Spivak Law Firm | Pittsburgh, PA

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Limit Stress In Divorce


ConflictDivorce can be one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. You may take comfort in the fact that family and friends have taken your side in the matter, but this may create conflict. What appears to be emotional support may actually be encouragement to fight and argue.

It is best to enter negotiations, or even litigation, with a level head in order to avoid making rash decisions that are not necessarily in your best interest. If you (or someone close to you) are in the process of divorce, lend support. But avoid causing conflict.

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

Child Custody and Summer Vacation


dandelion wishing blowing seedsChildren eagerly await the end of the school year and the start of summer vacation. But summer vacation can be a stressful time for you and your ex, as this means accommodating one another’s vacation schedules. These five tips can help alleviate some of the tensions that arise when planning vacations:

  • Tell your ex your plans ahead of time;
  • Do not violate the terms of an existing custody order;
  • Give your ex the details of your trip (location, lodging, transportation, phone numbers, etc.);
  • Arrange for communication between the children and your ex;
  • Confirm the agreement in writing.

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

Tips For Child Custody Hearings


Custody Pic1In a child custody hearing, you may think that the judge’s main focus in the courtroom is on the lawyers. But the judge is mindful of all parties involved and pays close attention to the parents’ body language and demeanor.

When you are in court, pay attention and remain calm. If the other parent says something disagreeable, avoid shaking your head, rolling your eyes, sighing, or squirming in your chair. One of the sixteen custody factors considered by the judge is the level of conflict between the parties. Negative body language may lead the judge to believe that you and your ex-spouse are unable to effectively co-parent in the best interests of your children.

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

Should I Talk to Police?


200274141-001Police may not arrest you without probable cause. They must reasonably believe that you committed a crime.

If you are a criminal suspect, police may ask to speak with you. We advise that you politely decline and refer them to your attorney.

You might think that declining to talk to police will make you appear suspicious and even guilty. The officer may say that he just wants to ask you some questions, or he may even go so far as to threaten to recommend adding charges against if you do not cooperate.

But by talking to police, you may be building their case against you.

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

Parenting Plans for Teens


Family Pic6Teenage children are often more adaptable to custody schedules because they can better balance differences in household routines. As long as the parenting plan allows the children to see both parents on a frequent and continued basis, the schedule can be flexible. When making a parenting plan for your teenagers, consider the following:

  • Permit the children to call the other parent in privacy;
  • Respect the well-reasoned preferences of the children;
  • Accommodate the children’s school activities and extracurricular activities;
  • Consider the social needs of the children.

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

How A PFA Affects Your Divorce

Family Pic3When you initiate a divorce, it is important to keep your emotions in check. Divorce can be emotionally draining, but the playing field may quickly uneven when one party obtains a Temporary Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order.

Avoid any form of contact that could be construed as abusive, which includes shouting matches with your ex. Your ex could file a PFA against you after a verbal argument claiming that she fears you.

The PFA can evict you from your home, restrict your child custody rights, require you to pay support, and order you to continue contributing to marital home expenses.

Spivak Law Firm handles all areas of family law, including: divorce, child custody, child support, and PFA hearings. To speak with an experienced family law attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Underage Drinking Penalties


Family Pic9Underage drinking offenses can carry stiff penalties including: license suspension, fines, court costs, and even jail time for people over 18. A one-time lapse in judgment has the potential to adversely affect future job prospects, academic opportunities, and even student loan eligibility.

If you or your child has been charged with underage drinking, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can begin negotiations with the police officers or prosecutors before your hearing. At Spivak Law Firm, we aim to get the charges reduced or even dismissed.

To speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney call Spivak Law Firm to schedule a consultation: (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Post-Gazette Features Spivak Law Firm


PFA Pic11The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has once again featured Spivak Law Firm on issues involving family law and criminal defense.

The P-G recently published the article, Impoverished Parents Deserve Their Day In Court, written by Rebecca Canterbury, who will begin work at Spivak Law Firm as an associate attorney in the fall.

Attorney Todd Spivak, the owner of Spivak Law Firm and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, assisted with writing and editing the article for publication.

The Post-Gazette routinely features Spivak Law Firm, publishing several articles of important legal commentary on child custody and Protection From Abuse (PFA) laws in Pennsylvania.

In Crack Down On Domestic Violence In Allegheny County, Attorney Spivak calls on Allegheny County to let specialized judges with extensive domestic-violence training oversee all PFA hearings.

In Improve Pennsylvania’s Domestic-Abuse Law, Attorney Spivak exposes the issue of bogus PFA orders and recommends ways to curb abuses in the system.

