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Pittsburgh Divorce Law Blog

Legal Custody Battle in London: A Daughter's Dying Wish

Recently a legal custody battle arose between two divorced parents from London involving their fourteen-year-old daughter's dying wishes. The girl, who had cancer and only a short time to live, had begun making arrangements to be cryogenically frozen with the hopes that in years to come, she would be able to be woken up and cured. However, the procedure required the consent of both of the girl's parents. This meant consent from her father, who she had not had contact with in eight years, was also required. As her father opposed the procedure, her mother brought a suit on the girl's behalf in London's equivalent of a family court. The mother was ultimately successful in getting full rights to decide what would happen to her daughter's remains upon her death. The girl, who has since passed away, has been transported to the United States and is being stored in Detroit.

This is a unique case, because although it involved legal custody of a child and the focus was on the wishes and welfare of the child, most legal custody cases do not involve what will happen to the child after his or her death. If this case were handled in Pennsylvania or in another jurisdiction in the United States, a family court may have declined to hear it and may have deferred the matter to orphans' court after the child's death. However, there are some factors that may have led a Pennsylvania family court to hear the matter. First, the case was brought while the girl, who has not been named for privacy reasons, was still alive and able to testify as to her wishes. Courts in Pennsylvania, when deciding any custody matter, will consider the well-reasoned preferences of a child, giving consideration to the child's age and maturity. 

Custody and Relocation: What Grey's Anatomy Got Wrong

Fans of Grey's Anatomy tuned into a full-scale custody trial last week as Callie and Arizona battled over their daughter, Sophia. For those unfamiliar, Callie and Arizona are the parents of an 8 year old child whom they have shared custody of since their divorce on the prime time medical drama based in Seattle. Recently, Callie's girlfriend received a job offer in NYC precipitating Callie's request to move with the child. Nearly a full episode was dedicated to a custody trial as a judge heard testimony from witnesses and determined whether the child would relocate with Callie to NYC or remain in Seattle with Arizona. As Grey's has always focused on the medical field, it should come as no surprise that the depiction of a custody trial wasn't quite on the mark, at least based on Pennsylvania Law. Read on to see three things Grey's got wrong:

Burden of proof - Technically the type of case Callie and Arizona went to trial on would be considered a Relocation. Callie is asking the court to grant her the right to relocate with the child. Under Pennsylvania law, the party requesting a relocation must notify the non-custodial parent 60 days prior to relocation, at which time the other parent can either consent or object. If a party objects, the court will ultimately make a ruling as to whether the relocation can occur. The custody trial on Grey's Anatomy seemed to place the burden on Arizona to convince the court why the child should not be uprooted from her home in Seattle. Under PA law, the burden is on the party requesting the relocation to prove the relocation is in the best interests of the child. The court will utilize 10 factors, to determine whether the relocation is appropriate. The court will also address the 16 general PA custody factors in any order. The relocating parent must show the court why the child should be permitted to relocate and how the relationship with the other parent will continue if the relocation is granted.

Effect of adoption - There came a time during Arizona's testimony that Callie's attorney started to insinuate that because Arizona was not the birth mother of the child, her claim for custody was 

Kate & Jon Gosselin: Custody and Co-Parenting Troubles Mount

Die-hard TLC fans will remember Jon Gosselin as the other half of the popular show Jon and Kate Plus 8. Parents, Jon and Kate Gosselin had twins and then, several years later, conceived sextuplets bringing their total number of children to a whopping eight. Fast-forward to the present, Jon and Kate are no longer married and are attempting to co-parent their eight children. On a recent appearance on The Steve Harvey Show, Jon shared the following custody woes with the audience: he has not seen all eight children together in three years; when the children are dropped off at his residence, he often has no idea which of his children will be arriving; he hasn't seen or spoken to one of his sons in over a year; and there is "zero" communication between Jon and Kate.

While in many cases, co-parenting is by no means an easy task, especially when the marriage or relationship ended on a bad note, the vital importance co-parenting plans in custody cannot be downplayed. Not only is it beneficial for the children to see parents who can successfully work together, even though they are no longer in a relationship, but the court also looks favorably upon those parties able to co-parent effectively.

