Defending Dads

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Category: Free Legal Advice (From a Non-Attorney)

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In Matters of Support

Child support as envisioned by the state is, for those forced to carry the burden, a nightmare. You will need to summon every fiber of self-control possible to swallow that bitter pill and go on with your life. Prepare yourself.

The state of Pennsylvania uses a formula to calculate the support you should pay. This formula does not take into account your living expenses and existing obligations. If you have any hope of maintaining the lifestyle you enjoyed before divorce, you will need to replace any income your ex-wife or ex-girlfriend takes with her and then some.

It is very possible you will need to drastically scale down your lifestyle to meet support obligations. This is punitive and patently unfair. Divorce lawyers have told me that this will not change in our lifetime. My question is “why?” Every divorce or breakup occurs under different circumstances, however, for men who have lived up to their obligations, the effect is we feel like idiots for having done right by our families. This is plain crazy and I, for one, cannot stomach it.

It’s critical to state that I am not bitter, I do not stalk the people who have used the system to their advantage and I do not seek revenge. What I want is justice. REAL justice. The laws should be re-examined, the rules need to change, the playing field must be leveled. If I’m obsessed with anything, it’s to see changes in the laws reflective of the casual attitudes people carry into starting families.

Guys, I’ve tried to avoid saying this, but I need to go on record today: Marriage as promoted is often pure fantasy. This is increasingly true for both genders, especially women for whom getting out of marriage is as simple as having a change of heart and hiring a lawyer. I would never deny anyone’s right to leave a failing marriage, but my concern is what happens once either spouse makes that decision without having a meaningful discussion about it with the other.

Divorce lawyers are a fickle breed. They generally make a living off the misery of others. The more misery, the more billable hours. They are no different from any skilled salesperson. They see potential clients walk into their offices, they make quick assessments, they play to the emotions of whomever is sitting in front of them, and they go about their business regardless of the impact to the parties involved, particularly the children. Amicable divorces are rare because of divorce attorneys! How much money can they make from couples who part on good terms?

Successful marriage today? Clearly, the odds are against it, particularly when people feel entitled to change their minds at the drop of a hat and renege on vows they took before God and family. I didn’t believe in the institution to begin with and having experienced it only reinforces that position. That’s fine, but what really disturbs me is that, suddenly, I have to deal with courts, lawyers and judges! These people know private details about and make arbitrary decisions that affect my life! In plain English, it sucks and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

The good news is that this is America. Fighting against what I see as a blatant violation of my rights is an uphill battle, but at least it is one I have the right to wage. And I will. For me, my kids and any dads dealing with similar issues who will stand with me. Guys, let’s do this.

Northampton County Domestic Relations Section

If your ex-wife or ex-girlfriend has opened a case against you for custody and support with Northampton County’s Domestic Relations Section (“DSR”), prepare for your next long-term relationship. DSR will be in your business, digging in your pockets and all up your…assets for as long as your children are considered minors.

If I understand the rules correctly, your ex has the ability to shut down a case she has opened, but the odds that she will are up there with your chances of capturing a royal blue lobster. In Montana.

Things to remember when dealing with DRS:

