Spivak Law Firm | Pittsburgh, PA

Based in Pittsburgh, PA

412-344-4900

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Helping Ellen Get Her Kids Back

Empty Pittsburgh BridgeWhen Ellen’s mother died, she became deeply depressed. She started drinking heavily for the first time in her life. Knowing that she was suddenly unfit to care for her two young sons, Ellen signed over custody rights to her ex-husband.

A year passed before Ellen stopped drinking and emerged from her depression. But by then she had lost everything – her home, her job, and her kids. She wanted her life back.

Ellen landed a job and let a three-bedroom apartment hoping to one day fill it with her two sons. Spivak Law Firm has spent the last year helping Ellen exercise her custody rights pro bono. It has been a long difficult journey, but this month we helped her get the child custody schedule of her dreams.

“I am so happy,” Ellen told us. “Finally, I get my kids back.”

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

PFA DO’s and DON’Ts

At Spivak Law Firm, we provide strong defense at PFA hearings for people accused of domestic violence. In most cases, we get the PFA dismissed.

Based in Pittsburgh, we routinely represent PFA defendants in Allegheny County, Westmoreland County, Beaver County, Butler County, and Washington County.

If you’ve been served with a PFA, protect your future by following this important list of PFA Do’s and Don’ts:

Do Hire an Experienced PFA Defense Lawyer: In many Pennsylvania counties, PFA plaintiffs are entitled to a free lawyer. PFA defendants should retain a lawyer to help level the playing field. PFA is a unique area of law that combines aspects of family law and criminal defense. As one of the few law firms in the greater Pittsburgh area that routinely handles both family and criminal cases, Spivak Law Firm is uniquely qualified to help. Our strong negotiation and courtroom skills help us achieve the best outcomes.

Don’t Blow Off the Hearing: Defendants who fail to appear at their PFA hearing risk getting a maximum three-year PFA. This can be devastating, as a PFA stays on the public docket and can haunt you like a criminal record. It comes up on a basic background check performed by employers, potentially costing you a job or promotion. At Spivak Law Firm, we understand that a PFA is a big deal. If you’ve been served with a PFA, we strongly encourage you to take it seriously by attending the PFA hearing.

Do Bring Evidence: If you’ve been served with a PFA, your hearing is likely just about a week away. That does not leave you or your attorney much time to prepare, so you need to start thinking about your defense immediately. Physical evidence commonly introduced at PFA hearings includes copies of medical records, phone records, emails, texts, and Facebook pages. At Spivak Law Firm, we help our clients prepare for their PFA hearing by collecting – by subpoena, if necessary – all records that help present the strongest possible defense.

Don’t Contact the Plaintiff: A PFA is a no-contact order. While it remains in effect, the defendant must abide by the PFA by having no contact whatsoever with the plaintiff. This includes not just physical contact but also contact by phone, text, email, fax, or regular mail. It also includes third-party contact. Thus, a PFA defendant cannot ask a friend or family member to contact the plaintiff about anything. For instance, having a friend ask the plaintiff to withdraw the PFA constitutes a violation of the court order because it is considered third-party contact. For more information on this issue, please visit our blog post “10 Tips for PFA Defendants to Avoid Arrest.”

Do Bring Witnesses: In domestic violence cases, the only eyewitnesses to the incident are often the parties themselves. Because of the “he-said, she-said” nature of domestic violence, cases are often determined based on credibility. A judge will hear testimony from both parties and make a decision largely based on who comes across as more believable. But when witnesses are present, it is important to bring them to the hearing. Because an eyewitness can be crucial in getting your PFA dropped, Spivak Law Firm works hard with clients to ensure that such witnesses appear at their PFA hearing.

Don’t Violate the PFA: Violating any provision of a PFA can result in a six-month jail sentence and a $1,000 fine. Although the main function of a PFA is to restrict contact between the parties, the court order may also contain other provisions that must be followed to avoid arrest. For instance, a PFA may restrict your ability to see your kids, possess weapons, or go to your home and other places frequented by the plaintiff. At Spivak Law Firm, we carefully review the PFA with our clients to ensure that they understand the restrictions imposed by the PFA and the severe consequences of violating them.

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

Protecting Child Custody Rights

116926544Dormont-Brookline Patch, an online news outlet, has published our article about how Pennsylvania law protects the child custody rights of rape victims. The article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and has been reproduced in At Issue, a publication of the Pennsylvania Bar Association:

“At the age of 21, during her senior year in college, Shauna Prewitt was raped. She became pregnant, opted to keep the child and had a baby girl.

“Ms. Prewitt pressed criminal charges against her attacker. Her rapist responded by asserting legal custody rights over their child. Ms. Prewitt promptly withdrew her criminal complaint. Her attacker then followed suit by withdrawing his custody petition.

“‘When no law prohibits a rapist from exercising [child custody] rights,” says Ms. Prewitt, who is now an attorney and women’s rights advocate, “a woman may feel forced to bargain away her legal rights to a criminal trial in exchange for the rapist dropping the bid to have access to her child.’”

The entire article is reproduced here.

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

Seeking Justice for Juveniles

imagesThe appellate review system for juveniles has been notoriously slow in Pennsylvania. Juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent, removed from their homes, and sent to detention centers often complete their detainment in less time than it takes to process their appeal. Such procedural delays are unfair for juveniles and their families.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has sought to correct this problem by expediting the appellate review of cases where child offenders are found delinquent and placed outside their homes.

The recent changes made to the state’s Appellate Court Procedural Rules “should also help appellate courts identify specific instances of sentencing abuse by individual judges,” Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille recently told Lawyers Journal, a publication of the Allegheny County Bar Association.

