The Mental Health Procedures Act: A Minor’s Right to Make Mental Health Decisions

Up until a child reaches the age of eighteen, parents typically make all of the decisions for their children, including where they live, where they go to school and what their medical treatment is. But when it comes to mental health, Pennsylvania laws give minors over the age of fourteen significant powers to make their own decisions without the consent of their parents. The Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), despite its limitations, presents a way for teenagers to seek treatment for mental health issues.

This means although a child is still technically a minor, he or she has the right to ask for mental health therapies, testing, and even hospital stays without discussion with the child’s own parents. While the law seeks to create clarity on the matter, there are legal interpretations that find families and courts on both sides of the issue.

What is the Mental Health Procedures Act?

In 2003 the Pennsylvania Senate introduced Senate Bill No. 137, also known as the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA) amendments. The purpose of this bill was to amend the Minors’ Consent Act, which gave minors the right to consent to medical, dental, and vision procedures without the consent of their parents, to include mental health procedures. The bill was passed in 2005, giving minors aged fourteen and older the right to consent to outpatient mental health procedures without the knowledge or consent of their parents.

On the other side, this bill doesn’t provide any way for a minor to object to their parents’ consent for outpatient treatment. For example, a parent could decide outpatient treatment was necessary and a minor can’t opt out. However, if a parent didn’t want their child to attend outpatient treatment but the minor felt it was in their best interests to go, the minor would be empowered under the MHPA to still attend.

Inpatient treatment is treated slightly differently than outpatient treatment under the Act, requiring children to be notified of the scope of the treatment and its description prior to being admitted. Should the child object or a minor seek inpatient treatment without a parent’s consent, then a hearing would be required. In the latter situation the child would remain at the facility until the hearing, which would be scheduled within 72 hours.

Protections and Limitations of the Act

The rights of a minor are often subject to debate within the court system and it can be difficult for a parent to have their child making such significant medical or mental health decisions against their wishes. To make the process clearer when it comes to mental health procedures, the MHPA looks to create rules around what decisions children fourteen or older can make for themselves. Competing with a minor’s right to make mental health decisions for him/herself are the legal custody rights and responsibilities of that minor’s parents. In cases where families are not intact, there are often custody agreements and/or court orders affording parents shared legal custody, which denotes equal decision making power over decisions like medical care. Implied in shared legal custody is the right for both parents to have the same information when making legal custody decisions on behalf of their children. However, the MHPA creates a wrinkle of uncertainty in that it does give a great deal of deference and in many instances, the ultimate decision making authority to the minor child. Additionally, there is certainly debate about whether the child has the authority to control the dissemination of his or her mental health information, even to that of one or both of his or her parents.

One application of the MPHA comes into play when there is a mental health situation where the consent of both parents is typically required, such as when to conduct tests to diagnos learning issues. When one parent decides not to consent, the child could then exercise rights under the act to move forward with the testing. This change in the power dynamic of the parent-child relationship is very different from the traditional situation and can bring arguments on both sides as to the rights of parents versus children.

The MPHA, in conjunction with HIPAA rules, also offers protections regarding the release of mental health records. Parents would ordinarily expect to be able to see their children’s medical records, even if they hadn’t initially consented to the treatment or testing. However, in order to allow children to speak openly during treatment without fear of parents’ actions or reprisal, these records are deemed confidential.

While these protections are certainly helpful there are limitations to the Act, such as the lack of required support for children who seek mental health services. Even though a child can opt to receive counseling or treatment, the parents have no obligation to provide transportation or cover the costs associated with it. Given the limited resources of children between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, it can be difficult for them to navigate this process on their own.

Application in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the Mental Health Procedures Act has provided an avenue to care for children dealing with very difficult issues. Whether the issues relate to learning disabilities, identity confusion, or any other increasingly common concerns teenagers deal with, it’s important they have a way to safely receive treatment and address their concerns. Whatever the reason for its need, the Mental Health Procedures Act provides a safe opportunity for minors over the age of fourteen to address these concerns with or without the consent of their parents.

