Category Archives: Family Law

Join Us, 04/08/2016, for Live Immigration Law Video Seminar!!

On behalf of Prince Law Offices, P.C., I am pleased to announce that the firm’s attorneys will be utilizing new technology to host informative live video sessions devoted to the various areas of practice we cover: Firearms Law, Workers’ Compensation, Immigration, Civil Rights, Social Security, Corporate Law, Energy Law, Criminal Law, Wills Estates, Family Law, and Civil Litigation.

Please join us for the pilot launch of these sessions, next Friday, April 8th at 6PM, where I will be leading a 1/2 an hour discussion on Immigration Law issues related to Family Immigration benefits, including application requirements, filing fees, time-frames, and new developments in the law.

The program we shall use is called  JITSI,  a new open-source platform which will permit our participants’ full interaction with the seminar including video and voice access by which to share comments and questions.  There is no cost to attend.  Further, there are no limits on the number of possible participants so please, by all means, tell your friends, colleagues, family members, etc., about this exciting new program.

Please note in advance that the purpose of these seminars is to provide general information concerning the previously mentioned areas of law, and not to respond to or offer advice concerning individual legal issues.

At 5:45PM on April 8th, I will post the link for interested parties to join me in the Immigration Law seminar.

Stay tuned for the link and I hope to see you on the 8th.

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Co-Parenting 101

One repetitive and especially pernicious theme concerning custody disputes that we often see here at Prince Law, is the failure or practical inability of former spouses or partners to effectively co-parent.

Surely, few things in this world breed contempt like a permanent separation and that rule of thumb is usually only enhanced where a child-in-common is concerned. The breakdown of trust, communication, and cooperation between former partners or spouses can sometimes be remedied by a formal Custody Order, setting forth fairly strict guidelines concerning the parents’ responsibilities to the child and to each other, but not always. That is, even the most airtight Order (assuming that there is some form of split custody) still contemplates some amount of effective cooperation between the parents.

For these reasons, and to prevent the dysfunction which ensues in the life of a child where separated parents cannot seem to get along, we always urge parents to consciously practice certain co-parenting skills by all means possible. We have come to find that parents’ reasonably working together is the best medicine for over-litigiousness and a prophylactic against a seriously unhappy and confused children.

The following is a basic outline of some of the measures which may be taken to ensure the best interests of a child despite separation and irrespective of whether a Custody Order is in place.

A) Scheduling Visitation.  Encouraging a child to spend time with the other (non-primary custodian) parent is vital. Spending substantial amount of time in both households is a boon to the psychological wellbeing of a child, therefore it is necessary that each parent be willing to be both flexible and generous with regards to scheduling the other parent’s custody time. If, for instance, one parent’s work schedule does not permit her to exercise her ordinary custody in a given week, the other party should be agreeable to modifying his general custody to accommodate. To concretely illustrate what a flexible and accommodating custody  arrangement can look like, consider the “2/5 split” suggested for parents who both work full time jobs, Monday through Friday. Under the “2/5” split, one parent would have custody of the child Monday and Tuesday while the other parent would have Wednesday and Thursday; the parents would then alternate the remaining Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Hence, it is called the “2/5” split because, in any given week, one parent would have 2 custodial days while the other would have 5. Furthermore, each party’s permitting a reasonable amount of flexibility in the schedule fosters reciprocating spirit of cooperation and open-dialogue which can be invaluable to avoiding legal disputes down the road.

B) Rules & Routines. Children, by their nature, are “creatures of habit” and require structure. Too often, in split-custody situations, we come across the good-cop/bad-cop paradigm of parenting. Frequently, a parent (typically the one having less than primary physical custody) will make up for time without his child, by failing to enforce discipline in the form of consistent rules and routines for the child. That parent conceives of himself as the good-cop and his conduct is marked by lax-parenting where he allows the child to do essentially whatever he wants. Conversely, the other parent (typically the one having primary custody) becomes the bad-cop where she must shoulder the responsibilities of discipline and structure. This model is obviously not only unfair to the bad-cop, it confuses the child and is a glaring example of co-parenting gone wrong. Therefore, it is important that to the extent possible, both parents maintain the same firm and consistent rules for the child. This latter arrangement is ultimately far healthier for the child and prevents the child from manipulating one parent against the other. Moreover, consistent rules make the job of parenting individually easier for both parties.