  • While DRS is a single unit, issues of custody and support are handled by distinct branches:
    • Matters of custody are handled by what are known as Custody Masters and not judges. This is advantageous because Custody Masters have received training specific to these issues;
      • Custody Masters establish visitation schedules for and receive financial information from defendant parents in order to calculate support payments, but have no further involvement with support issues subsequent to the initial hearing regarding your case;
      • Have an updated list of monthly expenses ready for review. An Excel worksheet detailing this information is ideal;
      • Have your past six months to a year of pay stubs handy; and
      • Have a proposed plan for shared custody. A plan likely to be endorsed by the Custody Master will feature split or alternating holidays and birthdays;
    • Matters of support are handled by hearing officers at the DRS building at 126 S. Union St. in Easton;
      • This group is vigilant. Obviously, you want to keep support payments current, but in the event your financial circumstances change, notify DRS immediately. Failure to do so combined with falling behind in support could result in the issuance of a warrant for your arrest. Getting locked up on a support warrant is bad news because it could result in the loss of employment, suspension of your driver license and, as support accrues regardless of anything short of you suffering a medical crisis, compounded arrears. Guys, DRS is every bit as aggressive, if not moreso, than the IRS. Beware;
      • DRS is not nearly as difficult to deal with as the court of common pleas if you carry yourself like a gentleman. Don’t be defensive, be honest. Rules are rules and no bureaucrat without an incentive to do so is going to break any for you, but you handing up a dose of truth followed by a chaser of common courtesy will go a long way; and
      • Get your hustle on no matter what. If you need to work 3 jobs to keep up, do so because Northampton County courts will lock you up for jaywalking if given the chance. Granted, without an advanced degree there are few opportunities to make really good money in the Lehigh Valley, but where there is a will…

The first step to successfully dealing with DRS is to accept that, once a case has been filed against you, they will be a part of your life. No private American citizen will ever be pleased with such an arrangement. Nevertheless, DRS has the power to put you in that godforsaken Northampton County Prison. Face them head on because they’re not going anywhere. Best of luck, bro.

Surviving the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas

The founders of this country were, at their core, activists. They, their families and contemporaries suffered systemic abuse at the hands of a depraved British monarchy concerned only with sustaining its own extravagant lifestyle at the expense of any and all who could be compelled to support it. The monarchy wanted to reap the benefits of colonialism without regard to the concerns of the colonists; they demanded taxation and would brook no colonial representation in Parliament.

Our founding fathers took exception to this idea of “Taxation Without Representation” and spoke up about it. British Parliament was not impressed. They stripped the colonies of their right to self-govern and tried to assert control from across the Atlantic Ocean. In the face of this ugly, untenable attempt by the British to sustain dominance, colonial leaders banded together, pooled their resources and bided their time. The rest is, as they say, history.

We loving fathers routinely denied equal parental rights while being compelled to cough up our lungs in support are in a similar situation. While I do not suggest or advocate armed rebellion, I do implore any father in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania who finds himself forcibly alienated from his offspring by the courts to join hands with his fellows. We need to present a united and cohesive front to state government and the entire nation in order to address a long-standing social injustice. Our mission must be to peaceably protest systemic bias against fathers practiced by the courts in matters of custody and support. We need to do it for ourselves, for dads across the country and for our daughters and sons who suffer mightily when we are not around.

I once posted that guys facing RICO prosecution had less to fear than fathers going through divorce in Northampton County. I was joking, but just barely. I got no love at 669 Washington Street and based on discussions I’ve had with men who’ve preceded me, that’s not unusual. If you find yourself facing divorce here, try your best to avoid getting dragged into court of any kind because, buddy, once you get through the metal detector, you’re a marked man.

In the event that you must go to court, here are some key things to remember:

  1. Make your court dates, regardless of the utter disgust you will feel at having to be party to some dopey dog and pony show. Even if you were so good a husband and father that Christ himself offered to be a character witness, an opportunistic lawyer will use your reluctance to participate in proceedings against you. Count on it.
  2. Do not appear in court without representation. The three judges I have encountered at that courthouse hear pro se respondents like the rest of the world hears adults in Charlie Brown cartoons. No matter how valid your argument, if you try to present it to a judge yourself, it will carry as much weight in that court room as it will in a cattle pasture.
  3. Hire a good divorce attorney. Do your research. I have found that, as of now, the internet offers precious little information on attorneys in our area that they themselves have not posted. Ask friends or family if they know anyone. Gather your contact information and set up appointments with the attorneys on your short list, preferably for the same day. Take a day off work and interview them all before making a decision. I do not recommend that you hire any purported divorce attorney that works out of the office of or with a bankruptcy attorney. I have hired two lawyers who work under such an arrangement and my financial interests were not best served by either. Look at it this way: Would you go to an obesity clinic run by Ben & Jerry?

