5 Tips for an Amicable Divorce

It sounds like any oxymoron. An amicable divorce? It’s possible, by following these tips from Family Law Attorney, Elizabeth C. Early.

The inside of a courtroom is not the best environment for cooperative settlement discussions and solution seeking if you’re trying to arrive at an amicable divorce. There are other attorney-guided options where you and your spouse can discuss issues, solutions and reach a final resolution without ever setting foot in the courthouse.

Mediation and arbitration are two of the most common alternative resolution options for amicable divorce proceedings with pros and cons to each option. The reinstatement of parenting coordination in Pennsylvania provides an alternative resolution option for parents in challenging custody cases.

What does a parenting coordinator do? Find out here.

If you have children, consider attending counseling with the other parent in a custody case.

This type of counseling is often called co-parent counseling. A skilled co-parent counselor can guide you and the other parent (or other parties in the case, including grandparents) through the natural challenges that arise when you go from one family unit to multiple family units. Having a professional available to help you lay common ground rules, discipline tactics, and work through a custody schedule can save you and your children a lot of stress.

Make a list of your goals for the amicable divorce.

Keep that list and go back to it when it feel like the disagreements are at an all time high. What mattered to you in the beginning and has that changed? Are you deviating from your goals for the right reasons, or because you are feeling angry or hurt? If you need to reprioritize your goals, do so and be sure your legal counsel is in the loop.

Need some more tips or maybe a list to follow? High Swartz has created a divorce checklist, which can help guide you through the initial steps of a divorce.

Choose your divorce lawyer wisely.

Make your goals clear to your divorce lawyer and choose an attorney who will listen to what you want and guide you accordingly. Interview more than one attorney and do not be shy about asking pointed questions on strategy and their feedback on your goals.

You’re future is important. Don’t make the mistake of not doing you homework or going with the cheapest or quickest option when hiring a family law attorney. We’ve compiled some tips from past clients that can help guide you from people who have been there.

Make time for you.

Give yourself the opportunity to step back and engage in self care if/when the legal process is overwhelming in whatever form works for you. Maybe that is a dinner out without talking about your case, maybe it is asking your attorney for a week of no contact except for emergencies. If you need to set boundaries, set them.

Some clients ask their family law attorney not to contact them on Fridays or over the weekend or request that I call before I email because an email without warning can induce stress. Enlist your family and friends in helping you disconnect from your case when you need to.

Family law cases are inevitably going to be stressful and a burden on you emotionally, mentally and even physically. It is vital that you make time to prioritize your own wellness and well-being during challenging periods and carve out opportunities to maintain your own happiness.

If you need guidance or support during your divorce and would like to talk, please contact the family law attorneys here at High Swartz. Call 610.275.0700 or email eearly@highswartz.com.

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.

A Small Business Game Plan to Follow During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Feeling sick about your business during these uncertain times? Doylestown Attorney Donald Petrille offers a to-do list for small business owners that can help position themselves for what lies ahead.

The COVID-19 virus biggest casualty so far has been our small business community. Washington is working on a number of measures to give our small businesses some form of relief while business are in a forced shutdown in the name of public health. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was initiated to help many businesses address their needs. Employment law attorney Jim Shrimp talks about it in more detail here. And if you feel the need to speak with a small business lawyer near you in Montgomery and Bucks Counties, we’re always available.

What can small businesses do right now to mitigate their issues?

We understand that small business often work on very thin margins, and they require a dynamic community to thrive. Entrepreneurs and business owners need to take action where they can. Below are several items our clients can do to mitigate the effects of the current economic environment on their businesses:

Contact you lender. Most lenders are working to create relief programs to keep their borrowers in business. Communication is always the best option when you face uncertainty.

Contact your insurance agent. Many of our clients have some form of business interruption insurance. This may be a time when it is effective. Some may even have force majeure clauses. These clauses can protect business owners from various events out of their control like a pandemic or tornado. Attorney Thomas Rees goes into fuller detail here.

