The county where I do most of my work has been “live” (mostly) since early June 2020.  That presents issues in its own right, but I have avoided the new trend toward “Zoom” proceedings until very recently.  Meanwhile, the legal continuing education community has devoted a lot of time to courses about how “Trial by Zoom” differs from its live equivalent.  I also have traded thoughts with a judge in rural Pennsylvania about his take on this brave new world of remote trial.

First, “Zoom” trial really is different from courtroom experience, in some ways good, most not. There is also change in what I will call “courtroom courtesies.”  I recently had a hearing where the husband issued a notice for my client to appear in court in person with documents he wanted brought to the courtroom.  No problem with that, except the following day he filed a motion saying he was out of state and wanted to appear by videoconference.  I don’t know whether his lawyer thought about it, but the implied message was, “I want my spouse’s butt in the courtroom for this hearing and I want her to bring documents when she arrives.  However, I really can’t get there myself so I would like to appear by video.”

When the hearing came, the big screen was lowered and husband “appeared” on a screen where his face overwhelmed the courtroom.  I can tell you that no one over age 30 looks good when their face is 2 feet wide and 3 feet long.  So there he was, 6 square feet of elderly face.  Husband and I are roughly the same age so I am no one to brag but I can happily report that my face was a mere one-foot square.

People on video cameras seem to have no appreciation for how they look on screen.  Most place the camera as if they are visiting with an otolaryngologist; you can see their sinuses. They also don’t appreciate that ceiling fluorescent lights cast a “Jesus like” pall over their appearance.  If you are Zoom candidate, take two minutes and move the camera on your computer to fix that before the lights come up or accept that you will appear either stupid or annoying.

In my first hearing, husband was in sunny Florida.  Despite his advanced age, he favored a shirt unbuttoned to just above the navel.  Once upon a time both witnesses and jurors were expected to wear “coat and tie for men, Sunday best for women” when appearing in court.  We have come a long way during my time at the bar.  Nevertheless, I still cannot reconcile myself to bare midriff witnesses.  It’s distracting at best, disgusting at worst.  I had remonstrated with my client before the hearing that coffee was not permitted in the courtroom.  But, if you appear by Zoom, coffee is the least of your offenses.  Smoke a cigar?  Down a beer?  If a party mouths off to a judge, what’s the remedy when the offender is sitting in his kitchen 1,000 miles away?

In my second Zoom hearing, we were all on camera because of the weather.  It started okay, although my worthy opponent was overwhelmed by the “aura” of the un-curtained window behind her desk chair.  The lawyers were invited to make their pitches and then the clients were invited to amplify and correct what the lawyers said.  If you are invited to such a proceeding, realize that the camera is never “off.”  In a courtroom, eyes have a lot of acreage to take in. Judges tend to focus on the witness in the “box”.  On Zoom, the lawyers, the clients and the jurist are all inside a 3×3 inch Hollywood Squares on the computer screen.  Looks of incredulity or disgust appear an inch away from the visage of the person testifying.  Those expressions can often eclipse what the witness is saying.  Courtroom lawyers are not strangers to hearing a judge say “Counsel your client’s reactions are distracting my ability to focus on the witness.”  That doesn’t happen on Zoom.  It’s not just distracting, it’s annoying and you will pay a price for it.

All drama gets magnified on Zoom.  At one point my client was asked a question.  Her answer was not especially telling.  Husband’s reaction was.  We had already experienced watching him down a cup of coffee in a way that Zoom made quite dramatic.  But when my client began to express her concerns about behaviors related to their child, husband decided it was time to stretch his legs, so we had a close up of his crotch.  In fairness, I don’t think that was intentional but it looked disrespectful.  Then he started to play with the computer camera.  In a way, this was quite effective to interfere with the process, as it’s tough for anyone to focus on what a witness is saying when the next computer screen appears to look like the Mars Rover landing.  You could be presenting the world’s most compelling testimony, but if my client or I decide to adjust the camera or stand up and make another pot of coffee, everyone’s eyes shift to the most unusual activity.

