Category Archives: Child Custody

When Parents with Shared Legal Custody Can’t Agree on Vaccination, a Judge Will Decide

In the state of Pennsylvania, the vast majority of divorced couples who are parents end up with shared legal custody of their children. No matter how tough the initial custody battle may have been or how much of a tussle child support was, this status tends to evolve into a non-issue, as both parents tend to share values and concerns when it comes to big issues about their kids. But as with nearly everything else in our lives in the last few years, COVID-19 has added a new layer of complexity. Family lawyers and courts are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of divorced couples arguing over whether to vaccinate their children.

Health issues are one of the areas that shared legal custody addresses, and the fact that one parent has the lion’s share of custody time does not automatically entitle them to overrule the other parent’s concerns. A Pennsylvania couple that could not come to terms on COVID vaccination for their kids was recently profiled on PBS station WHYY, and is representative of what many courts in Pennsylvania are seeing.

Though both parents were vaccinated themselves and generally agree on other shared custody questions about religion and school, the father balked when it came to vaccinating their 9- and 11-year-old children. He was not anti-vaccination, but insisted that children did not face the same risks that adults do and that there was too great a risk of side effects that came with injecting the kids with what he considered an untested vaccine. The couple had similarly argued over masks earlier in the pandemic, as he felt they were ineffective and she disagreed.

While the mother surrendered on the issue of masking, when it came to getting their children vaccinated she felt that it was necessary, but new that legally she could not simply take it upon herself to get it done without her ex-husband’s asset or a court order. Doing so would have been a violation of the custody agreement, so the two sought help from a mediator, who refused to intervene. That left the children unvaccinated, shut out of many social events and sent home to quarantine every time there was a COVID case in their classrooms because of their unprotected status.

When the couple took their disagreement to a judge they were not alone. Pennsylvania courts have seen hundreds of these cases since the vaccines for children were approved. In some cases judges have simply decided on the matter of the COVID vaccination, but on others an extreme view voiced by one parent has led judges to modify the custody agreement and give authority on all health issues to the other.

Though there is no single answer to how these disputes are resolved, in most cases the judge relies upon the opinion of the child’s healthcare provider. Court watchers have noted that decisions are often effected by whether a dissenting parent expresses political views in the course of the discussion or has posted political statements against vaccination on social media. The courts want parents to be most concerned about their child’s health and wellbeing, and parents who are against vaccination need to provide evidence in support of their position.

In the case of the profiled couple, the children’s health provider refused to send a letter recommending vaccination because the children had no health issues. Still, they indicated that they adhere to CDC recommendations that healthy children be vaccinated. The father submitted articles from doctors who had voiced opinions against vaccines, and pointed out that his ex-wife had previously taken a stand against the standard childhood vaccination schedule, and that he’d had taken the kids for standard vaccinations once the two had separated.

In the end, the judge ruled that the mother could have the children vaccinated against COVID and made no modifications to the shared legal custody agreement. The issue cost both parents thousands of dollars to resolve, and reintroduced tensions in the family.

Disagreements surrounding children are the most emotionally fraught issues that divorced and divorcing parents face. For assistance in addressing these issues, contact our experienced Pennsylvania divorce attorneys today.

What You Need to Know About Pennsylvania’s Child Support Rules and College

It is the rare couple that doesn’t quibble over money in the midst of divorce proceedings, so arguments and negotiations are generally expected. But even those expecting acrimony are shocked when their soon-to-be-ex announces that they are no longer contributing to college. They’re even more shocked to learn their spouse is perfectly within their rights to make this decision.

In the state of Pennsylvania, no parent is required to pay for their child’s college, and as a result the courts have determined that the same is true in the case of divorce, regardless of means or previous promises. Even if their children’s college attendance was part of a couple’s plans and dreams and they were diligently putting away money for tuition, there is no legal requirement that they continue that support unless a separate agreement to do so is negotiated.

