Friday, December 24, 2010

Wolf Baldwin has exciting news about Thomas R. Beveridge, Esq.

The law offices of Wolf, Baldwin and Associates is proud to announce that associate Thomas R. Beveridge, Esq. is leaving to start his own practice in St. Mary's, Pennsylvania. We wish Thomas Beveridge all the best in his future endeavors.

Mr. Beveridge is an active member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and its Workers’ Compensation Section, as well as the Montgomery County Bar Association and its Workers’ Compensation Section. He is admitted to practice before all courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Beveridge has written and lectured for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute and the annual Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Conference. He is a regular contributor to the Montgomery County Woman on contemporary issues in Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Law.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Family Law Website in Pennsylvania

Wolf, Baldwin and Associates are proud to announce the launch of the new Tri-County Family Law website.

This site will focus primarily on Family Law issues such as Child Support, Spousal Support, Divorce and Custody. For more than 30 years, the family law lawyers at Wolf, Baldwin and Associates, P.C. have represented clients in all aspects of Pennsylvania family law cases.

If you are interested in the services of Wolf, Baldwin and Associates, P.C. to address your family law concerns, feel free to click here to contact us.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pennsylvania's Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act Revisited

Back on June 11, 2009 Wolf, Baldwin and Associates wrote a blog covering the new Pennsylvania New Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act and how it would effect both consumer and contractor alike.

In the news today, it was written that the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office has targeted seven home-improvement contractors across the state in lawsuits accusing them of violating the state's Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act. Three of those contractors were from nearby Philadelphia.

According to State Attorney General Tom Corbett, "Complaints about home improvement projects 'gone bad' are typically one of the top reasons for consumers to contact the Attorney General's Office."

This once again brings to the forefront the need for contractors to make sure that they are aware of new Business Law to make sure that they are following the letter of the law while providing service and to make sure that the consumers are aware of all their rights and legal remedies at their disposal.

If you have any questions regarding the Pennsylvania Home Improvement Consumer Protection Law, feel free to contact the Lawyers at Wolf Baldwin and Associates.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The New Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines

Anyone who pays or receives child support will be interested to know that in January 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an update to the statewide support guidelines. Both Pennsylvania and Federal law require a review of the support guidelines every four years to ensure that the most recent economic data is used to calculate child rearing costs.

The new guidelines are effective as of May 12, 2010, and can be found online by clicking here. There are a number of important changes to the guidelines which will affect most, if not all, child support orders in Pennsylvania. Child support lawyers in PA will again need to become familiar with all the new rules and their application to the specific cases of their clients. This article will note some of the highlights of the new PA support guidelines.

The basic structure of the guidelines has not changed, in that the guidelines still attempt to allocate to the child or children of two parents the same amount of money that would have been spent on behalf of the child or children had the parents been living together. These calculations, however, have changed significantly in that the formulas now allow for calculations of support for family net incomes of up to $30,000.00 per month, and the rules for combined family net incomes over $30,000.00 per month have changed significantly. The law previously known as the Melzer rule used in high income support cases, named after the case of Melzer v. Witsberger, 505 Pa. 462, 480 A.2d 991 (1984), has been superseded by the new guidelines.

Also superseded is the ruling in Isralsky v. Isralsky, 824 A.2d 1178 (Pa.Super. 2003), which allowed for a mortgage modification to a support order to occur after a divorce. The new rule clarifies that the mortgage payment deviation cannot be applied after a final order of equitable distribution has been entered, because presumably the marital residence will have been distributed to one party or the other.

There remain many variables to consider such as health insurance contributions, the number of overnights the non-custodial parent has with the child or children, unusually high mortgage payments, and other extraordinary expenses, to name a few. As set forth in the official comments to the new Rules, “[t]he basic support schedule incorporates an assumption that the children spend 30% of the time with the obligor and that the obligor makes direct expenditures on their behalf during that time.” The new guidelines call on the courts to recognize that some parents do not see their children often and to consider upward deviation of the support order as a result; conversely, parents who spend a significant amount of daytime time with the children and pay for meals and entertainment during those hours may seek a downward deviation from the guidelines even if those parents do not have the children overnight.

