Picking Up after the Breakup
Family law attorneys mix compassion with tenacity to help those navigating the potentially tumultuous waters of divorce
by Jill Lupine

“The only thing that is constant is change.” The famous quote commonly attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus applies to everything beneath the sun, humans especially. Kids grow into adults. Couples grow their families by having children or adopting. Middle age gives way to the twilight years. And sometimes two people who once loved each other dearly have change thrust upon them after they have grown irretrievably apart and have headed down the path toward divorce.  

Likewise, the field of law pertaining to family issues has had to change in order to keep pace—from legislation governing child custody between divorcing parents to the legalization of same-sex marriage, which occurred Pennsylvania in May 2014. Even the advent of social media has added a complex “new wrinkle” to family law cases, according to Diana C. Schimmel, a Philadelphia-based attorney leading The Law Office of Diana C. Schimmel, Esquire.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years social media—and by ‘social media’ I mean everything from email and texting, to sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram—has led to an explosion of information and communication,” she says. “Social media has been great because it has added new avenues for people to talk, but it’s also been potentially terrible for various reasons, and it gives attorneys plenty of new things to talk to clients about: ‘Think before you text, think before posting to Facebook about something that might relate to your divorce.’ Judges have treated things like Facebook and Twitter with a gray-area approach; sometimes it’s admissible and sometimes it’s not, so it’s best to be careful.

“In matters of same-sex equality in Pennsylvania, the main thing I have seen as a practitioner is with prenuptial agreements,” she continues. “The divorce court looks at the marital estate as the date of marriage to the date of separation. A lot of these same-sex couples have been together for decades, and only recently—a year ago in Pennsylvania—have they been married under the law. A lot of them want to integrate the life they have had over the past 15 years so they can protect what they had built in case of a divorce.”

Because of these complexities, among others, finding the right attorney to help in matters of divorce and related areas of family law—support, custody, equitable distribution, etc.—is more important than ever before. Perhaps the best advice could double as relationship advice: Don’t settle for average.

“First and foremost, find someone who specializes in family law, not someone who dibble-dabbles and who is not used to working in this area of law full time,” says Susan Levy Eisenberg, a divorce attorney based in Newtown. “You always want someone with experience under their belt … because it’s an emotional area of the law. I think most family law attorneys who are able to stay in family law learn to contend with the emotional aspects over time. You also want someone who is going to help you look ahead and prepare for life after the divorce is final.”

This means working with an attorney who can provide easy access to a qualified network of supplemental professionals—financial planners, forensic accountants, counselors, wills and estates attorneys, Realtors, etc.—who can help a newly single person start a new life on the best foot possible. Then there is Greg LaMonaca of The Law Office of Gregory P. LaMonaca P.C., a firm based in Media, who has, quite literally, written books on the subject with his “Brutally Honest” series.

“My first book, ‘The Brutally Honest Life Management Journal,’ was written to allow an individual to map out their short-term, mid-range and long-term goals and to put together a plan to achieve it,” he says. “This [book was designed to help] them both during the divorce but also afterwards as they moved on with the rest of their lives. My second book, ‘The Brutally Honest Pennsylvania Guide to Divorce and Custody,’ … was designed to allow individuals to get immediate answers to divorce and custody questions they may have that are causing them fear.” 

Attorneys such as LaMonaca suggest seeking out legal advice early so a prospective client can gain a good understanding of their rights and the divorce process, his or her financial picture and how to put oneself in the best possible situation should the prospective client decide to move forward with the divorce. At the same time, clients should not rush the process, asserts Karen Ulmer Pendergast of Karen Ann Ulmer P.C., a family law firm with offices in Doylestown, Newtown and Princeton, N.J.

“If someone may need a family lawyer in the future or needs one currently, we advise them to take their time and be sure they are ready for that step,” she says. “We advise them of what they can expect to happen from the very beginning until it is final.  We prepare them by letting them know various scenarios and how [those scenarios] may play out. We counsel people to make their own decisions and encourage them to settle their issues out of court as much as it is possible.”

Although the search for a skilled family law attorney should be based primarily on the attorney’s knowledge and experience in this particular area of law, the decision should also be influenced by a more intangible factor: chemistry.

“I definitely think it’s important to feel like you can trust your attorney,” Schimmel says. “Yes, you want someone who is knowledgeable and good at what they do. Beyond that, really it’s just about finding someone you are comfortable with. For my clients, I take the approach of handholding, to a degree; we’re not coddlers, but at times we have to be attorneys and counselors because it’s such an emotional time. … In your search, you want to interview a few attorneys, picking two or three you like based on your research, because you can learn a lot over the phone and from reviewing their websites.” 

Interviewing can be incredibly helpful, though many clients zero in on a family law attorney of choice by way of referral. Once an attorney has been chosen, clients should then steel themselves for what lies ahead and, more important, ready for the prospects of brighter future in the days ahead.

“A divorce is like a death,” says Eisenberg. “You’re splitting your kids, your pets and everything else in your life. People can get upset, angry, bitter and scorned; no one comes out of it unscathed, and everyone has scars. My job is to help them heal and focus on looking forward rather than looking backward. My job is to help them understand that ‘this too shall pass.’”

Family Ties
In matters of divorce and of aspects of family law, turn to these legal minds in the Philadelphia area

When it comes to protecting our families and ourselves, many of us will inevitably require legal assistance throughout the course of our lives. To help you in your search, we present our 2015 list of Top Family Law Attorneys. When we asked readers to share their opinions on which attorneys excel in family law, they responded in kind. Hundreds of readers cast votes to help compile a definitive list of attorneys to turn to for help and guidance in matters of divorce, adoption and other aspects of family law.

