The Grinch that Stole My Custody

An often unforeseen complication of separation or divorce is the highly emotional decision of who has custody of your children over the major holidays. It is natural to feel mixed emotions as you approach the holiday season: excitement over the holidays coupled with sadness and perhaps some resentment over having to split the holidays with your co-parent. Every family law practitioner has been the recipient of a tearful or angry telephone call on the eve of a major holiday because the custody schedule is too vague or is not being adhered to. Here are 6 recommendations I share with my clients to ease the stress and lessen the risk for conflict as we roll into this holiday season.

  1. Plan ahead. There is no better way to set yourself up for unnecessary conflict and disagreement in the middle of an already busy holiday than a vague custody order. Be as specific as possible about what holidays will be shared, when and where the anticipated exchange times will be, and which parent will be doing to the transportation.
  2. Be prepared to be flexible, if necessary. Accommodate extended family events that fall on “your time”. Set aside the temptation to use the custody schedule to punish the other parent – you are just punishing your children. Your children, whether they realize it or not, will appreciate two parents who work together to maximize the joy of holidays for them.
  3. Consider sharing major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, if possible, and split the day as evenly as possible. Alternate who has the “preferable” portion of the day each year. If the holiday event cannot be reasonably split, like Seder, then alternate who has the event each year.
  4. Offset similar minor holidays like Labor Day and Memorial Day or New Years Eve and the Fourth of July.
  5. Honor old traditions, but do not be afraid to forge ahead with new traditions in this new stage of life. Take this opportunity to start traditions you meant to do before, but never got around to starting. Visit the light displays in your town, go see a holiday themed show downtown, round up the troops for a Thanksgiving hike in Wissahickon park – find an event you can continue to celebrate with your family for years to come.
  6. Make time for yourself in the midst of the holiday chaos. Remember, it is okay to mourn the loss of a past way of life. It is also okay to feel happy about creating a new life and new memories. Be sure to take the time to do something for yourself.

If you have questions about custody agreements, please contact Elizabeth C. Early at (610) 275-0700 or eearly@highswartz.com

Our attorneys in Bucks County and Montgomery County are here to assist you.

The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.

This article was originally printed in the December issue of the Montgomery County Women’s Journal.

Attorney Thomas E. Panzer Talks Workers’ Compensation at Bucks County Bar Association

Pennsylvania workers’ comp attorney Thomas E. Panzer presents at bar association CLE.Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney and High Swartz partner, Thomas E. Panzer, presented at the Bucks County Bar Association’s December Marathon Day on Dec. 20, 2017.Panzer presented “Interplay between Workers’ Compensation and Heart & Lung Claims” along with Glenn C. Neiman of Brilliant & Neiman LLC and Ryan J. Cassidy of Eckert Seamans. The biannual event offers six CLE programs for the region’s attorneys.Panzer represents both claimants and defendants in workers’ compensation matters, which has made him a sought-after and frequent lecturer on Pennsylvania workers’ compensation topics. His practice also focuses on the areas of administrative litigation, including zoning. He has represented multiple zoning hearing boards over the past 20 years.In addition to his law practice, Panzer is currently the elected Treasurer of Bucks County. He served two terms as an elected supervisor for Warminster Township, Bucks County, and a full five-year term as an appointed member of the Warminster Municipal Authority Board of Directors.High Swartz LLP is a full-service law firm serving clients in the Delaware Valley and throughout Pennsylvania from offices in Norristown and Doylestown. Established in 1914, High Swartz serves the needs of businesses, municipalities, government entities, nonprofits and individuals. With offices in Bucks County and Montgomery County, the full-service law firm provides comprehensive counsel and legal support to individuals and business entities of all sizes across a broad spectrum of industries throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For more information, go to www.highswartz.com.

What the heck is a Confession of Judgment?