There is so much ground to cover, but alas, so little time. As promised, I will continue to post what I’ve learned first hand in addition to intelligence gathered from knowledgeable sources. Cheer up, boy-o…your marriage might be over, but your new life has just begun!

The Pennsylania 3-Step

I was divorced in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. Fine place if you ask me, but I’d just as soon never visit its court house again. In that place, a guy being sued for divorce has less to fear from federal prosecution under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act).

I’ve only hit this dance hall once — I think people who put themselves through divorce multiple times are closet masochists — but it’s clear that, for opposing counsel, the strategy used against me is a well rehearsed three-step waltz:

  1. Serve the defendant with a petition for divorce;
  2. Serve the defendant with a petition for special relief, to wit, sole occupancy of the marital property by the plaintiff; and
  3. Initiate proceedings with the Domestic Relations Section who set child custody and support conditions; these will most likely favor the plaintiff.

I call this tidy little combo the Pennsylvania 3-Step, the only dance I know of where your partner is supposed to step on your toes.

If my divorce were a season of Dancing with the Stars, I would be a first round elimination. I was completely unprepared. Out of desperation, I hired apathetic attorneys who did little more than make a few calls, write some feckless letters and give me severe agida. I placed greater emphasis on being with my kids and keeping up with the bills than defending myself against a barrage of petitions with awful implications that resulted in yet more agida.

My third (yes, third) attorney, Ms. Amanda Kurecian, proved to be a keeper, but by the time I stumbled across her, I had already doled out over $5,000. My biggest goof? I believed that, given there were no girlfriends or domestic violence and my ex and I had built a pretty good life for ourselves, opposing counsel had nothing to work with. Silly me!

Listen: Even if during your marriage, you were Mr. Right personified, a guy so perfect that humming birds followed you from your doorstep to your car, an experienced opposing counsel will pick you apart like barbecued ribs if she/he sees your head is not in the game.

It bears repeating: within a week of being served, you could find yourself stepping over used condoms and broken syringes on the way to luxurious accommodations at the local Super 8. Brother, if you haven’t already, you’d better sign up for your dance lessons.

Signs

One can never predict or control the actions of others, however, if you sense trouble in your marriage, protect yourself. Go online and research or ask a friend you trust for the names of divorce attorneys who specialize in defending husbands/fathers. Granted, the attorneys on your list may be equally effective at representing wives/mothers, but it couldn’t hurt to have a lawyer who plays offense AND defense.

Be sure to squirrel away enough money for a retainer. Most divorce lawyers I contacted in Pennsylvania asked for $1,500 – $2,500. If you have chosen the right attorney, it will be money well spent. Walking into any court room unrepresented is like doing a cannonball into a wood chipper. Opposing counsel will chew you up like a stick of Orbit and the judge will grant her/his motion without looking up from the paperwork.

Get to know opposing counsel. Learning her/his tactics will prepare you for the surprise motions that are sure to come. Forget the relationship you had with your spouse. If she wants out, she won’t be reminiscing about the good old days. Rather, she will be uncommunicative and pulling all kinds of strings behind the scenes. Buddy, unless you’ve got your ducks in a row, you’ll find yourself sleeping on someone’s couch within days of being served, legally barred from the place you’ve called home for years.

Resolution

There is none. Once the final papers are signed, you are stuck with more responsibility than you ever bargained for and significantly less control of when you see the kids for whom you’d lay down your life. There is no preparation for the emotional tumult you and the kids will suffer, but with time and counseling, you can all get through it. Welcome to the world of the divorced dad.

I am newly divorced. I see my kids 3 days a week and I am grateful for that; I know I am in the minority. I started this blog as a way to help other devoted fathers who have done what they should have, but will be raked over the coals by a biased family court system and soulless attorneys skilled at exploiting it. I may be a single voice shouting into a void today, but give me time.

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