Top 10 Tips for Child Custody Issues

Child custody issues are some of the most difficult to deal with no matter the marital status of the parents. The High Swartz Domestic Relations team knows that every case is different, and the people involved in these cases may feel vulnerable and overwhelmed. Each of us has focused our practice on Family Law and Domestic Relations because we, each for our own reasons, felt the need to pay attention to the more personal and human side of law. We don’t work on cases, we work with people.When custody is part of a divorce or just the amicable split of an unmarried couple, most parties hope the child custody arrangements can be agreed upon quickly and amicably. Unfortunately, child custody can become contentious. In the event that custody has to be decided by a judge or arbitrator, you can help your own position by following these tips.
  1. Don’t badmouth your ex out of anger. Verbally airing your grievances with the other parent may be emotionally satisfying in the moment, but ultimately, it has the potential to be very damaging if it’s not for the safety of the children. Unpleasant sentiments about your ex are particularly damaging when they’re said within earshot of your children – that’s still their father or mother who you’re talking about, and they may remember the worst of your outbursts for a very long time. In addition, these feelings have an uncanny knack for finding their way back to their subject. Particularly extreme ideas, even if they were said in the heat of anger or pain and not intended to be taken seriously, can be taken out of context, with potentially dire consequences for child custody.
  2. Ditch social media. Or, at the very least, start thinking very carefully about what information you share on social media and who can see it. Even if you’re no longer “friends” with the other parent on Facebook, Snapchat, or other platforms, others who know them might be willing to share your social media activity with them. Even if the information that reaches them seems harmless, it’s easier than many realize to take social media posts out of context and use them to put their author in a bad light – in front of friends, family, and oftentimes family court judges.
  3. Document, document, document everything. Keep a diary or calendar of any communications, events, incidents, or even confrontations with the other parent, particularly if they involve the children or their schedule. In a contentious custody dispute, it’s difficult to know ahead of time what information might be relevant to a domestic relations office or a family court judge.
  4. Encourage your child(ren) to have a relationship with the other parent. One of the most unfortunate choices that one or both parents can make is to attempt to place the children in the impossible role of arbitrating the custody dispute. This happens when one or both parents asks the children effectively to choose sides in the split by pressuring them to express a preference for one parent or a dislike for the other. There are reams of psychological information on how damaging this is to a child’s sense of familial belonging, but it also has the effect of making the custody dispute an order of magnitude more adversarial. Please encourage your children, through words and actions, to have a relationship with both parents. Clearly, there are exceptions to this guidance, particularly in cases where the other parent may have committed abuse. In these situations, consult with your attorney about the options which may include supervised visitation.
  5. Develop a custody schedule. Be specific. The custody schedule should spell out the days, times and locations of when and where the children will transfer from the custody of one parent to the other. At a minimum, in addition to the routine custody transfers, there should be language that covers major holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and the coordination of vacation travel with the custody schedule.
  6. Specific doesn’t mean rigid. Well done – you’ve worked out a custody schedule with your ex. Now that you have, though, be flexible. The schedule should be a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. Life is often chaotic and unpredictable. Work schedules change on short notice. Cars break down. Illness strikes. When your ex asks you to make an adjustment to the schedule, look for reasons to accommodate rather than to obstruct. When something unexpected happens to you, you might need them to be flexible. Laying the foundations for practical cooperation in the early stages of your child custody arrangements will help the entire family’s relationships over the long run.
  7.  Support family traditions (even if they’re not your own). As mentioned, trying to enlist your children’s support in your side of a custody dispute is a no-no (see #4). That said, ensuring that they’re comfortable and happy in your home will help your case in the view of any third parties examining the child custody question. One of the best ways to do this is by ensuring the continuity of any family-specific routines to which the children have become accustomed. If the other parent read them a story or sang them a song at bedtime, it’s time for you to pick up the routine. The same goes for any practices or traditions associated with birthdays, holidays, religious observances, etc.
  8. Welcome new traditions. Even as you’re working to preserve the routines and traditions to which your children have become accustomed, it’s important to create a new and different family unit from what came before. It is possible – and encouraged – to celebrate that unity without disparaging the past. Create new traditions and routines that help your children develop a sense of identity around the home they share with you.
  9. Give your child an outlet outside of home. The division of your marital home can affect your children profoundly, even if they appear to be “doing fine.” Seek information and support to assist your children in coping with separation and divorce. Many children, however, will not be completely comfortable discussing all their feelings with either of their newly separated parents. Try to ensure that they have another trusted adult who they can talk to. This may be a grandparent, a family friend, a teacher, a coach, or a paid counselor.
  10. Families can survive the end of their parents’ relationship. Even when there are disputes over the specifics of child custody, it’s the fortunate truth that most parents have a genuine, heartfelt interest in the well-being of their children. Used as a basis for common ground, rather than rivalry, a sound and sustainable child custody agreement can help a divided family maintain a modified form of unity that will provide the children with a sense of security and stability until adulthood and beyond.
When parents split, they don’t need to drag their children through the mud along with them. If you are part of a custody dispute, remember to put your children first by setting the best parental example possible. And know this, family courts are very intolerant of selfish antics.Each child custody dispute is different, and the facts in every case are unique to the family involved.  We work closely with you in order to help you identify and articulate your objectives, develop a sound understanding of your rights and obligations under the law, and execute the legal strategy that is right for your goals and circumstances.If you have any questions about child custody, please contact Melissa Boyd, at 610-275-0700 or via email at mboyd@highswartz.com or one of our experienced Family Law attorneys in Bucks or Montgomery Counties.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 digital issue of MontCo Today and the December issue of the Sisters U.

5 Things You Need to Know About Social Media and Divorce

June 20, 2017By Melissa M. BoydSocial media is a constant presence in our lives. It has become a forum for us to catch up with friends across distances, share our triumphs large and small, and feel more connected to family. As such, social networking can be a positive experience. Yet it can be the bane of your existence if you are in the middle of a divorce or custody matter.With the evolution of social media and the war stories I have encountered over the years as a family law attorney, I have developed a set of rules that I share with all my clients involved in divorce or custody disputes. Perhaps much of this advice goes without saying, but I would rather that my clients be thoroughly apprised of the pitfalls of using social media during a dispute.
  1. Don’t complicate your divorce or custody matter with social networking. Though it may feel natural to share your struggles, or even the details of your new single life, online with social media friends, resist doing so. I recommend that if at all possible, my clients cease the personal use of social media completely during divorce or custody litigation.Remember, however, that while you may be able to deactivate your personal social media accounts, you cannot destroy content shared on the internet during litigation. Spoliation of evidence – that is, withholding, altering, hiding, or destroying of evidence – is just as relevant to civil matters as it is to criminal cases.
  2. If you must use social networking, remember that what you say can and will be used against you. Social media evidence is used in family courts with increasing frequency. For example, a spouse who claims not to have income available for child support might post pictures vacationing with a new partner in an exotic locale, or even buying an engagement ring. Once published, this information can spread quickly.If you have nothing nice to say about your spouse / child’s other parent, say nothing at all. In all but the most extreme cases, when settling a child custody dispute, the presiding judge’s aim will be to ensure that a child is adequately provided for and is able to continue having a good relationship with both parents. You do not want to appear, in a judge’s view, to be a hindrance to your child’s relationship with his or her other parent.
  3. Beware of your frenemies. It is natural for friends of divorcing spouses or polarized parents to pick sides. Be prepared for it and guard your words.
  4. Change your passwords. Don’t use passwords that can be easily decoded. Make sure you have an email account that cannot be accessed by anyone other than you. Change and continually review your privacy settings on social media sites as well. While there are laws to protect privacy and the criminal prosecution of cybercrimes is evolving, you can never be too careful.
  5. A picture is worth a thousand words, and potentially big bucks. So many lies, omissions, and indiscretions are revealed through social media. It is also important to be careful with images of your child; be respectful of your child’s other parent’s wish to keep your child’s identity private from internet consumption.
It is an unfortunate reality that you should expect every detail of your life to be closely examined when you are party to a divorce or child custody matter. It is, however, the current reality. Therefore, my recommendation is that the best way to protect yourself from having information about you subject to interpretation by a court is to refrain from sharing it online at all.To learn more from one of our experienced divorce and child custody attorneys, contact Melissa M. Boyd at 610-275-0700 or by email at mboyd@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.

