PA Fathers' Rights Lawyers
Clients often ask whether the Pennsylvania family courts have always favored mothers when deciding child custody disputes. Strangely enough, the answer is no. Prior to the early 1800's, the American laws were largely derived from English common law, or in other words, laws derived from individual cases decided under English law. Under the early English common law which was adopted by the American courts of the day, only men could hold property rights unless the woman was a widow or other limited exceptions. Children were viewed simply as another piece of property and, since only men were entitled to hold property rights, only the husbands were awarded custody of the children.
In the case of Commonwealth v. Addicks decided in 1813 by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the late Chief Justice William Tilghman stated that "... considering their tender age, they [the minor children] stand in need of that kind of assistance, which can be afforded by none so well as a mother." With this statement, the "tender years doctrine" was born and a presumption that custody of children of tender years (in other words minor children) should be awarded to their mother. The tender years doctrine became one of the most pervasive and firmly entrenched presumptions in American law. Even when the tender years doctrine was found to be unconstitutionally stereotypic and voided in 1977, Pennsylvania courts nevertheless still favored primary custody awards to the mother but simply stated other factors as influencing their decisions.
In Western Pennsylvania in the late 1980's a slow, but noticeable change began to happen. In Allegheny County, then Administrative Judge Max Baer (now Justice Baer of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court) decided that the family courts should employ child psychologists to review PA child custody cases and issue a report to the family court concerning the best interests of the minor children from a psychological prospective. During that evolution of the family court's thinking, Attorney Vari was employed as Judge Baer's judicial law clerk and assisted in drafting the original framework for the establishment of the Generations program that to this date is the custody program utilized in Family Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. After the ground-breaking decision to initiate the Generations program, most of the family courts in other Western Pennsylvania counties including Beaver County, Butler County, Washington County and Westmoreland County also initiated specific programs that require the participation parents and children anytime a child custody or divorce action is initiated and minor children are involved in the case.
The Allegheny County Generations program was established so that parents would be required to attend at least one educational session to learn about the court process and hopefully how a meaningful relationship with both parents is truly in a child's best interests. The program also requires mediation and the use of court-appointed psychologists when the parents are disputing claims for primary or shared physical custody. After Allegheny County's Generations program was initiated, many other Western Pennsylvania counties followed suit and adopted education, mediation and court-appointed psychological evaluations in custody cases as well.
In the early days of the Generations program, there were little guidelines for the court-appointed psychologists in issuing their opinions, and nearly any psychologist holding a license was permitted to be added to the list for appointments. Sadly, it was a time when there was a large number of poorly drafted reports.
Shortly after the initiation of the Generations program, Attorney Vari left her judicial clerkship and opened the Pittsburgh family law firm that she continues to operate today. In those early days of private practice, Attorney Vari witnessed how poorly drafted court-appointed psychological evaluations had such an enormous impact on the rights of parents, especially fathers' rights, in Allegheny County Family Court custody cases. It was during these years that Attorney Lisa Marie Vari sought out second opinions from private psychologists who oftentimes critiqued the work of the court-appointed experts. The private psychologists who were hired by Attorney Vari and a few other local attorneys were so good at providing second opinions and critiquing the court-appointed experts that the then private experts formed a group and were hired as the exclusive contract for Allegheny County's court-appointed psychological evaluations.
PA Shared Custody Orders for Fathers and Mothers
Early on when working with the child custody pyschologists, Attorney Vari learned that nearly all of the research on child psychology suggests the best custodial relationship for the children when both parents are fit parents, live within close proximity, and have a minimal degree of cooperation is a shared physical custody arrangement with mothers and fathers sharing custody on nearly an equal basis. Since those days, Attorney Vari and the associate attorneys who work for her have been strong advocates for shared physical custody orders in custody cases that meet those factual criteria. And, while it may seem that taking this position means that our staff advocates solely for the rights of Pennsylvania fathers, this is not the case. Our Pittsburgh child custody attorneys advocate for what is in the best interests of the minor children. Since the psychological research indicates that shared physical custody awards are generally best, that is the custody order that we seek in the majority (but not all) of our custody cases.
It is true that in our firm's early years our Pittsburgh law office was seen as a clear fathers' rights law firm. However, that was because during those early years many of the Pennsylvania custody orders included awards of primary custody to the mother and fathers were the parent most often seeking to change the custody order.
