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Stop False Reports To Child Abuse Hotlines

Little girl wearing sundress holding flowersPeople engaged in child custody battles can exploit child abuse hotlines by falsely reporting abuse in an effort to gain leverage in Court.

The public should not be allowed to make anonymous reports to child abuse hotlines, as these calls can result in innocent parents losing their kids, according to family law professor Dale Margolin Cecka of the University of Richmond.

A study of anonymous public reports found that nationally, only 1.5 percent of all reports are both anonymous and substantiated.

Professor Cecka distinguishes between the criminal justice system and Child Protective Services:

“The criminal justice system does not permit lay people to make completely anonymous reports. Before arresting or detaining anyone on the basis of an anonymous tip, police must also corroborate aspects of the allegation made by the confidential caller.”

Child Protective Services, meanwhile, “has an opposite mandate: It must visit a home after an anonymous call, if the allegations meet the legal definition of ‘abuse’ or ‘neglect.’”

The public should never be allowed to anonymously call a child abuse hotline, Professor Cecka concludes.

Spivak Law Firm provides aggressive representation in all high-conflict child custody and child abuse cases. To schedule a free consultation, call (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Bring Evidence to Your PFA Hearing

DV Pic9In your Protection From Abuse (PFA) petition, write clearly and in detail what happened and when it happened. Focus your statements on how you were physically abused or threatened and whether you are afraid you will be abused or threatened again.

If you have any photos of injuries or property damage caused by your abuser, text messages or emails, or ripped clothing that show how the abuser threatened, abused, or harassed you, don’t forget to bring them to the final PFA hearing.

Because of the “he-said, she-said” nature of domestic violence, it is important to bring documentary evidence when such evidence is available.

To speak with an experienced PFA lawyer, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Is Stalking A Crime In Pennsylvania?

Assault Pic4Stalking is a crime in Pennsylvania. There are two basic elements to the crime:

  • The stalker must complete at least two acts of unwanted behavior, no matter how close or far apart in time they are, and
  • The victim must experience reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or substantial emotional distress.

The prosecutor’s office in your county makes the final decision whether to file criminal charges, including stalking charges.

If you are accused of stalking, Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive defense in Protection From Abuse (PFA) and all criminal hearings. Call us today for a free consultation at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Child Custody Mediation In Allegheny County

Custody Pic9In Allegheny County, any parent who files for custody of their child must engage in mediation with the other parent, unless there was domestic violence.

Mediation is a structured problem-solving process to make informed decisions through an impartial third party. The mediation program in Allegheny County is based on the belief that parents are the best experts to make decisions about their children.

Parenting agreement decisions reached through mediation work better and last longer than decisions made by someone in the court. The goal of the custody mediation session is to give parents an opportunity to communicate cooperatively toward solutions that will best meet their child’s needs.

The mediator’s role is to remain neutral and to assist both parents in negotiating options that will work for their family. Mediators are accustomed to working with people who feel hurt, frustrated, and often angry. The mediator can assist in refocusing the parents’ issues toward their children and their family.

Mediation is an alternative to the legal process that intends to be empowering, educational, and confidential.

Spivak Law Firm handles all child custody matters. Our attorneys are skilled trial lawyers and effective negotiators trained in mediation. Call us at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

How Family Partnerships Benefit Children

Custody Pic5You may not like the other parent, you may not trust or respect the other parent, but you should learn to work with him or her for your children.

It is easy to blame the other parent for anything that has gone wrong; you may even wish the other parent would disappear. Parenting, however, is about you, the other parent, and families learning to work in a business-like, cooperative relationship.

Good family agreements allow you to set rules about working together. Every successful business needs to have a good business plan with specific goals.

A family partnership is a limited partnership or business consisting of two parents or other family members. The goal of this partnership is to nurture relationships.

Sometimes businesses must continue to operate under difficult circumstances. Feelings do not enter into professional business negotiations. Polite, courteous, and unemotional communication is most effective.