Review your marketing plan. The current operating restrictions will not be in place forever. How can you position your business to grow and take advantage of pent-up demand once restrictions start to ease? Keeping your employees, clients, and customers informed should be your main priority. Take a look at your marketing expenses. A good rule of thumb is that if a marketing endeavor can’t be analyzed and reported, you never know if it’s worth your time and money. What parts of your marketing plan fall under that category?

Review your IT infrastructure. This may be an opportunity to review how you business receives and delivers services. There may be an opportunity to reduce overhead in the long term by changing your business model now.

Explore Relief Funds. The Commonwealth Financing Authority and Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority has identified new relief programs for small businesses.

Plan for the long term. See what operations and financial products you can restructure. Review and improve your staff capabilities. No one can predict what business will be like after this event. But it’s certain that this event will end and people will need certain services more than others. Successful business plans will address those needs.

Stay Informed. Go to sites such as SBA.gov and your state and federal legislators’ websites to get up to date information on the resources available to help your business through this uncertain time.

Talk to a Small Business Lawyer Near You Today

We know the future is uncertain. Together, we can get through this unique time and help each other prosper! If you are in need of legal services relating to what your small business game plan should be at this time, contact our law offices in Doylestown and Norristown. Call 610-275-0700 or email Don Petrille at dpetrille@highswartz.com.

Does Workers’ Comp Cover Coronavirus?

If you contract COVID-19 at work, you may have a compensable Pennsylvania workers’ comp (WC) claim. However, it might not be the easiest route to financial relief.

This blog touches on the process, proofs, and pecuniary benefits of pursuing a workers comp claim.

First Things First

If you believe you’ve contracted COVID-19 at work, the first step in pursuing a workers comp claim is to notify your employer of that belief. Failure to timely notify your employer could result in the claim being permanently extinguished. After notifying your employer, the workers comp carrier will be contacted, and will need to investigate the claim and make a decision to accept, deny, or provisionally accept (accepted, but still needs to be verified) the claim, within 21 days. After this is done, it's might be prudent to consult with a workers comp lawyer near you.

Providing Proof for a Workers Comp Claim

This is where the proofs come in. Under the WC injury provisions, an injured worker needs to establish that the COVID-19 virus was contracted at work, or while the worker was in the course and scope of their employment, even off of the employer’s premises. A travelling employee may have a much more broad “course and scope” than a stationary employee. The employee also needs to establish that the exposure was “related” to the employment.

With COVID-19 being essentially everywhere, proving that the exposure was work related may be challenging. On the other hand, health care workers and emergency services personnel may have an easier time making their case because of obvious exposures. In addition, under the occupational disease standard of the Workers’ Compensation Act, the employee needs only to initially show that the presence of COVID-19 is more prevalent in that occupation. In either event, medical support for your claim is necessary.

If the COVID-19 claim is denied, the process leads to litigation which starts with filing a workers compensation claim with the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. An injured worker is usually best served to involve knowledgeable injury lawyer to assist them through this process.

Workers Comp Benefits for a COVID-19 Claim

All of this begs the question, what does the injured worker get for the effort of going through this process? With modifications to new and enhanced wage replacement benefits due to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, someone who suffers wage loss due to COVID-19 may be in for a long and complicated battle.

The primary benefits of workers’ comp are wage loss benefits resulting from the illness and medical bills related to the illness. There are certain limitations though. Wage loss benefits are typically two-thirds of an employee’s average weekly wage. There are exceptions. There is also a waiting period.

If the employee loses no more than seven (7) days, no wage loss benefits are payable. On the eighth (8th) day wage loss is payable. If the employee simultaneously receives unemployment compensation (UC), the employer gets a dollar for dollar credit for the UC paid. Please see the High Swartz blog, Can I Collect Unemployment Compensation During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Regarding medical care, the employee must treat with the posted panel of physicians for the first ninety (90) days of treatment or the bills may not be paid. In the extreme case, workers comp does pay a death benefit to dependents.