If you have ever obtained a business loan or signed a commercial lease, you may have heard of the phrase, “confession of judgment.”  Even if you have heard that phrase, chances are you have no idea what it means.  And chances are you signed those loan or lease documents anyway.  This is a fact of life for seasoned business professionals down to new start-up owners.  Consider this a quick and dirty explanation of one of the most archaic legal mechanisms faced by business owners.A confession of judgment is a legal process by which one party to a contract (most times a borrower or tenant) agrees to allow the other party (the lender or landlord) to enter a judgment against them if they default under the contract.  The contractual provision will state that the lender/landlord can go to the court and enter a judgment without any notice and without doing any of the hard work typically required to obtain a judgment (e.g. filing and serving a complaint, taking discovery, going to trial, etc.).  Confession of judgment provisions allow the lender/landlord to enter a judgment for money or to regain possession of the property, or both.  Some States have abolished the use of confessions of judgment because they are so oppressive and eliminate the due process protections required in a typical lawsuit.  Pennsylvania has abolished confessions of judgment in consumer transactions, but still allows them in commercial transactions, subject to certain protective requirements found enacted by the legislature or imposed by the courts.  For example the contractual provision allowing the confession of judgment must be clear and conspicuous (perhaps separated from the other text or in bold or CAPS), not hidden in the contract or difficult to notice.  The courts strictly scrutinize confession of judgment provisions and the court filings relating thereto for any defects under the law.Many times commercial borrowers and tenants are not aware of these requirements, or the effect of such provisions, until after a confession of judgment has been entered, leaving them fighting an uphill battle to vacate the judgment and avoid collection or loss of their property.  Therefore, it is extremely important for business professionals to have an attorney review any loan documents or leases for these provisions before completing the transaction and explain the potential consequences.  If you find yourself served with a confession of judgment, it is imperative to act swiftly and contact an attorney to determine whether there are legal grounds to challenge the judgment.For commercial lenders and landlords confession of judgment provisions can be very beneficial, saving significant legal fees and time to recover possession of a rented property or obtain judgment on a large commercial loan.  However, it important to have legal counsel draft these provisions so that they comply with the strict requirements imposed by the courts and do not fall victim to any technical challenges raised by a saavy borrower/tenant seeking to avoid the judgment.If you have questions about a confession of judgement, please contact Mark R. Fischer, Jr. at (610) 275-0700 or mfischer@highswartz.comOur attorneys in Bucks County and Montgomery County are here to assist you.The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.

Pay Me Now… or Pay Me (Much More) Later!

When an employment relationship ends – whether by termination or resignation – employers must be aware of their obligation to pay any wages then due and owing, or be prepared to suffer the substantial consequences.  Under Pennsylvania’s Wage Payment and Collection Law (“WPCL”) 43 P.S. §260.1 et seq., an employer who wrongfully withholds wages from an employee is subject to civil — and possibly even criminal — penalties.  The protections afforded by the WPCL apply to all employees based in Pennsylvania.As a threshold matter, under the WPCL, the employer must notify its employees at the time of hiring not only of the rate of pay, but also of the time and place of payment.

It shall be the duty of every employer to notify his employes at the time of hiring of the time and place of payment and the rate of pay and the amount of any fringe benefits or wage supplements to be paid to the employe…

43 P.S. § 260.4.  Thereafter, employers must timely make such payments as scheduled and agreed upon.

Every employer shall pay all wages, other than fringe benefits and wage supplements, due to his employes on regular paydays designated in advance by the employer.

43 P.S. § 260.3.  Accordingly, every employer is required to pay all wages due to an employee on regularly scheduled paydays which cannot be altered without adequate notice.Of significant note, the WPCL has a rather expansive definition of “wages:”

“WAGES.” Includes all earnings of an employe, regardless of whether determined on time, task, piece, commission or other method of calculation. The term “wages” also includes fringe benefits or wage supplements . . .