Reasons for Adjusting Child Support Payments in Pennsylvania Family Law Cases

March 30, 2016By: Melissa BoydHigh Swartz; multiple factors to consider child supportShortly after getting married, you and your spouse agree that you will leave your job to be at home with the family. Ten years later, you and your spouse decide to separate. The court awards you child support. After a few years, you experience life changes that make the support payments barely enough for you to get by. And, without relevant work experience in the last decade, you are having difficulty landing a high paying job. You wonder if there is any way the court will reconsider and award you additional support. Continue reading “Reasons for Adjusting Child Support Payments in Pennsylvania Family Law Cases”

Calculating Child Support in Pennsylvania When Income Varies or Changes

March 25, 2016By: Melissa BoydHigh Swartz; CalculatingChild support in Pennsylvania divorce cases is dependent upon a large number of factors governed by rules also known as Pennsylvania Support Guidelines. Those domestic relations guidelines dictate the amount of child support which a spouse or parent should pay based on the income of both of their net monthly incomes (which is also defined by the family law rules). Continue reading “Calculating Child Support in Pennsylvania When Income Varies or Changes”

Considerations when Establishing Date of Legal Separation

December 17, 2015By: Melissa BoydWhen I meet clients who are seeking divorce, they often casually tell me that their marriage “really” ended years earlier, they just stayed married legally. They’ve typically chosen to uphold their legal unioHigh Swartz Separationn for fear of hurting their children, or due to financial dependencies. Either way, they usually don’t realize that the exact date of separation may be crucial within the divorce process. Continue reading “Considerations when Establishing Date of Legal Separation”

The Senior Divorce

December 8, 2015High SwartzBy: Melissa M. Boyd, Esq.Couples decide to separate for many reasons. Sometimes the reasons have no baring whatsoever on the legal case, but other times they play an important role. When a couple is divorcing in part because of its older age, attorneys need to be prepared to handle the divorce process a bit differently.It’s growing more common for couples to divorce later in life. It’s also becoming more socially accepted. Sometimes, people finally feel financially stable enough for divorce to be an option when they’ve reached a certain age and they’re looking back on a successful career. Some have emotional realizations when planning how they want to spend the rest of their lives. Each issue that can lead to the late demise of a marriage also helps to distinguish senior divorces from the usual process. Continue reading “The Senior Divorce”

What is a Restraining Order or Protection Order?

October 5, 2015

By Melissa M. Boyd, Esq.

The fact remains that divorces have the potential to get nasty. While the unpleasantness commonly amounts to tension, spiteful conversations, and difficulty reaching agreements on custody and asset division, some situations escalate until one spouse feels unsafe. If you find your wellbeing threatened during the separation process, it’s important to be aware of your options so you can quickly take the right actions to protect yourself.

Restraining Orders and/or Protection Orders are orders handed down by the court intended to protect you and your properties from someone before something happens.

In general, there are three types of restraining orders:

  • Emergency, which goes into effect immediately to prevent imminent harm,
  • Temporary, which lasts for a short period of time, usually to cover the time between filing and when a permanent order can be obtained,
  • Permanent, which is held after a hearing and is typically referred to as “a Restraining Order.”

In some jurisdictions, emergency and temporary orders are synonymous.

The laws around obtaining a Restraining Order differ from state to state. However, as a general rule you must be able to prove that the order is necessary for your safety. There must be evidence of an imminent threat or prior acts to support your claim.  A practicing family law or domestic relations attorney can help you obtain a Restraining Order.

A Restraining Order states that the defendant must do, or not do, certain things to avoid endangering the other party. If the defendant defies any parts of the order there are legal consequences. At the most basic level, Restraining Orders keep the defendant away from you to eliminate the opportunity for violence to occur.

With a Restraining Orders and Orders of Protection, a person can be ordered not to have any contact with you. Contact can include texting, phone calls, emails and traditional mail. The defendant can also be ordered against contacting any member of your family, including your children. If you are still living with your spouse, the order can force them to leave the residence, regardless of their level of ownership. Typically, the court will grant custody of minors to the parent being protected. Some states may require the defendant to pay support or to pay court fees associated with the protection, and to pay any damages you incurred as a result of their actions. Ultimately, orders can be customized to fit the particular needs of each unique situation as long as the terms are reasonable.

In any case, it’s important that if you feel you are in any type of danger you reach out to the police or to an attorney, depending on the urgency. Remember, laws, law enforcement and officers of the Court are in place to help you, and they have the expertise to do so.

Termination of Child Support in Pennsylvania

September 25, 2015

By Melissa M. Boyd, Esq.

When a family is going through divorce, the court aims to keep the children’s best interests in mind, as do most attorneys. There are legal orders in place to protect children— custody orders seek structure for children’s new living arrangements and child support orders ensure the noncustodial parent contributes financially so the children’s lifestyle is sustained as much as possible.

Child support payments contribute to a variety of expenses that fall to the custodial parent. These can include medical fees, school and activity expenses, and food and clothing necessities. These court-ordered payments commonly end when a child reaches the “age of maturity” but do parents know exactly when that is? And, are they adequately preparing for the termination of the order?

The end of an orderchild support order

The end of the child support order often catches parents by surprise, especially considering the order may have been in place for years. State law dictates when support orders should end. Most states, like Pennsylvania, will end the child support order when the child reaches the “age of maturity” which is typically when the child turns 18 or graduates high school – whichever comes later. In some states the “age of maturity” is 21.

The order can be terminated earlier if the child becomes emancipated. Through a court process, a child can be emancipated because they are able to support themselves. This can coincide with the child leaving the home, joining the military, or getting married. Alternatively, the order can be extended past age 18 or 21 to provide support while the child is in college or in cases where the child has special needs.

How to prepare

Even though the order may include a termination date, it does not end automatically. You must take specific steps to terminate the agreement. Until the order is actually terminated, the noncustodial parent is obligated to continue payment.

To anticipate the termination, the parent making payments should file a modification petition a few months in advance of the expected end date. In cases with multiple children, this must be done individually for each child.

What if money is still owed?

When the time comes to terminate a child support order, there may be a past due balance of payments. Money that is still owed is referred to as “arrears.” Arrears are owed even after the support order is legally terminated. Best practice is to try to get the arrear balance reduced prior to termination. The court will typically provide options such as making lump payments when possible, or reducing the amount of each payment to prevent skipping.

Custodial parents may land in a situation where they need legal assistance to collect the balance. In these cases, they may have to file a separate civil action to recover the credit.

Try as we might to stop time, children eventually grow up. In the rush that goes along with experiencing a big moment in your child’s life – turning 18, getting married, or graduating and going off to college or the military – pausing to accomplish your associated parental duties is just as important as taking time to enjoy the moment. For divorced parents, determining the future of the child support order is likely one of these duties. As a both a parent and a family law attorney, I hope this article provides guidance to separated parents.

How to Prevent Back to School from Bringing you back to Court

August 28, 2015By Melissa M. Boyd, Esq.

I developed this post as one in a series to help parents and their attorneys plan for the slew of legal co-parenting complications the summer brings. Without the structure of school, even the tightest co-parenting plans are challenged.