FFCR Coverage for COVID-19

Employees should also be aware that effective April 2, 2020, an additional, or alternative, Federal benefit is available for paid leave related to the Coronavirus. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides for a wage loss benefit caused by the Coronavirus whether contracted at work or not. Coverage under the FFCR is more broad than the WC Act, but the benefit cap is lower than workers compensation. In any event, receipt of both benefits will undoubtedly be coordinated with credits for one against the other. Please see the High Swartz blog, How the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Will Affect Local Business

Talk with a Workers Comp Lawyer

In summary, lost time wage replacement and payment for related medical care resulting from COVID-19 illness may be covered by workers comp, but subject to the above process and proofs. Benefits will be coordinated with other employer sponsored plans to allow for recovery but not double-recovery.

The benefit landscape directly related to COVID-19 and Coronavirus is changing daily. The new Federal, State, and Employer sponsored benefits may eliminate or mitigate the need to file a workers comp claim. On the other hand, for long term wage loss or death claims, where dependent benefits are at stake, a workers comp claim may be necessary.

If you have any questions or concerns, talk with a workers comp lawyer near you or here at High Swartz in our Doylestown law office. Our law firm provides legal services to clients in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

How the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Will Affect Local Business

The Act seeks to address the impact of coronavirus in a number of areas, but how will it affect employees, employers and their businesses in PA?

On the night of Tuesday, March 17th, 2020, the President signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It was passed by Congress in hopes that it will assist Americans, especially in the areas of child nutrition and health. It will go into effect no later than April 2, 2020, and below is a brief summary of what it hopes to do for businesses.

What does the Act do for businesses and its employees?

The FFCR Act applies to employers with under 500 employees. Employers with under 50 employees are entitled to seek an exemption from the Department of Labor, if providing the benefits described herein would put the employer out of business.

The Act provides two new paid benefits which expire on December 31, 2020:

  1. A two-week paid sick leave for coronavirus related illness; and
  2. Up to 12 weeks of paid Family and Medical Leave for caring for a child whose school or child care provider has closed.

Who is eligible for paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?

This benefit is for employees who are unable to work (or telework) because the employee:

  1. is subject to a governmentally-mandated quarantine or isolation order
  2. has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine
  3. has symptoms of being infected with coronavirus and is seeking a medical diagnosis
  4. is caring for an individual who is quarantined or self-quarantining
  5. is caring for a son or daughter if the school or place of care has been closed

If any of the circumstances above apply, the employee is eligible for two (2) weeks of full pay, based on his/her typical schedule. There is a maximum benefit of $511 per day.

What if the employee still has unused sick time or paid-time-off (PTO)?

If the employee has employer-based sick time/PTO, the employer is required to apply the government emergency leave, before applying the employer based benefit.

Who is eligible for paid family and medical leave?

This benefit is available for employees who are unable to work (or telework) because the employee must care for children (up to 18 years old) whose schools or child care facilities have closed because of the coronavirus.

The employee is eligible for up to 12 weeks of two-thirds pay, with health insurance. The maximum benefit is $200 per day and $10,000 total. The first two weeks of this leave may be unpaid (that gap is filled by the Paid Sick Leave benefit).

How Does an Employer get reimbursed under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act?

Both paid leaves are reimbursable to the employer via a payroll tax credit, which will be provided by the Federal government within 3 months. If the employer pays more in paid benefits and health insurance premiums than the payroll tax, the government will send the employer an “overpayment” check for the difference.

The coronavirus pandemic means news and information is constantly-changing and evolving every minute. The business lawyers at High Swartz know how important it is to keep everyone informed with current and valid information during these trying times. If you have questions about the Family First Coronavirus Response Act, or any pandemic-related query relating to your job or business, please contact our employment law attorneys at 610-275-0700 or email jshrimp@highswartz.com.