It’s not all bad.  Take the standard courtroom proceeding.  A judge is usually 6-8 feet away from the witnesses and observing them from a 90-degree angle.  On Zoom, it’s all “full frontal” and the opposing party’s visage is a mere inch away on the computer screen from the witness testifying.  In a courtroom, if you are sitting at counsel table your client can act pretty badly before a judge will notice.  On Zoom, your client’s expressions are every bit as apparent as the person testifying.  That can be a real problem for the lawyers, but a true advantage to the jurist.  I have heard fellow attorneys insist that they be with their clients in the same room when the Zoom proceeding occurs.  However, realize that if your client goes off on you at counsel table, the judge has a front row seat and that may be “on mike.”  It also means that you need to bring your best poker face to a Zoom hearing unless you want the court to see your facial views first hand.

So there are many lessons here.  However, in my communication with my friend the judge, we both lamented the fact that Zoom witnesses have no sense of the courtroom and the dignity it is designed to impart.  On the computer screen, the judge is the same size as the counsel and the parties.  There is no walk to the witness box; a walk that many witnesses have told me transformed their testimony because that walk made them realize how important the truth was in court.

Were I putting down odds, Zoom is here to stay.  Yet, it won’t fully replace live court.  Moreover, it has some very real advantages.  My concern is that, unless carefully employed, Zoom will dilute the importance and respect due live courtroom proceedings.  Perhaps the happy medium is for parties to submit video testimony rather than force judges to try to regulate the show “live.”  I see disadvantages in that as well.  But, courts have earned dignity because they demanded it.  In an age of raging incivility, the courthouse needs to remain a place deserving veneration.

These are difficult times.  Some parts of the economy have responded well to the pandemic crisis.  Others, especially those in the travel, leisure, and entertainment industries have experienced enormous financial challenges.  Sadly, this sometimes prompts desperate measures.  You should not become an unwary victim of desperate measures.  You are the best person to protect yourself from that.

Yesterday, a local attorney in suburban Philadelphia pleaded guilty to falsifying credit applications using the names and personal financial data of his wife and mother-in-law to tap an estimated $85,000 of credit, which he spent for his own amusement.  He had recently been convicted of taking roughly $90,000 in client money for similar purposes.  He will be sentenced for these crimes next month.  The crimes go back several years.  They are not related to the current economic crisis, thereby proving once again that crime can happen in good times.  However, desperate times (and many Americans are in desperate times) often trigger people to resort to desperate measures.  History has taught us that many times, the first draw on another person’s funds or credit is accompanied by the desire, indeed the expectation, that the taker will “make good” on the borrow.

The second lesson here is that certain vital information like birthdates, social security numbers, even telephone numbers and credit card data can permit theft as easily as the proverbial unlocked door.  In this case, the lawyer acted as his spouse and mother-in-law to open new accounts they never knew about at the time.  Yes, they are victims, and probably will secure release from these debts.  But, the stain of bad credit travels faster than a good reputation and it makes future borrowing a steep uphill climb.

A few years ago the judicial system embarked on a program to demand that documents filed in court be cleansed of data that could be used to steal.  The program is reasonably effective, although many attorneys forget to obliterate things like full account statements and social security numbers from documents filed with the court.  You can help with that process as well by taking action to remove/redact that data before you hand it to your attorney.  Realize that some of those digits need to be preserved because you may have four different accounts with a bank or a brokerage and they need to be distinguished.  Nevertheless, with rare exceptions, lawyers, their staff, judicial officers and the like do not need all of the numbers.  On those rare occasions when they are required, consider providing the information in separate communications.

This will be short, for once.  Divorce often involves one spouse buying out another from the marital residence.  Best advice was, and still is, home values are such that paying for an appraisal can be useful.  But of course, then there are all of the computer programs like Zillow that try to do it for you.

If your house is somewhat standard for your neighborhood, e.g., you live in a subdivision, chances are reasonable that you will find a comparable home that sold recently.  Until 18 months ago, the word “recently” would have meant in the prior 12-18 months.  Today, “recently” may mean in the past 12-18 DAYS.

The market appears to be every bit as hot as it was circa 1986, where people camped in yards waiting for the house to open to the market.  We just took on a matter where husband and wife had secured two appraisals in July 2020.  Their house is one of 40 or so in suburban West Chester.  The appraisers came in at $390,000 and $415,000.  When the client came to see us, we just ran what I will call a “Zillow Test” on the house and it came back at $520,000.

Zillow is an algorithm and that can be problematic.  So, we fished around to see if anything had sold in the neighborhood since July.  Indeed, two houses had sold within a quarter mile in the past 90 days.  One at $490,000, the second for $520,000.  All three homes were built circa 1964. All three with 2200-2400 square feet on lots of roughly a half acre give or take.