Whether an uncoupling was friendly or not, it takes a concentrated effort to find what works for each couple to co-parent successfully. Though every situation is different, and there is no recipe to guarantee positive family outcomes, this is practical advice for how to handle the legal aspects of commonly faced issues…

shared custody agreement

Every year, around the beginning of August, we are all hit with the same wave of shock when we see the first back to school commercials on TV. As the students dance across the screen in their new sneakers and outfits, parents are reminded of their long to-do lists to get their kids ready for another school year. For divorced and single parents, this time of year may present new challenges.

Some parents may use the summer break to consider sending their child to a new school. If a parent has sole legal custody, he or she can make major decisions, such as what school the child attends, without consulting the other parent. For those with shared legal custody, the school the child attends may have been outlined in the shared custody agreement. Whether it was or was not, parents who share legal custody have to agree on the school or, perhaps, seek court intervention. Mediation or arbitration may be an ideal alternative to seeking judicial intervention. In cases where alternative dispute resolution is not available, the court will decide. Understand that the longer you wait to seek the court’s assistance regarding the school choice, especially if you wait until the end of summer, the less likely the court will have dates to make a decision in advance of the new school year. Whenever possible, the court will choose the option that is best for the child. Parents should gather as much information about the school as they can to support their decision.

Once you’ve decided which school your child will attend, it’s time to let those commercials sway you into back to school shopping. But for parents with shared custody, who pays for the supplies? This can get expensive, so if your custody agreement does not reach this level of minutia, it’s okay to ask your co-parent to chip in. Remember to purchase enough supplies and distribute them evenly so the child will be able to complete their homework in either parent’s home.

Before waving goodbye to your child on the first day, stop in and introduce yourself to his or her new teacher. Be honest with the teacher and let them in on your situation at home. You can make the teacher aware if you were recently divorced, if your child is still emotionally affected by it, and if there is any difficulty co-parenting without giving away too much personal information. This communication helps your teacher better understand your child, and you.

Soon enough, your child will want to join an after school activity. This means new pick up and drop off schedules and sharing the sidelines or auditorium with your co-parent. If you and your co-parent can’t communicate regularly, or be in the same location, work out a schedule right away so you can both be supportive and your child is not stuck in the middle.

Just when you feel back in the swing of things, a school holiday will roll around. This begs the question, which parent gets to spend breaks with the child or children? This too should be outlined in your custody agreement. If it’s not, if it’s vague, or if personal schedules are causing changes, its best to try to communicate effectively with your co-parent to resolve. Try to have all communication in advance so last minute changes do not lead to increased tension.

Navigating the school year productively helps your child adjust to life with separated parents. It may seem far away now, but just like those back to school commercials, the bathing suit ads will sneak up on you. Before you know it, you will have successfully survived another school year through smart planning, effective communication and thoughtful consideration.

Nothing is More Expensive than Hiring a Cheap Divorce Lawyer

August 1, 2015

By Melissa M. Boyd, Esquire

Searching online for a “cheap divorce lawyer” yields hundreds of results, which is not surprising. Those who have come to the likely difficult decision to divorce do not want to spend their savings dissolving the marriage. While the temptation to go with an attorney who can get the divorce done quickly and as inexpensively as possible is reasonable, it’s important to understand the associated risks so that you can be smart with how you spend your legal dollars.

Nothing is More Expensive than Hiring a Cheap Divorce Lawyer
Nothing is More Expensive than Hiring a Cheap Divorce Lawyer

Hourly rate = experience. An attorney’s hourly rate is often commensurate with the level of experience and skill that he or she can bring to a case. This means the cheap attorney may only be able to provide basic legal advice which could cause you to miss angles and actions that could help your case. While the hourly rate for a more experienced attorney might be higher, seasoned attorneys have the expertise to reach better financial terms for you in the separation.

Hourly rate = attentiveness. Cheap attorneys often need to take on more clients to reach their revenue goals. Too many cases at once can lead to disorganization and inability to analyze the pros and cons of decisions as they relate to your case. This also means the cheap attorney won’t be able to provide you with the attention you deserve, as they will be busily balancing communications with other clients. A seasoned attorney has handled many divorce cases before. They will be able to anticipate actions you should take and quickly provide the right advice. The result: more effective attorney-client communication leading to less communication overall, and less hours you are billed

Hourly rate = level of demand. Contrastingly, some attorneys may be cheap because they’re desperately trying to attract clients.  If no one else is willing to work with an attorney, you probably don’t want to work with them either- especially in divorce matters. Divorce is personal and emotional. It’s important that you can be open, truthful and trusting of your divorce attorney. The ability to work well together and tell your attorney personal information may increase your ability to build a strong case and achieve a better outcome. This is one situation where trust is surely worth the price.

Hourly rate = team advantages. Typically, there is a team of professionals behind a seasoned attorney. An experienced attorney will often help clients spend their money strategically by assigning portions of the case work to an associate with a lower hourly rate. This gives the client the benefit of the lower hourly rate with the guidance and oversight of the experienced attorney.

Hourly rate = results. Perhaps most importantly, the best attorneys usually get the best results. The higher quality attorney is likely going to have a higher hourly rate but you shouldn’t automatically disregard that “higher priced” attorney. Paying a higher cost on an hourly basis could actually save you a lot of money over time. Seasoned attorneys are likely to be more efficient, and therefore can achieve success on your case while spending less time on it. Thus the client is only paying a fraction of the hourly rate when compared to the expense they may incur getting the cheaper attorney more up to speed.

A cheap divorce lawyer isn’t always the best or most cost-effective solution. When you add up the sum of what you received in terms of experience, attention, communication, efficiency and results, the small number becomes a big negative that can quickly impact the outcome of the divorce terms and proceedings.

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Relocation Tips for Single Parents

July 21, 2015

By Melissa M. Boyd, Esquire

I developed this post as one in a series to help parents and their attorneys plan for the slew of legal co-parenting complications the summer brings. Without the structure of school, even the tightest co-parenting plans are challenged.

Whether an uncoupling was friendly or not, it takes a concentrated effort to find what works for each couple to co-parent successfully. Though every situation is different, and there is no recipe to guarantee positive family outcomes, this is practical advice for how to handle the legal aspects of commonly faced issues…

Relocation: Summer Tips for Single Parents
Relocation: Summer Tips for Single Parents

A move or relocation is a common occurrence that happens all the time and for many different purposes. Whether it’s for professional or personal reasons, the process is well defined and, though likely a hassle at times, fairly easy to navigate. However, like many things in life, relocating can become more complicated when you have children. It can become even more complicated when you are divorced or separated and have children.

Movers with children are more likely to relocate during the summer months to avoid disrupting their child’s school year. Whenever parents decide to relocate, its important they be aware of the specific procedures to follow, and that their attorneys understand the practical considerations that go into building a strong relocation case.