For some income levels, the guidelines will increase the amount of support; for others, the new guidelines will indicate a decrease. Both obligors and obligees should keep in mind, though, that no changes to existing support orders are automatic, and a petition must be filed before a support order can be modified.
The guidelines have increased the basic amount which low-income support obligors may keep for themselves in order to meet their own basic needs under Federal poverty standards. That amount, now called the “Self-Support Reserve,” increased from $748.00 per month to $867.00 per month.

The courts must also take into account the duration of the marriage when crafting spousal support orders.

Support payors and payees, especially in those families with high net monthly incomes, would be wise to meet with their PA family law attorneys to review their existing orders, so that the effects of the new Pennsylvania support guidelines can be weighed, and modifications sought if appropriate.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Review of the Highlights from the Credit Card Act of 2009

During the summer of my junior year at college, I was walking to class and passed a table filled with towels embroidered with our school logo and water bottles bearing the college crest. Beside these objects were several applications and pens advertising low interest rates and no payments for the first six months with all approved applications. This was my introduction to the world of the credit card. With the whirl of a black pen, I was handed my first temporary credit card with a $750.00 limit and also a beautifully embroidered golf towel (which I lost 3 weeks later). Without a job or even a credit history, I was off to discover all of the things I could buy with this little piece of plastic. Little did I know that this credit card was the beginning the trend of spending which I would continue into my later adult years. Fortunately, in 2009, Congress and our President stepped in to address the practices of credit card companies.

Over the past two years, many of us have seen credit card interest rates skyrocket from single to double digits – sometimes reaching well above the 20% range. In response, the federal government promised credit card reform to rescue consumers from the ongoing mystery and mayhem incited by the credit card companies. As promised, in May of 2009, President Obama signed in to law the “Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009” commonly referred to as the Credit CARD Act of 2009.

The various provisions of the Credit CARD Act of 2009 offer consumers many protections against common practices of credit card companies. All of the fine details of the Credit CARD Act cannot be summarized within the limited bounds of this article. However, the balance of this commentary will provide an outline of the Act’s major provisions.

Under the Credit CARD Act, a credit card company cannot simply increase interest rates, annual fees, or finance charges whenever it chooses. The company must now provide a cardholder with a minimum of 45 days notice of the intended increase. Furthermore, the company cannot increase these items on an existing cardholder’s account unless the increase results from: (1) the expiration of a specific time period, such as a promotional rate for a set time period, so long as the cardholder is provided with ample notice of the intent to increase prior to the initiation of the promotional period; (2) a change in the actual index which is not under the credit card company’s control and is available information for the general public; (3) failure of the cardholder to make proper payment on the account during a 30 day grace period which begins immediately after the due date; (4) a hardship arrangement or agreement for repayment between the company and the cardholder; or (5) the cardholder’s failure to make the appropriate payments under the arrangement or agreement noted in (4).

The Act also prohibits a credit card company from penalizing those cardholders who make their payments on time. First, the Act eliminates the old practice of “double-cycle billing”, where the company would charge interest on a debt that was actually paid during a grace period. Additionally, companies cannot impose additional fees on the “interest only balance” of a cardholder who continues to make timely payments. Third, the company can no longer charge additional fees when a cardholder chooses to make a payment in some specific manner, (i.e. the typical $15 charge if paid by telephone), except when the payment is made through some form of expedited service of the actual credit card company.

Also along these lines, the credit card company cannot play games with a cardholder who makes timely payments on his or her account. Bills must be mailed by credit card companies to their cardholders so as to provide each cardholder with a minimum time period of 21 days to make payment before the actual due date, which must fall on the same day of each month. Should that day be a weekend or “legal banking” holiday, then the due date is considered as the next business day. Furthermore, payments received on the due date by 5:00 p.m. are considered timely.