So look around if you are valuing your shack for sale to the spouse.  Because the market is so hot, a home near you may have sold before the sign got in the ground or you had a chance to see it.

Just about every divorce case involves a house and its corresponding mortgage.  In a small number of cases parties agree that dissolution of the marriage is also an opportune time to downsize the residence, but in most situations, at least one of the parties wants to keep the residence, even if just, “for a while.”

This is where complications can arise.  Certainly one spouse can transfer their interest in the home to the other.  Nevertheless, any such transfer comes “under and subject” to existing liens and encumbrances.  In most instances, when the parties acquired title to their home they did so subject a promissory note payable to the lender secured by a mortgage.  A mortgage is essentially a pledge of the home to secure the money due under the promissory note.

The promissory note is a “joint and several obligation.”  That means both borrowers agree that the lender has recourse against either or both of them.  So if I transfer my interest in my home to my spouse, it does not affect my duty to keep paying the old mortgage even though it’s no longer my house.

Needless to say, that issue needs to be ironed out.  Usually there is a property settlement agreement and it customarily has a clause stating that the spouse in the house will “indemnify and hold the other spouse harmless” from the obligations of that promissory note.  Understand that such a clause does nothing to assist the “out of house” spouse in the event that the spouse in the house stops paying.  That also means that many lenders look askance at borrowers who come knocking to buy a new house while they still owe money on the residence they left when in search of greener pastures.  In practical terms, if I sign an agreement transferring my home to my ex and she later stops paying the mortgage, I can expect the sheriff to come knocking on my door when the lawsuits are filed.  And my dopey “indemnification and hold harmless clause” is of no effect as a defense to the suit demanding that I pay the $200,000 still due on my now former home.  Reason; my old lender is not bound by your later agreement with my wife.

The clean solution to this dilemma is for the house to be refinanced.  A re-fi actually terminates the mortgage my spouse and I signed and substitutes a mortgage in my spouse’s name alone.  The promissory note spouse and I used to buy the home long ago is cancelled and the mortgage is recorded as “satisfied.”  My spouse walks away with a clear title (my transfer to her) and a note and mortgage in her name alone.  If she falls off the wagon and stops paying that new loan, I am clear of any suit because I’m not on the new promissory note.

Alas, as Ken Fineman, a mortgage broker with CrossCountry Mortgage noted in a recent Pennsylvania Bar Association seminar, the refinance business can be tricky.  Borrowers tend to think that a refinance is easy if the home has significant equity (market value less mortgage debt), but lenders don’t make money foreclosing on real estate.  They make their money by lending to people who have a history of paying their debts on time.  Home equity is a benefit but the real keys to a refinance are a solid credit history (of paying bills) and regular income.

Fineman discussed those two elements after noting that each lender has its own underwriting rules governing to whom they will lend and how much.  Often the trickier element of the refinance is the income history of the spouse who is getting the home in a divorce transaction.  This is also affected by what kind of loan the borrower is seeking.  FHA loans impose lower lending standards; however, the cost of the loan will be higher.  Non-FHA loans take the opposite approach.  Child support and alimony can be credited as income available to pay for the newly refinanced mortgage, but the lender wants to see not just an agreement but 3-6 months of actual compliance with the support/alimony obligation on the part of the person paying.

Payment history has recently been clouded by forbearances related to COVID-19 relief statutes.  If there has been a default but it fits within COVID-19 protections, lenders are looking for at least three (3) months of resumed payments before a refinance will move forward.  If there has been a bankruptcy, it isn’t usually possible to refinance until four (4) years after the case has closed.  If there was a short sale of property, that typically takes three years to “cleanse.”  Allowing a property to be exposed to foreclosure usually takes seven (7) years to clear for refinance.

Fineman’s takeaway was that the sooner there is contact with a mortgage broker in a divorce finance transaction the easier the process can be.  Mortgage brokers are the “guides” who lead borrowers through the morass of legal and underwriting rules.  He noted that there are times when he refers potential clients to consultants who advise clients on how to cleanse bad credit history and improve credit scores.  His lamentation was that potential clients often come to him too late in the divorce process.  Applicants often arrive with no agreement for support or payment history or with a credit history that could have been repaired but was not.

