Child Custody – Myths and Realities

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Child Custody Rights in Pennsylvania

Our experienced  Pittsburgh lawyers have devoted some  attention to debunking common myths.

Myth #1

The woman always gets primary custody, if she wants it.  The actual standard for custody is:  the best interest of the child.  Most judges strongly believe that in order for a child to be happy and healthy, the child needs equal access and time with both parents.  The facts in each case will determine what is in the best interest of the child.

Myth #2

If a judge comes down harshly on a parent (or criticizes a parent in open court), the judge be recused from ruling on future modifications of custody because of a demonstrated bias. 

This is totally false.

In fact, in many Counties in Pennsylvania, including Allegheny, the concept of “one family, one judge”  applies.  This means, the same judge hears all divorce, custody and  support matters involving a family, whether the issues unfold over weeks or years.  As reported by Mary Beth Schweigert, Lancaster County was among the first in the state to adopt “one  family, one judge,” said Judge Leslie Gorbey, who served on the task  force.

“It’s considered one of the best practices,” she said.  Anyone who initiates legal proceedings knows what courtroom he or she will be in, and what judge will be assigned to the case.  Gorbey and President Judge Joseph C.  Madenspacher, a former family court judge, said the “one judge” approach gives  families more stability.

“It keeps everyone on the same page,” Gorbey  said. “We get to know people.”

The approach also simplifies scheduling  and saves time, Madenspacher said. The judge already knows a family’s general  situation, which eliminates the need for lengthy review at each hearing.

This means that, the same judge will oversee your case from start to finish, through each modification or alleged violation of an existing order over several years, potentially.  This means that your first impression (in the eyes of the judge assigned to your case) is crucial.  You need to be aggressive about making sure you are prepared for court and ready to cross examine the opposing party.

Myth #3

Any major mistake (such as drug abuse, violence, or committing a crime) will cause a parent to lose custody.  This is totally false.  As mentioned, the standard for custody is, the best interest of the child.  The courts realize that we all make mistakes.  In addition, we all have the capacity to learn from our mistakes.  The courts will reward a parent who (1) demonstrates knowledge of his or her mistake and (2) takes affirmative steps to get help with any problem or addition.

Get Prepared.

Our Pittsburgh lawyers fully appreciate the burden you face when contemplating a dispute over custody. You need a lawyer who has experience in these matters and who can suggest to you options to help resolve the matter efficiently with as little — or as much — court involvement as needed.

Learning Your Rights.  

Fortunately, our Pittsburgh matrimonial attorneys talk to you for free of charge. Our Pittsburgh Pa lawyers give you an estimate of how long your case will take. Over the years, we have represented parents during claims for custody. We handle claims for total custody, partial custody and/or visitation only filed in Pennsylvania and also interstate claims. We also attend custody conferences and proceedings before hearing officers and judges and/or custody trials. Our attorneys also handle appeals to custody resolutions. Further, in the context of a custody case, we also handle other matters that may surface, such as Protection from Abuse Hearings (PFA) that take place while child support issues remain ongoing. We also help with PFA appeals. We negotiate with other lawyers to resolve the matter most efficiently. Our attorneys always try to negotiate with the other lawyer or lawyers involved in the case. Call our PA lawyers to speak with experienced family law attorneys on this matter.

Attorneys with Experience. Our Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) family law attorneys analyze issues concerning claims for custody by grandparents and other family members. Our lawyers in Pittsburgh, PA evaluate the basis for standing for a grandparent or other family member and we handle representation of grandparents and other family members at conferences, hearings, and trials.  We handle these issues throughout Allegheny County (including Pittsburgh), Beaver County, and Washington Counties.

Give Us a Call Today!




To Give or Not to Give a “Free Consultation.”

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You may have heard the expression that “there are no free lunches.”  And yet, evidently, there are lawyers offering a “free consultation,” which may be worth considerably more than a lunch, so what gives?

The Case Against Given Free Legal Advice. 

Some lawyers absolutely refuse to give a free consultation. A consultation takes time.  Not all lawyers can afford to donate their time for a free consultation as opposed to a case review (to see if the case is worth money to the lawyer handling it on a contingency basis).  Many lawyers do not offer pro bono (free) legal advice, or only offer the same through a non-profit agency.