The Act also clarified some very specific issues for consumers. Importantly, the term “fixed” commonly used by the credit card companies when referring to the interest rate on a card is required to remain constant over the period of time that is clearly outlined in the terms of the credit card account. This new provision eliminates the fear of most consumers that the credit card company will simply raise rates on their card whenever they choose despite the initial offer that came with the card.

The Act outlines several other important considerations for consumers, such as the right to refuse a “preapproved” credit card right up to the time the consumer activates the card without any negative impact on the consumer’s credit report; consumers have the right to an offer of a “fixed” credit limit that cannot be exceeded, but if it is exceeded, no additional fee can be assessed against the cardholder, except in very limited and specific circumstances. Additionally, all payments must be credited against the highest interest bearing debt (i.e., a cash advance) before applying such payments to the lower interest debts.

One new and eye-opening requirement that consumers will see on their credit card statements is the calculation by the company as to how long it will take a cardholder to pay off the debt if only the minimum payments are made and the total amount of interest that would be paid in such a scenario. Many people have already discovered this new formula on their statements and were absolutely shocked (this author included) at the reality of making such payments. Additionally, however, a credit card statement must also bear an additional calculation as to the required payment to eliminate the card balance within 3 years and another calculation of the amount of interest that would be paid under that scenario. Of course, this new information is expected to lead many of us to increase the amount of our payments and satisfy these debts much sooner than otherwise expected.

One other series of requirements which are most important to this author revolve around the protection of younger consumers from credit card companies. The Act requires that a credit card cannot be issued to anyone under the age of 21, unless that individual has a cosigner who is over the age of 21 and is capable of repaying the debt incurred on the account (i.e. parent, legal guardian, etc.). Additionally, credit card companies must now have a legitimate reason to market their cards at universities and colleges. Furthermore, the companies can no longer hand out promotional items such golf towels, water bottles, gift certificates, etc., to seduce a consumer to sign up for a credit card.

While there are other idiosyncrasies to the Credit CARD Act of 2009, the highlighted provisions will most substantially affect consumers and existing credit card holders. Certainly, we can all appreciate the efforts of our government to reform the practices of credit card companies. However, until the application of the Act, its oversight and enforcement, and the initiation of regulations pertaining thereto are more fully outlined and tested, this author remains skeptical as to the practical effect of these provisions, excluding, of course, the “wake-up call” minimum payment chart. I had no idea that college golf towel would be so expensive.

To discuss the matters of consumer protection, and to discuss your rights regarding credit cards, contact the lawyers at Wolf, Baldwin and Associates, P.C. for a consultation today.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Unemployment Compensation – Necessitous and Compelling Reasons to Quit Employment, Volume 2

With the national unemployment rate now above ten percent, it seems unthinkable that anyone would voluntarily quit a steady job without the good fortune of having another job lined up first. But even in a down economy, there can be forces greater than the pressure to maintain a steady paycheck.

In an earlier column, we explored some of the circumstances in which an employee can collect unemployment compensation benefits after voluntarily quitting his or her job. Today we discuss some of the more recent developments in this area of unemployment compensation law.
As the reader may recall, an employee who voluntarily resigns a position of employment may have the same right to collect unemployment benefits as an employee who was involuntarily separated from employment through a layoff, if that employee quit that job for a “necessitous and compelling” reason. While the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Act at 43 P.S. Section 804 (b) dictates the “necessitous and compelling” standard, it does not provide much guidance as to what the phrase “necessitous and compelling” actually means.
The job of fleshing out the meaning of this “necessitous and compelling” standard has been left to the Pennsylvania courts. In some cases, difficulties in the employment itself provide the employee with a compelling reason to quit. In many of these cases, such as those where an employee quits after an employer fails or refuses to address repeated sexual harassment or unreasonable workplace safety or health issues despite the employee’s repeated requests for corrective measures, the employee’s entitlement to unemployment compensation is now clear. But in cases where the employee quits for personal reasons unrelated to the job itself, the courts are still working out the rules.