As a relocating parent…

Because, in most cases, children are the parents’ top concern, creating custodial agreements is a complicated equation. Subtract a marriage and add a geographical difference between each parent’s home and tensions can rise. As a result, parents facing relocation should prepare for the likelihood of a court appearance, and put thoughtful time into building a case to support their move.

In family court, the well-being of the child trumps most other circumstances of the case at hand. Parents should gather as much information as possible about how the move is in the best interest of the child. Information on school districts and corresponding opportunities and resources such as gifted programs and AP courses, extra-curricular activities, and proficiency of standardized testing is a good place to start.

It’s also important to gather details about the new community. Are there local doctors’ offices, recreational areas and community organizations similar to what your family is involved with in your current location? For example, if your family is active in a particular religion, will your child be able to remain active in your new area? It’s also smart to document colleges local to your new home and to prepare a list of child care support you will have.

Parents should also gather general statistical information about their new community including climate details and crime rate. This ensures safety and physical well-being of the child. If the new home is extremely different from your current location, you can be prepared with how you will help your child to acclimate.

Remember also to include information about why you are moving. If the relocation includes a new job opportunity that will improve quality of life for your family, that information will greatly help your case. Lastly, parents must consider alternative custody arrangements. What schedule will be in place to ensure that the relationship between the children and the non-relocating parent will be maintained and fostered? The relocating parent may have the best of reasons for wanting to relocate. However, the impact of the move on the non-relocating parent is of equal concern.

As an attorney…

It’s important for family law attorneys to use their understanding of state laws to guide the parent toward forming their individual case. As attorneys, we also have the opportunity to ensure our clients truly recognize all aspects of relocation to help the parent make the right decisions.

Attorneys have the opportunity to help the relocating parent understand what happens if the other parent contests the move. This can be emotionally difficult as it essentially involves arguing that the child’s life will be largely the same if not positively impacted by being separated from the other parent. You can help clients be prepared for the court, and possibly loved ones, to be critical of their decision to move. It helps to work with the relocating parent to create a fair legal plan for how the child will keep in touch and regularly see the other parent.

Attorneys fight to preserve the family as much as possible through a separation. This includes helping clients understand how their children are impacted by their every decision.  Getting the court’s approval to move away can be complicated and life after the move can be even more so. Attorneys and clients working together with a children-first mentality can be the right combination to equal positive outcomes for the entire family.

How Arbitrators Can Help Resolve Date of Separation

July 17, 2015

By Melissa M. Boyd, Esq.

Over the years, we’ve seen drastic changes to what constitutes a marriage. The same can be said about divorce. Different ways of approaching divorce and maintaining family dynamics before and after the fact are being established and growing in commonality. This has led to instances I’ve termed the “weird normal.”

date of separation

A familiar example of the “weird normal” is couples who divorce and then continue spending ample time together as a family. Take Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, whose recent split has created headlines not only because their divorce was shocking, but because afterward the entire family headed to the Bahamas – wedding rings still on. It is also rumored that Ben and Jen will continue living together. Sure, celebrity couples may continue “living together” on a sprawling estate, but the reality is we are seeing this more and more often across all types of families.

An example of the “weird normal” that can lead to some legal troubles are the couples whose marriage ends emotionally before either spouse takes action to legally end the union. This usually happens when parents choose to stay married and continue cohabitating out of fear of hurting the children. These couples may make a mutual decision that their marriage is over, but then continue living together as a legally married couple for decades. What happens then when they do pursue divorce? What is their date of separation: the first time they discussed the possibility or decades later when they call an attorney? More importantly, why does it matter?

In Pennsylvania, the Divorce Code and case law regarding the date of separation creates a presumption that the latest date of separation is the date on which the divorce complaint was served. The definition of “separate and apart” however, is the date couples cease cohabitation – whether they go on living in the same residence or not- 23 Pa.C.S.A. §3103, as amended. Therefore, a separation date earlier than service of the divorce complaint can be proved by evidence which shows clearly a manifested, communicated and independent intent to dissolve the marriage, even if couples continue living together. McCoy v. McCoy, 888 A.2d 906 (Pa. Super. 2005); Sinha v. Sinha, 526 A.2d 765 (Pa. 1987).

Even though the law seems to have caught up to this new “weird normal,” couples, as you can imagine, often disagree on the date they intended to end the marriage. They may say it was the very first time they discussed separating, or when they mentioned it to a friend or other loved one. They could say it was when they stopped sharing the marital bed, or when they separated finances, or when the wedding band was removed. And, thanks to technology, available evidence to back up their argument is growing. Spouses now cite posted images of the family on social media as evidence that their union was still intact after their ex’s claimed date of separation.

An effective way to determine date of separation is by an impartial arbitrator who listens to testimonies from both sides and reviews evidence submitted to decide at what point in time one of the parties “clearly manifested and communicated to the other spouse intent to dissolve the marital union.”

The date of separation does deserve all this fuss. It’s an important demarcation in divorce. As a general rule, all income and assets acquired from the start of the marriage through to the date of separation are considered joint assets, while what is acquired after the date of separation belongs solely to the acquirer. This can quickly become a sticking point, especially if one spouse comes into financial fortune via commission, bonus, etc. around the time he or she claims separation occurred.

There are a number of advantages to choosing arbitration over litigation.

  • Arbitration is usually cheaper, and can be completed faster than litigation.
  • Flexibility: arbitration hearings can be scheduled only around those involved rather than worked into an overflowing court calendar.
  • Arbitration hearings are also held in private and the terms can typically be kept private as well.
  • As an arbitrator, I also feel that arbitration hearings help avoid hostility between parties. Spouses are fully involved in building their argument and in working toward a resolution, which usually helps them lean toward working together rather than escalating their anger.

There are now many different types of families and marital unions and there are many different types of divorce. There is no right answer for when, why and how couples should split. Couples should work with their attorney to flesh out their case, and their feelings, consider the other party involved, and make the best decision concerning how to approach their split.

For more information feel free to contact Melissa M. Boyd at 610-275-0700 or by email at mboyd@highswartz.com.

Visit the firm’s Family Law page here.

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.