C) Responsible Role Model. Nothing influences a child’s development more than the actions of his parents. Whether they convey this or not, children are constantly defining their world, their norm, by what they see their parents/custodians do and how they otherwise act. This point underlines the importance of separated parties’ at least remaining civil to one another. As Family Law attorneys, we can readily acknowledge that separations are often the result of real hurt and/or animosity between people but putting aside that pain for the best interest of a child will reap a great reward.

D) Paper Trail. Consistency of routines (especially custody scheduling) and rules are best facilitated by reducing arrangements to writing. One of the single most effective ways to keep a party obligated to his role as a co-parent is to document arrangements. Short of a formal Court Order (which is always advisable), keeping text messages, e-mails and other communications wherein a party pledged to affirmatively do something or refrain from doing something, in relation to the child, leads to effective co-parenting.

E) Easy Does It. We have heard a few horror stories about what can happen, during child drop-offs, between parents who don’t like each other. Dovetailing with the “Responsible Role Model” objective discussed above, picking-up and dropping-off a child should NEVER become an occasion for parents to renew their hostilities. If the hatred is really that bad, the parties should consider a busy, public location whereat it would be plainly inopportune to argue or otherwise act uncivilly.

F) To Have His Own. Ownership of things is an important aspect in a child’s development, especially in terms of learning independence. Frequently, one parent, out of ill-will to the other parent, will forbid the child traveling between residences with things bought for the child by the other parent. This is an extreme and counterproductive position that will surely back-fire at some point. Children quickly figure out when a parent is using them as a pawn in some grander battle and when the child realizes that one parent would rather the child not have certain things because it comes from the other parent, resentment quickly follows.

Far from exhaustive, the skills of parenting outlined above are just a few of the methods available to ensure the best interest of children. Inherently, children are a work in progress and require as much love, support, and cooperation from and between their parents as is possible. I hope the reader, facing a co-parenting dilemma of his or her own, will find this helpful.

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No Relief, No Surrender

On Monday evening, 11/09/2015, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals failed to surprise anyone, issuing a 2-1 decision that affirms the current injunction against the Executive expansion of DACA.  >>See decision here<<

The reader may recall that this blog has attempted to provide some coverage of this increasingly fraught showdown. See explanation of DAPA and litigation here.  As it is, the more than 4 million persons that the DACA expansion would temporarily and minimally “protect”  are again left in the lurch, without relief from the specter of separation from their families, not even to mention their more than 6 million children who stand to lose their parents. >> See statistics under FAQs<<  >>more statistics<<

Both the Opinion and Dissent are lengthy affairs and I’m not sure a detailed reading or analysis of either is necessary — both camps essentially rehashed the same arguments leading up to this week’s decision.

Justice Jerry Smith, writing the Court’s decision for the majority, underlined that in the view of court, the expansion of DACA exceeds the powers conferred to the Executive through the INA and defies the APA’s “notice-and-comment” requirement.

In a vigorous dissent, Justice Carolyn King states that “a mistake has been made” – she points out that when historically compared to other Executive Actions that have effected changes in U.S. Immigration Policy, neither DACA nor the DACA expansion are particularly exceptional – various “deferred action” schemes have previously been applied to U.S. Immigration Law and/or Policy since the 1980s (they were never challenged by lawsuit). Slip Op. at 86, 124,   King also reasserts a core argument that the government has been making all along – an argument that King does not believe has been adequately rebutted by the 5th Circuit decision.  Namely, King does not believe the claims brought by Texas and the cabal of 25 other states are justiciable considering that the Expansion has been enabled by a Memorandum that technically offers no more than guidance or a framework. Id at 76-77. Further, the dissent points out that the Memorandum does not impose any affirmative duties on officials or on the states, nor creates “positive law”; King also noted that since the Expansion calls for a case-by-case execution of the Memo’s principles, notice-and-comment is not necessary. Id at 73.

Going back to what she views as the essential non-justiciability of the claim, King does well to criticize the tenuousness of the Standing-theory proffered by Plaintiffs.  Specifically, the majority sustained Plaintiffs’ theory that Standing is conferred solely on the basis of the potential costs to be incurred for providing DAPA recipients with drivers’ licenses.  King found this to be a very weak (if not illusory) basis for Standing which effectively gives Texas et. al constitutionally impermissible “special solicitude”, especially considering that all the other “theories” of Standing heretofore broached by Plaintiffs have either been abandoned or not adopted by any of the prior decisions in the course of this litigation. Id at 79-80.  Indeed, as to Standing, it appears that Plaintiffs have thrown a bunch of spaghetti on the wall and a morsel of sauce has stuck, barely. Id at 79-83.

