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What is a “parenting coordinator”?

A parenting coordinator is a person appointed by the judge in custody cases to help execute and coordinate ancillary issues of a custody order.  This helps ease the burden of the trial judge in dealing with the day to day aspects of implementing a custody order.  Parenting coordination has become a significant area of law in Pennsylvania child custody.  One concern is the following:   Is the appointment of a “parenting coordinator” the improper delegation of judicial decision-making authority?   Another issue is this:  what about the requisite credentials of the parenting coordinator?  Should that person be an attorney?  A mental health professional? 

One of the leading cases in this area is Yates v. Yates, 963 A.2d 535 (Pa. Super. 2008). There, the appellate court (the Superior Court) ruled that a trial court may appoint a parenting coordinator in cases with high-conflict parents who have demonstrated difficulty in rendering parental decisions independently.  There, the appellate court also constricted the parenting coordinator’s authority to side issues and not central matters such as legal and physical custody decisions. The Yates court also decided that a de novo review of a parenting coordinator’s decision must be utilized if either party disagrees with the parenting coordinator’s decision.

Recently, in the case of A.H. v. C.M., __ A.3d __, 2012 PA Super. 277 (December 18, 2012), the Superior Court once again addressed the requirement of a de novo review of a parenting coordinator’s decision.  There, the appellate court decided that the trial court erred in failing to hold a deno hearing on the mother’s petition to review the parenting coordinator’s decision.

On appeal, the Superior Court in the A.H. case held that the trial court erred in failing to hold a de novo hearing on C.M.’s (the mother’s) petition to review the parenting coordinator’s decision.

As one attorney, Micheal E. Bertin, noted:

 “[A.H. v. C.M.] is important for family law practitioners as it provides further guidance on the issue of parenting coordination. There exists a proposed rule of civil procedure permitting a judge to appoint parenting coordinators at any time after a custody order has been entered. The proposed rule mandates a de novo review of the parenting coordinator’s rulings if the party seeks review of the same. In the past, there was also proposed legislation that was on the other end of the spectrum and provided, in part, “a judge of a Court of Common Pleas shall have no authority to appoint a parenting coordinator in an action involving custody of a child. Any decision rendered by a parenting coordinator shall be void.” The proposed legislation was never enacted and the proposed rule has not been promulgated. Therefore, the current law regarding parenting coordinators remains the holding in the Yates decision and the Superior Court’s affirmation and reiteration of the mandates contained in the Yates decision as reflected in the recent case of A.H.”

Contact our Pittsburgh lawyers any time for a free consultation about this matter, or any other issue involving custody, support, divorce, of PFA.

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The White House EmblemThe National Christmas Tree

Our firm takes pride in helping familes grow through the loving concept of adoption.  This process involves the legal termination of rights of the biological parent(s) followed by a proceeding for adoption of the child into a new family.  

Aside from the legal services we offer, we want our clients and the general public to know that adoption is an important concept in our society and it should be embraced and supported.  November was National Adoption Month.  It came and went without much national attention, unfortunately.

Each year, the American President issues a proclamation about adoption in the United States.  This year, in October, Barack Obama penned a proclamation that November was National Adoption Month.  As reported on Adoption.com, the President’s proclamation honored families that strengthened America through adoption and recommitted the United States to reducing the number of children currently awaiting adoption in the United States.   Here is the Proclamation signed October 30, 2009:

All children deserve a safe, loving family to protect and care for them. In America, thousands of young people are waiting for that opportunity. During National Adoption Month, we honor those families that have strengthened America through adoption, and we recommit to reducing the number of children awaiting adoption into loving families.

America is a country rich in resources and filled with countless caring men and women who hope to adopt. These individuals come from all walks of life, united in their commitment to love a child who is in need of the protective arms of a parent. We must do more to ensure that adoption is a viable option for them. By continually opening up the doors to adoption, and supporting full equality in adoption laws for all American families, we allow more children to find the permanent homes they yearn for and deserve.

This month, we also focus on children in foster care. These children are not in the system by their own choosing, but are forced into it by unfortunate or tragic circumstances. These young people have specific needs and require unique support. Federal, State, and local governments, communities, and individuals all have a role to play in ensuring that foster children have the resources and encouragement they need to realize their hopes and dreams.