2015 Legal Eagles—Family Law
Robert E. Angst
Valerie Rosenbluth Angst
Angst & Angst P.C.
Doylestown | Harleysville

Julie A. Auerbach
Elizabeth L. Bennett
David Gutin
Gerald J. Schorr
Astor Weiss Kaplan & Mandel LLP
Philadelphia | Bala Cynwyd

Christian V. Badali
Daniel J. Clifford
Lynn. Z Gold-Bikin
Carolyn R. Mirabile
Caren E. Morrissey
Weber Gallager

Bruce L. Baldwin
Kristen Doleva-Lecher
Wolf, Baldwin & Associates P.C.

Bernard M. Berman
Berman & Asbel LLC

Michael E. Bertin
Cara A. Boyanowski
Teleicia J.R. Dambreville
Samantha J. Evian
Amanda W. Figland
David L. Ladov
Scott A. Matison
Amy L. Rokuson
Shari B. Veisblatt
Ann G. Verber
Maris J. Weiner
Robert I. Whitelaw
Stephanie H. Winegrad
Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP
Philadelphia | West Conshohocken | Cherry Hill, N.J.
215-665-3000 | 610-825-3634 | 856-795-3300

Marcia Binder Ibrahim
Law Office of Marcia Binder Ibrahim LLC
Lansdale | Norristown

Jennifer A. Brandt
Cozen O’Connor

Meredith J. Buck, R.N.
Meredith J. Buck P.C.

Jennifer Courtney
The Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney & Associates P.C.

Mark B. Dischell
Dischell Bartle and Dooley P.C.

Peter J. Dolan
Dolan Law Office LLC

Melissa L. Edelstein
Michael F. Maroto
The Maroto Law Group

Susan Levy Eisenberg
Susan L. Eisenberg, P.C.

William J. Gallagher
Lance J. Nelson
Mary Ann Plankinton
MacElree Harvey
West Chester | Kennett Square

Elissa C. Goldberg
Law Office and Mediation Services of Elissa C. Goldberg

Victoria S. Hollister
David S. Kaplan
O’Donnell Weiss & Mattei P.C.
Pottstown | Phoenixville

Amanda J. Iannuzzelli
Law Office of Amanda J. Iannuzzelli

James M. Jacquette
Timoney Knox LLP
Fort Washington

Olivia W. Jolly
Charissa J. Liller
Francis X. Stecklair
Samuel C. Totaro Jr.
Curtin & Heefner LLP
Morrisville | Doylestown | New Hope | Wall, N.J.

Emil W. Kantra II
Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba, P.C.
Center Valley

Kimberly J. Krzyzaniak
Law Office of Kimberly J. Krzyzaniak LLC

Erin C. Lentz-McMahon
McMahon, McMahon & Lentz
Villanova, Norristown, Jenkintown

Saul Levit
Saul Levit LLC

Jeffrey A. Liebmann
Mindy J. Snyder
David J. Sowerbutts
Gordon Liebmann Attorneys at Law

Scott A. Lisgar
Keller, Lisgar & Williams LLP

Gregory P. LaMonaca
The Law Office of Gregory P. LaMonaca P.C.

Kimberly Litzke
Eastburn & Gray P.C.

MaryBeth McCabe
Law Office of MaryBeth McCabe, Esq.

Charles J. Meyer
Hofstein Weiner & Meyer P.C.
Philadelphia, Bala Cynwyd

Kim Denise Morton
Morton Family Law LLC
West Chester

Julia Morrow
Friedman Schuman

Robert E. O’Connor
Law Offices of Robert E. O’Connor P.C.

Thomas J. Petrelli Jr.
Sacks, Weston, Petrelli, Diamond & Millstein LLC
Philadelphia | Jenkintown    

Sheryl R. Rentz
Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz

Robert T. Repko
Jill M. Vogenberg-Richter
Kathryn G. Carlson
Repko Williams LLC
Doylestown |Langhorne | Colmar

Maria Judith Rodriguez-Martyak,
Law Office of Maria Judith Rodriguez-Martyak

Susan J. Sacchetta
Platt, DiGiorgio & DiFabio

Anne Scheetz Damon
Lawrence R. Scheetz Jr.
Williams & Scheetz

Diana C. Schimmel
The Law Office of Diana C. Schimmel

Amy R. Stern
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.

Tracy Timby
Timby Hunt Attorneys at Law

Tiffany Thomas-Smith
The Thomas Smith Firm P.C.

Karen Ulmer Pendergast
Shane Dilworth
April M. Townsend
Karen Ann Ulmer P.C.
Langhorne | Doylestown | Princeton N.J.

Kathleen B. Vetrano
Vetrano & Vetrano
King of Prussia

Joseph D. Visco
Joseph D. Visco Attorney & Counselor

Randi J. Vladimer
Randi J. Vladimer P.C.

Jeffrey M. Williams
Elizabeth J. Fineman
Hillary J. Moonay
Robert J. Salzer
Adam H. Tanker
Williams Family Law P.C.

Cheryl L. Young
Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller

Douglas I. Zeiders
Hamburg, Rubin, Mullin, Maxwell & Lupin PC

Kevin M. Zlock
Katherine V. Coverdale
Zlock & Coverdale P.C.