We know how hard hit our areas have been hit during this pandemic. Our local law offices in Montgomery County and Bucks County Pennsylvania can help guide those most affected by offering guidance at any time.

Employers: Does a Force Majeure Clause in Your Contract Cover You During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

The Coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives with little notice. Public events have stopped, schools and stores have closed, the financial markets have been volatile, and people are staying at home.

Amid this chaos and uncertainty, how do contracts cover employer emergencies like the Coronavirus? The answer may depend on whether your contract has a “force majeure” clause. Consider talking with a corporate attorney near you in Bucks or Montgomery Counties to make sure.

What is Force Majeure?

“Force majeure” is a French term for “unforeseeable circumstances that prevent completion of a contract”. A force majeure clause can excuse one or both parties from fulfilling a contract’s terms when an unforeseeable event occurs. The clause may either release the parties completely from performance or allow delayed or modified performance. The clause may also allow or limit refunds to parties that have made advance payments.

Not every contract has a force majeure clause. Force majeure clauses most often arise in commercial and real estate contracts. Where a contract lacks a force majeure clause, a party may seek an excuse from performance on other grounds, such as impossibility or frustration of performance.

But it is easier to use an actual event (such as a hurricane or in this case, a pandemic such as the COVID-19 outbreak resulting in guidelines enforced to stop the spread of the coronavirus) for relief from performance than a subjective factor such as impossibility or frustration of performance.

Is the shutdown of my company due to the coronavirus and COVID-19 outbreak covered under my policy?

A typical force majeure clause MAY cover some or all the following events:

  • Fire
  • natural or man-made disturbances
  • war
  • Acts of terrorism
  • nuclear incidents
  • riots
  • Insurrections (a violent uprising against an authority or government)
  • strikes
  • boycotts
  • lockouts
  • criminal activity
  • hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, blizzards or earthquakes
  • weather emergencies such as extreme cold or heat
  • explosions
  • pandemics
  • health or environmental emergencies
  • embargoes
  • power outages
  • actions of a governmental agency
  • other cause beyond the parties’ control

This list includes several Coronavirus-related events such as pandemics, health or environmental emergencies, or actions of governmental agencies.

The types of events covered by force majeure clauses break down into human-caused events or “Acts of Man”( war, terrorism, riots, strikes); natural events or “Acts of God” (floods, hurricanes, tornadoes); events with both human and natural origins (fires, explosions, pandemics); or circumstances imposed by humans to deal with emergencies (governmental actions).

It is important that a force majeure clause is drafted precisely. The clause should focus on objective events.

For example, if a hurricane hits a community, it is easier to invoke force majeure if the clause mentions hurricanes, not just an “emergency” (which may depend on a third party’s declaration) or events beyond a party’s control. It’s always easier to point to a specific natural event, without having to argue whether events really were beyond a party’s control.

For example, if a tidal flood damages an auto dealer’s inventory, it’s far quicker to say “A flood took place” than to have to speculate on whether the dealer could have controlled the damage by moving the cars inland.

“It Can’t Happen Here”

Drafters of force majeure clauses should avoid the tendency to say, “It can’t happen here”, particularly for natural disasters. Major tornadoes have occurred in Massachusetts, disastrous floods have hit the fairly dry Dakotas, and the East Coast is among the more earthquake-prone regions in the country. It’s more prudent to assume that “Anything can happen”, and to describe a large group of events in the clause.

After the emergency occurs, the victim of the unforeseen event should give prompt notice to the other parties of the invocation of the force majeure clause. The victim should explain why the performance of the contract is totally or partly impossible. If partial performance can take place, it is advisable to work out a plan with the other party for limited performance: will delivery dates be postponed; will deliveries be smaller; will services be provided in another location? The parties should then reduce the plan to a signed written amendment to the contract.