In Child Custody For Rapists, Attorney Spivak explains how rapists use family court to harass and intimidate their victims. Since the article’s publication, the Pennsylvania Legislature has taken action to safeguard the custody rights of rape victims.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, compassionate, cost-effective representation in all family law and criminal defense matters. Call us at (412) 344-4900.

Child Custody and Filing Fees


CourtFees052916Rebecca Canterbury, who will begin work as an associate attorney at Spivak Law Firm in the fall, recently published an important article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on how filing fees in Allegheny County prevent low-income parents from asserting their child-custody rights.

Canterbury wisely recommends automatic fee waivers for parents with income levels that fall within the federal poverty guidelines, taking into account the number of household dependents. Her article, entitled Impoverished Parents Deserve Their Day In Court, is reprinted here in its entirety:

In Allegheny County, courts frequently turn away low-income parents in child-custody cases simply because they cannot pay the exorbitant filing fees. This must change.

Astonishingly, parents who assert child-custody rights in Allegheny County must cough up almost $500 at the outset of the case. The fee for filing a custody complaint has risen to a whopping $337. Add another $150 in fees owed for court-ordered co-parenting and mediation seminars. Of course, that does not even begin to include the cost of hiring an attorney.

Such filing fees are insurmountable for many moms and dads, raising concerns that poverty alone restricts them from exercising what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court termed a biological parent’s “prima facie right to custody.”

Criminal defendants who are poor have a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney, at no charge. But indigent parents have no such right to free counsel even in legal proceedings where basic human rights are at stake, such as those involving the custody of their children.

In Allegheny County, low-income parents may petition the court to waive the mandatory filing fees. But the guidelines for granting a fee waiver in family court are anything but clear.

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has issued opinions directing trial-court judges to consider a party’s totality of circumstances, including income, dependents, monthly obligations and debts. Such subjective criteria have led to inconsistent rulings.

In child-custody actions, domestic-relations officers in Allegheny County have the authority to grant fee waivers. But they do not just consider a parent’s income levels. They also look at a parent’s savings, which most low-income parents can ill afford to drain, and at their expenses, which usually are just enough to scrape by on. Shockingly, domestic-relations officers can deny fee-waiver requests based on the merits of a case even before it reaches a judge.

If denied at the initial level, petitioners may then make their case to a family-court judge. But more than 60 percent of fee-waiver requests are denied, according to Allegheny County Custody Department Manager Amy Ross.

By contrast, the Allegheny County Public Defender’s Office takes a simple, objective approach by automatically appointing free attorneys to criminal defendants with income levels that fall within the federal poverty guidelines, taking into consideration the number of household dependents.

Indeed, plaintiffs in Allegheny County who seek Protection from Abuse Orders pay no filing fee at all and even receive a free attorney regardless of their income.

That’s right: A millionaire who files for a PFA gets a free lawyer. But poor parents seeking custody of their children often can’t even get the filing fees waived.

Perhaps that’s why some family-law attorneys and judges believe people are inappropriately using the PFA system as a backdoor to assert child-custody rights.

Last year, when I was a second-year student at Duquesne University School of Law, I worked as a certified legal intern drafting child-custody petitions and frequently seeking fee waivers for low-income clients.

One client, whom I’ll call Jane, was a single mother of four children. Jane sought to modify a custody order because her ex was preventing her from seeing their kids.

Jane was unemployed due to severe medical problems. She had no income and was living on just $347 per month in food stamps. My classmate at Duquesne drafted a petition to modify the custody order and request a fee waiver.

But a court administrator inexplicably denied the request to waive the $250 filing fee. A judge later upheld the decision on grounds that Jane’s bank statement reflected that there was $300 in her account. Sadly, they did not account for the fact that Jane’s rent and utility bills were coming due, for which she needed that money.

A classmate and I initiated a program to subsidize filing fees for applicants whose fee-waiver requests were denied. After several months of preparation and fundraising, we hope to launch the program this year.

While our efforts may bring relief to some, they will not resolve the problem of low-income parents being denied access to the courts. Unless family-court administrators implement an objective process for approving fee waivers for the poor similar to the public defender’s office, the doors to custody court will remain closed to many who cannot pay.

4 Tips for Sharing Custody


Custody Pic5Your child’s refusal to follow a custody order places you in a difficult position. Violation of a court order can subject you to contempt proceedings, which can carry harsh penalties such as fines, license suspensions, and even jail time.

Since it may be difficult to force your child to visit with the other parent, try following these four tips to avoid being held in contempt:

  • Ensure your child is dressed, packed and ready to go;
  • Encourage your child to go with the other parent;
  • Record your attempts to follow the custody order;
  • Consider enrolling your child in counseling to discuss underlying issues.

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