Mental Health and Child Custody Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s Superior Court held that the “best interest of the child” standard does not trump the privacy of a person concerning his or her medical and mental health records. A recent Superior Court decision held that in child custody proceedings the Court may not force or order a party to provide his or her mental records to the other party or the Court. The Superior Court’s decision is based in part on the HIPPA federal law concerning privacy of one’s medical records. The Superior Court maintained that there are less intrusive ways for a Court to evaluate a party’s mental health status. 

The Court could, however, Order a mental health examination pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1915.8. Ordering an evaluation is one thing, but is the mental health evaluator allowed to disclose the findings and or the records that he or she based their decision on? These are all interesting questions which require the skill of a seasoned and experienced custody lawyer.

Call The Mulligan Law Firm for a free consultation at 570-703-0269 because "when it comes to family, experience matters”.


Can A Protection From Abuse Order In Pennsylvania Be Extended? Yes

An emergency PFA Order can be obtained from a Magistrate for emergency relief and only until the next business day when the Courts are in session. At that point you must appear before the Court and request a temporary PFA. The Temporary Order can stay in place for up to 10 business days within which time the Judge schedules a final hearing.

At the time of the final hearing, the Court will entertain testimony and evidence. At the conclusion of the final PFA hearing, the Judge will decide whether the PFA should be made permanent. The final Order of protection can last up to 36 months. You can file to extend the final PFA Order by returning to the courthouse and requesting an extension. The Judge can extend the PFA Order if he/she believes that:

  1. The abuser committed one or more acts of abuse while you had the final order in place - essentially a violation, or,
  2. The abuser behaved in other ways that indicates a continued risk of harm to the Plaintiff.

These cases are unique and depend on the facts. Therefore, you should meet with an experienced Family Law lawyer to review your case.

Call the Mulligan Law Firm at (570) 703-0269 to schedule a consultation today!


The Vaccine Mandate

There is no doubt that co-parenting after a divorce or separation can be difficult, and just like any other relationship, whether it be in business or some other aspect of life, it requires cooperation. Thus, co-parenting after a divorce or separation can be difficult because it requires cooperation between people who often have fundamental disagreements. Now, add in a disagreement between the parents over the highly polarizing Covid 19 vaccine for their children, and it is easy to see how there can be significant friction between the parties. 

Now that the FDA has approved the Covid-19 for children over the age of 12, this disagreement over vaccines between parents is more common than you think in Pennsylvania and the United States at large. For example, a mother may have concerns about giving her child an experimental vaccine due to the possibility of adverse long term effects. She is not “anti-vax”. After all, she got the vaccine herself. On the other hand, the father is relieved that there is a treatment on the market. He considers the vaccines a modern day miracle and wants to protect his child from a deadly disease. Both parties have compelling arguments and it is important for parents to understand that these arguments can be used to determine if the child or children should be vaccinated. 

In the event that the parents cannot come to an agreement, the issue will probably be decided by the Court. The Court would be required to look at what is in the best interest of the child or children. Courts will typically look to experts like pediatricians for guidance as well as any pre-existing conditions that the minor might have that could cause problems. Generally, however, Courts will defer to expert testimony. 

If you and your ex are in disagreement over the COVID-19 vaccination, it will have to be resolved either between yourselves or in the Courts. You should attempt to come to an agreement through reason and scientific data before you enter into litigation. Perhaps, a meeting with your ex and child's pediatrician can help settle the dispute outside of the Courts. However, if you and your ex are deadlocked in your positions, you should contact a family law lawyer immediately.

At the Mulligan Law Firm, we have over 30 years of experience in dealing with difficult and sensitive issues. Call us today for all of your family law issues at 570-703-0260.


Divorce And Inheritance

Have you received an inheritance and are now in the middle of a Divorce in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?

If so, it is in your interest to determine if your inheritance is subject to equitable distribution. By law in Pennsylvania, inheritances are not subject to equitable distribution because they are not considered marital property. However, before you exhale in relief, it is important to understand that it is not that simple. There are countless circumstances in which inheritances or the products of inheritances can be considered marital property.