The issue of whether Pennsylvania’s child support requirements included the cost of college was resolved by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in November of 1992, when a son sued his father over college tuition. The case, Blue v. Blue, involved parents who had been paying their son’s Penn State tuition together until they separated. Their son, a sophomore, took a leave of absence from school and then enrolled at Lehigh County Community College where both parents worked. He had been living with his father, who paid his tuition and all of his expenses, but then the father moved out of the house and started a new life with his girlfriend and her children. He purchased a new home and paid almost all of his new family’s expenses while his son moved in with his mother, re-enrolled at Penn State, and then sought tuition support from his father, who refused.

Though the lower court hearing the case – and later a Superior Court – ordered the father to pay a portion of his son’s tuition based on a previous state Supreme Court decision, that same court reversed this determination on appeal. They said that the original case had involved an agreement to pay tuition that had been incorporated into a divorce decree rather than on a legal obligation to do so as part of child support, and that therefore it was wrongly decided. The court noted that in the previous case they had not “unequivocally adopted a legal principle that a parent has a legal obligation to provide college expenses,” and went on to say that they had found “no legal authority to require a parent to provide for college educational support.”

Pennsylvania is one of twenty-six states in the country that does not give courts the authority to order a non-custodial parent to pay for some form of college expenses. And though the court will uphold oral agreements, agreements made during the marriage are considered to have been based on the assumption of living together and sharing expenses, and become moot once the marriage ends.

The Pennsylvania courts do enforce agreements to pay for college if they are drafted as part of a divorce settlement. For assistance in negotiating and crafting this type of support for your children, contact our experienced divorce attorneys today.

How the 2021 Child Tax Credit Will Affect Your Child Support

Let’s face it….2020 and 2021 were challenging years for parents whether you were divorced or not. The 2021 child tax credit passed by congress and signed into law by President Biden helped a lot, but for those who share custody of a dependent it might actually have made things more complicated. Here’s what you need to know.

The advanced child tax credit represented a financial boost by expanding the existing $2,000 per child credit to $3,600 for children age 5 and younger and $3,000 for those between 6 and 17. At the same time, it created a potential headache for divorced and separated parents for whom custody of a child has shifted from one household to another – or who alternate the years that they claim their child as a dependent. That’s because when the IRS determined who was qualified to receive the credit and how the monthly installments should be disbursed, they made their decision based on who claimed the dependents on the most recent return on file – generally either 2020 or 2019.  If you have received that payment and are not entitled to it because your child is living with your ex or it isn’t your agreed-upon year to claim your child as a dependent, you could end up owing the IRS for money that you received. The good news is that there is a relatively simple fix available. By logging into the Child Tax Credit Update Portal, you can simply unenroll from the monthly advance payments. Doing this will allow you greater control of how and when you get the credit, if at all.

There are a few things that you need to keep in mind. First, if you and your spouse have been alternating years of claiming your child as a dependent, there is a good chance that you both got a stimulus check from the American Rescue Plan’s first two payments. But Congress recognized that mistake pretty quickly, and by the time the advanced child credit checks for 2021 were ready to be sent out, only one parent was able to receive the payments – the parent who claimed the child on their 2020 tax return. If you are not claiming your child as a dependent in 2021 and you’ve been receiving checks because you claimed them in 2020, then you could end up owing as much as $3,600 back. The IRS recommends that parents in this situation stop the payments from coming by unenrolling via the portal. You can then claim the credits on your tax return when it is your turn again in 2022.

The simplest approach to this scenario is for both parents to unenroll and forego the monthly payments in lieu of the credit. This would avoid confusion and keep both parents from having to worry about owing money back to the IRS. However, if your ex doesn’t unenroll you will still be able to claim the credit on your tax return when it is your year to claim your child as a dependent.

Another important thing to understand is that if you or your spouse are past due on child support payments, you will not be able to use the government payments as an offset or to reduce overdue taxes or debts from previous years unless you receive the funds as a refund after filing your tax return.

For more information on how the child tax credit might impact your particular custody and support arrangement, contact our Pennsylvania divorce law firm today.