43 P.S. § 260.2a.  Therefore, for purposes of the WPCL, wages include not only salary payments, but also other earnings of an employee such as earned commissions, earned bonus payments, unpaid vacation, holiday, or other guaranteed pay.Of course, the WPCL does not create any substantive right to compensation on the part of the employee; rather, it only establishes an employee’s right to enforce – ultimately at the employer’s additional cost and expense — payment of wages and compensation to which an employee is otherwise entitled under the terms of an existing agreement, whether oral or written.The WPCL has been described as a state law that provides a vehicle to recover unpaid wages — and also damages — in the event an employer improperly withholds compensation from an employee.  The courts have noted that the fundamental purpose of the WPCL is to remove some of the obstacles employees may otherwise face in litigation by providing them with a legal remedy when an employer breaches its underlying obligation to pay wages.Because the primary goal of the WPCL is to make employees whole again where wages have been wrongfully withheld by their employers, the legislature included the following provision:

The court in any action brought under this section shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow costs for reasonable attorneys’ fees of any nature to be paid by the defendant.

43 P.S. § 260.9a(f).  The Pennsylvania Superior Court has held that:

…the legislature intended a mandatory award of attorneys’ fees for a plaintiff who prevails on a claim pursued under the Act. This interpretation is consistent with the general import of the statute, and goes to the very “essence” of its goal of making an employee whole again . . . Otherwise, employees who are unjustly deprived of their wages by their employers, may be deterred from filing suit because of burdensome legal costs . . . Similarly, employees who do file suit and are successful, would be subjected to payment of a substantial part of their award (which represents earned compensation) as attorneys’ fees. This would clearly undermine the intent of the statute because employees who are unable to retain their wages will not be made whole. Without an award of attorneys’ fees the end result would be only a partial recovery under the statute. Therefore, under the WPCL, an employee who has prevailed on a claim for past wages due, is entitled to attorneys’ fees as a matter of entitlement.

Oberneder v. Link Computer Corp., 674 A.2d 720, 723 (Pa.Super.1995).  Of course, the award of attorneys’ fees after a lengthy battle under the WPCL could dwarf the amount of “wages” which had been withheld.Moreover, the WPCL allows an employee to claim penalties in the form of liquidated damages in an amount equal to twenty-five percent (25%) of the total amount of wages due — if there is no good faith contest over the payment of wages.  In this regard, the WPCL sets forth the following requirement:

In case of a dispute over wages, the employer shall give written notice to the employe or his counsel of the amount of wages which he concedes to be due and shall pay such amount without condition within the time set by this act. Acceptance by the employe of any payment made hereunder shall not constitute a release as to the balance of his claim.

43 P.S. § 260.6 [emphasis added].Quite significantly, the WPCL defines an “employer” as follows:

“EMPLOYER.” Includes every person, firm, partnership, association, corporation, receiver or other officer of a court of this Commonwealth and any agent or officer of any of the above-mentioned classes employing any person in this Commonwealth.

43 P.S. § 260.2a.  To be clear, the inclusion of every “person,” “agent,” and “officer” within the definition means that each such representative of an employer who played an active role in decision-making may be held personally liable – and subject to not only civil damages, but also criminal penalties.  For obvious reasons, employers need to know their obligations under the law . . . and employees need to know what their rights and remedies are when separated from employment!If you have questions regarding wages, please contact Eric G. Marttila at (215) 345-8888 or emarttila@highswartz.comOur attorneys in Bucks County and Montgomery County are here to assist you.The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.

