name showing your address matching your spouse’s address; birth certificates for your joint children; affidavits from reliable people in support of your marriage. In this case, a statement from a marriage counselor indicating you tried to work out your problems is particularly strong.

If you’ve been divorced and you’re still working toward american citizenship, contact an attorney knowledgeable in immigration and marriage law to help you present the best case to keep your process moving forward.

While it is common and even preferable for a divorcing couple to utilize the same attorney in mediation, there are clear guidelines that generally prevent one spouse from hiring the other spouse’s former attorney in a trial divorce case.

The american Bar Association (ABA) Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) rule 1.7 states: 

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:

(1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or

(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer. (RPC rule 1.7: Conflict of Interest: Current Clients) 

Rule 1.9 of the same code states the following:

(a) A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter represent another person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that person’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client unless the former client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.

(b) A lawyer shall not knowingly represent a person in the same or a substantially related matter in which a firm with which the lawyer formerly was associated had previously represented a client

(1) whose interests are materially adverse to that person; and

(2) about whom the lawyer had acquired information protected by Rules 1.6 and 1.9(c) that is material to the matter; unless the former client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.

(c) A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter or whose present or former firm has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter:

(1) use information relating to the representation to the disadvantage of the former client except as these Rules would permit or require with respect to a client, or when the information has become generally known; or

(2) reveal information relating to the representation except as these Rules would permit or require with respect to a client. (RPC rule 1.9: Duties to Former Clients)

Therefore, the RPC code of the ABA clearly lays out that a lawyer cannot represent your spouse in your divorce case, not only if he or she has represented you, but also if the lawyer’s current or previous firm has represented you in this case.

Further, a lawyer who has represented you or whose firm has represented you in the past in any way cannot represent your spouse in other matters, without your written consent, and may not use any information collected during your representation to your detriment.

Changing divorce lawyers is not uncommon. Often, in a time of great stress, a person chooses a divorce lawyer hastily or at the recommendation of another person without doing thorough review. Sometimes it’s just a matter of personalities not clicking. Whatever your reason for changing your lawyer, be sure to retain a new lawyer first, so that you are not without representation for a moment. Once you’ve signed the agreement with your new lawyer, inform the other in writing and request your file be sent to the new attorney by a given date.

If you have any questions, contact us here at Ulmer Legal and Mediation Services to see how we can help you.

When couples begin the divorce process, all assets and liabilities need to be listed and valued in order to determine division between the spouses. Negotiation often involves one spouse being given certain assets in exchange for other assets of the same value – and greater need or emotional attachment are values along with cost that can be weighed in the negotiation process.

If a couple can settle out of court with the help of qualified divorce lawyers to ensure a fair and satisfying distribution between both parties, the couple maintains control over their own assets and their own preferences. However, if they cannot come to an agreement, the divorce must go to court and the division of assets is put into the hands of a judge.

Pennsylvania is an Equitable Distribution state, which means the judge does not necessarily divide property 50/50 but rather in a manner that seems fair. Therefore, when determining who gets what, including the vehicles, the judge will consider many factors.

Was the car owned and paid for completely before marriage by one spouse? It is almost assured that the owner will be awarded the car. Was the car purchased after marriage, but it’s in one spouse’s name and that spouse’s money was used to pay for the car or the loans? Chances are very likely that this spouse will receive the car, although other factors could come into play.

Who has greater need for the car? If there is only one car, who needs it to commute to work because there are no public transportation options available? If there are multiple cars, who needs the van to take the kids to school, or who needs the newer car for a long and difficult commute? All these individual factors weigh into the judge’s decision.

The car’s value is also taken into consideration. If the family has two vehicles and one is worth significantly more than the other, the judge will likely award the cars based on need, circumstances, and payment history, but may also award additional compensation to the spouse receiving the car with less value in order to balance the asset division.

If a car is awarded to you in a divorce settlement, be sure to change the title and owner immediately to yourself. If a balance is owed on a loan, the loan should be restructured or refinanced to have only your name on it.

Your divorce attorney will walk you through the many intricacies and details involved in the divorce process and starting over. Reach out to us here at Ulmer Law to see how we can help you.

Improvements in the housing market mean that more couples again have equity in their homes. Division of marital property is one of the challenges in any divorce. When a marital home will be too expensive or more than one spouse can maintain, selling the home is again becoming an option. The sale of a home can result in a sizable profit, but consider the tax consequences and timing of the sale.

In Pennsylvania, the court equitably divides property in a divorce action by reviewing certain factors including some of the following:

The duration of the marriage;
Age, health and sources of income available to each of the spouses;
Contributions or dissipation of assets made by each party; and
Whether there are any minor children.
Equitable division does not always mean an equal award of the equity in the home. If one of the spouses owned the home prior to the marriage or sold a previous home prior to the marriage to secure a down payment, part of the equity may be considered non marital. This means it would belong to the spouse that brought the asset to the marriage and would not be divided.

While a divorce is pending, the court can award one or both of the spouses the right to continue to live in the martial home. When it is not practical for either spouse to stay in the home, the spouse who lives in the home may need to list the home for sale.

When certain rules are met, the seller of a principal home can avoid paying federal income tax on up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a married joint-filing couple) of the gain in value. When a couple has owned a home for many years in an area that has appreciated this becomes very important.