The party invoking the force majeure clause will always need to account for its own performance. This requires a showing that every effort has been made to comply with the contract before the emergency and that the performance has truly been prevented by the unexpected event. The courts will look closely to see if the party seeking excuse from performance was performing the contract before the emergency. The courts will not favor a party who uses a force majeure clause to avoid performing a contract that the party was already handling poorly.

If your business has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak or has ceased operations due to government guidelines, you may need a corporate attorney to examine your contracts. Contact the Business Law, Employment Law, or Commercial Litigation Attorneys here at High Swartz. We can help make sense of your rights under a force majeure clause. Call 610-275-0700 or fill out our contact form.

Can I Collect Unemployment Compensation During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

If you meet one of the following employment statuses, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation in Pennsylvania.

Both employees and employers are trying to navigate the unprecedented measures being implemented by the government to attempt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus (Coronavirus). With many businesses being forced to close or alter operations, employers are struggling with deciding how to adjust operations and whether to furlough or even lay off employees. At the same time, employees need to be proactive and look ahead to their options. Below are unemployment compensation eligibility statuses that may effect many employees in Pennsylvania.

Unemployment compensation eligibility statuses for employees

Employees in Pennsylvania are likely eligible for unemployment compensation if:

  • their employer has closed
  • the employee is furloughed (a temporary leave of employees due to the outstanding needs of the employer)
  • laid off
  • forced to work at home (if it results in a reduction of hours)

What if and employee is under quarantine for coronavirus?

If the employee is quarantined, they may also be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits, but the employee must first exhaust all sick leave/paid time off benefits.

The Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Bureau (“UCB”) has made some important changes to its typical operations/requirements in this unprecedented COVID-19 and coronavirus outbreak in 2020. Most importantly, UCB has temporarily:

  • eliminated the one week waiting period for receipt of unemployment benefits
  • eliminated the requirement to search for work while receiving unemployment benefits

This is in light of the fact that, at least for now, many of the requests for benefits will be for furloughed workers. Employers that close as a result of COVID-19 impacts will be granted relief from charges and the employers’ unemployment tax rate will not increase.

On March 18, 2020, the president signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Click here to see if you as an employee or employer is affected. (Link to JBS Blog on FFCRA)

Our advice here at High Swartz is that if you meet any of the above criteria, consider filing a unemployment compensation claim as soon as possible. If you have filed for UC before, you may enter your PIN (Personal Identification Number) that will pull up your past information. If you are new to the process, there are a few things that are necessary for you to have before you get started.

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your Home address or mailing address
  • The best phone number to reach you
  • The best email address to reach you. This must be a valid address
  • Direct Deposit information (optional) – bank name, address and routing number

If you need help or advice during these trying times, High Swartz’s attorneys are here to help. Please contact Employment Attorney, Jim Shrimp at jshrimp@highswartz.com or call 610.275.0700.

"Earning Capacity” and What It Means for Child Support Payments

When a marriage is ending, one of the first issues that must be addressed is the amount of child support payments that must be paid.

The first task in calculating child support, whether it be spousal support, alimony pendente lite or child support, is calculating the parties’ income available for support.

What is considered income?

The Pennsylvania support statute provides a very broad definition of income which includes “income from any source.” For many people, their income consists primarily of the wages they receive from their employer and perhaps some additional investment income. For others, including those who own business interests, the calculation of income can be multifaceted.

What if the parent chooses to be unemployed or under-employed?

An issue that is raised in many support cases is what happens if one of the parties is under-employed or voluntarily unemployed. This situation is addressed by Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure  1920.16-2(d)(4) which states as follows:

“Earning Capacity. If the trier of fact determines that a party to a support action has willfully failed to obtain or maintain appropriate employment, the trier of fact may impute to that party an income equal to the party’s earning capacity. Age, education, training, health, work experience, earnings history and child care responsibilities are factors which shall be considered in determining earning capacity. In order for an earning capacity to be assessed, the trier of fact must state the reasons for the assessment in writing or on the record. Generally, the trier of fact should not impute an earning capacity that is greater than the amount the party would earn from one full-time position. Determination of what constitutes a reasonable work regimen depends upon all relevant circumstances including the choice of jobs available within a particular occupation, working hours, working conditions and whether a party has exerted substantial good faith efforts to find employment.”