Elizabeth Early Talks Family Law at Montgomery County Bar Association

High Swartz Family Law attorney Elizabeth Early discusses family law topics at seminar focused on the intersection of family law and mental health issues.Pennsylvania family law attorney Elizabeth C. Early, a family law  attorney at High Swartz LLP, served as a speaker at the annual Montgomery Bar Association Family Law Section Toby L. Dickman Seminar held on Dec. 8.The 10th annual seminar focused on “The Intersection Between Mental Health and Family Law.” The program provided a thorough overview of mental health issues affecting the practice of family law, with in depth discussions regarding mental health issues in custody matters, support matters, equitable distribution matters and protection from abuse matters.Early presented on the topics of spousal support and equitable distribution. The seminar also featured presentations from Montgomery County judges and experienced family law practitioners, as well as doctors and other mental health professionals.Early focuses her practice at High Swartz on family law, including divorce, child custody, support, equitable distribution, pre and post-nuptial agreements and abuse matters. She is known for handling each of her client’s cases efficiently and with empathy and attention to detail.Held each year, the Dickman Seminar honors the late Toby L. Dickman, a former family law attorney and family court judge who passed away in 2007. It offered 3.5 substantive credits for attendees.High Swartz LLP is a full-service law firm serving clients in the Delaware Valley and throughout Pennsylvania from offices in Norristown and Doylestown. Established in 1914, High Swartz serves the needs of businesses, municipalities, government entities, nonprofits and individuals. With offices in Bucks County and Montgomery County, the full-service law firm provides comprehensive counsel and legal support to individuals and business entities of all sizes across a broad spectrum of industries throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For more information, go to www.highswartz.com.

When Unexpected Income Loss Strikes Home: What Are Your Options?

Few people are adequately prepared for a sudden or unexpected loss of income due to no fault of their own.  The cause for the loss of income can take many forms.  Perhaps a negligent driver runs a stop sign and strikes your vehicle, leaving you in pain and unable to work.  A work-related accident can stop or reduce your earnings.  A chronic medical condition can worsen to the point where you can no longer work.   A long-term job can be lost due to no fault of your own.  A common denominator of these circumstances is that income has stopped or been reduced while expenses remain the same or can increase.There are a number of potential sources for disability or wage benefits, depending on the circumstances of the individual.  Among the most common sources of disability and wage replacement benefits include:
  1. Short or long term disability benefits, often provided either through an employer or via an independently purchased short or long term disability insurance policy;
  2. Unemployment benefits, for people who have worked for the amount of time required and who have lost their jobs due to no fault of their own;
  3. Social Security Disability benefits, for people who have worked for the amount of time required and who are disabled and unable to work due to a condition or conditions that have lasted or are medically expected to last for more than a year;
  4. A lawsuit against the negligent party that caused the loss of income;
  5. Workers’ Compensation benefits; and/or
  6. Supplemental benefits though your collective bargaining unit or employer.
It may, at first, seem like a good idea to promptly apply for each and every benefit to which you may be entitled.  However, this approach can be a trap for the unwary.  This is because the factors needed to qualify for disability and wage benefits from one source may disqualify or reduce the amount of benefits the individual might receive from  another possible benefit source.  You need an individualized plan that addresses these issues.Please check back here periodically for more of our ongoing series on obtaining and coordinating disability benefits.There are many qualified attorneys who specialize in one area of disability and wage benefit law.  However, we suggest that your long-term interests may be better served to consult with High Swartz attorneys who will work together to coordinate a strategy designed to maximize your recovery among all available sources of wage replacement income and avoid possible pitfalls that can cost you money.If you have sustained a loss of income, we suggest that your long-term interests may be best served by  consulting with High Swartz attorneys who will work together to coordinate a strategy designed to maximize your recovery among all available sources of wage replacement income and avoid possible pitfalls that can cost you money.High Swartz workers’ compensation attorneys have decades of experience handling Pennsylvania claims. Our Bucks County and Montgomery County workers’ compensation attorneys have knowledge and experience in all facets of workers’ compensation issues. If you are considering filing a workers’ compensation claim, or have questions regarding a short or long-term disability or unemployment claim, please contact a High Swartz attorney.If you have questions regarding Social Security Disability benefits, please contact Linay Haubert, Esq. at (215) 345-8888 or lhaubert@highswartz.com.If you have questions regarding a personal injury claim, please contact Eric Marttila, Esq. at (215) 345-8888 or emarttila@highswartz.comOur attorneys in Bucks County and Montgomery County are here to assist you.The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.