Secondly, every time a lawyer gives advice, he is testing the coverage of his legal malpractice policy.  This is because any legal advice can be misinterpreted, or the lawyer might misspeak in away that the misleads the client to his detriment.  Hence, a number of lawyers will always refuse to provide a “free consultation.”  Added to that, when a lawyer speaks with one party to a dispute that could, potentially, preclude the lawyer from having any further involvement in the case, even if the opposing party to the dispute is the only serious about (or can afford) hiring the lawyer.  Hence, every time a lawyer speaks with a potential client, the lawyer faces a potential conflict of interest.

The Case for Giving a Free Consultation. 

Some lawyers are OK with doing charity to help their fellow man or woman.  Not every person who needs advice can get the same inexpensively through a non-profit.  In fact, there are limits to the amount of “free advice” one can receive through non-profit groups such as Neighborhood Legal Service, which often require that the client prove a ridiculously low income before qualifying for free legal advice.  The same applies for representation through the district attorney’s office for criminal defense.  Hence, there is a gap in the amount of “free” legal advice out there.  The lawyer who provides a free consultation can attain a certain level of personal enrichment by helping others who might not otherwise receive the help.

Moreover, a savvy lawyer can employ certain measures to prevent conflicts of interest.  For example, our law firm asks those emailing us to list the name of the opposing party on the subject line of emails to us.  This allows us to decide whether we might have a potential conflict before talking to the person seeking a free consultation.

Also, more selfishly for the lawyer, the offer of a free consultation can lead to the lawyer ultimately receiving more business overall, if he can demonstrate his value during a consultation in such a manner that motivates the client to come up with money to pay for significant legal services.

The Amount to Expect to Pay For Legal Services

The amount of fees that a lawyer will charge depends on (1) the area of law and (1) the amount of experience possessed by the lawyer.   Let us look at several areas of law.

Personal Injury.  You have probably hear lawyers advertising that you pay nothing until they earn a recovery, which our law firm offers in cases where the defendant either has (1) insurance or (2) sufficient means to pay a judgment against him.   This applies to suits for civil rights violations (police brutality, Taser use, excessive force) as well as claims for brain injury and other claims.  Otherwise, the lawyer is taking on substantial risk by spending the requisite time and money to litigate a person or business that may be “judgment proof,” so to speak.   In close cases, our firm offers creative fee arrangements, such a blended rate, where the lawyer works primarily on a contingency, but the client pays a reduced amount toward hourly fees and/or expenses on the case.

Criminal Defense.   The rules of professional conduct governing lawyers’ conduct precludes a lawyer from handling a criminal defense matter a contingency basis.  In other words, the lawyer cannot say, you pay nothing unless we keep you of jail, then you pay a lump sum.  Our firm aspires to provide fair pricing such that we charge a flat fee for each portion of the representation.  For example, we typically charge a reasonable flat fee to handle a DUI (drunk driving) or simple assault charge defense.

Family Law – Divorce, Support, Custody, – PFA.  Here, once again, the rules prohibit lawyers from handling domestic relations matters (divorce, support, custody, PFA) on a contingency basis.  A lawyer cannot say to the client, you don’t have to pay me unless I beat this PFA, or I get you “x” amount of money relative to your divorce or claim for support.  That said, where there is support obligation in arrears, the lawyer may charge a contingency fee to recovery back arrearages.  But typically, family law matters are handled an hourly basis.  An experienced lawyer can say from experience how much time the average hearing will take, and will charge a flat fee to cap the client’s expenses and to avoid uncertain billing.

Commercial Litigation.  Pittsburgh, PA attorneys handling this type of law must draw from experience in many areas to be effective, such as courtroom procedures, evidence, finance, knowledge of business, contracts, agreements, when certainly industries would define a “breach,” accounting practices, and other matters.  Hence, in this area, a lawyer charging a higher fee might be able to resolve the issue much faster than another lawyer learning all of these areas of law and expertise on the fly.

The amount of hourly fees. This will very depending on the amount of experience of the lawyer.  A lower fee could mean that the lawyer is not confident in his work, or he is simply very efficient in terms of how he delivers legal services.  The client should ask pointed questions about how the lawyer runs his business:  does he employ lots of expensive support staff (to do work he can do quickly himself if he understood technology) the pass the cost on to the client?    How experienced is the lawyer?  Is he able to offer cost savings to the client as a result of the lawyer’s experience, which should be the case.

For experienced representation the cost is typically $200-$400/hr.  Complex transactional litigation can cost up to $1,000/hr.   Here a link to a site discussing these matters.  All of that said, all of our lawyers are experienced and work for $200 per hour or less.  Here a link that describes how this is possible.

Our Pittsburgh lawyers are among those who offer a free consultation.

Call any time.




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