1. Child Care Cases.

We previously reported on the case of Beachem v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 760 A.2d 68 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2000). In Beachem, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that an employee who had quit his job to care for his special needs child had a necessitous and compelling reason to quit when the child had a need for the type of daily psychological support that only the claimant, as the child’s parent, could provide. More recently, however, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court denied unemployment compensation benefits to an employee who had failed to exhaust all child care alternatives before quitting her job. Shaffer v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 928 A.2d 391 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2007). In Shaffer, the employee needed different child care arrangements when her employer moved her work location 11 miles farther from her home. After determining that one particular child care arrangement would have been cost-prohibitive, the employee immediately resigned her employment due to her child care issues and the increased costs of commuting to the new job location. The court held that while the need to provide care for a child may still be a necessitous and compelling reason to resign from a job, in order to be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits, the employee must first exhaust all other child care options. For this reason, the court upheld the denial of unemployment compensation benefits.
There are now a number of reported Pennsylvania decisions in which family obligations have provided employees with necessitous and compelling reasons to resign their employment. During this past year, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court extended this line of cases to award benefits to an employee who quit his job to care for someone who was not a member of his family. In Wagner v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 965 A.2d 323 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2009), the court awarded benefits to a man who first took a leave of absence from his job in Iraq before ultimately quitting that job to assist his fiancée in her dealings with an abusive ex-boyfriend, a difficult custody fight and a child with medical problems. While it could be said that the employee explored alternatives to quitting by first taking a leave of absence from work to address his fiancée’s difficulties and then seeking work stateside before ultimately quitting, the court did not even discuss the adequacy of his efforts to exhaust alternatives to resigning his employment. Instead, the court simply concluded that the employee’s “domestic circumstances” provided him with good cause to quit.

However, within the past few months, the Commonwealth Court limited the potential out-of-family reach of the Wagner case in Dopson v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, WL 3790188 (Nov. 13, 2009). In Dopson, the court explained away the Wagner decision by reasoning that it had involved not just a boyfriend, but a “future stepfather” (though the basis for the court’s certainty of a future marriage is somewhat unclear). The Dopson court proceeded to reject a grandmother’s claim that child care requirements for a newborn grandchild had provided a necessitous and compelling reason for her to quit her job, reasoning that (1) the Pennsylvania courts have never allowed such a claim when it involved a grandparent caring for a grandchild (as opposed to a parent caring for a child), and (2) the previous decisions in which child care considerations had amounted to a necessitous and compelling reason to quit a job had all involved children with emotional or physical problems, unlike the case of the newborn in Dopson.

2. “Follow the Spouse” Cases.

The Pennsylvania courts have long allowed unemployment compensation benefits to individuals who have had to resign their jobs to follow spouses who have been relocated to other positions of employment, if (1) the move was necessitated by circumstances beyond the control of the spouse, and (2) there was economic hardship in maintaining two residences or the move caused insurmountable commuting problems. Wheeler v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 450 A.2d 775 (Pa.Cmwlth. 1982).

While subsequent decisions limited this “follow the spouse” rule to married couples, the courts are now confronting what may be a new wave of cases challenging the constitutionality of these earlier decisions denying benefits in cases of same-sex couples. In Procito v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 945 A.2d 261 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2008), the court side-stepped the potentially thorny constitutional issue of not extending the “follow the spouse” rule from married couples to same-sex couples by denying benefits on grounds that the change of job was motivated by personal reasons (the desire to live in a less stressful environment and to be near a college-aged child), and not by a necessitous and compelling economic reason. While the Procito court was able to avoid the constitutional challenge for the time being, the issue is likely to resurface in another case in the not-too-distant future.

It is difficult to spot any plain trends in these recent decisions of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. What is clear is that while the court is grappling with the fact that both conventional and unconventional families alike are forced to hard economic choices when child care and job relocation issues arise, the court is also exhibiting a reluctance to further expand unemployment compensation entitlement for employees who have voluntarily quit their jobs.