One of the most important things to the day to day practice of the law is keeping up on the ever changing cases and statutes that govern the lives of attorneys and clients. Whether it's making sure you have an up to date copy of the state Rules of Civil Procedure establishing a deadline for filing your inventory and appraisement in an equitable distribution hearing or new decisions from the state appellate courts, as lawyers if we don't keep abreast of changes in the law, we will be left in the dust by our opposing counsel. It's also important that the clients stay updated as well so that they have the best impression of the merit of their case. Because of this, we are excited to announce a new monthly feature to our blog. On the last Monday of each month, we will be providing a list of the most recent Pennsylvania Superior Court decisions related to family law and brief summaries of these cases. This feature will be supplemented in-depth reports on some of the most important cases and how they will impact you.
Pennsylvania permits varying degrees of physical custody: Supervised custody, partial custody, shared custody, primary custody, and sole custody. Legal custody, however, defined as "the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious, and educational decisions," may only be shared or sole. Shared legal custody requires the parents to cooperate to make these decisions for their children, effectively giving each parent a veto over the wishes of the other parent. The lengths to which sole legal custody extend was explored by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in 2012 in a case called M.P. v. M.P.
Family law lawyers are used to battling over custody of children to a point that some of the most extreme cases almost become typical. However, family law and custody is reaching into a new frontier as reproductive technology develops and changes further expanding the definition of children and ultimately the purview of the custody attorney. Leaving the personhood debate aside as it is a more appropriate conversation for our legislators, as reproductive technology expands, family law lawyers and litigants are forced to ask tough questions about whether the division of eggs, sperm and embryos is an appropriate subject for the custody trial or if it's more aptly an issue of property distribution (which complicates the issue for unmarried couples who don't have pending equitable distribution trials).
The crisp November air has blown in another election day, and with it a new cast of faces to the local Court of Common Pleas. In Allegheny County particularly, most newly elected judges are assigned to the Family Division. Family law is unique in that more often than not litigants find their way before judges very soon after filing a complaint in custody or divorce. In Western Pennsylvania, family law judges often see the same families year after year and get to know their cases in a way that judges in other divisions rarely do. With Allegheny County's "one judge one family" policy, judges tend to know and understand cases that are assigned to them as well as the lawyers who represent the parties. This policy also ensures that the judge assigned to the case will address all of the issues in the case, and that any case involving same parents or parent will be assigned to the same judge. This practice ensures that the judge making the real time decision on the case is aware of all of the moving parts. Our firm and our clients appreciate the hard work and discipline these newly elected judges will without a doubt bring to their tenures.
Social media and celebrity gossip columns were ablaze after the announcement at this year's Country Music Awards that former country music power couple Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton were never ever ever getting back together and Shelton was officially dating pop music bad girl, Gwen Stefani. Stefani herself had only recently ended her marriage to Gavin Rossdale. Though gossip rags alluded to conflict between the couples and everyone watched with bated breath to see how Lambert would handle the first public event after announcing her spilt from Shelton this summer, Lambert handled the situation with grace and poise and ultimately won the day and took home an award for Female Vocalist of the Year. Though everyone waited for either of the parties to officially comment on the new change in status, both remained largely mum. This follows the common trend with this couple who has only ever indicated that they "remain good friends" and kept any of their marital difficulties quiet.
Pennsylvania, like most states in the US has a law, which prevents individuals connected by too close a level of consanguinity from marrying. This means that in most states, people who are too closely related will not be issued a marriage license. In most states this law bars parents from marrying children, first cousins from marrying cousins and nephews from marrying aunts. Though this might seem like a relic of past concerns of long lost siblings and jokes about backwoods shotgun weddings. However, this issue is all for a couple living in Allegheny County. Nino Espisito, a retired teacher, adopted his partner, Roland Bossee more than forty years together as a couple. The gentlemen made this decision before the landmark cases of Windsor, Whitewood, and Obergefell decisions permitted same-sex couples around the country to marry freely. By adopting Bossee, Espisito was able to convey upon him some but not all of the benefits associated with being married. However, this plan hit a snag when the couple, who is now permitted to legally marry in all fifty states, asked that the Allegheny County Orphan's Court judge annul the adoption so that the couple could legally marry.