Pittsburgh Children's Rights Attorney
What about today? Is our law firm viewed as a Pittsburgh fathers' rights law firm? Today, our Pittsburgh custody lawyers believe that we should best be viewed as attorneys who fight for the rights of children to have the type of custody arrangement that is truly in their best interests and not a custody order based solely upon the outdated and stereotypical views of the parenting capabilities of mothers and fathers based solely on their gender. It is the children of a broken relationship who oftentimes suffer the greatest emotional impact. Our Pittsburgh custody lawyers believe that ensuring that the children will have a meaningful relationship with both parents is the best way to minimize the children's emotional damage.
This is not to suggest that there are not times when our Pittsburgh custody attorneys do advocate for an award of primary physical custody, because if the facts dictate it, we have strongly advocated for primary custody to be awarded to fathers on occasion and to mothers on other occasions, and we have won primary custody awards in both types of circumstances. There are times when either the mother or the father is not fit or other circumstances dictate against an award of shared custody. In this type of situation, our Pittsburgh custody attorneys will advocate for the best interests of the children to have as meaningful of a relationship as possible with both parents in whatever award is appropriate — primary custody with father and partial custody or visitation to the mother or primary custody with mother and partial custody or visitation to the father.
Allegheny County Custody Lawyers who Fight for the Best Interests of Minor Children
The worst mistake that most parents make when considering a separation from the other parent is failing to obtain legal advice prior to the separation on how to protect the custody rights of the children. This is not a time to be penny wise and pound foolish. A written agreement regarding custody should be negotiated by our custody attorneys prior to any separation or a custody action should be immediately commenced after separation to establish an order if an agreement cannot be reached by the parents and their custody attorneys. If not done immediately, most parents will be stuck with a court order that awards only whatever time they have actually exercised following the separation until a custody trial can be scheduled, which in some circumstances does not occur for over one year!
Allegheny County Support Attorneys for Fathers
Our Allegheny County Fathers' Rights Lawyers believe that having a fair and correct child support order from the judges and hearing officers of the Court of Common Pleas is an important part of providing quality family law legal advice to our Pennsylvania clients. Furthermore, our team of Pittsburgh Child Support Attorneys believe that it is the children's right to have both parents contributing a fair amount to their support and upbringing. If either parent, father or mother, does not have an adequate amount of money in their individual household to support the children while in their care, how can that be fair and in the children's best interests?
Our Pittsburgh child support lawyers have represented a father who, prior to our representation, was forced to shut off the utilities in his house when the children were not in his care because after paying child support to his ex-wife he could not afford to pay his bills for the entire month. On the other hand our Pittsburgh child support attorneys have also represented a mother who would eat noodles so her children could have more nutritious meals when the children's father refused to pay his child support. Paying too much child support or paying too little child support is not fair to the children!
Another thing to consider is that it is not always fathers who owe child support money to mothers. If a father has primary physical custody of the minor children, the mother owes child support to the father! Another scenario is when the mother and father share physical custody and the mother earns more than the father; in this scenario the mother would owe child support to the children's father. Lastly, there are times when the mother's income so vastly outweighs the father's income that the mother owes child support to the father even if the mother has the majority of custodial time. Think about Britney Spears and Kevin Federline's custody and support cases. Would it really be fair for their children to live the lifestyle that Britney, an international recording star, can afford to give them one week and then the life that Kevin, an unemployed dancer, could give them the next?
Whether our team of Allegheny County Child Support Attorneys are representing a father who is paying child support or a father who is receiving support, our Pittsburgh child support attorneys will fight hard to insure that the PA child support order is fair to both parties and the children!
Pittsburgh Fathers' Rights Attorneys
Our Pittsburgh men's rights law firm has represented over 1500 family law clients including more than 500 child custody clients. We were pioneers in advocating for father's rights in Western Pennsylvania and fought many courtroom battles to advocate for an equal playing field for fathers. We believe we are different from other Pittsburgh family law firms for many other reasons.
Email our PA fathers' rights law firm to learn how we can help you. Or, telephone our Pittsburgh office at 412-281-9906, Southpointe (Canonsburg, Washington County) at 724-436-5500, Cranberry Township (Butler County, PA) at 724-776-9906 or toll-free at 1-855-VARI-LAW (1-855-827-4529). Our Pittsburgh and Southpointe law offices are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. and evenings by appointment. Our Cranberry Township office is open by appointment only.
Appointments may also be available in other meeting locations throughout Western Pennsylvania upon advance arrangements with our office. Ask the secretary scheduling your appointment for details including appointment locations.
Our Western PA family law office routinely fights for the rights of fathers in family law cases in Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Lawrence County, Mercer County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County. Our Pittsburgh fathers' rights attorneys accept cases in other Western PA counties such as Armstrong County, Erie County, Fayette County, Greene County, Somerset County and Venango County on a case-by-case basis.