In short, this section of our Civil Court Rules tells us that, for child support calculation purposes, if someone is voluntarily not working or working only part-time, that person can be assigned an income above what they actually take home when support is calculated. The same theory applies if someone is “underemployed” in that they are working full time, but could earn more at another position based on their historical earnings and education/expertise.

In the court’s eyes, it is not acceptable to manipulate the child support calculations to your benefit by minimizing your income. This concept applies to both the individual paying support and the individual receiving support.

Earning capacity litigation can be complex and involve the retention of vocational experts to determine what a party’s earnings could be. Some courts invite the opinions of head hunters to weigh in on what positions are realistically available. The party being scrutinized will have to supply their historical income as well as education and professional training. The imputation of an earning capacity can be have a dramatic effect on your support calculations.

If you believe that you and/or the other party in your support case could be subject to an assigned earning capacity, I strongly recommend that you speak with a family law attorney who regularly handles support cases in your home county to discuss whether your situation warrants an earning capacity claim.

If you have any questions, please contact Elizabeth C. Early at 610-275-0700 or via email at eearly@highswartz.com.

The information above is general: we recommend that you consult a family law 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.

Parental Alienation and What to Look Out For

When a co-parent systematically manipulates your child to reject you, it is beyond terrifying. If the behavior is severe, it can have irreversible negative effects on your child’s psyche and development.

Parental alienation is one of the most complex child custody issues our clients face. However, before running into court wielding your accusations of parental alienation, there are a few things to stop and consider.  If not, your claim of parental alienation might just backfire on you.  To understand how this is possible, it is important to look at the history of parental alienation.

What is parental alienation?

The term “Parental Alienation Syndrome” was first coined in the 1980s, by Dr. Richard Gardner. The issue of parental alienation then quickly inundated child custody cases across the country.  Judges began to use the concept of parental alienation to make rulings in favor of the alienated (a.k.a. rejected) parent.  As the years progressed, however, the theory of parental alienation began to lose support.

It turns out that Dr. Richard Gardner was not as credible as he appeared.  Despite Dr. Gardner’s financial success in promoting the theory of parental alienation syndrome, through self publishing books and testifying as a paid expert, it became clear that his theory was based only on his clinical observations and not on scientific or peer reviewed data.

Dr. Gardner then began concocting numerous other controversial and strange theories before his death by suicide in 2003. Such revelations about Dr. Gardner created skepticism as to the concept of parental alienation as a whole. As a result, many judges have jumped off the “parental alienation” bandwagon and are far less willing to specifically rule that a parent has engaged in this practice.

The law provides that parental alienation, a psychological theory, must be "generally accepted” by “the relevant scientific community” before it can be used in court. Herein lies another challenge for custody litigants.

Dr. Gardner’s parental alienation theory has drawn wide criticism from the scientific community and mental health professionals. Several of the large medical and mental health associations do not recognize parental alienation, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association. Parental alienation is not classified in the DSM-5 (the current diagnostics manual of mental disorders widely recognized in the medical field).

What are some examples of parental alienation?

Parental alienation can come in many forms, including, but not limited to the alienating parent:

  • Giving the child details of the marriage and why it is failing/failed, generally blaming the other parent
  • Allowing the child to choose whether they want to see the other parent
  • Withholding pertinent info about the child's schedule, important events, and appointments
  • Asking the child to gather information about the other parent's daily life
  • Bad-mouthing of the other parent around the child
  • Refusing to allow the child to accept gifts from the other parent/parent's family members
  • Refusing to allow the child to visit with the other parent's extended family

Are there any remedies to parental alienation?