The truth is that in most cases, it becomes fairly clear early in the divorce whether one party wants the house and whether that aspiration is realistic.  The takeaway from this seminar was that once retention of the home becomes clear, it might be time to identify a mortgage broker or lender even though not all the terms of the overall settlement have been resolved.  The purpose would be so that support payment histories can be established and credit scores cleansed under the guidance of someone who knows what mortgage underwriters want to see.  To do otherwise is to risk that the refinance written so carefully into the property settlement agreement will not “fly” with potential lenders.  Bear in mind that few, if any, lenders are going to go to settlement on a refinance until all the terms of the property settlement are concluded and presented to the refi lender for review.  However, while we are all admonished to not let the cart go before the horse, this is one instance where parties should consult with lenders about whether the horse will be able to pull the cart when the credit and income histories are fully evaluated.

This is a slow news week in the world of domestic relations. For this lawyer only two Christmas crises and those easily resolved. Hollywood is obsessing over whether Jennifer Anniston’s holiday ornament with a Covid theme was insensitive. We know that at least 1,600 people who started the day with the ability to worry about that subject won’t have to grapple with it any longer as they will have died today from the disease.

The interesting subject for me today was at the corner of constitutional rights and adult authority. It is a case decided in Pennsylvania and headed to the Supreme Court of the United States. It ties into a subject we have written about before; that of free speech versus responsible speech in an age where the power to publish is governed only by the “send” button.

Our subject is a high school student we know only as B. Levy. She attends school in central Pennsylvania, not too far from Williamsport. As a freshman she was selected as a junior varsity cheerleader. Nothing unusual there except that in her junior year she did not make the varsity squad.

This did not sit well with Ms. Levy and it was accompanied by other life disappointments related to her softball team and her concerns about how she would do in those nettlesome exams that come about when you are a junior. In my day, these indignities were suffered alone. But, today we live in an age of social media, and Ms. Levy decided she would let the world or at least her 250 closest electronic “friends” have the benefit of her views. So, the social media application called Snapchat received a photo posted by Ms. Levy and a friend in which they are depicted with their middle fingers elevated and a caption that employed the four letter “f” word. The  “f” word was applied  to “school….softball….cheer [and] everything.” She then wrote a sentence of protest, which was as grammatically offensive as the four letter word was to refined sensibilities.

As you might have suspected, one of her 250 friends decided to dime out Ms. Levy to a coach at school.  The school district has one of those arcane policies that suggest students representing the school on their teams and clubs should have respect for their status as representatives and avoid “foul language and gestures.” The policies even noted that the internet was not an appropriate place to air grievances.

So, the school acted in conformity with its policy. The coaches imposed a one year suspension and the district approved it.  The parents of Ms. Levy, whose names are fully identified although the student is named as B.L., appropriately exhausted their appeals through the school district’s hierarchy. When they did not succeed, they filed suit in the United States District Court. They alleged that conduct of their daughter’s kind, when posted on social media off the school campus and not thereafter brought onto the campus (think protest signs or pamphlets although both are decidedly decadent in this century) is free speech protected by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. In denying her the right to cheer with the team who had rejected her varsity entitlement and incurred her ire, the school district had deprived her of civil rights she had under the Constitution and the United States Code, 42 U.S.C. 1983.

The case was assigned to Judge A. Richard Caputo.  School speech cases are among the trickiest cases in constitutional law. The state requires students to attend schools, so kids are not there voluntarily. The schools are responsible for educating and to the best of their abilities “regulating” students. Those are incompatible forces from the start. And, case law regulating whether students could be required to wear bras or skirts below the femoral head have floated about since the 1960s. These cases also included speech such as whether one’s tee shirt can demean the President of the United States or the wrestling coach.

Judge Caputo decided that under prevailing law, speech of the kind offered by Ms. Levy to her Snapchat friends was protected because it did not invade school property. Thus, you can attack the character of the coach while wearing your tee-shirt in town but the school had the right to insist you dress “better” once the bus dropped you on school property.  Judge Caputo also observed that while school is mandatory but activities like cheer are not, public authorities couldn’t subvert free speech or other constitutional rights by requiring students to agree to abandon those rights as a condition for participating in extracurricular activities.

The school district appealed to the United States Circuit Court, which ruled in favor of Ms. Levy on June 30, 2020.  No fewer than eleven attorneys participated in the appeal, representing nineteen different constituencies including the American Civil Liberties Union, four school board groups and four groups of school administrators.