The course of our future will depend on what we do to help the next generation of Americans succeed. This month, we celebrate those families brought together by adoption and renew our commitments to children in the foster care system.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2009 as National Adoption Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month by reaching out to support and honor adoptive families, as well as to participate actively in efforts to find permanent homes for waiting children.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.

BARACK OBAMA

Through the Holidays and into 2010, let us all remember that strong, loving families are the backbone of our civiliation.  Those who are noble enough and brave enough to adopt deserve our collective support and recognition all year long.

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This is a question that divorce attorneys rarely get to ask their clients.  In divorce cases, the usual questions we have are:  Where do you reside (for purposes of jurisdiction)? When were you married? How many assets did you accumulate together?   

But rarely do we ask:  what were you thinking.  Admittedly, the answer is not all that important for purposes of representation.  Such information is generally not relevant in divorce proceedings.  Plus, it is not professional (or even necessary) for a lawyer to judge his client’s thinking or conduct.  We all make mistakes and a lawyer owes a fiduciary duty to his client. 

But on this blog, at least, I can ask Tiger Woods:  what in the name of Lady Justice were you thinking when you cheated with a parade of not-so-trustworthy women?  How could you have led those women to think that they (each of them) had a future with you?  Seriously, were you hoping to clone yourself at some point?     

As a disclaimer, we cannot verify the truth of any of the allegations about Tiger Woods right now.  We can only say what is being reported about him as a public figure.   He is innocent until proven otherwise  (or until an incriminating voice mail message sounding exactly like his gets played and replayed by every media outlet from the local news to Bill O’Reilly).  The infamous voice mail, as first reported in US Magazine and blogged about in the Huffington Post complete with audio, goes something like this:

Hey, it’s Tiger. I need you to do me a huge favor. Can you please take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and may be calling you. So if you can, please take your name off that. Just have it as a number on the voicemail, just have it as your telephone number. You got to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. Bye.

Seriously, Tiger, what were you thinking?  We may never know, unfortunately.  His counsel may never get to ask either, assuming Tiger Woods has retained counsel to evaluate issues such as divorce, custody, and support.     

A more broad question for ourselves (as we follow this story) is:  why is this particular story so compelling?  For this writer, the compelling nature of Tiger Woods’ current saga has nothing to do with his money, his fame, or the “fallen hero” sub-plot we keep hearing.  Those are just topics to fill news columns while the story remains red-hot on the forefront of peoples’ minds. 

The real issue is control…or lack of it.     

How could someone so rich, famous, and disciplined in the precision sport of golf lose control over not only his marriage, but also the nature in which the public learns of his ongoing pattern of antics?  Did he really think that his true lifestyle would remain a secret indefinitely?  How could someone so hard working and dedicated to his craft let his life spin out of control so quickly? 

He desperately needed (and still needs) to take control of this story about himself, if only to deflate the suspense that continues to build.   From the beginning, all he had to do was give the media something — some fact or revelation.   But he lost the opportunity to score a few points because he stonewalled.  In fact, he never did come clean.  He merely admitted to vague indiscretions after the above voice mail surfaced.  

And the public remains in suspense about how far Tiger Woods will fall.  Will he come to terms with his new public image?  Contrast Tiger Woods’ bungling in this case versuse the stark admissions by Hugh Grant (on the Tonight Show) and David Letterman (on his own program).  These days, Hugh Grant has a new movie coming out.  David Letterman is winning the late night battle for ratings.

Tiger Woods, on the other hand, has exited the sport of golf…by choice.  Granted, Tiger Woods still has time.  But he keeps making things worse.  His decision to leave the golfing world only raises a new questions:   when will he return?  Once he returns, will he play at the same level he once did?  The above questions could have been avoided if Tiger Woods had just committed himself to doing what he does best:  being great on the golf course.   

On second thought, maybe this writer has it all wrong.  Maybe Tiger Woods is, and always was, in control.  Perhaps he wanted the story to come out the way it did.  This could be no different than Tom Cruise’s couch jumping antics on the Oprah Winfrey Show.  Maybe Tiger Woods is really saying:   

“Leave me alone.  Can’t I just be myself?  I was scared to tell you that I’m not perfect.   You’re a fool for thinking I was perfect, anyway.  You watched me play golf and give a few short interviews after each game.   You saw me on TV.  Big deal.  Somehow it was enough for you to buy more than your usual share of products by Gillette and Nike, merely by seeing my face in the ads.  Maybe you’re the one who should ask yourself: 

What were you thinking?