Melissa M. Boyd has been certified as a Family Law Arbitrator by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

The Constitutional Right to Gay Marriage

June 26, 2015By Melissa M. Boyd. Esq.In American society today, it often seems like the Constitution is a piñata, getting beaten from all angles in an effort to translate (and in some cases twist) what the writers meant. As an attorney, it’s a document that is the foundation of my career, and it’s a document that continues to amaze me.
Gay Marriage
The Constitutional Right to Gay Marriage
That’s one of the things that struck me at the news of the Supreme Court in OBERGEFELL ET AL. v. HODGES, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, ET AL. that legalizes gay marriage: that the Constitution seems to say it all, almost like it’s ahead of its time, helping society grow and evolve. It provides the guidelines that help us determine issues that it seems impossible that the writers could have foreseen … and yet on days like today their foresight seems supernatural.As a family lawyer, I believe strongly that marriage is a good thing; in many ways, it forms the stitching for the fabric of society—without marriage, society is worse off. And so I’m excited about this decision because I believe it will stitch society together more tightly. There is no ambiguity now. Marriage is a fundamental right that bears no mind to race, religion and now gender.And, lastly, this, from closing paragraph from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion on this case:“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”It is so ordered.Gay Marriage 

Co-Parenting through Vacation Season

Advice for Single Parents Seeking a Stress-Free Summer by Melissa M. Boyd, Esq.June 11, 2015I developed this post as one in a series to help parents and their attorneys plan for the slew of legal co-parenting complications the summer brings. Without the structure of school, even the tightest co-parenting plans are challenged.Whether an uncoupling was friendly or not, it takes a concentrated effort to find what works for each couple to co-parent successfully. Though every situation is different, and there is no recipe to guarantee positive family outcomes, this is practical advice for how to handle the legal aspects of these commonly faced issues…Child CustodyArranging a vacation is often a task that, well, causes most to need a vacation. For separated, divorced or single parents, planning a vacation for themselves and their children can be grueling.Typically single parents have a custody agreement which serves as a parenting plan. However, attorneys may have been vague concerning vacations. Or, parents may not have their agreements finalized yet.Unfortunately, co-parenting issues stemming from vacations typically present themselves at the last minute, when the vacation is already planned yet is being communicated to the other parent for the first time.To help, we’ve tied vacation planning to these familiar “Five W’s”:
  • Who
When making vacation plans, it’s important that parents communicate early and often. This avoids any last minute quarreling over changes. Some families start this process as early as March.While communication between parents is crucial, kids should be left out of the arranging.  The kids don’t need to know which parent made special requests, which made unnecessary denials, or who spent more money. They just need to know that their parents worked hard for them so that they can enjoy their summers.
  • What
When thinking about what type of vacation to take, each parent should try to put themselves in the other’s shoes.  If one would be uncomfortable with a particular activity or accommodation, they shouldn’t do anything similar when it’s their turn for a trip.All vacation provisions and plans should be agreed upon and put in writing as soon as possible to avoid conflict. Parents should also be held responsible to share detailed vacation itineraries. It must be a provision that the non-attending parent is provided with all details around accommodation, travel times and activities so they feel at ease.Another hugely important element of choosing a vacation is cost. Parents must be realistic financially when it comes to vacation selection. Parents may have half the resources they had pre-split, and regardless of what the children may be accustomed to, or what the other parent can afford, they need to choose a vacation that is within their means.Considering finances is also motivation to keep vacation planning peaceful – when parents disagree they may spend significant funds paying attorneys or mediators.
  • When
Attorneys have the opportunity to prevent disputes by setting clear parameters in the parenting plan or custody agreement.Every family is different and every divorce has its own unique spot on the amicable to nasty scale. Each plan should be customized but clear to avoid any possible confusion down the road. Some plans can be very specific and include pre-determined dates, such as Mom gets the third week in June, and Dad gets the third week in July.  Others may just state that each parent gets one week and dates must be finalized and communicated by a certain date.Parents should do their best to stick to the schedule. If for any reason they wish to deviate, or don’t have the plan outlined yet, respectful conversations should begin as soon as possible.
  • Where
Everyone enjoys dreaming about where they may go on their next vacation. For divorced and single parents, it’s important to be informed before the mind starts to wander.If you have the means to travel outside of the country for vacation, there are specific rules regarding passports for children of divorce. Both parents must give consent before a passport is used for any child under the age of 16 unless one parent was granted sole custody- then only the custodial parent’s signature is required.  It is possible to get a passport without the signature of both parents but only when it is needed for the child’s health or a special family circumstance – not a vacation.Parents who cannot get their former spouse’s support will have to contact an attorney. The most common course of action is to petition for the court to order the ex the sign the application.  Parents who are on the opposing end should also reach out to their lawyer after refusing to sign. Real fears about abduction should be communicated to attorneys and to the Court.
  • Why
The best piece of advice I can give when vacation planning gets stressful is to remember the reason for vacationing in the first place. Vacations are meant to bring families closer together – not farther apart. Parents should be considerate, thoughtful and respectful, with a children-first mentality. Attorneys should have the same children-first mentality in order to guide families toward the best possible outcomes.View related blog posts here

Divorce, Threats and Social Media: Lessons From The Elonis Case

June 2, 2015By Melissa M. Boyd, Esq. “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you.”Supreme Court buildingIf your wife left you, and you wrote that post on Facebook, would it be construed as a threat? Certainly some people would see it that way, but the US Supreme Court has ruled that that type of social media post is not enough to get you convicted under federal threat statutes; yesterday (June 1) the Court overruled the conviction of Pennsylvanian Anthony  Douglas Elonis.Elonis posted that message above, along with other violent messages, to his Facebook page after his wife left him, and was subsequently convicted of threatening her and sentenced to 44 months in prison. Elonis claims that he was not threatening his wife, but simply writing rap lyrics that were not representative of his true feelings, and his lawyer argued that the lyrics should be protected under the right to freedom of speech.The Court said the government needed to do more than prove that a reasonable person would find the postings threatening in order to convict Elonis.  The Court did not squarely address the First Amendment issues raised by Elonis in trying to protect the threats imbedded in rap lyrics.  The question is one of intent:  Did Elonis mean what he posted or was he reckless in posting the choice content?However, there is still a cautionary tale in this story: Just because Elonis’ conviction was overturned doesn’t mean he hasn’t paid a price for his social media posts. When people are in difficult marital or personal relationships, anger is not an unusual emotion. However, it’s best to not immediately vent your anger on social media.So, as angry or frustrated as you may be, zip it when it comes to venting on social media about your ex, ex’s ex, mother/father of your child, in laws, etc. Maybe you won’t be convicted, but you could be the subject of a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order if you are blogging or posting about your ex in what could be perceived as a threatening way.  And if there is other evidence of your threatening behavior toward an ex or other family member, that additional evidence of a social media post, whether it’s rap lyrics or just plain ol’ words, could tip the scales in favor of a PFA against you.As they said in movie The Social Network, the Internet is written in ink. What you post will never completely go away, and it can come back to haunt 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.Visit Melissa M. Boyd’s attorney profile.Visit High Swartz’s family law practice page. 