How Divorce Affects the Issue of Vaccinating Children

Turn on the news or open your favorite social media platforms and you’re sure to see battles for or against mask and vaccine mandates. The vaccination issue quickly shifted from medical to ideological and from policy to personal now that the FDA has approved the vaccines for children 12 and older.  For parents who are negotiating issues of child custody, it introduces a new topic for dispute that is likely to become even more important as approvals are expected soon for children under 12 for the vaccine.  Here’s what you need to know if you and your co-parent disagree about whether to have your child vaccinated.

In almost all cases, parents in Pennsylvania share what is known as legal custody of their children. Shared legal custody means that each parent shares equally in the decision making for all major medical, educational and religious decisions. The parent who has the majority of physical custody does not get a larger say in legal decisions and this means that both parents need to agree as to whether their child should be vaccinated against COVID-19. Though shared legal custody is granted with the idea that parents can come to consensus on what is in their child’s best interest, that is not always the case.

In a recent headline grabbing case, a Chicago judge ordered a mother temporarily lose custody of her child until she herself got vaccinated. Though that order was later reversed, it gave rise to significant discussion about the topic, with legal experts agreeing that if the child had been immunocompromised, then the mother’s vaccination status would clearly have been a concern.

The intensity of emotions and opinions regarding everything surrounding COVID-19 suggests that there will be many parents who turn to the court in order to modify their legal custody agreement and ask the court to give them authority to decide whether or not their child is vaccinated against COVID-19– or all future medical decisions in general.  The courts may assign one or the other parent sole legal custody regarding vaccination, but only after both parents present the reasoning behind their position. Though there are some scenarios where a parent’s religious beliefs or a child’s medical needs override mandates, the courts generally take the position that legal custody issues are to be determined by what is in that specific child’s best interest.

The position the Courts will take when faced with a dispute over a child’s vaccination against COVID-19 is not currently know and will certainly vary with each specific case.  There is a strong possibility that the Courts will require parents to seek advice from the child’s medical provider as to the risks and benefits of vaccination and then may Order the parents follow the recommendations of said medical provider.  Another factor that may impact how the Court’s decide the issue of vaccination is the position of Pennsylvania’s schools, both public and private. There are currently several vaccinations mandated for attendance at Pennsylvania’s public schools, and there is a strong chance that the COVID-19 vaccine will be added to the list of required vaccinations.


Instead of a judge deciding your child’s future, you and your spouse can decided to get a settlement agreement. A settlement agreement, for couples with children, is a legal document which spells out the details of how matters surrounding your child will be handled. This can save you a lot of financial and emotional costs. A settlement agreement provides clear guidelines to be followed, which also gives your child the added security of knowing what to expect. Any agreement involving children needs to be in the best interest of the child/ren at all times.

Health Insurance

Make sure to inform your lawyer which parent is going to cover health insurance and how any bills from medical problems will be handled. This would include how medical costs not covered by insurance are going to be covered. Another question to be considered is who will pay for this continued health coverage, or will you opt to split the costs?

Dental & Eye Insurance

These two types of insurance are not usually covered by general health insurance. Adding this to a settlement agreement now will save you backtracking and additional legal paperwork, not to mention additional medical cost of being uninsured and legal costs of going to court.

Cost of Living

The cost of living is a major consideration if you have children. Costs under this category can include anything from daycare to piano lessons. Don’t forget to include school activities and the expense of gas for transporting your child to different activities.

Parenting Time

Some questions to consider for your settlement agreement are:

  1. Who will your children live with? Will there be a primary parent that the children stay with?
  2. Who will your children spend the summer, vacations and holidays with?
  3. Is there a schedule you want to create to split parenting time between you and your spouse?
  4. How will children be exchanged between you and your spouse? Will you use a third party?
  5. How will you communicate to make arrangements for the children and any other issues related to them?
  6. How will you handle situations when one of you cannot meet the schedule? Will you request prior notice?

College Costs

You might think your children are too young to think about this now, but getting this in writing now will save the headache of going to court later. Broaden your agreement to include items outside of “immediate school costs”. This could mean anything from late night pizzas to a semester abroad in Italy. Be as specific as you can about what is expected from each parent.

Your child’s security is a priority with No Contest Divorce Law, LLC. To get your marital settlement agreement started today call 215-398-6760 or click on SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT to learn more.