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The New York Times has recently reported on an unusual child support case.  There, a mother in an intact family cheated on her husband and became pregnant.  The husband acted as a father to the child even after the husband suspected the child was not his.  Husband and wife separated.  The husband agreed to pay child support while he continued to act as the father by exercising shared physical custody.

Everything was OK until the mother married the man with whom she had cheated.  Then,  the ex-husband was enraged.  He filed a petition to terminate child support, only, had already acknowledged paternity.  Plus, he had acted as the father at all material times.   He asserted the fraud defense to paternity.  He reasoned that he had been defrauded by his wife into thinking that the biological father would never act as a father toward the child and, hence, for that reason (and that reason alone) he agreed to act as the father. 

The case went to trial before a hearing officer in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.  The ex-husband’s claim of fraud was found to be not credible.  The hearing officer also found that the ex-husband had acknowledged paternity and had held himself out as the father long enough for the presumption of paternity to apply.  Accordingly, the ex-husband was ordered to continue paying child support and the child resided primarily with the biological mother and the alleged biological father. 

The ex-husband filed exceptions to the hearing officer’s recommendations and the exceptions were dismissed.  Then, the ex-husband appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which upheld the lower court’s decision.  A request was made that the Supreme Court hear the case; however, the request was denied.  Ultimately, the ex-husband was found responsible to continuing to pay child support based on his acknowledgment of paternity and because of paternity by estoppel:  holding himself out as the biological father. 

To this day, the ex-husband continues to exercise his partial custody rights.  He sees the child on weekends; however, to date, the alleged biological father has never been joined as a party in this case, nor has he been ordered to undergo a paternity test for evaluation of whether he should be at least partially responsible for some portion of the child’s expenses that other payers cannot afford, for example. 

In the media, this case has been portrayed as an example of gross inequity.  The New York Times article on November 22, 2009 includes a lengthy description of the case from the standpoint of how DNA testing is changing the role of fatherhood.  A local CBS News outlet in Pittsburgh (KDKA News) is running on a story on the issues, as well.  The million dollar question has been:  why should the ex-husband have to continue paying child support for a child that’s not his?

The answer is simple.   The ex-husband has to pay support because he acknowledged paternity and because he is the father.  OK, maybe not in the biological sense.  But he fought for (and won) the right to partial physical custody (seeing the child on weekends).  He also fought for (and won) the right to shared legal custody, meaning, he has a voice in deciding where the child gets medical care, what religion she’ll be exposed to, what schools she’ll attend, whether she can leave the jurisdiction, et cetera.  These are all substantial parental rights, which the ex-husband continues to exercise to this day. 

And with every right comes a responsibility…

The law firm of Elliott & Davis, PC was involved in the above because we represented the mother. The other question we get is:  OK, but why hasn’t the alleged biological father been made to pay support?  The answer is a little more complicated.  First of all, the supposed biological father is paying support…sort of.  Inasmuch as the alleged biological father lives with the child and provides food for the household, he is contributing to the child’s daily expenses to a certain degree.   But what happens if a big-ticket expense comes up for the child (such as a rare medical condition not covered by any health insurance plan, for example), and what if the ex-husband and mother can’t afford the expense?In that case, can the alleged biological father be pulled into the case as a responsible party? 

The answer is, no.  

Once paternity is established in Pennsylvania (by consent or by operation of law), the court’s cannot consider DNA evidence absent fraud.  Here, the ex-husband both acknowledged paternity and he held himself out as the father.  Plus, the child support system in PA is not designed for the situation created by the facts in this case. Perhaps the law in this area should change.  But for right now, the legal fiction of paternity by estoppel is alive and well in Pennsylvania and the courts will recognize only one payor-”dad.”   

Parenthetically, in closing, we would also like to extend a warm recognition of the work by professor Turley and his meaningful blog post concerning recent law in Pennsylvania.

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