In affirming Ms. Levy’s right to her snapchat posting the Circuit Court relied upon a 1969 decision of the Warren Court in Tinker v. DesMoines Independent Community School District, 393 US. 503.  That case held that free speech rights are not lost at the school house door unless they interfere with the rights of other students to be secure or simply left alone. If speech on campus creates a risk of disruption it may be regulated but even then the risk needs to be balanced against the constitutional right. Disruption presents its own sets of problems as shown by the 2007 Supreme Court case, which held that students were not protected when carrying banners promoting drug use. 551 U.S. 393. Note that the 2007 decision in Moore v. Frederick was 5-4 with a very strange set of concurring and dissenting opinions.

Ms. Levy’s attack upon her cheer colleagues, her softball team and her school generally may be evaluated by a still more conservative US Supreme Court next year. The Court has not granted certiorari (appellate review) but the New York Times today reported that this is considered by constitutional scholars as a case of interest to a more conservative court.

In this case, the plaintiff is appearing through her parents because she is a minor. As a person who enjoys constitutional law, cases such as B.L. v. Mahanoy Area School District fascinate me. I am instantly offended by her vulgar behavior and wonder what lesson the child is to learn from a dispute where her offhand snapchat message is now evaluated by the New York Time’s Supreme Court correspondent. Meanwhile, in 1968 I lived through whether “girls” could wear “pants” in school and as a student council president in 1973 I secured the rights of students to smoke cigarettes on school property. (Hmmmm…)

But, suppose Pere et Mere Levy (parents of B.) were separated and did not agree about whether their daughter should be teaming up with the ACLU and the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment? Suppose one parent thought a one year suspension was just for a published attack on her coaches and fellow cheerleaders? Suppose the parents agreed that her speech should be protected but one parent saw harm coming to the child from the notoriety associated with a legal attack on the local school district and to some extent, the child’s peers.  Are family court judges supposed to decide these matters.  And, what criteria should they employ?

I also have concerns about the practical aspects of what our society now wants judges to do to remedy these situations. I have not seen the specific order entered by the trial court, but put yourself in Judge Caputo’s position. You order the child to be re-instated to the cheerleading squad.  If the coach does not permit Ms. Levy to participate in the half –time festivities; is this a contempt of your order? Should you direct the school district to re-form its squad and eliminate a person to create an opening for this child. A three or four person cheerleading pyramid does not work better or at all simply because the federal courts order more personnel to participate. I get the constitutional principles involved and realize that people like Rosa Parks or John Lewis did not win many friends in their broader community by advancing constitutional principles. But teenagers are poor cannon fodder in constitutional warfare and I wonder whether all the lawyers, judges and scholars can ever provide Ms. Levy with the relief she was seeking when she posted her intemperate message. In the end, she just wanted to be varsity and not a famous relic of constitutional law.  Parents and adults sometimes forget that message when they take matters to court.

We have heard about the data.  In 2015, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics published a study indicating that the average worker could expect to hold 12 jobs during his/her career.  More recently, another study indicates that among younger workers (ages 25-35), job changes are occurring once every 2.8 years.

Many of these jobs are temporary or independent contractor arrangements.  Those folks are typically not eligible to participate in qualified retirement plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  Nevertheless, many people are eligible, and many do participate, sometimes without realizing that they are participants.  That may seem improbable, but we have run into a broad range of clients from CEO’s to hourly employees who cannot decipher their own paystubs.  Bear in mind that if the employee is enrolled in a defined benefit retirement plan, the paystub is not going to reflect participation.

Let us suppose the employee is in the 25-35 age range and leaves after this reported 2.8-year period.  He or she may have put away $9,000 in contributions and seen it matched by the employer with another $4,500.  The employee leaves and takes on new employment.  Then, after several moves, the retirement administrator could lose track of the participant’s address.  The employee in most instances could, in fact, should, roll the defined contribution benefits to an IRA or a subsequent plan.  However, that’s something that is often ignored or forgotten.

This problem is so common that the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation has done something to try to remedy the problem.  Their approach actually comes at it from a different angle.  Many businesses close, merge or are acquired by others.  Their employee retirement benefits are separately held and the company the employee worked for may no longer exist even though the retirement benefits are still there.

I have not experimented with the website but it is there online if you click here.  Another resource they offer on their site is a page to contact them about unclaimed pensions.  Click here to be transferred to that page.