Children need a working, respectful, and cooperative relationship between their parents and families. Although your adult relationship may no longer exist with the other parent, your family partnership will last forever.

To speak with an experienced family law attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Protecting Children Produced By Rape

dandelion wishing blowing seedsThe Pennsylvania Legislature appears poised to make it easier for a woman who has become pregnant as a result of rape to have her assaulter’s parental rights terminated while maintaining his obligation to pay child support.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, requires the courts to accept requests by rape victims that their rapists not receive custody of children conceived through the assault, unless the child is old enough and agrees to the custody arrangement. The legislation at the same time maintains the rapist’s liability for child support payments if parental rights have been terminated because of a conviction for raping the other parent.

Rape causes more than 32,000 pregnancies among U.S. women each year, according to the Coalition Against Rape.

Spivak Law Firm has proven a leader in advocating for women’s rights, publishing an article in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette back in 2012 on the issue of protecting women who conceive through rape.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, compassionate, cost-effective representation in all family law matters, including: divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, and Protection From Abuse (PFA).

To speak with an experienced family law attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Shared Custody Requires Good Communication

122499577In Allegheny County, it is presumed that parents will share legal custody of their children. Legal custody refers to major decisions involving the child, such as medical, educational, and religious.

Parents who share legal custody are encouraged to engage in unemotional communication when keeping one another informed about their children and making joint decisions about them.

This does not mean that you and the other parent will necessarily agree on issues. It does mean that making such decisions should not interfere with your ability to work together.

Old “hot-buttons” can change the focus of effective communication to destructive, unproductive arguments. Effective communication is not about winning or revenge, but rather a fundamental pathway to working cooperatively together.

To speak with an experienced child custody attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Spivak Law Firm In Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

TS Headshot - FINALThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has again featured Attorney Todd Spivak, owner of Spivak Law Firm, as an authority in Protection From Abuse (PFA) and child custody law in Pennsylvania.

In Crack Down on Domestic Violence in Allegheny County, Attorney Spivak addresses the issue of Allegheny County registering more domestic-violence fatalities than any other Pennsylvania county. The article focuses specifically on the grisly death of Pittsburgh resident Maureen Karr that occurred over the holidays, and calls for increased judicial involvement at PFA hearings.

In Improve Pennsylvania’s Domestic-Abuse Law, Attorney Spivak proposes ways to fix Pennsylvania’s PFA law to limit false claims of abuse. His recommendations include criminally prosecuting filers of bogus PFA petitions and removing PFA records from the public database if the order is withdrawn or dismissed.

In Child Custody For Rapists?, Attorney Spivak exposes a loophole in Pennsylvania law that enables men who father children through rape to assert child custody and visitation rights. The Pennsylvania legislature may make it easier for a woman who has become pregnant as a result of rape to have her assaulter’s parental rights terminated while maintaining his duty to pay child support.

To speak with an experienced Pittsburgh-based family law and criminal defense attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Crack Down on Domestic Violence In Pittsburgh

PFA Pic9The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published the following article by Attorney Todd Spivak, owner of Spivak Law Firm, which handles all areas of family law and criminal defense with an emphasis on child custody and Protection From Abuse (PFA).

Maureen Karr got a temporary protection-from-abuse order against her husband on grounds that he threatened to burn their house down. Two weeks later, according to police, James Karr made good on his promise and his wife died in the fire.

In Pennsylvania, more than 150 people die every year from incidents involving domestic violence. Astonishingly, Allegheny County for two straight years has tallied more domestic-violence fatalities than any other Pennsylvania county, even Philadelphia. In 2013, there were 28 domestic-violence related deaths in Allegheny County, representing nearly one-fifth of such fatalities statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“Some conclude that PFAs are useless, that they’re just a piece of paper,” says Spenser Baca, a third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who represented Maureen Karr at a PFA hearing hours before she was killed. “But PFAs help the majority of clients.”