For example, if monies from an inheritance is deposited in a joint bank account with your future ex-spouse, that inheritance would be considered marital property. Or, if you inherited real estate, and the value of that real estate appreciated before your divorce is finalized, the increase in value of that real estate is considered marital property and is therefore subject to equitable distribution.

Clearly, the law behind inheritances is nuanced and each case is unique, but if you would like to obtain a solid grasp of the status of your inheritance, call the Mulligan Law Firm today to discuss your case with a seasoned and professional expert.

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Can Unpaid Support Result in Jail Time? Yes

There are many reasons why people fall behind on their Court Ordered Support payments, including loss of a job or a pandemic. Because of these unstable times individuals need to be mindful of the fact that their Support Order is not put on hold unless the Court directs the same. Therefore, if you are facing a situation where it is impossible to meet your support obligations, you need to request the Court to suspend or terminate your support payment. For example, if you are arrested and incarcerated for a crime, you should ask the Court to pause your payments until you are released from jail. Failing to ask for Court intervention, could result in the filing of a Contempt action and ultimately the imposition of jail time.

The Court will make the determination if a support payment should be placed on hold depending on the facts of your case. The Court will carefully review all of the facts and circumstances of your case and decide if your payments should be temporarily suspended or possibly terminated.

If, on the other hand, the Court determines that you are in contempt and issues an Order of incarceration, Rule 1910.21 (d) provides: "An Order committing a defendant to jail for Contempt shall specify the condition, the fulfillment of which will result in the release of the defendant." In other words the Court will provide a way for the defendant to purge the contempt.

If you are having trouble meeting your support obligation due to financial instability or a criminal charge, contact the Mulligan Law Firm.


PFA’s & Indirect Criminal Contempt

DEFINITION: INDIRECT CRIMINAL CONTEMPT ("ICC")

An ICC is a contempt that occurs outside the presence of the court. That is, it consists of the violation of an order or decree of a court that occurs outside the presence of the court. When a protection-from-abuse order is involved, a charge of indirect criminal contempt is designed to seek punishment for violation of the protective order.

WHAT PROCEDURES MUST OCCUR WHEN A VIOLATION IS ALLEGED?

Pursuant to statute, an arrest for violation of an order may be made without a warrant upon probable cause whether or not a violation has been observed by the arresting officer. Typically, these offenses are not observed by anyone other than the Plaintiff. The officer may verify the existence of a PFA order via phone and arrest based upon communication with the issuing authority and Plaintiff.

Following an arrest, the defendant must be taken to the court in the judicial district where the contempt is alleged to have occurred. The defendant has the right to a preliminary arraignment without unnecessary delay. A hearing shall be scheduled within 10 days of the filing of a charge or complaint. 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 6113.

BAD FAITH PFA

Too many times, a plaintiff has filed a 'PFA' based on “bad faith”.
I have represented numerous defendants in Protection from Abuse filings before the court. Often times, the allegations are not always false and can be substantiated to a degree. The courts will often times, and rightly so, err on the side of caution and enter a final order that prohibits contact between the defendant and the plaintiff. However, I have run into situations where the plaintiff has filed a PFA simply to harass the defendant. The plaintiff has engaged in a 'bad faith' filing.
On this topic, the statute governing the entry and dismissals of PFA's is clear:
Remedies for bad faith.--Notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon finding that an individual commenced a proceeding under this chapter in bad faith, a court shall direct the individual to pay to the defendant actual damages and reasonable attorney fees. Failure to prove an allegation of abuse by a preponderance of the evidence shall not, by itself, result in a finding of bad faith.

It's important to note that the court will want to hear evidence of 'bad faith.' Not just that the allegations in the PFA petition were not proven, but that the plaintiff was aware that they were unsubstantiated or false. Are the allegations clearly, plainly and palpably false? There must have been an intent on the plaintiff's part to misuse the PFA process to the detriment of the defendant. If such can be shown with evidence, the court may award the defendant damages (eg: missed compensation for work) and attorney's fees.

If you have been presented with a PFA filing and order scheduling a hearing, do not wait until the last minute to contact counsel. Speak to an experienced attorney regarding the PFA process. Call the Mulligan Law Firm if you’ve been charged with violating a PFA


Attorney Mulligan's Guest Column "Pharmaceutical Production Could Secure Region, Nation" in Times Tribune

Read Attorney Jim Mulligan’s Sunday guest column from The Times Tribune titled "Pharmaceutical Production Could Secure Region, Nation".  

