Spivak Law Firm | Pittsburgh, PA

Based in Pittsburgh, PA

412-344-4900

Spivak Law Firm is BBB Accredited

“Legitimate Rape” and Child Custody Laws

Missouri Congressman Todd Akin lit a political firestorm with his statement that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy. “If it’s legitimate rape,” Akin said, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

What is “legitimate rape?”

And how can a woman’s body distinguish the sperm of a rapist from a consensual partner?

But some good may result from the controversy, as Akin’s comment has shifted the political focus to women’s rights.

Today 31 states allow men who father through rape to assert child custody and visitation rights.

I mean can you imagine getting raped, becoming pregnant, having the child, and then having your rapist seek custody rights over the baby and becoming legally bound to you for the next 18 years?

It’s unthinkable.

But that’s precisely what happened to Shauna Prewitt, a rape survivor, attorney, and activist who investigated the custody rights of men who father through rape.

Moreover, Prewitt’s rapist threatened to assert custody of their child unless she stopped pursuing criminal charges against him. Most states sanction this cruel form of blackmail.

Nineteen states, including Pennsylvania, passed laws allowing courts to terminate parental rights of men who father children through rape. Pennsylvania law states: “The rights of a parent in regard to a child may be terminated” if “the parent is the father of a child conceived as a result of a rape or incest.”

Hopefully, Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment will inspire more states to follow Pennsylvania’s lead and pass legislation restricting the ability of men who father children through rape to assert custody rights.

What to Expect at Your PFA Hearing

If you’ve been served with a PFA, your PFA hearing is likely within 10 days. The thought of having to go before a judge can be very stressful. Indeed, it should cause you some anxiety. After all, a PFA has serious consequences: it can evict you from your home, restrict your ability to see your children, and even land you in jail for six months if you violate it.

At Spivak Law Firm, we handle many PFA cases – representing both defendants and plaintiffs. It often calms our clients when we explain what to expect at a PFA hearing. Here are some things we always go over with our clients to help prepare them for their day in court:

First, it’s important that you show up at the hearing on time. In Allegheny County, PFA hearings are scheduled for 9 a.m. If you show up later than 10 a.m., you could be slapped with a full three-year PFA. Running late is a poor excuse, so plan ahead. Expect traffic and difficulty parking. Like an airport terminal, you will likely have to wait in a long line of people to get through a metal detector. We advise our clients to get to the courthouse by 8:45 a.m.

Second, the plaintiff and defendant likely will not see each other. There is a room for defendants and a separate room for plaintiffs. But do not forget that the PFA remains in place even at court on the day of the hearing. A PFA is a no-contact order. If you violate it, you may be arrested. If you see your accuser in the courthouse, stay away. Do not share an elevator or talk to your accuser. Just go to the waiting area – in Allegheny County, it’s on the third floor of the Family Court Building – check in, and wait for your attorney.

Third, you probably won’t see a judge. Most cases get resolved by the attorneys without ever having to appear before a judge. At Spivak Law Firm, we get the PFA dropped in most cases through negotiations with opposing counsel. Nevertheless, you should work with your attorney so you are prepared to make your strongest case before a judge. Bring any documentation that is helpful to your case – phone records, emails, text messages, photographs, etc. If possible, bring eyewitnesses who can testify as to whether the alleged abuse actually occurred.

For more information about what to expect at your PFA hearing, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

 

Client Relieved as Spivak Law Firm Gets PFA Dismissed

Dave, my client, can’t sit still. About a week ago, he was served with a PFA restraining order from his wife for stalking. Now he’s pacing the third-floor hallway of the family court building in downtown Pittsburgh nervously awaiting his PFA hearing.

I met Dave a few days earlier at my law offices to discuss his case. Dave and his wife were separated for several months. They have a young son together. They both also have children from prior relationships.

She claims he was stalking her by showing up unexpectedly at places like the grocery store, the gas station, Kennywood and Sandcastle. Dave denies following her, and says it was coincidental — after all, they live in the same neighborhood.

Dave was anxious about the PFA. He knew his wife was using it to gain custody rights over their child. The PFA system — though vitally important for helping victims of domestic abuse — is routinely abused by people aiming to get leverage in a child custody case or to evict an ex from a shared residence.

He also worried that she would one day lie about him violating the PFA to get him arrested. Violating any provision of a PFA can land you in jail for 6 months. In domestic violence cases, police routinely make arrests based solely on the complainant’s statement.

I asked Dave to stay in the waiting room with the other PFA defendants while I met with his wife’s attorney. Most PFA cases get resolved by the attorneys without ever having to appear before a judge. But the wife’s attorney insisted on a three-year PFA against my client – the maximum allowed under Pennsylvania law.

I told the attorney that no judge would grant a three-year PFA against my client. But the opposing counsel would not budge. So I said we needed to go before a judge.

At the PFA hearing, I argued that the wife did not allege any physical abuse or threatening behavior. I further explained that the wife does not fear my client, and provided the judge with recent hotel receipts, phone records, and witness statements proving their ongoing relationship.

The judge dismissed the PFA order. My client let out a big sigh of relief and threw his arm around me.