The Internal Revenue Service test requires that the seller owned and used the property as a principal residence for two years during the five-year period preceding the sale. To pass the joint-filer test, both spouses must pass the use test and one must pass the ownership test.

This is very straightforward when the sale occurs before a finalized divorce decree or within the same year. The couple could file jointly for one more year and claim the $500,000 exclusion.

When a sale of the principal residence happens after the divorce and the court awards the home to one of the spouses, then that spouse may only be able to claim the $250,000 and will owe taxes on any additional gain from the sale.

When considering divorce, contact an experienced family law attorney. Advice at an early stage in the process often means avoiding costly mistakes down the road.

When you meet with your lawyer or mediator to begin the divorce proceedings, you need to have many documents with you, both personal and financial. Not having access to these documents could delay proceedings or damage your case and limit your settlement options. A partial list of documentation includes:

  • Personal data: birth certificate; marriage license; life insurance and healthcare insurance; employment information and income; will and living will or advanced directive; power of attorney
  • Financial data: complete list of assets (bank accounts, investments, pensions, and value of homes, cars, and personal property like jewelry, furniture, etc); expenses (all bills, loans, mortgage, etc.); income tax returns for the past several years; list of assets or expenses obtained or incurred singly before marriage or given to individual as a gift after marriage (both spouses)
  • Childcare data: costs of childcare, evidence of each parent’s involvement in the child’s upbringing (involvement in school, sports, etc.) for custody settlement

This is a lot of information, and you may not have access to the records for a variety of reasons. But there are ways of getting what you need, although in some cases you may need help from your lawyer.

If vital personal records were lost or destroyed: For items such as birth certificates, green cards, income tax statements, and more, you can contact the federal government for duplicates. You will need to supply your social security number and you may need to show some other identification. In some cases, you may need to apply in person, while in others, like tax statements, you can make your request online.

If your spouse has the records of bills or assets and refuses to share: You may need to have your lawyer request a subpoena be issued to give you access to all the critical financial data you need. And as soon as possible upon deciding to divorce, sever all joint accounts, whether bank accounts, credit cards, or other things like family email, iTunes, social media, and others. See Shared Accounts and Your Divorce for more details.

If your credit card is in your spouse’s name but you are a secondary name, you can just call and have your name removed. If it’s a joint account, however, it may not be that simple. If both names are on any account, the company will hold you jointly responsible for the balance, and both of your credit scores will be affected by unpaid balances.

To prevent further use of joint credit cards or the withdrawal of money from joint bank accounts, your lawyer may have to request a temporary restraining order to freeze these accounts. Please discuss this with your attorney as soon as possible.

If you need evidence of child support and involvement: Contact your child’s school or daycare for copies of payments sent or parent-teacher conferences where the teacher would have recorded which parents attended. Photos and social media posts may also demonstrate the level of involvement in a child’s life by either parent.

Remember, it’s critical to have your documents as complete as possible in order to put you in a position of strength for your settlement or court appearance. You want to get the best financial and child custody arrangements to help you and your children be as comfortable as possible and be able to move on in a new life. Contact us here at Ulmer Law in Doylestown for our legal and mediation services. Let us help you.

In Pennsylvania, if a divorcing couple cannot come to an agreement outside of court, all marital assets will be divided according to equitable distribution, which means, effectively, whatever the court thinks is appropriate after considering a number of factors. As long as both parties are reasonable, we encourage divorcing couples to avoid court so they can retain control of the division of their marital assets.

This is true for all assets, including vacation property. Even if the property was given to one spouse exclusively or purchased exclusively with one spouse’s income, and no family money was ever used to pay for its mortgage or upkeep, such property may be considered marital and will factor into the division of assets. Whether your divorce goes to court or not, you will probably have to decide what is to become of your vacation property.

Appraise the asset

Before you decide what to do with the property, you need to get an accurate appraisal of its market value. Also important is a complete listing of all costs associated with owning and maintaining the property: mortgage, interest, taxes, utilities, repairs, landscaping, and more.

With this clear, factual foundation, you can begin to evaluate the course of action that will best benefit the two of you and any children you have.

Decide your best option

Selling the property might be the easiest choice, allowing you to divide the funds received between you. It can be emotionally difficult to let go of a place where you may have created fond memories, but consider your need for liquid assets and the simplification of the process, which are important advantages to this option.

If you and your spouse are on reasonably good terms, you could choose to keep the property and divide its use. This is advantageous if children are involved, since they would still have the familiar vacation home to go to, providing them with much-needed security and continuity. But be sure to create a written document, signed by both of you, that will clearly delineate the times and seasons each will be using the home, the expenses each of you will be responsible for paying, and the dates those payments must be made. Your lawyer will be able to create a comprehensive document that will ensure that you both get good use out of the house without increasing tension.

You may also decide that one partner gets the family home and the other gets the vacation home. The complication here is in the valuation of each residence. If one house is worth significantly less, the spouse with the less expensive house can negotiate additional assets or benefits in order to balance the value of the two properties. However, if that house also has much lower expenses, the spouse with the more expensive home should insist that this benefit be factored into the negotiations.

 What about timeshares?

Treat a timeshare in the same manner you would treat a vacation home or vacation yacht or any other additional asset. First, get it appraised so you know what it is worth. Then, negotiate.

Get help

A seasoned divorce attorney can help you through all the nuanced legal and financial issues involved in divorce because we have helped many people through the process. Contact us here at Ulmer Law to see how we can help you, too.

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.

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.