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How Does The Child Tax Credit Work In A Divorce?

Married couples with children face a number of tax issues that must be resolved if the parents decide to end the marriage. One important question is which parent claims the child tax credit (CTC) after divorce, since only one parent can take the credit. The issue is especially important now, since the amount of the credit increases substantially for 2021. Currently, the increase is only for this year, but proposed legislative changes may extend the increase into subsequent years as well.

CHILD TAX CREDIT FOR 2021

Recent legislative changes in the child tax credit present potential issues for parents who are going through a divorce or have already finalized a divorce. The changes substantially increase the amount of the credit for 2021 and also provide for advance payments of the credit from the IRS, beginning in July. To qualify for the credit, a child must be eligible to be claimed as a dependent under the tax law and meet other specific criteria. If a child doesn't meet the requirements, they may be eligible for a different credit, called the other dependent child credit (ODC).
The child tax credit amount for 2020 was $2,000. For 2021, the American Rescue Plan increased the maximum child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 for each child aged 6 to 17, and $3,600 for each child under age 6. The original $2,000 credit is phased out for single filers with income over $200,000 and over $400,000 for joint filers. The increased credit amount (either $1,000 or $1,600) is subject to a lower income level of $75,000 for single and separate filers, $112,500 for head of household filers, and $150,000 for joint filers.

The credit is fully refundable, even if the claiming parent has little to no tax liability. Parents now receive the CTC regardless of their employment status, which is another change. The new law does not change other rules for claiming children as dependents.

In addition to the increase in amount, a significant change for 2021 is that a parent can receive payment of half of the credit in advance by asking the IRS to send monthly payments from July through December 2021. The payments could amount to a monthly tax credit of $300 for each child under age 6 and $250 for each child of age 6 to 17. While these significant changes currently are effective only for 2021, the strengthened credit may be extended for subsequent years by additional legislation. Especially in view of these changes in the child tax credit, it is essential for parents who are ending their marriage to specifically address which parent will take the CTC following the divorce. The child tax credit poses significant factual and legal issues for divorced parents. Parents should not draw conclusions about how the credit affects them based on the broad summary provided herein. Consultation with a lawyer is essential in determining how the CTC applies in a specific situation.

RESOLVING THE CHILD TAX CREDIT IN A DIVORCE

When a married couple gets a divorce, among the issues that need to be resolved are those relating to taxes. If the couple has children, some of the tax issues involve deductions and credits relating to the children — including the child tax credit.

In some cases, parents are able to resolve tax issues during a divorce or custody proceeding through discussions between their lawyers. If the parties reach an agreement, it is presented to the court. If the judge approves the agreement, it becomes part of the court order in the case. In situations where parents are not able to resolve issues themselves, the judge makes specific determinations as part of the proceeding. Those judicial findings are then integrated into the final court order.

Since only one parent can take the child tax credit, the CTC poses a significant tax issue that needs to be addressed as part of a divorce or custody agreement or court proceeding. Generally, the parent who has custody of a child for a greater percentage of time is entitled to claim the CTC. If the custody terms provide for evenly shared time between the parents, then the parent with the higher adjusted gross income usually gets to claim it.

However, in some situations, the parents may negotiate their own arrangements to fit their specific circumstances. For example, parents may agree to alternate years for claiming the credit or to divide the credits if they have more than one child.

The child tax credit must be viewed in the context of other matters relating to the child, such as the custody arrangements. Determining issues relating to the CTC also involves application of complex statutory requirements. Assistance from an experienced divorce lawyer is critical in navigating through these types of issues in a divorce or custody proceeding

CHILD TAX CREDIT ISSUES IN A FINALIZED DIVORCE

For parents whose divorce is already final, the changes in the child tax credit may raise issues that are not addressed in the final divorce or custody order. In that case, the divorced parents may be able to resolve the issues themselves and agree on how to handle the CTC. If that is not possible, the parents should involve their lawyers in resolving the issue.

