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Allegheny County Family Law

Child Custody and Divorce: Holiday Tips


Custody Pic6The holidays are stressful, particularly for divided families, but they can still be enjoyable if you plan ahead.

In order to avoid needless stress or confusion, let your children know in advance where they will be during the holidays, and assure them they will have a good time.

Although you may be feeling lonely or sad without them, try encouraging them to be happy and have fun.

Spivak Law Firm wishes you a safe, happy Memorial Day weekend.

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.

Post-Gazette Features Spivak Law Firm


sq2The 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, Clean The Slate In Pennsylvania: The Commonwealth Should Make It Easier To Expunge Criminal Records And Give People A Fresh Start In Life, written by attorneys Todd Spivak and Rebecca Canterbury.

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

In Clean The Slate, Attorney Spivak and Attorney Canterbury critique a new Pennsylvania law that for the first time seals criminal information from public view for people convicted of second- and third-degree misdemeanors.

In Impoverished Parents Deserve Their Day In Court, Attorney Canterbury reveals how exorbitant filing fees in Allegheny County prevent low-income parents from asserting their child-custody rights.

In Crack Down on Domestic Violence in Allegheny County, Attorney Spivak recommends that only specialized judges with extensive domestic-violence training oversee 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 sexual predators use family court to harass and intimidate their victims.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, compassionate, cost-effective representation in all family law and criminal defense matters. To schedule a consultation, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Dating After Divorce

Expunge Pic1Dating after divorce may be difficult, especially when children are involved. You must adjust to the idea of no longer being married, and your children must do the same. Ensure that your children have had adequate time to recover from the divorce before introducing them to a new partner.

When sufficient time has passed, it may be best to introduce the children to your new partner while doing an activity the kids enjoy.

But be sensitive to your children’s feelings. If you believe your children are struggling more than is reasonable, it may be beneficial to seek help from a counselor.

To speak with an experienced family law 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.

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.

Talking Divorce To Kids

Custody Pic1Although there is a great deal of literature discussing the impact of divorce on children, there really is no clear cut way to break the news to them. Each family unit is unique, but the following five tips may make it less traumatic for both you and your children:

  • Discuss what you plan to tell the children;
  • Agree on what you do not plan to tell the children;
  • Tell your children together with your ex-spouse;
  • Reinforce to the children that the divorce is not their fault;
  • Ensure that the children know the divorce is not reversible.

Spivak Law Firm handles all family law matters, including: divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, and PFA hearings. To schedule a consultation, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

PFA Orders Help Abuse Victims

702075.TIFAre you or your children victims of domestic abuse?

In Pennsylvania, a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order offers many safeguards, including to:

  • Evict the abuser from your household
  • Restrict the abuser from you and the children
  • Order the abuser to pay financial support
  • Prohibit the abuser from contacting you
  • Ban the abuser from possessing guns

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive representation for Plaintiffs and Defendants at PFA hearings in the following counties: Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Indiana, Washington, and Westmoreland.

For a free consultation, call us at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Domestic Violence Penalties

DV Pic5Domestic violence experts say that strangulation is a strong indicator for future homicide.

In 2015, six people were strangled to death in Pennsylvania. Studies show that the odds of becoming a homicide victim increase dramatically for women who reported strangulation by a partner in the past.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are now considering a bill to establish a felony strangulation law. The bill would rank strangulation as a second-degree felony or a first-degree felony if the defendant is named in an active Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order, uses an instrument of crime, or has been previously convicted of strangulation.

Spivak Law Firm handles all matters of family law and criminal defense with a focus on domestic violence. Call us at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

4 Reasons to Modify Child Support

Custody Pic5Either parent may seek to modify a child support order at any time. The moving party will need to show a substantial change of circumstances occurred since the final order was entered by the court.

What constitutes a substantial change of circumstances?

Common examples include:

  • One parent gets more custody time
  • One parent gets a significant pay increase
  • One parent gets laid off from work
  • A child seeks to participate in a new extra-curricular activity

Do not voluntarily quit a job to avoid paying child support, as a court can assign an earning capacity based on past income levels.

To schedule a consultation, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Child Custody In Cases Involving Rape

702075.TIFMothers of children conceived by rape can be forced to share custody of the child with their rapists. Many states allow courts to terminate the parental rights of rapists, but most of them require that the men first be convicted. However, less than one-fifth of rapes are even reported, and only about 5 percent of those result in convictions.

Last year, Congress passed the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, which pledges money for states that pass laws denying parental rights to men if the mothers show in family court that they have been raped. In family court, the victims need only prove that the rape occurred by “clear and convincing” evidence – not the tougher “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal courts.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, compassionate representation in all family law and criminal defense matters. Call us at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.