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

Practical Advice for PFA Defendants

702075.TIFA PFA is a court order that restricts the defendant from having any contact with the plaintiff. But the plaintiff can contact the defendant without violating the PFA. The Sheriff’s Department of Clarion County distributes a helpful flyer instructing defendants on what to do if they encounter their accusers, which we have reprinted here:

–If you see the plaintiff walking toward you on the street, cross the street, and go in a different direction.

–If you are eating dinner in a restaurant when the plaintiff walks in, you need to avoid any contact with him/her. Get up, pay the bill, and leave, if possible, without making the plaintiff aware of your presence or talking to him/her.

–If you are in a movie theater waiting to see a movie and the plaintiff walks in, get up and leave the theater.

–If the plaintiff calls and says to come over for dinner or to “work things out,” do not go. You should have hung up before all that information was given to you. Do not violate the PFA order by talking to the plaintiff, even when she/he called you.

–If the plaintiff calls you and you can repeat what she/he said, you have violated the PFA order. You should have hung up as soon as you recognized the person’s voice.

–If you receive an email from the plaintiff and respond to it, you have violated the PFA order. You should not send or respond to faxes or emails from the plaintiff.

–If you are told that the PFA order has been changed or vacated and you can have contact with the plaintiff, first check with the court that issued the order. Unless and until court personnel confirm that the order has been changed or vacated or you see a court paper confirming that information, do not have any contact with the plaintiff.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive defense at PFA hearings in counties across Southwestern Pennsylvania, including: Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County. To make an appointment with an experienced PFA attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Defining “Income” for Child Support Cases

imagesChild support is largely based on parents’ income. At a child support hearing, both parents are required to bring federal income tax returns, including W-2s, and pay stubs for the preceding six months.

But what constitutes income for child support purposes? According to Pennsylvania law, income includes:

–wages, salaries, bonuses, fees and commissions;

–net income from business or dealings in property;

–interest, rents, royalties and dividends;

–pensions and all forms of retirement;

–income from an interest in an estate or trust;

–Social Security disability benefits;

–Social Security retirement benefits;

–temporary and permanent disability benefits;

–workers’ compensation;

–unemployment compensation;

–alimony;

–lottery winnings;

–income tax refunds; and

–insurance compensation or settlements.

Income does not include, however, public assistance and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, Social Security payments for a child, and foster care payments.

For more information on child support in Pennsylvania, contact Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Pennsylvania DUI Law Also Restricts Drug Use

200274139-001Pennsylvania DUI laws include severe restrictions not just on drunk driving but also on any use of drugs and controlled substances.

The law states that a person may not drive if his or her blood contains “any amount” of a Schedule I controlled substance, non-medically prescribed Schedule II or III controlled substances, or a metabolite of any controlled substance.

Schedule I controlled substances include: marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, LSD, mescaline, and DMT. Schedule II controlled substances include: Oxycontin, Percocet, Demerol, codeine, and morphine. Schedule III controlled substances include: vicodin, ephedrine, and anabolic steroids.

Additionally, Pennsylvania law restricts a person from driving while under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs, or while under the influence of a solvent or noxious substance.

To speak with a Pittsburgh DUI attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Alimony and Adultery Historically Linked

122499577In Pennsylvania, a spouse guilty of marital misconduct such as adultery cannot obtain alimony, except in rare cases of extreme hardship.

There has long been a link between alimony and adultery. Historically, husbands were only forced to pay alimony to their wives if they committed adultery.

“It was almost a form of damages: the financial penalty the law imposed upon husbands as a result of their wrongful conduct in breaching the permanency clause of the marriage contract,” writes attorney Laura W. Morgan in an article entitled “Current Trends In Alimony Law” published by the American Bar Association.

“The amount of the remedy – the amount needed to attain the marital standard of living – was roughly equivalent to the financial harm inflicted on the wife by the husband’s wrongful conduct, another rule strongly reminiscent of contract or even tort law,” Morgan writes.

Today, Pennsylvania courts may award alimony even when there are no allegations of adultery. Pennsylvania embraces no-fault divorce, allowing courts to grant a divorce in the absence of fault where a court found that the marriage was irretrievably broken.

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

Even the Jobless Often Must Pay Child Support

imagesIn Pennsylvania, parents are legally obligated to support their children. Failing to financially support your child may result in your wages being garnished and even in your arrest.

But what if you don’t have a job? If you earn no money, you can’t be required to pay child support, right? Wrong!

Courts may impute an income equal to your earning capacity if you are found to have “willfully failed to obtain or maintain appropriate employment.”

Factors for determining a parent’s earning capacity include: age, education, training, health, work experience, earnings history, and child care responsibilities.

To learn more about earning capacity and other child support issues in Pennsylvania, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

10 Tips for PFA Defendants to Avoid Arrest

SO000183Violating a PFA can result in criminal charges with a maximum punishment of six months in jail. Here are 10 tips for helping PFA defendants avoid criminal penalties:

  1. Do not drive past the plaintiff’s residence.
  2. Avoid all places where you know the plaintiff goes.
  3. Leave a restaurant, grocery, or any other place if you realize the plaintiff is there.
  4. Hang up the phone immediately if the plaintiff calls you.
  5. Do not send emails, texts, letters, faxes, or gifts to the plaintiff.
  6. Do not respond to emails, texts, letters, faxes, or gifts from the plaintiff.
  7. Avoid contact with the plaintiff’s family, friends, and neighbors.
  8. Do not get into arguments or confrontations with the plaintiff’s family or friends – walk away!
  9. If the plaintiff comes to your house, do not let the plaintiff inside – don’t open the door!
  10. Retain an experienced PFA defense attorney.

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