In December, after 14 years of marriage, Maureen Karr told her husband she wanted a divorce. According to her PFA order, James Karr flipped out: he broke her stuff, slashed her car tires and threatened to set fire to their home in Duquesne. Ms. Karr took refuge at a neighbor’s house and called police. James Karr was arrested, briefly incarcerated and charged with public intoxication.

Charges of harassment and terroristic threats would have served Ms. Karr better. James Karr’s bond conditions did not even include a restraining order.

So, on Dec. 15, Maureen Karr obtained the temporary order that evicted her husband from their home and prohibited all contact. “He was threatening to set the house on fire,” Maureen hand-wrote in the PFA petition.

Similarly, last September, Nancy Bour of Ross Township wrote on a PFA petition against her husband: “Threatened to burn the house down if I try to get divorce.” The next day, according to police, Thomas Bour poured gasoline on their house and set it ablaze. Thomas Bour faces trial next month on multiple felony charges of arson and risking catastrophe.

Defendants always make threats,” says Mr. Baca. “It’s surreal when they make true on their threats.”

On Dec. 29, Maureen and James Karr appeared separately on the third floor of family court Downtown. Ms. Karr sought a final PFA order lasting three years — the maximum allowed under Pennsylvania law. But a hearing never occurred, as the defendant suddenly dropped to the floor and convulsed violently. Although James Karr receives disability benefits based on a seizure disorder, Mr. Baca suspects he faked a seizure to avoid the hearing. The parties left the courthouse without even seeing a judge.

In Allegheny County, court administrators estimate that only 5 percent of PFA cases ever go before a judge for a final hearing. Attorneys frequently work out agreements and draft court orders signed by the parties. An administrator will stamp a judge’s signature on them, but there is no direct judicial involvement whatsoever in the vast majority of cases.

Other counties surrounding Pittsburgh handle PFA cases differently. For instance, Westmoreland County judges insist that all parties appear before a judge regardless of how the case is resolved. It’s impossible to know if a judge’s finger-wagging lecture or threat of grave consequences for another infraction would have saved Maureen Karr’s life, but it might have. Allegheny County’s practice of letting administrators stamp court orders must stop.

Moreover, to promote consistency, Allegheny County should have specialized judges with extensive domestic-violence training to handle all PFA hearings. That’s how PFA cases are handled in Philadelphia County, which saw its number of domestic-violence fatalities drop by 33 percent last year.

This is also how things are done across the street in criminal court, where just two judges oversee all of Allegheny County’s domestic-violence cases. But for PFA hearings, 17 family court judges and three senior judges take turns, ensuring an egregious lack of consistency in court rulings.

On Dec. 30, just hours after appearing in court, James Karr showed up at the couple’s red-brick house set on an orange-brick street. The temporary PFA order remained in place, but, according to police, James Karr went in, slammed his wife’s head against a wall, knocking her unconscious, then tied her wrists with floral wire used for making Christmas wreaths, doused her with her favorite Smirnoff vanilla-flavored vodka and lit a match.

Maureen Karr died from smoke inhalation and carbon-monoxide poisoning. James Karr, a South Park native, has been charged with criminal homicide and aggravated arson. The Allegheny County district attorney’s office plans to argue for the death penalty.

It is impossible to know if Maureen Karr’s death might have been prevented. But immediate action should be taken to curb the number of domestic-violence fatalities in Allegheny County. Increased involvement at PFA hearings by judges with advanced training in domestic-violence cases, and the tougher rulings that likely would result, could make the difference.

To speak with an experienced PFA attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Domestic-Violence Deaths In Allegheny County

BU010665The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence this month plans to release its annual report on domestic-violence fatalities throughout the state, which includes summaries of each incident and a county-by-county statistical breakdown.

In 2013, there were 158 domestic-violence fatalities in Pennsylvania, including 28 in Allegheny County, which for two straight years has tallied more than any other Pennsylvania county.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive representation for plaintiffs and defendants in Protection From Abuse (PFA) hearings in Pittsburgh and all nearby counties, including: Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Fayette County, Indiana County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County.

To speak with an experienced PFA attorney, call Spivak Law Firm today at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.