Author: Rebecca Melone

Bill Cosby is Released Following Acquittal

Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled to overturn the Bill Cosby prosecution and immediately release him from prison. This ruling has left many wondering what happened and for good reason; the path to this decision was very convoluted and not well explained on many major media outlets.

Since the conviction was overturned, all criminal convictions against Bill Cosby have essentially been erased. Further, because of the nature of the Court’s ruling, the charges that led to his conviction can’t be brought back against him. Meaning that in the eyes of the law, he is no longer guilty.

 

So, why did this happen? It is common that when there are both criminal and civil sanctions available that the prosecuting attorney will make a deal to not prosecute the criminal charges so that the defendant is unable to plead the fifth and avoid answering questions for the civil matter. Further, winning a civil case is generally easier than winning a criminal case due to the differing standards of proof.

After the prosecutor promised that he would not bring criminal charges against Bill Cosby, this allowed the plaintiff in the civil lawsuit to put him under oath and force him to answer questions that he would have otherwise been able to plead the fifth to and not answer.

What made this case uncommon was that a new prosecutor reviewed Bill Cosby’s file right before the statute of limitations was going to run on the criminal charges and decided to use the evidence in the civil case to build the criminal case—in a very alarming ruling, the Pennsylvania lower court allowed the prosecutor to unseal the depositions in the civil matter. So, the state government was allowed to make promises to Bill Cosby in order to ensure that the civil lawsuit could go forward and then go back on those promises to charge Bill Cosby criminally; this essentially renders the 5th amendment null and void.

In family law cases, it is not uncommon for civil and criminal matters to cross paths; examples are claims of adultery, family abuse, protective orders, domestic violence, and theft of marital property. In these cases, it is important to understand the intersection of being able to protect yourself with the 5th amendment and also being able to defend yourself against the civil claims. You would not want to rely on a false promise from a prosecutor to not seek criminal charges only for them to later use that reliance against you.

If you, are someone you know, are dealing with family law issues that also have criminal charges call the experienced attorneys at Melone Hatley, PC for a free case evaluation and plan moving forward.

How will the new Virginia marijuana laws impact my custody case?

As of July 1, 2021 it is legal for adults to possess up to 1 oz of marijuana in Virginia. Many are excited about this change in the law; however, it does come with a few caveats. As with most new laws there are a lot of questions about how this will impact our day to day lives and, for those with ongoing custody and visitation cases, how this will impact those cases.

Frequently in custody and visitation cases parents will make allegations against each other regarding drug use, alcohol abuse, and several other bad acts. Most drug abuse allegations concern marijuana usage; and, in the past, the court’s response to these allegations was to order one party to undergo a drug test. But, with the legalization of marijuana imminent, how courts address these allegations will be changing. Since recreational marijuana use has never been legal in Virginia before, there is no controlling authority that we can rely on—we can always look to other states for persuasive authority; but, there may be a better option.

It is likely that the court’s stance on adult marijuana usage will closely mirror that of adult alcohol usage.

First, the court will likely look to if the usage negatively impacts normal responsibilities. For example, are there multiple driving while under the influence, loss of job, extraordinary spending on marijuana, or some other factor that has a serious negative impact.

Second, the court will look to see if the usage impacts the care of the children. As with alcohol, the court will likely look to instances when one parent was unable to properly care for the children due to marijuana usage. For example, unable to pick the children up from school or event, unable to transport the children in an instance of a medical emergency, or some accident occurring that should have been avoided. As has been pointed out, the money that is spent on drugs or alcohol could be better used on the children.

Finally, the court will look at any instances of the parent driving while intoxicated with the children in the car. This is a very big factor for the court and can result in pretty extreme decision from the court if the other parent is able to prove that the parent was driving while intoxicated.

 

These are just few examples of what the court will look at when allegations of marijuana abuse are presented. It is very likely that the court will hear less allegations of marijuana abuse after it is fully legalized.

 

Substance abuse is just one factor of what the court will look at when deciding what is in the best interest of the children pursuant to Virginia Code 20-124.3. When going through any custody or visitation case is important to understand all of your rights. The experienced attorneys at Melone Hatley can help with your custody case. Contact our office in Reston at 703-995-9900 and Virginia Beach 757-296-0580, or schedule an appointment online.