Using Jon and Kate as the example, here are some do's (and don'ts) of good co-parenting. First, all children under a custody order need to be at all custody exchanges. This means that if Jon is entitled to exercise custody of all eight children, Kate needs to be dropping off all eight children for Jon's custody time. One party shouldn't have to guess which, if any, of their children will be showing up for custody time. Obeying a court order or agreement will keep any co-parenting relationship running smoothly. If issues come up and the current arrangement isn't working for the parties or the children, it may be time for a modification rather than ignoring or disobeying the court order. Second, communication is key so Jon's allegations that he doesn't know which children will be coming for his custodial periods and that he and Kate have "zero" communication make it impossible to co-parent. 

Estate Administration: What if David Bowie died without a will?

Estate administration can be seamless with the right estate planning.  With the recent deaths of rock stars David Bowie and Glenn Frey, of the Eagles and actor Alan Rickman, people may be wondering who will be inheriting the fortunes amassed during a lifetime of albums, performances and movies. 

While the media has only begun exploring the loss of these individuals, we're likely to hear much in the coming months about who will be inheriting the estates of these people. Under Pennsylvania law in estate administration, the first step is determining if the decedent died intestate or testate, meaning without or with a will. Assuming the decedent died with a valid will, that document governs the distribution of the estate. If an individual dies without a valid will then intestacy law will address who inherits what from the estate. Under Pennsylvania intestacy law, 21 Pa. C.S.A. ยง 2102-2103, the estate will first pass to a spouse and/or child. If a person dies with a spouse and children who are also the children of the spouse, the spouse will inherit the first $30,000 from the estate plus half of the remaining estate. If the children of the decedent are stepchildren of the spouse, then the spouse and children split the entire estate 50/50. Of course, if someone dies with only a spouse or only children, then that particular individual or individuals inherit the entire estate. If the decedent dies without a spouse and children then the estate passes to his or her parents. 

Custody Rights of Unmarried Fathers in Pennsylvania

Jena Malone, the star who played Johanna Mason in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, has recently announced that she is expecting her first child with her boyfriend, Ethan DeLorenzo. Although the pair could not appear happier over the news, Ethan might find himself wondering what kind of custody or father's rights he has to the child, as he is not married to Jena.

If the pair were residents the Pennsylvania, the short answer would be that Ethan would have the same rights to his child as those of a married father. This includes the right and ability to make decisions regarding the child's health, education, safety, and any other decisions pertaining to the welfare of the child. However, there are intricacies involved in fathering a child out of wedlock that aren't an issue with married couples. This is because a presumption of paternity is created when a married man fathers a child; this presumption is not present when dealing with unmarried couples. This merely means that paternity has to be established in order for the unmarried father to be afforded the same rights as the married father. Paternity can be established in quite a few different ways.

Madonna's Custody Battle Heats Up

From amicable to feisty, the custody battle between Madonna and Guy Ritchie has recently taken a turn after the pair's 15-year-old son, Rocco, announced that he wishes to remain with Ritchie in London permanently.

The ongoing conflict started after Rocco, who was traveling with his New York City based mother on her Rebel Heart tour for three months this past fall, got bored and left to go stay with Ritchie in the U.K. When the teen refused to return to his mother's custody for the holidays, Madonna appeared in a New York City courtroom, where the judge ordered that the teen return the U.S. pending the outcome of a hearing to take place on February 3, 2016. However, Rocco has refused to return home and sources are reporting that he has even missed school since staying with his father.

Rocco's defiance places Ritchie in a delicate situation, as he now faces the possibility of being found in contempt of the judge's order compelling Rocco back to the States. If this custody case were taking place in Pennsylvania, Ritchie should show that he has made significant efforts to comply with the judge's order. For example, if Ritchie purchased a plane ticket for Rocco's return and he refused to get on the flight the courts would likely not find Ritchie in contempt. However, if Ritchie is supporting Rocco's decision to remain in the U.K., then it is possible that he could be found in contempt, which may result in Ritchie being sanctioned with fines and possibly less custody of Rocco.


A New Year means new goals. Besides drinking less and working out more, most Americans do not consider updating their estate planning documents after the first of January rolls around. While this may seem more dreadful than the elliptical, it doesn't have to be. If you know the important items and provisions of the documents, you can skim through without revising them in their entirety. Here are some key points to keep in mind while reviewing:

1. What kind of life events have occurred since the last time you updated your estate documents?

Marriages? Divorces? Deaths of beneficiaries? Were debts paid off? Were new debts incurred? Any financial, familial and personal changes need to be accounted for, as these will certainly affect your estate planning documents.