Advice for Separated Spouses Seeking a Stress-Free Summer

May 14, 2015By Melissa M. Boyd, Esquire

Co-Parenting through the End of the School Year and Summer Planning

I developed this post as one in a series to help parents and their attorneys plan for the slew of legal co-parenting complicationChild Custodys the summer brings. Without the structure of school, even the tightest co-parenting plans are challenged.Whether a divorce was friendly or not, it takes a concentrated effort to find what works for each couple to co-parent successfully. Though every divorce is different, and there is no recipe to guarantee positive family outcomes, this is practical advice for how to handle the legal aspects of commonly faced issues…As each school year winds down, parents’ schedules grow more hectic.  A parent’s calendar is filled with final parent teacher conferences and end of the year class events. Meanwhile, determining summer childcare is at the top of their long to-do list.Typically, separated spouses have a custody agreement which serves as a parenting plan. However, attorneys may have been vague concerning how parents approach extracurricular events and childcare. Or, parents may not have their agreements finalized yet.Whether an attorney is working through an agreement for an open divorce case, or has been called upon to solve a dispute, it’s important we craft a solution that’s in the best interest of the entire family, and prevents future conflict.When considering shared responsibility of school activities, parents who kept the divorce amicable may be able to attend events together, or can cooperate by taking turns. For the not so friendly exes, consider what is most important to each spouse, and what their personal schedules allow.Also, contact the school. Nowadays most schools allow separated parents to meet with teachers individually and post report cards online for shared access.This issue demonstrates why it’s important to share the custody agreement with faculty once complete.  It helps the teachers keep things as convenient as possible for the family, and the child.Child Custody (2)Selecting summer childcare is an interesting issue because it can be considered an amenity and not a need.  Also, there is virtually no legal precedent which delineates at what age a child can be left home alone, which can lead to some strong disagreements between parents.Separated couples should think about summer childcare as early as possible. Permission of both parents is absolutely needed in order for a child to attend summer camps, especially camps where travel is required.As an attorney, I always guide parents toward making a decision that is best for the child. Parents should think about providing their child with a comfortable atmosphere that includes recreational and educational stimulation.It’s crucial to make sure parents have gathered as much information about their child care options as possible.  This makes it easier for both parents to come to a decision they each feel comfortable with. When parents are unable to agree and the Court gets involved, detailed information regarding atmosphere, safety, experience of care givers, benefits, schedule, location, program size, etc. becomes even more important.A constant in all divorce cases is that the family’s life will be impacted for years to come. As attorneys, we can use our experience to anticipate challenges that clients haven’t thought of yet, and build a plan that makes co-parenting easier for the parents- and for the children.Visit Missy Boyd’s profile.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. 

High Swartz Partner Moderates Custody Course for Pennsylvania Bar Institute

NORRISTOWN, Pa. – (November 11, 2014) – Family law attorney Melissa M. Boyd, a partner at the law firm of High Swartz, recently moderated a CLE course for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute (PBI) on “The Intersection of Legal and Mental Health Issues in Custody Cases.” The interactive program featured a panel discussion with judges, family law attorneys and mental health professionals of issues affecting the different roles of the psychologist, acting in the best interests of the children, and the attorney, advocating for a client’s point of view.Boyd is a frequent presenter for the PBI, the continuing education arm of the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA), formed to provide Pennsylvania lawyers with high quality, timely, practical and cost effective information. Boyd is also a regular presenter for the PBA’s Family Law Section (FLS), of which she has been an active member since 2004, currently serving on its Council, which oversees the section’s programs and initiatives. She recently served a one-year term on the Executive Committee.A Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Pennsylvania Chapter, Boyd concentrates her practice on divorce, pre-nuptial and post-divorce agreements, child custody and support, equitable distribution, alimony, adoptions, protection from abuse and juvenile law, and other family law matters. A member of the Montgomery County Bar Association’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee, she is vice chair of its Family Law Section.Boyd has dedicated much of her professional career and advocates in the community to preserving the rights of children and their families. She is a graduate of Washington College, and received her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Baltimore School of Law.Celebrating its 100th year, High Swartz LLP has a track record of legal excellence for clients in Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states, as well as dedication to the community. The firm counsels clients in a broad range of areas including litigation, business, employment, real estate, and municipal and governmental law.

High Swartz Partner Moderates Panel at Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Meeting

NORRISTOWN, Pa. – (July 17, 2014) – Family law attorney Melissa M. Boyd, a partner at the law firm of High Swartz, recently moderated a program called “Valuation of a Small Business on a Tight Budget,” presented at the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Family Law Section (FLS) Summer Meeting in Cambridge, Maryland. A distinguished panel of accountants and financial experts from across Pennsylvania addressed the many challenges that arise in the valuation of a small business where the client is on a limited budget. An active member of the PBA FLS since 2004, Boyd recently served a one-year term on the organization’s Executive Committee. She is a current member of the PBA’s FLS Council, which oversees the section’s programs and initiatives, and has served on many other committees for the PBA’s FLS over the years.Boyd, a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Pennsylvania Chapter, concentrates her practice on divorce, pre-nuptial and post-divorce agreements, child custody and support, equitable distribution, alimony, adoptions, protection from abuse and juvenile law, and other family law matters. A member of the Montgomery County Bar Association’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee, Boyd is vice chair of its Family Law Section and a frequent presenter for the organization, as well as for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute.Boyd has dedicated much of her professional career and advocates in the community to preserving the rights of children and their families. She is a graduate of Washington College, and received her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Baltimore School of Law.Celebrating its 100th year, High Swartz LLP has a track record of legal excellence for clients in Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states, as well as dedication to the community. The firm counsels clients in a broad range of areas including litigation, business, employment, real estate, and municipal and governmental law.