After two weeks of being tabloid stars Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes surprisingly hammered out a marital settlement agreement. What looked like a divorce that was going to be dragged through the media and court system has come to an amicable resolution. Cruise and Holmes decided to avoid a long legal battle and do what is best for their six-year old daughter, Suri.

In a statement, jointly prepared by both parties, sent to CNN by Cruise both parties have expressed their desire to keep the divorce a family matter.

To paraphrase the statement:

We are dedicated to cooperating as parents to accomplishing what is in our daughter’s best interests. We want to keep isues affecting our family private and show our respect for each other’s dedication to each of our respective way of thinking and support each other’s roles as parents.”

The martial settlement agreement has saved a lot of embarrassment and emotional pain for not only Cruise and Holmes, but also for people close to them. If a court battle would have been the route for this divorce, Cruise would have suffered damage to his public image and Scientology would have walked away with some battle wounds.

The settlement agreement has been signed and the case settled. From initial reports Holmes will be the primary parent who is responsible for Suri on a daily basis. This part of the agreement worked out for both parties because Cruise was often away from the home due to his career. Another component of the agreement is religion. Though Holmes is protective about the exposure Suri will have to Scientology, Cruise is still free to teach his daughter about his religion.

Divorces with martial settlement agreements are becoming more common. Couples want to save their monies for life after the divorce and not bleed themselves dry in a full blown court drama. Also, the emotional toll of having to relive the pain and suffering of divorce is a top reason couples are figuring how to work out their own affairs and get them into a legal agreement.

Holmes had hired three law firms in three states. You only need one law firm backing you with No Contest Divorce Law, LLC. If you are looking to have a martial settlement agreement, No Contest Divorce Law, LLC can create a legal document which will protect your agreed upon rights. To get started call 215-398-6760 or click on the words SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT. Go to our Divorce Master for a free case analysis and file your simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce case today.


The school year is about to start for many students throughout the state of Pennsylvania. Changes from a summer schedule to the scholastic schedule will soon start to affect your family as you settle into new routines. This is a good time to pull out your marital settlement agreement and review details for the upcoming school year.

If you are divorcing in Pennsylvania and are currently working out your marital settlement agreement we have some areas you may want to consider to help this time of year run smoothly for you and your family. Will physical custody of the children change between you and your spouse as your children head into the new school year? Have you decided if your children spend every other summer, or every summer, with one individual? Prepare a child custody schedule to ensure a seamless transition for your children from one household to the other.

Another consideration is splitting summer time between two households. How will you handle vacations that are away from home? Will your children be spending time at family functions such as family reunions?

Divorce means that you must divide child rearing responsibilities differently. Think about the roles and responsibilities which will play out during the school year. Will one parent have sole responsibility for educating the children? How will you distribute responsibilities for your child, such as extra-curricular activities? Will one person be in charge of pick-ups and another for dropping the kids off for different school events? Do you want both parents to be involved in picking up the children from school? Think about how your choices will affect your kids. Will they be embarrassed by other kids talking about their divorced parents switching off pick up times and going to different homes? Talk with your children about these aspects of your divorce that affect them.

A helpful way to plan the school year and family roles is to get a copy of the school calendar. Most major activities will already be planned out for the school year and then you can easily add extra-curricular activities to your family’s schedules.

Look into the future and think about if you want to make provisions in your marital settlement agreement about how you want to make decisions about the children’s schooling. Your children’s schedules and needs will change as they grow older. How will you make decisions about their future needs? Will one person have authority in some areas to make final decisions?

Don’t forget to add how you are going to cover extracurricular expenses. Will you split them? Will the highest income earner be solely responsible? Also, how are you going to handle making sure homework is completed now that you are divorced? Will the parent who does not have custody check-in with the kids to make sure they are meeting their scholastic responsibilities? How will you share information about the children now that you are divorced? Do you both have online access to their progress? Don’t be shy about asking the school to send duplicate reports to each parent.

Keep in mind that the overall goal should be to put your children first. They love both parents and when divorced individuals work together for the future of their children they not only model positive behavior, but also give them a sense of security. Remember to always do what is in the best interest of your children.