Additionally, most proponents of parental alienation believe the only effective remedy is for the alienating parent (the parent found to have turned the children against the other parent) to have no contact whatsoever with the child for at least 90 days.

This is a steep remedy, especially in Pennsylvania where even incarcerated parents can request visitation with their children. Due to the contentious nature of custody cases, judges can become suspicious of the accuser parent’s truthfulness or motives, concluding that the accuser parent is trying anything to win the custody case, eliminate all contact with the other parent, or avoid paying support.

It is no surprise that parental alienation is among the most complex issues in a child custody matter. Nevertheless, despite mental health professionals’ skepticism and judges’ reluctance, the issue of parental alienation still exists.

Well-educated, well-respected mental health professionals are still researching and advancing the theory of parental alienation, although even these experts caution that parental alienation” occurs in less than 7% of custody cases.  Alleging and convincing a judge that parental alienation is occurring in your case is a delicate matter.  Because the term “parental alienation” is so problematic, the custody process may benefit from pointing out dysfunctional parent behavior without specifically citing “parental alienation.”

Such terms as negative coaching or influencing, inability to cooperate, or unwillingness to co-parent may be more useful.  It is better to focus on the well defined diagnoses recognized by mental health professionals and their research than to try to use the term “parental alienation” to deflect the parties and court from the real facts. As such, it is best not to raise accusations of parental alienation without first speaking with a qualified child custody lawyer who can help to assess the risks and provide a strategy in raising the parental alienation issue.

If you are facing issues in a child custody matter or have any questions on child custody, please contact our family law attorneys at 610-275-0700. Our Bucks County and Montgomery County Family Law attorneys have knowledge and experience in all facets of custody issues. You can rely on our firm for dependable legal services.

Storage Unit Laws

Pennsylvania has distinct storage unit laws that protect occupants and owners. And yes, they can auction off your contents.

Have you ever seen an episode of Storage Wars and wondered, can someone legally sell property in a storage facility? Storage Wars takes place in California, and I am not here to discuss California law. However, Pennsylvania does have a law governing self-storage facilities and the short answer, in Pennsylvania, is yes, they can do that.

In Pennsylvania, the Self-Service Storage Facilities Act, 73 P.S. § 1901 et seq. (“Act”), governs these self storage facilities. Importantly, the Act provides that:

the storage facility owner has a lien on all personal property stored in the facility. The lien is superior to all other liens except those that existed prior to the placement of the personal property in the facility.  The rental agreement must inform the occupant of this lien.

What if I don't pay my rent?

In the event that occupant fails to pay rent for a period of 30 days, the owner can begin proceedings to sell the contents. The owner must provide notice to the occupant of the default. The notice must be delivered in accordance with the Act and contain information such as:

  • the amount due
  • a demand for payment
  • a lien statement
  • a designated person for the occupant to contact
  • statement the contents will be advertised and sold if the delinquent rent is not paid.

The owner also has the right to deny the occupant access to the space until the delinquency is paid.

What if I still don't make the payment?

If the occupant still fails to make payment, the owner can proceed with advertising a sale of the contents. The owner must advertise the sale two times in a newspaper of general circulation. There are various requirements for the contents of the advertisement. Read here and learn of the requirements for each state. Additionally, the sale must occur at least 10 days after the first advertisement.

If the delinquent amount remains unpaid, the owner is free to sell the contents of the storage facility to satisfy the owner’s lien. Third parties can bid on, and purchase, the contents of the storage unit.

If you are a self-storage facility owner or renter, it is vital to assure that your rental agreements comply with storage unit laws and all legal procedures are followed to sell personal property to enforce the lien.

If you have any questions, contact Kevin Cornish at 610-275-0700 or via email at kcornish@highswartz.com.

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.

Divorce Mediation - What You Can, and Should Expect

If you are going through divorce mediation, you need a mediation lawyer.

What is Divorce Mediation?