Equal Amenities at Both Parents’ Houses not the Standard for Child Support in High Income Cases in Pennsylvania

Rich v. Rich, — A.2d – (Pa. Super. 2009)In Rich v. Rich, the Superior Court (Orie Melvin, Bender and Fitzgerald, JJ.) addressed several hotly contested issues relating to a Schuylkill County matter involving a high income support case.The parties were married on January 28, 1989. On the day of the wedding, the parties executed a prenuptial agreement. Father was employed as a CEO of two coal companies as well as many other cogeneration facilities earning between $9 and $10 million per year. His net worth was approximately $40 million. Four children were born to the marriage and one child reached majority. The parties were separated in 2001; however, Mother and the four children continued to live in a 10,000 square foot home on 150 acres until 2004. Father continued to pay all expenses during this time frame. It was not until Mother moved from the martial home in June 2004 that a support action was instituted. Mother received an interim support order of $32,490 per month for the support of the four children.Following a delay of nearly two years and continued monthly payments of $32,490 from Father to Mother, three days of hearing were conducted before a Master and recommendations issued requiring Father to pay a sum of $9,337 per month which did incorrectly include a reduction in support for shared custody. Mother filed Exceptions and the Schuylkill County Judge entered an order on January 3, 2008 directing Father to pay $15,791 per month, effective June 7, 2004. As a result of this award, Father had overpaid support by $498,903.02. In an effort to reduce the accumulated overpayment, the court ordered that Father only pay $11,791.67 per month and allow the difference of $4,000.00 to be credited against the overpayment.Interestingly, Mother presented testimony about her 2005 expenses, saying they totaled over $200,000. Mother estimated that 10% of these expenses were paid on her behalf but provided no concrete proof of her actual expenses. The trial court attributed all but 10% of Mother’s expenses to the children (with the exception of attorneys’ fees associated with another matter) and did not reduce the child support obligation of Father after one of the children was emancipated.Cross appeals ensued, with Father challenging the trial court’s award on several bases including the trial court’s failure to reduce Father’s support obligation because Mother did not identify her own expenses. Father also believed he was entitled to a reduction in support on the account of one his children reaching the age of majority. Both parties challenged the method applied by the trial court to recover Father’s overpayment. Mother raised several issues as well, contending that the trial court’s award was only a fraction of Father’s income and net wealth and would not afford her the ability to provide a comparable standard of living while the children were in Mother’s care or the one enjoyed by the family during the parties’ marriage.The Superior Court per Bender, J found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in crafting the support award that it did. Although Mother did not provide a specific itemization as to her expenses and there was no reduction in Father’s support obligation on the account of Mother’s expenses, the Superior Court could glean from the record and the support award that the trial court accepted Mother’s testimony that only 10% of her total expenses were paid on her own behalf and further, that the trial court was attempting to afford Mother with amenities commensurate with the parent who has fewer assets and no income. See e.g., Saunders v. Saunders, 908 A.2d 356 (Pa. Super. 2006). In terms of the lifestyle issues raised by Mother, the Superior Court relied on Colonna v. Colonna, 855 A.2d 648 (Pa. 2004), wherein the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that “the determination of appropriateness is left to the discretion of the trial court, upon consideration of all relevant circumstances.” See, Colonna, 855 A.2d at 652. The Court further opined in the instant matter that the mere fact that the children may not have the same amenities while in Mother’s custody as they do in Father’s custody does not matter. The amenities provided under the trial court’s award were appropriate and the Superior Court was not going to disturb the trial court’s award on that basis. Every expense that Mother submitted with the exception of her attorneys’ fees in an unrelated matter was accepted by the trial court. As such, the Superior Court found that the trial court’s award could be sustained on valid grounds. Sirio v. Sirio, 951 A.2d 1188 (Pa. Super 2008).Mother also raised several mathematical comparisons to show that Father’s support obligation was only 1.895% of his monthly income. She also contrasted her support order with the highest support order provided pursuant to the Guidelines, stating that mathematically, Father was paying for support as if he had an income of $840,000 rather than $9-10 million. Further, Mother testified that during the marriage she received $10,000 per month in spending money and Father could afford a greater support obligation. The Superior Court was not convinced by this argument and found that no case law or statute supported this method of calculating support. Further, given the dictates of Melzer v. Witsberger, 480 A.2d 991 (Pa. 1994), monthly child support in high income cases is based primarily on the reasonable needs of the children. Support orders must be crafted based on the actual amount of money that is required to care for the children based on the evidence presented.The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s award reducing Father’s child support obligation by $4,000 in light of the substantial overpayment made over the course the litigation. Although a substantial balance would remain after the emancipation of the last child ($250,000), the Superior Court found that there was no abuse of discretion as the trial court did its best to create a balance while keeping in mind the most important interest: the best interests of the children. The Superior Court relied on the finding in Portugal v. Portugal, 798 A.2d 246 (Pa. Super. 2002) (affirming the trial court’s broad discretion to correct underpayments of support), noting that a trial court would have discretion to correct overpayments of support as well.The Superior Court did remand the matter on the issue of the eldest child’s emancipation and its effect on Father’s support obligation. Since the record had not been developed as to how Mother’s expenses for the remaining three children stayed the same after the eldest child’s emancipation, the Superior Court remanded for either a recalculation or a clarification of the reasons the trial court refused to amend the order. Judge Bender did point out the emancipation of a child does not support a 25% reduction in child support as Father would suggest and further, certain fixed expenses do remain the same even with the emancipation of a child.CASE NOTE AUTHOR’S EDITORIAL COMMENTS:Although there is no discussion about the contents of the parties’ prenuptial agreement, it is clear that Mrs. Rich signed a comprehensive waiver of spousal support and maintenance and other economic claims on her wedding day and inevitably, the issue of child support had to be hotly contested after this marriage broke down. The creative arguments that Mrs. Rich sought to employ about the disparities in the parties’ lifestyles and the amenities were rejected by the Superior Court. Clearly, one must present actual expenses as opposed to projected expenses for the children. Just because one parent may be able afford a greater support obligation does not mean that the children and/or the obligee parent are entitled to greater support. The Rich case does reinforce the idea that the actual needs of the children must be proved when conducting a Melzer analysis. Interestingly, the case does open a door for a practitioner to skirt the issue of proving the parent’s actual expenses. If a practitioner can craft a well-reasoned argument that a parent’s expenses are a particular percentage of the total household expenses, a trial court could accept this analysis rather than compelling the practitioner to provide further evidence of actual expenses for the parent.With the new Support Guidelines scheduled to be released, the outcome in this matter could have been dramatically different. The Melzer analysis will be replaced with a formulaic approach which would have benefited Mrs. Rich given the huge disparity in the parties’ incomes. While the needs of the children will still be explored under the new Guidelines, as promoted by Recommendation 91, employing a “preliminary” calculation using a formula could have been more desirable for Mrs. Rich.Melissa M. Boyd (Montgomery County)Melissa M. Boyd is a partner in the Norristown firm of High Swartz, LLP, and is a member of the Council of the PBA Family Law Section. She is an active member of the Doris Jonas Freed Inn of Court and currently serves as the chair of the Equitable Distribution/Alimony Subcommittee for the Family Law Section of the Montgomery County Bar Association.