In prior postings, we have suggested that attorneys recommend to clients that they secure their own credit reports so that they can make certain they know all of their marital debt and to assure themselves that their spouse has not fraudulently applied for credit using their identity.  We have also observed situations where an adult has secured credit in the names of their parents; even their in-laws, because that person has access to data related to social security or bank accounts of those people.

Needless to say, some parties to divorce are knowingly guilty of allowing benefit plans to be undisclosed.  It can and should be embarrassing for a person to be confronted with an undisclosed benefit he or she otherwise had a duty to disclose.  In most instances, the amount may be trivial, but Pennsylvania law more or less defines trivial as “less than $500.”  Clients need to investigate their own financial houses on both the asset and liability side before casting stones at others in the divorce process.

Divorce Complaints come in a variety of ways.  Most lawsuits require delivery by people in patrol cars and uniforms. In the divorce world, things are a bit more “loose.”  Your complaint can come by sheriff, or a constable without uniform, or by another adult.  It can be sent by mail if a return receipt is involved.

The complaint itself is innocuous.  It says that a divorce is sought and specifies if economic claims for alimony, property division, counsel fees and other relief is sought.  But the package may also contains an affidavit of separation.  This sets forth if and when the parties separated.  Separation is a complex topic.  Today people rarely just “walk out.”  However, the affidavit specifies a date and it says you have 20 days to file a pleading if you want to dispute that date.  Otherwise, that date is the date.  It defines how long the divorce may take and what property is marital and what is not.  So you ignore a date of separation affidavit at your peril.  Perhaps you and your spouse started disliking each other in 2016.  Perhaps you stopped having “relations” in 2018.  But, your spouse didn’t actually leave until 2020.  If the affidavit served on you says that you separated in 2016 and you don’t contest that with a court filing within 20 days of service, 2016 will be the date of separation, even if you had a wedding anniversary with 200 guests in 2019, or if your spouse was in a car accident or hit the lottery after 2016.  The recovery on the accident or the ticket will not be marital property.

So if you want to delay conferring with a lawyer, you can do so, but read your mail carefully in the meantime.  There could a be a lot of money at stake.

It has been a very long, if not a very good year.  We noted in an earlier post that one of the challenges reserved for 2021 would be to see how the IRS would address the dischargeable loans granted to hundreds of thousands of businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  Recall that those who “borrowed” under that program were eligible to have the loan forgiven if it was shown that the funds were deployed to cover: (a) payroll; (b) mortgage interest; (c) rent; and, (d) utilities.

The CARES Act specified that the discharge of the loan by itself would not be income.  Section 1106(b).  A Notice issued in May (No. 2020-32) signaled that the taxpayer could not take a deduction for expenses that were effectively paid by a loan that had been discharged.

We now have Revenue Ruling 2020-27 confirming much of this.  Even if the PPP loan has not been formally discharged, the expenses paid with that loan are not deductible if the taxpayer expects the loan to be forgiven at the time of filing.  In fact, the deduction is denied even if forgiveness has not yet been requested so long as the money was spent for one of the four qualified purposes specified above as (a-d).

The IRS also issued Revenue Procedure 2020-51.  It covers the back door in the event that the PPP loan is not forgiven.  Where the lender denies PPP loan forgiveness and the taxpayer wishes to claim the deduction because the expense was paid from revenue and not the money disbursed under the PPP loan, the taxpayer has to attach a statement to the return setting forth the history of what occurred, and how/when the indebtedness was not discharged.  The specifics can be ascertained by reference to the IRS documents.  A summary of it is found in an Alert titled, IRS Confirms Non-Deductibility of Expenses Related to PPP Loans, published by the Tax & Wealth Planning attorneys at Fox Rothschild.

When reviewing a tax return for purposes of calculating support obligations or in determining the value of a business, the practitioner should be aware that these rules should affect income/valuations and should beware that some taxpayers will not avoid the temptation to deduct expenses even though they were effectively payed by the IRS.  Every business should have kept a ledger specifying what expenses were allocated to the PPP loan in order to qualify for discharge of the loan.  That ledger needs to be a part of any discovery request you make henceforth.

Imagine being a kid; any age over four.  Unless you are well north of age 100, you have never seen anything like this.  Adults fighting about everything and demonstrating some levels of rudeness not seen since the school bussing controversy in the 1970s where people fought in the streets over whether or how to promote integration.

Kids can’t understand this.  Why are adults so angry?  From a child’s point of view, we just did the Halloween thing.  It’s time now to slip into Thanksgiving and the magic of Christmas or Kwanza or Hanukah, right?