 

To learn more about the new laws visit https://www.pilotonline.com/government/virginia/vp-nw-new-virginia-laws-2021-20210630-k4wh5osjkvgrhj7wswzczbnvby-story.html

 

Why Use a Co-Parenting App?

In contentious custody and visitation matters, the court may order parties to use a third party messaging application or other software to track their correspondence. When evidence has shown high conflict and issues of communication between parents, it’s easier for the court to determine fault for problems when the evidence is clear. Introducing text messages, phone records, and voice recordings or videos into evidence may create additional complications for the court.

In these cases, the judge can recommend or instruct the parties to use third party software. Some services require a subscription, while others are offered for free. Some frequently used options include Talking Parents, Our Family Wizard, and 2 Houses. The costs and features of each application will differ, so it’s important for parties to understand the needs of their case before selecting an application.

Application Choices

Talking Parents: This application allows parties to record text, email, and phone call communications with one another in an un-alterable format. It offers a shared calendar for parties to clarify custodial time and children’s events. It also offers anonymity for phone numbers where necessary.

Our Family Wizard: This application allows for text, email, calendaring, and expense reimbursements. This application allows for attorney users to have access to their client’s communications, making them ready accessible for court or other legal matters as they arise. Our family wizard has been in use in the domestic relations courts since 2001, so most judges are familiar with the formatting and information provided.

2 Houses: This application provides calendaring, expense management, and journaling. The journal feature allows parents to share notes, photos, and videos in one place.

Record Keeping

In the event of a future dispute, each party can download the complete time-stamped record of communications from the application and introduce the records into evidence. The court can easily see what messages were sent and when, rather than combing through screenshots or even fraudulent records to try to find the truth.

In cases that are not highly contentious, use of these applications can still be beneficial. Having a shared calendar and open communication will help parents to document conversations regarding legal decisionmaking and more mundane tasks such as when each parent will drop-off/pick-up the child.

About Melone Hatley, P.C.

If you are facing a contentious custody and visitation case, our firm may be able to help. Our litigation team has handled matters across Virginia and is ready to represent you. Contact our office in northern Virginia at 703-995-9900 or Virginia Beach 757-296-0580, or visit our website www.melonehatley.com.

Divorce in the Exceptional Needs Family

Families with individuals with exceptional needs will face additional challenges in navigating separation and divorce. Some challenges the courts are equipped to handle, and others are severely lacking.

In an ordinary custody and visitation case, the court will look to the “status quo” for the family. Most often, one parent has been the primary care provider, managing appointments for the child and tasks of daily living, while the other parent has been the primary breadwinner. Frequently, the court will award primary custody to the primary care provider and set a visitation schedule for the other parent. The visitation schedule will be intended to allow for frequent, regular, contact, and can include overnight as well as daytime  visits.

Traditional Visitation Schedules Can Create Problems

For many families, a traditional schedule of alternate weekends and a midweek evening or overnight visitation can work. For others, these abrupt changes create new problems. The transitions between households, changes in daily routine, and new living arrangements can be overwhelming for a child with exceptional needs. These children can experience setbacks in their level of function and increased anxiety, leading to new problems for parents already facing a difficult time. Without knowing the exact impact a  visitation arrangement will have on a child, it’s difficult for the court to accommodate these concerns when implementing a schedule.

A Collaborative Strategy

Before filing a contested divorce and asking the court to implement a visitation schedule, parents should attempt a collaborative approach. This can mean involving caretakers, treating providers, therapists, or other experts before making any changes. A collaborative strategy can implement small changes over time to ensure that setbacks can be addressed quickly and adjustments can be made. Getting parents on the same page to act for the benefit of the child should be the top priority for all involved.

What if the other parent won’t work with me?

If a collaborative approach won’t work, making sure you present your case appropriately to the court is essential. Involving opinions from experts and caretakers will help the court take all of the relevant factors into consideration before making a custody and visitation determination. In cases where parents cannot agree on custodial matters or treatment for the child, it may be necessary to request final decisionmaking authority where one parent has the final say in any disputes over care for the child.

Take Action Quickly

If your family is facing separation and divorce, you should take steps to act quickly, before the matter escalates. Addressing concerns at the beginning and working toward a collaborative care strategy means taking time to figure out what works for your family. Before initiating a separation, it’s essential to speak with an experienced attorney to determine what your options are.