When working out a marital settlement agreement with your spouse, consider the current and future special needs of your child. This includes what happens when your child becomes an adult. Your special needs child will benefit greatly if you and your spouse take the time to work in a collaborative manner. Otherwise the situation can become quiet traumatic for your child and cause long-term damage.

When determining the child visitation schedule with your spouse, remember to pay close attention to the needs of your child. All children need consistency and solid structure in their lives, especially special needs children. Moving between homes can make children feel destabilized. Transitions for special needs children, especially if they do not understand the concept of time, can add to a child’s confusion.

If your child will be traveling between homes after your divorce, consider what they will need when traveling and when they are living in the second home. Some items to take into account include being close to a medical facility and any necessary medical equipment. This includes medical equipment for moving the child between homes and equipment that needs to be in both homes in order for your child to be comfortable. Take time to consider the details. This is especially important if one parent has been the primary caretaker. The non-caretaking parent may not know how to handle certain situations such as:

  1. Special diets;
  2. How to administer medication;
  3. Managing behavior (including potential triggers); and
  4. Preferences of a non-verbal child.

Consider how education will be handled once your are divorced. Will your child be starting in a new school? Are there special considerations that need to be put in place for the child’s new school, including the signing of legal papers? Will both parents have legal custody of the child? Will one parent sign school papers or will your agreement require for both parents to sign-off? Some other questions you may want to answer consider in the educational section of your marital settlement agreement include:

  1. How will additional educational needs be handled?
  2. If your child requires additional tutoring, which parent will pay for it?
  3. Does transportation need to be included in your agreement? If so, will a parent be compensated for time spent transporting the child, gas money, special transportation arrangements for school and other activities?

Another useful tool that can be written into your marital settlement agreement is the use of software for keeping track of your child’s schooling. Technological tools can be a great way to reduce potential conflict between parents. Programs such as Our Family Wizard allows both parents to have access to the latest medical records, school information and a joint calendar for easier schedule coordination between parents. You may not want to specify the software program, but have an agreement to use one and spell out what the program should include. Technology changes quickly and it would be prudent to keep your options open.

A parenting coordinator can be useful during times of conflict for divorced parents. a parenting coordinator is a person who is familiar with your marital settlement agreement, thereby allowing him or her to effectively work with both parents. The parenting coordinator is a standby for communication and decision making. Keep in mind this should be a neutral third-party.

No Contest Divorce Law, LLC offers a free questionnaire to get started with your marital settlement agreement. In addition, please feel free to visit the Marital Settlement Agreement section in our blog for more ideas on how to create your personalized and specific marital agreement with your spouse.

For further reading on divorce and special needs children consider the book Divorce and the Special Needs Child: A Guide for Parents. The book includes a checklist and further resources. If you have other reading or software suggestions please share them with our parents in the comments section below.


Grandparents are living longer, and this means more involvement in their grandchildren’s lives. Being a grandparent to children of divorced parents has become a modern reality. The emotional turmoil and uncertainty of your divorce has the potential to make grandparents fearful of losing their relationship with their grandchildren. Getting a grandparent’s visitation rights written into a martial settlement agreement can provide structure for your grandchildren and give them the comfort of knowing that they will continue to be part of their grandchildren’s lives in the future.

There are several ways that you can help grandparents to cope with your divorce, and how to help them stay in their grandchildren’s lives. Consider the following suggestions for helping grandparents cope with your divorce, and for including grandparents in your marital settlement agreement.

The first step is to give grandparents space to grieve, it’s part of the emotional healing process. Many of the dreams that grandparents may have had are no longer a reality, and there is a deep disappointment which comes with facing the reality of the situation. Even if grandparents may have suspected things weren’t going well in the marriage, the traumatic news can be difficult to emotionally cope with.

Feelings of guilt are also normal. Grandparents may feel guilty for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons can include guilt from their own divorce and how it has impacted your mariage. Grandparents may wonder if they could have done something to prevent the divorce. Don’t let them fall into the trap of being stuck in guilt. Gently communicate with them and help grandparents move their emotions in a positive direction.