In many cases, legal counsel for the parents can arrive at a mutually agreeable approach and avoid the necessity of asking a judge for a resolution. Especially because of the advance CTC credit payments that are available this year, it's in the best interest of the parents and their children to find an expeditious solution if problems over the recent CTC changes arise. It also seems likely that additional legislative changes are on the horizon for the credit, so addressing the matter now could avoid more issues in the future.

SCHEDULE A CONSULTATION WITH A PENNSYLVANIA DIVORCE LAWYER

At The Mulligan Law Firm, our divorce and family law attorneys assist clients with all matters relating to divorce support and child custody, including issues relating to the child tax credit and other tax issues that arise during or after a divorce. We invite you to contact us by calling (570) 703-0269 or using our online contact form. 


High Asset Divorce Law Firm

A divorce is already emotional and becomes much more complex and contentious when a wealthy couple is facing a high asset divorce. If you and your spouse have assets that include a business or businesses, investments, retirement accounts and pensions, real estate holdings or other high net worth assets, your divorce process can easily become complicated. If not handled properly, the financial implications will be significant.

Our high net worth clients benefit from our well-established relationships with forensic accountants and actuaries that know how to properly evaluate a myriad of assets. We know the importance of providing professional business valuation and accounting services from industry experts to develop a fair and equitable property division settlement in a timely and cost efficient manner.

We focus on the financial details that are important for high net worth marriages, including:

  • Business Valuation and Division
  • Strategies to Limit Tax Liability
  • Dividing Real Estate
  • Separate Property Holdings
  • Pensions, Retirement, and Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDRO)
  • Stocks, IRAs, 401(k), and Profit Sharing Plans

Above all, we refrain from emphasizing the potential for short-term results at the expense of more important long-term goals. When children are involved, the stakes could not be higher. Nurturing parent-child relationships involves more than the nuts and bolts of a child custody order. Family dynamics over a lifetime and even into future generations will be impacted by how a divorce is played out. We have successfully helped many divorcing high-asset parents see the big picture while tending to the details that a complex divorce may entail.

If you decide to work with our firm, you can expect individualization in all aspects of our counsel and advocacy for you. Whether or not your case should go to trial, we will use every tool and method available to protect your dignity, your assets and your children through the process.

ARRANGE A CONFIDENTIAL CONSULTATION

To schedule a confidential consultation with the Mulligan Law Firm with regard to a high net worth divorce call (570)-703-2069 or email us at jimmulliganlaw@gmail.com.


A Scranton Pennsylvania Law Firm Handling International Child Abduction: Helping Parents Across PA Bring Their Children Home

If you are a parent living in Pennsylvania whose child or children have been abducted and taken across international boundaries by the other parent, we can help. Even if you are in possession of a custody order from a Pennsylvania Court, you may encounter difficulties with foreign authorities to recognize your rights. While international law and treaties like the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides remedies, exercising these rights takes experience, skill and immediate action.

With over 30 years of family law experience, the Mulligan Law Firm is one of the few Northeastern Pennsylvania law firms that has successfully handled international child abduction cases. Our representation includes filing appropriate legal documents and working with the State Department and foreign authorities to find and bring your child home!

WHAT IS THE HAGUE CONVENTION? 

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, also called the Hague Abduction Convention, has been in force in the United State since 1988. Since that time, 70 countries, including Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Spain, have joined. These 70 countries have pledged to return abducted children to other participating Hague Convention countries so long as they meet certain condition:: 

  • The child must have been a habitual resident of the Hague Convention country making the request. 
  • The child was under the age of 16 at the time of the request.
  • The child does not object to being returned, provided he or she is of sufficient age and maturity to make such a choice. 
  • The child would not face any grave risk of physical or psychological harm in his or her former country. 
  • The return would not violate the fundamental principles of human rights as recognized in the country receiving the request. 

Every Hague Convention nation processes and adjudicates these cases differently. The Mulligan Law Firm, however, has the experience to deal with the various signatory countries to bring your case to a successful conclusion. Attorney James Mulligan can help you make your case to the appropriate Court and/or authority in the country where your child is located. 

The trauma to a parent associated with the abduction of a child can be debilitating. Our legal team can give you the strength, support and resources you need to bring your child home. 

If your child has been removed from the United State by the other parent call the Mulligan Law Firm at 570-703-0269 or contact us by email at jimmulliganlaw@gmail.com.