UPDATE: Parental Coordinators in PA

Pennsylvania experimented with the use of a parental coordinator in custody cases, as you may recall from a prior post on this site  That is to say, in PA, a judge could appoint a parental coordinator to enforce a custody order or handle the process of making modifications to it.

Good Law?   

Long story short, in 2013, Pennsylvania ended its experiment with the use of parental coordinators.  This was made official via the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adoption of Rule of Civil Procedure 1915.11-1.  Pursuant to the new rule, only judges may make decisions in child custody cases, which also includes hearing officers/masters.  Thus, the courts may not appoint any other person to render decisions or recommendations or alter a custody order in child custody cases.  Moreover, effective May 23, 2013, all existing orders appointing Parental Coordinators were vacated.

Why The New Rule?

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania had a concern with recent controversies in 2 different counties concerning juvenile placement and guardians ad litem.

The Consequences:  A Good Thing? 

It depends on whom you ask.   Many Judges like the idea of delegating duties to a parental coordinator.  Certain family law attorneys viewed the program as having value as an important bridge between the parties, lawyers, and the courts.  An argument could be made that the program should have been tweaked, but not dismantled.    Regardless, abolishing the program will favors transparency and add to more direct accountability for decisions in child custody court.

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New Law Help Deployed Service People With Custody

Legislative Action

State Senator Lisa Baker said introduced a bill that mandates no judge enter an order changing the custody arrangement of a child of a deployed military service person.  This custody law came in response to a complaint by grandparents who lived in her senatorial district and were barred from seeing their grandson during their son’s deployment  to Iraq.

The separation of children from their parents serving in the military overseas is already a challenging situation.  It gets compounded when a child is also separated from the deployed parent’s relatives.

On April 12, Governor Tom Corbett signed the bill into law in Pennsylvania.

Under the new law, a service member who is being deployed abroad may now petition the court for a temporary order to assign custody rights to his or family members while he or she is overseas.  This also means that when a service member is deployed, a judge cannot then change the custody arrangement for the child unless it finds it is in the best interest of the child to do so.

Importantly, it also allows the the family members of the deployed soldiar to step into the shoes of the serviceman or woman to exercise the same custody rights that their service member, while he or she is away, which provides a shortcut to allow involvement of extended family.

The law also eases the burden of soliders overseas in terms of attending court and conferneces. The new law specifically allows parents serving in the military overseas to testify in court via phone, videoconference or other electronic means if they can’t appear personally in court.  This law is designed to recognize the sacrafice of service persons deployed to serve their country.

This is a positive development overall for the interplay between state courts and our troops who are obeying natoinal duties.  Kudos to State Senator Lisa Baker and all those who supported this law.

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Amnesty For Dead Beat Parents… A Good Thing?

A couple days ago, the local CBS affiliate in Las Vegas reported that the District Attorney’s office out there generated $100,000 from parents delinquent on outstanding child support obligations.   

How was it done?  

Evidently, the DA had offered amnesty in the form of relief from impending bench warrants against essentially “dead beat” parents.  On the surface, this sounds like a windfall for custodial parents seeking support.  However, in this particular case, the use of government resources can be questioned.  Evidently, to get the above-referenced 100K in outstanding child support, the DA’s office had to meet with 400 delinquent payors and negotiate payment plans.  That works out to only $250 per dead-beat payor (assuming that these 400 people were the source of the above-referenced 100K).  In our firm’s Western Pennsylvania practice, we see arrears cases frequently; the typical amount owed in arrears is usually well in excess of 250 bucks, especially where the case has escalated to where a bench warrant has been issued for non-payment.  That said, each case turns on the facts.  In certain cases, getting $250 from someone who would rather face jail time than pay child support may be considered a victory, of sorts. 

Either way, it is encouraging that the Las Vegas DA worked so hard to reach out to delinquent parents to pull them back into the fray, even if the net amount received may not have been substantial.   In our practice, in too many cases we see parents feel (and act) disconnected from the system.   Many parents harbor hostility toward they very system designed to protect their children.  This hostility often spills over into the realm of custody.  Dialogue is important and it should be encouraged at every turn in all types of family law issues. Thus, any effort by the Courts (or the DA’s office in this case) that effectively engages delinquent payors should be commended.  

So, congrats to the Las Vegas DA for bringing disassociated parents back into the mix!