So this week kids are watching television news about illness rates and death rates and seeing video every bit as sad and creepy as last spring.  Then they watch parents of all stripes, from intact and separated families, spar over whether they can cross-township lines, county lines, or state lines to share a single meal with Uncle Sol and Aunt Selma.  Mom and dad are yelling at each other, “It’s not safe.  Our kids could get sick.  Our elderly relatives could die.”  In response, “You’re crazy; we need to get back our way of life.  This is all exaggerated if not entirely fabricated.”

For a child, could there be a worse way to celebrate “the holidays?”  People screaming and swearing on television.  They turn it off and then watch it live.  All so that we can celebrate our families, right?  Nothing like the childhood memories of having mother call father a selfish boor and an idiot while father announces that he could give a damn what mother thinks because his children will celebrate with family this year.  Celebration, indeed.  Nothing signals celebration more than two parents screaming at each other over whether you will eat turkey at home or the turkey in neighboring Ohio.

I write this as I am presiding over some of this warfare and it makes me angry.  Arguably I should be celebrating myself because lawyers charge good money to preside overs fights about where the turkey is consumed.

Then common sense overcomes me.  It’s not often.  But I ask; what’s to celebrate when you are a child and the people you are taught every day to love and cherish spend their days leading up to a national day of prayer and Thanksgiving by shouting, slamming doors and yelling at children who are upset by this?  Now, that’s a holiday, right?  Especially when one parent goes nuclear and yells that even though I’m just a kid, if I do go to Ohio, I could DIE or bring about the demise of Aunt Selma.  No pressure there, right?  Selma and I will be buried as heroes in the wars over freedom to celebrate Thanksgiving.

If you are engaged in this conflict, or about to be, please stop and ask yourself how your kids are supposed to process this.  Whatever the cause, a lot of people are dying this year and kids are hearing that something bad is in the air.  They are scared because they want to be safe and they want you to be safe because they love you.  Respect both their love and their fear even if you think their fear is unwarranted.  They get scared because they think there are critters outside who might eat them.  The risk posed by those critters, as well as lightning, aliens and terrorists is pretty modest in America.  Yet, we do respect those fears.  I happen to think the fear of respiratory illness is a bit more real than critters.  However, my thoughts are unimportant.  Think about your kid’s fear and do the right thing to address it when you plan a day to give thanks.

Family law blogs are usually not fertile grounds to write about criminal law.  Yet even family lawyers are not immune from situations where our specialty crosses paths with the dark side.  We have previously written about Pennsylvania’s tightly wound wiretap law, which requires that both parties consent before sound is electronically recorded.  Failure to get the consent of the person recorded may be a crime.  18 Pa.C.S. 5701.

A recent article in the current issue of The Bencher, a magazine published by the American Inns of Court, reminds us that federal law addressing computer access has its own legal snag that can yield significant legal problems.

Say you are on Match.com. or even the more innocent Facebook.  You are asked to describe yourself and you resort to “tall, dark and handsome,” when your honest answer would be short, pasty and homely.  Or, you indicate that you are writing from your condominium on the Florida intercostal when you are typing from a trailer overlooking the Youghiogheny outside McKeesport.  You are now making false statements on a website where you have promised to write only what is true.  Thus, you are no longer using the site “legally.”  Some Courts are holding this is a crime.

Accessing data under false pretenses or for corrupt purposes can also cause problems under what is termed the “Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.”  If you use someone else’s credentials to gain access to a site, you may be violating federal law.  In Van Buren v. United States, a cop was arrested and charged with violating the CFAA when he used his credentials to help a “friend” outside law enforcement identify whether a “dancer” in a nearby club was an undercover agent.  Sentenced to 18 months in prison, Van Buren has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to evaluate whether this was a valid purpose of the act and the Court has agreed to hear the case.  The question before that court in a formal sense is whether legal access can become a crime when it is used for corrupt purposes.  The defendant had access to the database by reason of his employment, but the 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals was not happy that he was paid several thousand dollars to “investigate” another law enforcement person for private purposes.  The case is due to be argued on November 30, 2020, and a ruling is expected next year.  However, in the meantime, read your access rules and if you are going to claim to be a Size 4, make it a point to drop a few pounds.  At least then, your sentence for violating federal internet laws should be “lighter.”

18 United States Code 1030