At Spivak Law Firm, aim to provide the strongest possible defense for people accused of stalking, harassment, verbal threats, and physical abuse. In most cases, we get the PFA dismissed. If you’ve been served with a PFA, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

PFA Defense: We Aim To Get the PFA Dropped

At Spivak Law Firm, we strongly defend people who are served with PFA restraining orders. We represent people who are accused of harassment, stalking, verbal threats, and physical abuse. In most cases, we get the PFA dropped.

Sometimes people ask us why we strongly defend people accused of abuse.

First, we know that many of our clients are falsely accused. People frequently misuse the PFA system to gain leverage in a divorce or child custody matter. We take great pride in protecting our clients’ reputations and legal rights against false accusations.

Second, in some cases, our clients may have engaged in inappropriate behavior that they regret. They did not physically hurt or beat anybody. But they got angry and made threats. Or they kept texting when their partner told them to stop.

These people may have crossed some line, as many people do at times. But their actions did not rise to the level of a PFA. We help these people get the PFA dropped so they can move on with their lives.

Third, in rare cases, our clients may be guilty of serious domestic violence. Such behavior is reprehensible, of course. But we believe that every person accused of legal wrongdoing is entitled to a strong defense.

In these cases, a PFA may be granted. But we are still able to help our clients by protecting their legal rights and mitigating the duration of the PFA.

If you’ve been served with a PFA, we will strongly defend you. Call us at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Poll Question: Public Safety v. Privacy?

License plate camera readers are now being installed at intersections across Allegheny County. The cameras snap high-resolution pictures of every car passing through an intersection, and then store them in a searchable database.

The $35,000 system enables police to not only identify license plate numbers but also zoom in on the car’s driver and other occupants.

It is unclear how long police will store the information and whether proper checks are in place to ensure that police do not misuse the system.

For example: “What if an officer suspected a girlfriend was cheating and wanted to check on her whereabouts?” asked Swissvale Police chief Greg Geppert, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Police say the cameras will help them nab car thieves and locate missing persons. Civil liberties groups say the cameras represent a potential invasion of privacy for law-abiding citizens. What do you think?

Do the public safety benefits of the new cameras outweigh privacy concerns?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Pennsylvania Open-Records Laws

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky trial, there has been much talk about whether Penn State should suspend its elite football program, whether the iconic Joe Paterno statue should be removed, and whether more top brass at the university should be fired. These questions all deal with punishing the university for protecting a child predator. But a more pressing matter is how to ensure that such horrors never happen again.

That’s why we strongly support legislation that would bring Penn State under Pennsylvania’s open-records laws. Though supported by tax dollars, Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln universities all are inexplicably exempt from Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law. That means Penn State’s records, including police reports, are closed to public view.

“Even the FBI must comply with open records filings, but not Penn State’s cops,” writes columnist Al Tompkins in Northwestern University’s Poynter.org. “That would become a key way the 1998 report about sexual misconduct by Jerry Sandusky stayed hidden for more than a decade.”

Second-Parent Adoption Law

Today in the United States there are some two million kids who are being raised by same-sex couples. But 30 states do not have laws allowing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) parents to both adopt.

As a result, many of these families face legal obstacles that heterosexual parents never have to worry about, according to a recent report by Movement Advancement Project, Family Equality Council, and Center for American Progress. Such obstacles range from a child’s ability to collect Social Security death benefits to a parent’s ability to make medical decisions for the child or receive visitation rights in the event of a breakup.

According to The New York Times: “The inequities don’t end there. If the biological or legal parent were to die or become disabled, the child could be placed with a distant relative or in foster care instead of staying with the nonlegal parent. Having a legal relationship also provides children with the right to sue over a parent’s wrongful death, and it usually gives them the right to inherit from a parent who dies without a will.”

Pennsylvania is among just five states that allow second-parent adoptions, which enables the partner of a legal parent to adopt even if the adults are not considered married. For more information on second-parent adoptions in Pennsylvania, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law

Pennsylvania’s new voter identification law threatens to block more than 750,000 people across the state – including some 99,000 people in Allegheny County – from voting for our nation’s president in November, according to statistics released by PennDOT.

The new law, signed by Gov. Corbett in March 2012, is considered among the strictest of any state in the country. In order to vote, Pennsylvanians must now present at the polls a government-issued photo ID that includes an expiration date.

This could prove difficult for thousands of eligible voters across Pennsylvania, as nine counties do not even have driver’s license centers, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pennsylvania’s new voter ID bill is “repulsive,” according to Terry Madonna, Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. An ACLU lawsuit to block the state’s new voter ID bill is now pending.

Pennsylvania PFA Law

At Spivak Law Firm, we strongly defend people served with PFA restraining orders. We know that the PFA system itself is frequently abused, causing many innocent people to suffer. But we also know that domestic violence is real, and we understand the need to provide immediate protections for victims of abuse.

We began handling PFA cases by representing victims of abuse on a pro bono basis for Neighborhood Legal Services Association. We recently recounted our representation of a woman seeking a PFA who was attacked by her husband and son along a busy street in Pittsburgh:

“A rail-thin woman sits hunched in a chair straining to breathe. She clutches a folder to her chest as though someone is threatening to snatch it. I call her name into the crowded room on the third floor of the Family Law Center in downtown Pittsburgh. She throws back her head, revealing two black eyes….”

To read our entire column on Pennsylvania PFA Law, go to page 26 of the Spring 2012 edition of the Pennsylvania Bar Association publication At Issue.