2. Revisit your financial power of attorney.

Do you still trust this person to deal with your bank accounts, sign your name to documents, etc.? Consider whether the appointment you have made is still appropriate now. If not, work on drafting a letter of revocation immediately to retrieve any documents your financial power of attorney may have in their possession.

3. Review your health care power of attorney.

Similarly, do you still trust the individual appointed to make decisions affecting your end-of-life circumstances? Keep in mind that science progresses at a frighteningly rapid rate daily. There may be medical care and treatment available today that was not 

Rapper Future's Custody Issues Should Not Be Aired on Twitter

A few days after Christmas, rapper, Future, went on a profanity laced rant on Twitter complaining about Ciara, the mother of his child. According to Future's tweets Ciara has been keeping him from their child, Future, Jr. The rapper tweeted, "I gotta go through lawyers to see babyfuture...the f--kery for 15k a month" and ""I jus want babyfuture that's all...I been silent for a year & a half..I ran outta patience." To date, Ciara has not publicly responded to Future's posts. While not every parent would take to Twitter to complain about child custody issues, many don't realize what their options are.

Seeing tweets like this splashed all over the internet may seem shocking, but Future's frustrations and concerns are hardly uncommon. A custody agreement that seemed reasonable months or even years ago, may no longer be practical. Or one parent may unilaterally be deciding to make alterations to an agreement or court order.

Rather than publicly airing frustrations about custody time, a parent who wishes to alter or enforce a custody agreement has available remedies through the courts. It is unknown at this time whether Ciara is in fact withholding custody from Future, or if Future simply is unhappy with the present custody arrangement. If it's the former, and one parent is withholding the child in violation of a present custody Order of Court, in Pennsylvania, the other party can enforce the Order through contempt or enforcement proceedings. The result of these proceedings is the court is empowered to order parties to abide by a custody order and assess sanctions if one party is in violation of the order. 


It turns out being a cat lady is pricier than we thought. Mandy Moore and singer Ryan Adams have been trying to hash out a settlement since she filed for divorce in January of last year. The main wrinkle? Their six cats and two dogs. Mandy argues that Adams should pay her spousal support to maintain them. She is fighting for a whopping $37,000 per month and for Ryan to take half of the pets.

"Although I love our pets, it is overwhelming for me to take care of all eight of them all of the time...I was even forced to cancel a prior work engagement because my housekeeper was ill and unable to stay with our pets," Moore explains in recent court documents that have come to light. Moore also claims that her soon-to-be-ex brings in $151,000 per month, while she earns a quarter of that.

In Pennsylvania, spousal support can refer to spousal support or alimony pendente lite (APL). Spousal support and APL are calculated in the same way: 40% of the difference between the payor's net monthly income and the recipient's net monthly income if there are no minor children, and could also include some deviations which could increase or decrease the support award. If Mandy and Ryan were Pennsylvania residents, Moore would likely be entitled to spousal support or alimony pendente lite, especially if the income gap between her and Adams is as great as she claims. Pennsylvania wants to ensure that the parties on even footing during a pendency of a divorce.

FMLA and DOMA: What Same Sex Married Couples Need to Know

Another victory for same sex married couples, but first a little history.  In 2013, the Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 12 (2013) struck down section three of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional as it limited marriage and spouse to the legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, or rather, only opposite-sex couples. This decision had a major impact on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job protected leave for certain specified family and medical reasons.

Prior to Windsor, the FMLA regulations defined the term spouse as "a husband or wife as defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State where the employee resides, including common law marriage in States where it is recognized" and consequently, same-sex couples were not entitled to leave under the FMLA even if they lived in a state that recognized same-sex marriages. However, with the Windsor decision came a slightly different reading of the same definition with the result being that same-sex couples could enjoy FMLA leave to care for a same-sex spouse but only if they resided in a state that recognized same-sex marriage. This new interpretation, although offering as much coverage as possible, still had broad implications. For example, if a same-sex couple was married in the state Pennsylvania, which now recognizes and allows same-sex marriage, but then moved to Georgia, a state where same-sex marriages are still banned, that couple would not have been entitled to the protections afforded by the FMLA. This limitation really impacted not only coverage under the FMLA, but also a couple's mobility.

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