Contact Melone Hatley Today

When a divorce case concerning a child with special needs is handled properly, you can achieve a good result for the entire family. Our attorneys help make the system work better for you by making sure the needs of your child are given priority.  If you are considering a divorce, contact our firm today for experienced advocacy. Schedule a free initial phone consultation to discuss your options today.

 

 

 

How Will the New Marijuana Laws Impact Custody Cases?

In 2021 Virginia voted to move up the legalization of recreational use of marijuana to July 01, 2021. As with most new laws there are a lot of questions about how this will impact our day to day lives and, for those with ongoing custody and visitation cases, how this will impact those cases.

Frequently in custody and visitation cases parents will make allegations against each other regarding drug use, alcohol abuse, and several other bad acts. Most drug abuse allegations concern marijuana usage; and, in the past, the court’s response to these allegations was to order one party to undergo a drug test or to order that parents cannot use any illicit drugs during their custodial time. With the legalization of marijuana imminent, how courts address these allegations will be changing. Since recreational marijuana use has never been legal in Virginia before, there is no controlling authority that we can rely on at this stage. Instead, attorneys will likely look to the court’s treatment of alcohol use in similar circumstances.

First, the court will likely look to if the usage negatively impacts normal responsibilities. For example, have there been convictions for driving while under the influence, loss of a job, extraordinary spending on marijuana, or some other factor that has a serious negative impact.

Second, the court will look to see if the usage impacts the care of the children. As with alcohol, the court will likely look to instances when one parent was unable to properly care for the children due to marijuana usage. For example, if a parent was unable to pick the children up from school or an event, unable to transport the children in an instance of a medical emergency, or some accident occurring that should have been avoided.

Finally, the court will look at any instances of the parent driving while intoxicated with the children in the car. This is a big factor for the court and can result in pretty extreme action from the court if the other parent is able to prove that the children were put in harm’s way.

These are just few examples of what the court will look at when allegations of marijuana abuse are presented. It is very likely that the court will hear less allegations of marijuana abuse after it is fully legalized. However, just like with alcohol use, the court may restrict a parent from using marijuana during their custodial time and may order treatment or counseling if use is shown to be excessive or harmful.

Substance abuse is just one factor of what the court will look at when deciding what is in the best interest of the children pursuant to Virginia Code 20-124.3. When going through any custody or visitation case is important to understand all of your rights. The experienced family law attorneys at Melone Hatley, P.C. can help you navigate your rights and obligations during your custody and visitation case. Contact our office to schedule a free initial phone consultation today.

What is “Discovery”?

In any family law case, you have the right to certain information from the other party. Whether it’s a divorce, custody, or child support case, your attorney may talk to you about doing “discovery.”

The most common forms of discovery are interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Interrogatories are written questions to the other side, asking for information such as their employment schedule, custodial obligations, housing arrangement, expenses, and other details that may be important to the case. Requests for production of documents are requests for the other side to produce certain documentation, which can include paystubs, tax returns, copies of text messages, or other items that may be necessary exhibits for trial.

No matter what type of case you are going through, discovery can be the “make or break” piece of the puzzle. If you don’t object properly to overreaching, invasive, or unnecessary questions, you will be obligated to answer them fully. If the information requested is not in your possession, you may be obligated to get it. The responses you provide are sworn to and can be used to challenge your testimony at trial. If you haven’t provided something requested in discovery, you can be subject to sanctions or penalties for failure to comply with the request, and you can be prejudiced or sanctioned at trial and even prevented from introducing evidence as part of your case.

Given the severe penalties at stake, your case can be won or lost well in advance of trial depending on discovery. In addition to the ordinary interrogatories or requests for production, the other side can request admissions from you, asking that you “admit or deny” certain elements of the case. If you miss the deadline to provide responses, the court will deem these requests to be “admitted,” severely prejudicing your case.

In cases where discovery has not been authorized or where it’s been limited, attorneys can use subpoenas or subpoenas duces tecum to request documents that may be necessary to the case. Attorneys can send requests to banks, businesses, or individuals, requiring them to provide documents within a certain time frame. Again, if you do not file a motion to quash the subpoena within the necessary timeframe, you may end up providing more information to the other side than they are entitled to.