Ask the grandparents to keep their opinions to themselves when around your spouse and thier grandchildren. Staying as neutral as possible will not only give your family some stability, but will leave the door open for spending more time with their grandchildren. Divorce is between you and your spouse, and it is not their place to pick sides and verbally annihilate your spouse. A great way to include grandparents at this difficult time of divorce is by asking them to help watch their grandchildren. This could be a few hours of time for them to connect and feel a part of their grandchildren’s lives instead of feeling threatened and alientated. It can also give you the break that you’ll need during the difficult time of divorce.

Encourage grandparents to listen to their grandchildren when the grandchildren talk about the divorce. After all, the grandparents may be the only ones that your children feel comfortable expressing themselves to and they can provide a safe place for them to blow off some steam. Don’t make the mistake of forcing grandparents to take sides or pass judgment on your soon to be ex-spouse. Also, they may able to help the grandchildren to express themselves if they don’t have the vocabulary to express their emotions.

When you are negotiating your marital settlement agreement with your spouse, you may want to ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much time do the grandparents get with their grandchildren?
  2. Are there opportunities for the grandparents to help out, such as picking up a grandchild from school once a week? Taking the grandchildren to an activity?
  3. When do the grandparents get to see their grandkids?
  4. Will the grandchildren be part of family get togethers, reunions and celebrations?
  5. Will grandchildren travel with their grandparents? If so, when? How often?

Once you are ready to have your marital settlement agreement finalized, Attorney Cairns can create a marital settlement agreement for you and your spouse to sign. You can contact Attorney Cairns for a free consultation at 888.863.9115 or start right away by clicking on DIVORCE MASTER. Read client testimonials and see why No Contest Divorce Law, LLC is a better choice.


There are several steps you can take during an uncontested divorce to protect yourself. Though your divorce may be “amicable”, it’s wise to take measures ahead of time to safe guard yourself and your property. We are talking about your personal property, not jointly owned or marital property. So, don’t start hiding jointly owned property, or you can easily set yourself up for a contested divorce – meaning more time, money, hassles, and stress before your Pennsylvania divorce can be finalzed.

Keep a daily journal. This may sound like an imposition with everything else going on, but will come in handy later on should you need it. Address each entry to your attorney. Should your spouse try to subpoena your journal, this will make it harder since it could be considered privileged communication between you and your lawyer. That being said, keep your journal in a safe place. If it’s on your computer, then use a password that only you know in order to get into your computer. Remember to record only the facts, this is especially important if your spouse tries to use the journal against you. Some of the items you want to include in your daily journal are:

1. Bills you have paid;

2. Money you have give to your spouse and/or children;

3. Time you have spent with your child(ren);

4. Any item which you feel is important to your divorce;

5. Arguments with your spouse;

6. Significant events;

7. Telephone calls; and

8. Emails.

Record all of the property in your home. Walk through your house and take pictures and/or videotape each item in each room. Don’t forget to turn on the date on your camera or video camera. Think of items which not only have a monetary value, but also a sentimental value. Some of the items to include in your inventory are: jewelry, clothes, furniture, antiques and electronics. Remember to record items in your attic, basement and detached structures such as a shed. If something is missing later on, this will serve as evidence to its existence in your home. You may want to store the pictures or videos in your private safety deposit box in order to make sure it’s not subject to being tampered with by your spouse.

Reduce your bills. Meet right away with your spouse and see how you can cut down on your bills. This would include extra phone lines, perks such as caller id, cable, shopping around for cheaper insurance and call your credit card company and ask for a lower interest rate.

Secure your personal documents. Move your documents such as: birth certificate, passport, diplomas to a trusted friend’s home or get a safe deposit box in your name only. For communal documents such as tax forms and bank records make a copy and add the copy to your safe stash of documents.

Start establishing your own credit. Get a credit card in your name only and start building up your own credit rating. Be prudent when using the card. You may want to initially store it in your safety deposit box as well. It can be a good backup source of funds if an emergency arises, as well.

Once you’ve taken the above steps to protect yourself, you’re ready to file for an uncontested divorce. Contact No Contest Divorce Law, LLC for a free consultation at 215-398-6760.

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