Divorce mediation is an out-of-court dispute resolution tool that helps couples that want to amicably settle their issues with minimal involvement from the legal system. A good mediator will:

  • guide the spouses during their negotiations
  • facilitate meaningful dialogue
  • steer the parties away from potential litigation hazards

Do your homework

Many divorce lawyers encourage their clients to engage in divorce mediation. It helps narrow issues while getting an independent viewpoint in areas with disagreement. So, a divorcing spouse should look for an experienced mediator. You should also check the mediator's references before agreeing to use a particular mediator.

A Mediation Lawyer Looks for Common Ground

The mediator's job is not to look out for each spouse's interests. Instead, the mediator's job is to act as a neutral party to facilitate the spouses in reaching their agreement- even if it is unfair or inequitable in the eyes of their divorce lawyer.

Mediators train to be neutral. Therefore, they usually will not alert or advise if an agreement may be unfair to either party.

Hire a Divorce Lawyer, Even if You Don't Feel It's Necessary

A lack of knowledge about your spouse's financial assets, ignorance of the law, and poor negotiating skills can easily cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, in all likelihood, you'll get less than if you retain a divorce lawyer. So you should have a divorce lawyer to guide you in the mediation process. In addition, it's critical to avoid accepting an inequitable marital settlement agreement or finding yourself unable to enforce the terms of your agreement.

The Role of a Mediation Lawyer and the Benefits of Attorney-Guided Mediation

Let's assume that the divorcing spouses have gone through non-attorney-guided mediation and have reached a formal memorandum of understanding. Now what? How do the spouses protect that agreement? What if one spouse realizes the terms of the agreement look good on paper but are not practical in their application?

Under these circumstances, a spouse can find themselves in a situation they didn't want to be in. The spouse needs to hire a divorce lawyer to help retrace and possibly redo all the steps they just took!

The Mediation Lawyer is Trained in Filing and Writing the Mediation

In some (but not all) cases, settlement agreements reached by non-attorney-guided divorce mediations are poorly drafted with vague terms. Consequently, they're difficult to enforce. When getting an agreement at mediation, the spouses must file it with the court to enforce the document via Court order. Sometimes, mediators will file the deal as a "Divorce" matter.

However, the divorce agreement may address additional issues. As a result, you should file those agreements separately, apart from a "divorce" action. For example, suppose an agreement reached through mediation speaks to various issues but is incorrectly docketed or poorly drafted. In that case, there is often little recourse to re-open an executed marital settlement agreement to address the individual terms.

Having a divorce lawyer review or draft the document allows the spouses to understand the agreed-upon terms clearly. It also ensures that the court receives a well-written, concise set of directions. Those directions enable the court to protect and enforce the rights and obligations outlined in the agreement. So it's wise to spend a little money for a mediation lawyer to review any divorce mediation agreement before filing the mediation agreement with the court.

Protecting Your Divorce Agreement

Marital property settlement agreements are contracts. Generally, the court's modification of marital property settlement agreements will only happen if there has been a fraud, duress, coercion, or a mutual mistake in drafting the order or agreement.

Accordingly, courts rarely modify agreements regarding spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and alimony, absent a written agreement by the former spouses to alter the documents. This is different from child support or child custody arrangements. Those arrangements remain under the court's purview. As a result, the court can alter the agreement at nearly any time due to changed circumstances.

Re-opening or seeking to modify a marital property settlement agreement is legally complex and may be rather expensive. In the end, attorney-guided mediation may allow the parties to have their cake and eat it too.

Divorce mediation without attorney involvement can be an effective and less expensive means to foster agreement between divorcing spouses. But a mediation lawyer can shepherd you through the process to ensure a fair and equitable result and avoid unnecessary expense and heartache.

If you have any questions about divorce mediation, please get in touch with our family law offices near you in Doylestown and Norristown and speak with a divorce lawyer. Call 610-275-0700 or email info@highswartz.com.

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