Not surrendering, the United States DOJ aims to promptly appeal this decision as indicated by an 11/10/2015 press release.

This writer thinks it probable that if the appeal is filed before the end of the current SCOTUS term, certiorai is likely to be granted to hear this case. We shall see.

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Filed under Constitutional Law, Family Law, Immigration Law

PUC Urges Utilities to Help Consumers “Prepare Now” for Cold Weather, Higher Heating Bills

As part of its 13th year of “Prepare Now” education efforts, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today (October 29, 2015) urged utilities to take extra steps to help consumers – especially those on limited and fixed incomes – to prepare for winter heating costs.

A letter signed by the five PUC Commissioners has been sent to all of Pennsylvania’s electric and natural gas utility companies under the PUC’s jurisdiction, asking them to join the Commission in educating consumers about the many winter assistance programs and services that are available. The letter also includes specific suggestions for utility companies and emphasizes that they have more flexibility to make allowances for payment-troubled customers than the PUC does, under the law.

The PUC’s Prepare Now campaign provides consumers with simple tips to lower their energy bills, including shopping for electricity and natural gas, as well as ways to conserve energy around the house. It also offers information about low-income programs that help consumers restore and maintain service.

“Many utility consumers who need assistance are still unaware of the programs available to help them restore or maintain utility service. Just as the Commission will be reminding consumers who call us about the availability of such programs, we urge all utilities to increase their outreach efforts to make sure that consumers receive information about any program for which they may be eligible,” the Commissioners wrote.

The Prepare Now campaign encourages consumers on limited or fixed incomes to call their utility about programs to help heat their homes or pay their energy bills such as Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs) and Low Income Usage Reduction Programs (LIURP). It also appeals to the companies to increase efforts to educate consumers about other programs, such as grants under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – which is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS).

At the same time, the Commission is reminding all parties – consumers and utilities alike – that Chapter 56 of the Public Utility Code imposes an obligation of good faith, honesty and fair dealing.

The PUC’s message is simple – Prepare Now for winter energy costs:

  • Learn more about conservation.
  • Check your electric and natural gas bills and supplier contracts.
  • Use and to shop for services.
  • Look into programs that help low-income customers maintain service.
  • Explore other steps to reduce long-term heating and energy consumption – such as weatherization programs, the addition of insulation and/or the installation of energy efficient appliances and lighting, which many consumers can do themselves.

Consumers interested in more information about these important programs can visit the PUC website,, and click on the “Prepare Now” link; follow social media messages that contain the #PrepareNow tag; or call the PUC at 1-800-692-7380.

Consumer outreach specialists from the PUC are active across the state, conducting or participating in workshop events, free seminars, roundtable discussions and community fairs. During those events, plain language materials and literature designed to educate consumers about assistance programs and their rights are handed out. Materials include information on consumer rights in dealing with terminations and reconnections, available low-income programs and tips on how to “Prepare Now” for winter. For more information on hosting a PUC consumer outreach specialist at a community event, please call 717-787-5722.

If you or your business have questions regarding natural gas law, energy law or real estate law, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices, P.C.

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Berks Immigration Detention Center for Women and Children to Close?

A strident ruling out of the federal district court for the central district of California is resulting in major changes to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy concerning the detention of women and children.  On August 21, 2015, Federal Judge Dolly Gee ruled that the ICE/DHS policy of housing detained women and children, spread between 3 national facilities (two in Texas, and one right here in Berks County – The Berks County Residential Center) is essentially unlawful for being inhumane and repugnant to the values of the United States.  As a practical matter, the force of this ruling is likely to result in the closure of these 3 facilities as the business of each is primarily (if not entirely) about detaining woman-run family units.

Interestingly, the decision itself is not especially controversial, by any measure.  Rather, what Judge Gee has effectuated is a clarification and strict enforcement of an almost 20 year old Class Action Settlement Agreement/Consent Decree (Flores v. Reno) that had already established many of the findings that Gee reiterated as a basis for the court’s ruling.  What does shock the conscience is the fact that after almost 20 years, the changes mandated by the earlier Decree have largely been ignored by the Defendant parties charged with enforcement.

By way of a brief history, the class action law suit which resulted in the Consent Decree was first filed in 1985 and class-wide settlement was approved in 1997.  See Flores v. Reno Settlement Agreement here.  In February of 2015, class representative, Ms. Flores, on behalf of the class (which includes all minors presently in ICE custody) sued to enforce the Agreement.  Plaintiff class prevailed; the government requested reconsideration but, in August, the court firmly rejected the government’s request.  See Federal District Court Ruling here.