No matter what type of case you are going through, it’s essential that you understand and follow the rules and procedures of the court. If you have been served with discovery requests, you have a certain time limit to respond. Missing that deadline can mean penalties to your case and even attorney’s fees for the other side for your noncompliance.

If you have questions about the discovery process or your case, contact one of our experienced attorneys at Melone Hatley to help you through this process. Contact us for a phone consultation today.

Estate Planning in Divorce

When going through a divorce, there is a lot going on and many people will forget how important it is to update their estate plan. Even a simple divorce can take over a year to finalize and a lot can happen in that year that can jeopardize your final wishes.

It was recently discovered that Larry King had a will that excluded his estranged wife. At the time of his death, Larry King was in the midst of a divorce with his seventh wife. As can be seen in this article, Mr. King drafted a “secret” will that excluded his estranged wife and left everything to his children. Further complicating this process is that two of the children named in his will had already predeceased him. While Mr. King’s estate plan is much more diverse and complicated than most people need, he is still running into some very common issues. Now, Mr. King’s estranged wife is challenging the will and it is likely that this matter will be wrapped up in expensive litigation that could have been easily avoided with an updated estate plan.

When going through divorce, the following will help to avoid these types of issues:

 

  • Find a law firm that specializes in both divorce and estate planning. While you can seek help from two separate law firms, it will be most efficient to have your estate plan handled by the same firm that is handling your divorce.
  • If possible, draft a new health care directive and power attorney prior to filing for divorce. If the divorce has already been filed, try to get this done as soon as you can. Without these documents, your spouse may have control over decisionmaking if something happens to you while your case is pending.
  • You must update your beneficiary designations on all of your accounts. Properly updating your beneficiary designations is part of the estate plan and should be looked at when anything happens in your life.
  • Create a dynamic estate plan. While most people think they only need a will, generally speaking a trust would better achieve the estate plan. A trust is not just for those with a lot of assets, it is for anyone who wants to ensure that their assets are truly protected or for anyone who has children who are still under the age of 18. A trust can be modified after the divorce is finalized or at any point that there is a major life change. Remember that if you pass away while your children are underage, the assets will flow to your ex-spouse, which may have been something that should have been avoided.
  • At the very least, draft an updated simple Will that will last for the duration of the divorce. By drafting the updated will for the divorce, you will ensure that your estate plans are met if something happens during the divorce. Then once the divorce is over, create a more dynamic estate plan.

If you have questions about your estate planning during your divorce or custody case, contact one of our attorneys today to schedule a phone consultation.

When Should I Seek a Protective Order?

In any family law situation, whether it’s a divorce, child custody, or support case, emotions can run high and can even turn violent. Family violence has a broad definition and can include physical violence, emotional abuse, threats, threatening behavior, or harassment. If you find yourself on the receiving end of these acts; there are several things that you should do right away; you can call the police and/or seek a protective order.

First, you should try to document the situation. It may not be possible to actually record the situation but once you feel safe you can memorialize what happened through writing it down or texting friends or family. You should also decide if police intervention is necessary. If you are in fear for your safety, your first call should always be to the police.

Calling the police can be an extreme step in these types of matters as it may end up with one party being arrested and criminally charged.

If the police believe that the incident warrants further intervention, they will usually remove one party from the home and give the victim advice about seeking a protective order, and some will go so far as helping the victim get an emergency protective order. Either way, the police will make an incident report with the date, time, location, and responding officers to the scene. This will create a record that can be used later in your case, if necessary.

If you do not call the police at the time of the incident, and you have a continuing fear of the other party, you can still seek a protective order on your own. You will have to go to your local magistrate and swear to the facts of the situation that lead you to seek the protective order. You must show there is a credible fear and a continuing fear of other party. If you have children, you may want to add your child to your request for a protective order. If the magistrate believes that a credible threat exists, you will be awarded a preliminary protective order which will last until the court is able to have hearing, usually two weeks.

If you are afraid of your spouse, it is best to not wait to seek a protective order. The more time that you let lapse between the incident and seeking the protective order, the less likely it is that you will get the relief that you are seeking.