To give some specific examples of the realities of family-detention that prompted the Plaintiff class to motion for enforcement –  women and children in immigration family detention are customarily held in deplorable conditions wherein families are placed with or in close proximity to members of jail populations, unnaturally separated from each other during the term of a detention; that government facilities are not appropriate places for detaining minor children and their parents, long-term; provisions for the transfer of such detainees from government facilities to licensed care-taker facilities, as first mandated by the 1997 Agreement, should be made within 3-5 days but is typically frustrated by ICE’s current “no release” policy.  Further, and as recognized by the federal district court and again contrary to ’97 Agreement, ICE/DHS typically make little or no effort to place minor children with family members of legal status pending such child’s Immigration Court determination.

The initial Agreement gave no firm deadline for government compliance and it is clear this failure was fully exploited as neither INS nor (its predecessor) ICE/DHS have abided by any of the terms.  The reality of what has happened (or, more accurately, not happened) since then speaks to Immigration Authorities’ inexplicable contempt for the Decree.  Therefore, district court Judge Gee was adamant in setting a firm deadline this time around – October 23rd, 2015.

This has left the ICE administrators of the respective facilities, scrambling.  The two Texas facilities (Karnes County Residential Center and South Texas Family Residential Center) are significantly larger than their Berks County counterpart which is presently equipped to house 96, and both Texas facilities are now attempting to privatize (and therefore circumvent the court ruling).  Concerning the Berks County facility, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) seems resolute in giving full force to the ruling this time around, making up for the 20-years of the government’s blithe defiance –  Last week, on Thursday October 22nd, DHS issued a letter to the Berks County facility, rejecting its request to expand to a maximum occupancy level of 192.  Furthermore, in that same letter, DHS has also evidently threatened imminent closure of the facility for being out of compliance with the court ruling.

As with so many things litigated, there may yet be another twist or two to the story before the true fates of these family detention centers are set.  At the moment, the government has appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  However, no stay on the district court ruling has been requested – meaning the holding is law and the compliance deadline has come and gone.


Filed under Family Law, Immigration Law

Shorter Waiting Time for Divorce Based on Separation…Legislation Pending

Our colleagues at the Pennsylvania Bar News have recently covered some important developments in the realm of family law – pending legislation that, if passed, will significantly reduce the time it takes estranged spouses to legally divorce.

House Bill 380 is the legislation at issue and aims to cut in half the statutory waiting period from 2 years to 1.

The practical reasons for reducing the mandatory waiting period in Pennsylvania for this type of divorce are many.  As proponent of the Bill and member of the PBA’s Family Law Task Force on Bill 380, Maryann Q. Modesti, has pointed out, some of the benefits of new law would be: 1. hastening the resolution of divorce relieves not only a strain on court dockets but on the personal stresses that come with the process; 2. enabling the courts “to address families’ challenges with physical-custody arrangements and co-parenting”; 3. “In the case of couples likely to reconcile, shortening the…litigation phase…[thereby] reducing the need for either party to make hostile accusations or use costly litigation as an impetus for settlement…”

No doubt, the prospect of the passage of Bill 380 comes as a blessed relief to many Pennsylvania residents now in or considering divorce proceedings based on separation.  A comparative study conducted by Bloomberg indicates that Pennsylvania ranks among the most difficult states in which to obtain a divorce (40 out of 50).  Compared with a state like New Hampshire, which imposes no minimum waiting time on divorce and recognizes residency (a pre-requisite for filing) upon arrival in that state, Pennsylvania has long been viewed as downright Draconian in this regard.  See Bloomberg Ranking here

The statute that Bill 380 would amend is 3301(d) of the Pennsylvania Code.  A look at the statute reveals that the extraordinarily long 2-year waiting period is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many procedural hurdles that parties may face when seeking a divorce under this section.  For instance, as stated by 3301(d)(2)(ii), despite the elapse of 2 years, a court may still, should a Defendant assert that the marriage is not “irretrievably broken”, rule that the parties must make effort to reconcile difference and delay the waiting period even further by holding hearings on such reconciliation.