Frequently, we receive phone calls from people who will discuss what their significant other did a few months ago, or even years ago, and then want to know about seeking a protective order. If you have waited a significant amount of time and have continued living together, the court will not grant your request for a protective order. If there has been a recent incident, you may want to bring up prior incidents in the hearing to show the court the pattern of behavior and risk to your safety. If you move out as a result of a violent incident, you should remain out of the home until your protective order case can be heard. With all protective orders, you can request the court dismiss it in the future if necessary, but it’s hard to get it back once it’s gone.

Family violence is very serious and if you have been a victim or have been accused of family violence it is very important to contact one of our experienced attorneys at Melone Hatley to help you through this process. Contact us for a phone consultation today.

Estate Planning During Divorce

When going through a divorce there are many variables that must be addressed; do you stay in the home, do you sell assets, do you purchase assets, are you going to be able to negotiate an agreement or will this matter be hotly contested. One of the more overlooked aspects of the divorce process is preparing your estate for the unknown.

The following are common mistakes made during the divorce process and how to fix them:

 

  • Failing to update, or have in place, a power of attorney and advanced medical directive. If you do not have these documents in place, your spouse can make decisions until you are officially divorced, which may take over a year.
    • During this time, you want to create a power of attorney and assign that role to a trusted family member; a sibling or parent would be best. You will also want to create an advanced medical directive that lays out exactly what you want to happen in case you become ill and are not able to communicate your wishes. Even if you are temporarily unconscious, or under anesthesia, your agent can step in and make decisions on your behalf.
  • You do not have a will or have not updated your will. If you do not have a will, your spouse may get 100% of your estate if something happens to you during your divorce.
    • It is important to update your overall estate plan in order to direct your assets away from your soon to be ex-spouse. You can use beneficiary designations, revocable trust, and other estate planning tools to limit the potential exposure of your estate assets.
    • After the divorce is finalized, it is important to revisit your estate planning to ensure it fits in line with your goals. If you want to leave assets to a minor child, you’ll need to have a structure in place to ensure they receive the benefit you want without the risk of control by your ex-spouse.
  • Failing to update beneficiary designations on bank accounts or life insurance claims.
    • If you have not set your beneficiary designations and something happens to you; the assets will be subject to your estate and your spouse will potentially inherit 100%
    • Beneficiary designations are some of the most important elements of your estate plan, and can make a huge difference in the cost and time involved in probate. Make sure to review your options with a trusted financial advisor and estate planning attorney.

If you haven’t considered the impact of your divorce case on your estate plan, it’s essential to speak with a family and estate attorney who can advise you of your options. Make a plan today by consulting with our office in Reston 703-995-9900 or Virginia Beach 757-296-0580, or schedule a consultation online.

I’ve Been Served With A Protective Order, What Do I Do Now?

Protective Orders can be one of the most alarming and hard to understand aspects of family law. A spouse can get a protective order against you and have you removed from the home within a matter of hours. Then you will have to stay out of the home, having no access to your belongings, until the court is able to have a full hearing, which can take up to two weeks. So, if you find yourself in the position where a protective order has been taken out against you; it is imperative that you do the following:

  • When the police make contact to remove you from the home make sure to grab clothes, cell phone chargers, work items, car keys, and anything else that you may need for the next two weeks. Generally, you will only have a few minutes to grab everything that you need, and you are almost always caught by surprise; so this part can be difficult.
  • Make sure to keep the paperwork that the police give you. This part is important because it will have the relevant court dates.
  • DO NOT contact your spouse under any circumstances; even if your spouse is texting/calling/emailing you, do not respond. Further, do not have anyone you know reach out to your spouse to speak with them. You can get a protective order violation that sticks with you even if the overarching protective order is dismissed. Any violation of a protective order can be a misdemeanor, which carries additional criminal penalties.
  • Frequently a protective order will cover your spouse and not your children. This means that there are no restrictions on you seeing your children, but you will not be able to contact your spouse to coordinate visitation.
  • Generally, if you are served a protective order there will be hearing that will follow. It is imperative that you are able to protect your rights during this hearing—a protective order can last up to two years; during those two years you may have to continue to pay all bills for your spouse as well as support yourself.

Protective orders are very serious and can have a large impact on your rights. If you have been served a protective order, contact one of our attorneys today so that we can discuss how to preserve your rights.

© 2021 Melone Hatley, P.C.