Further, concerning the required filings that comprise a 3301(d) divorce, Pa. Code Rule 1920.42 shows that a fair amount of proficiency in civil procedure is required:  1. the Complaint must be filed with a count of “irretrievable breakdown of the relationship” and certified service of same must be made on Defendant; 2. that filing must be accompanied by affidavit; 3. the Plaintiff must serve Defendant with blank counter-affidavit; 3. the Plaintiff must also serve a “notice of intent to request entry of divorce decree” on Plaintiff OR both parties must sign a waiver of such notice; 4. If no waiver is signed, the Plaintiff must wait at least 20 days after providing the counter-affidavit and the notice of intent [in which time the Defendant may Answer] before Plaintiff may motion the court to execute a divorce decree, by a praecipe to transmit.

As all the foregoing shows, the entire process is often times intimidating to would be pro-se litigants and virtually screams “I need a lawyer, stat!”  And yes, an oversight or failure in proper procedure can delay the 3301(d) process even more, or worse, give the other party time and thought to put up a fight where he or she may not have done so otherwise.

Bill 380 is probably a logical step if among the goals of effective laws should be the reduction of time and expense.  Granted, Pennsylvania will probably never become a New Hampshire but Bill 380 seems certain to be a game changer.

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Birthright Citizenship – A Closer Look

Watching the recent Republican Presidential debate, I felt that one particularly interesting topic discussed among the contenders was U.S. policy concerning birthright citizenship.  At least one candidate has vowed that upon becoming President of the United States he will sharply curtail our nation’s “liberal” construal of birthright citizenship – specifically stripping such right from children born within the United States and its territories but to parents who are not themselves lawfully present therein.

Politics aside, that got me thinking about the current state of birthright citizenship law and its possible dimensions.  I became interested in determining whether current U.S. birthright law is really as “liberal” as certain Republican candidates would lead us to believe.  Indeed, a child born in the U.S. to unlawfully present parent/parents occurred to me to be only one context out of potentially many wherein the scope of birthright citizenship is tested.

What about instances where a child of a U.S. Citizen is born outside of the territorial U.S.?  What if the genetic/gestational mother of the child born outside the territorial U.S. is not a U.S. Citizen but the child’s father is and the parents are not married?  Is such child then an automatic U.S. citizen; is she entitled to naturalization?

The answers to these questions are surprising – In no instance is a child born outside of the United States assured birthright citizenship.  Indeed, even in the case of a child born to two U.S. Citizens, but abroad, U.S. Citizenship is not automatically conferred.  Furthermore, the Immigration and Naturalization Act draws a big distinction between children born in and out of wedlock for determining the child’s right to U.S. Citizenship, where one parent is a U.S. Citizen and the other is not.  See INA Sec. 101(b); Sec. 301(d).

[WEDLOCK]If the parents are indeed married at the time of the child’s birth, and one parent is a Citizen while the other is a U.S. national, the U.S. Citizen parent MUST have resided continuously within the territorial U.S. no later than 1 year prior to the child’s birth.  If the parents are married, and one parent is a Citizen while the other is a foreign national, then the U.S. Citizen parent must have resided within the territorial U.S. for at least a continuous 2 year period after the age of 14.

[OUT OF WEDLOCK – Father is U.S. Citizen] The child born abroad will NOT have right to Naturalization unless a) paternity is clinically proven by clear and convincing evidence; b) the father was a U.S. Citizen at the time of the child’s birth; c) the father has agreed to provide financial support to the child until the child reaches 18 years of age.  Additionally, before the child reaches 18 years of age, one of the following criteria would also have to be met: a) a court of competent jurisdiction declares the U.S. Citizen, the father of the child in question; b) the child is legitimated under the laws of the child’s domicile or residence; c) or the father acknowledges the child as his by sworn oath or affidavit.  See INA Sec. 301(d),(e),(g)  “Legitimated under the laws…” generally relates to a jurisdiction’s statutory means or rules for recognizing a child as (in fact) the child of a parent (typically the alleged father).  For example, some world nations maintain that a child is not the legitimate child of an alleged father if the father’s name was not on the birth certificate.  Conversely, other nations maintain that a child is legitimated at any time the father is proved to be the natural/genetic father of the child in question.

As the foregoing illustrates, U.S. birthright law may not be as liberal as some would suggest.  First of all, considering an “in wedlock” scenario – it appears counter-intuitive (at best) that the pre-requisites for birthright citizenship are higher when the married parents are both “Americans” (one being a U.S. Citizen, the other being a U.S. “national”) compared with when one parent is a foreign national.  Moreover, in an “out of wedlock” scenario, it is evident that current U.S. Immigration Law may promote “dead beat” dads or at least gives a male an unsettling degree of license to have “illegitimate” children abroad while maintaining the unilateral power of denying to his child the benefits of U.S. Citizenship.

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