Legal Ease
Expert insights from the area’s top attorneys
by Bill Donahue


Those among us who have gone through it know that there are few greater comforts than having a good attorney in your corner. After all, the law is a complex and ever-changing animal, requiring the expertise of a keenly talented individual who has mastered its art and science to navigate a client through otherwise thorny territory.


Following you will find insights from some of the area’s foremost attorneys in their respective areas of practice, from family law and elder law to business law and employment law. Although each attorney’s words carry their own unique weight and wisdom, all of the men and women featured in the ensuing pages underscore a common theme: When in doubt, always contact a qualified attorney you know you can trust.


Please note that you should not rely upon the information provided herein as legal advice; it is for general informational purposes only. Legal advice can come only from a qualified attorney after having had an opportunity to become familiar with all of the fact-specific circumstances of a particular legal matter, and then to apply or research the relevant law.



Family Law

Valerie Rosenbluth Angst of Angst & Angst P.C., which has offices in Doylestown and Harleysville, focuses her work in family law and civil litigation as well as bankruptcy. She earned her Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Florida College of Law in Gainesville, Fla. Before focusing on family law, she had extensive experience in commercial and retail collections as well as adversary actions in bankruptcy. In addition, she also handles real estate transactions, wills and estates as well as personal injury matters.


When parents are divorcing in Pennsylvania, what can they expect in terms of custody of the children?

I think the big misconception is that moms will always have primary custody, and that’s just not the case in Pennsylvania. Specifically, the legislature enacted new statutes that went into effect this year which provide guidelines for the court in weighing what the best interest of the child is. In those guidelines it emphasizes access to both parents. In practice, most of the courts and most of the judges followed that analysis anyway, but the new statutes made it codified and made it so that it must be a consideration, and directed the courts and judges to think along those lines. Our courts in Bucks and Montgomery counties have always been focused on allowing both parties equal access if they’re available and if they are geographically located within close proximity to each other and if schedules allow it; I think the legislation was really for more remote counties that maybe weren’t applying that concept. It also made it more difficult to relocate. It’s always sort of been that way, but it just codified it. It must be in the best interest of the children to relocate away from the other party or the home area of the children. The object is to disrupt the life of the children as little as possible.


The courts are supposed to be a fallback if you can’t reach an agreement. You can move to California or Hawaii as long as your spouse agrees, and as long as you agree on how you want to raise them. That’s always been the best way to work things out. Even though you might have to compromise, that’s usually a better result than when you go to court—especially in matters of custody, because there’s no black or white, no right or wrong; there’s no clear line as to what the results are going to be. If Mom wants to move to California and Dad objects and it goes to court, even if Mom had really good reasons to want to go to California—she was originally from there, she got a better job there, the family lived there for the first five years of the marriage—it could be difficult. She might be able to go, but Dad might get the kids for the entire summer or every holiday, so Mom gets to send them off to school every day but misses out on all the fun time. There’s always going to be some kind of price for changing custody of the other parent.


In matters of asset division in a divorce, how are assets determined as marital vs. non-marital?

Anything prior to a couple getting married would be a separate asset and not subject to division upon divorce. If something is given to the marriage, such as changing the title on a house or putting joint names on an inheritance, then it becomes a marital asset but otherwise it would be a premarital asset. For example, if a wife pre-owned a house and upon marriage the title was changed, even though the husband contributed no equity to the house, that was a gift to the marriage; it is then considered converted from a premarital asset to a marital asset. Things like how long ago the gift to the marriage was made will factor into how the asset will be equitably distributed compared to a premarital asset where the deed was never changed. The fact that husband and wife lived in and maintained the house together for some time gives it some aspect of a marital asset but only as it relates to the appreciation of the asset. 


Angst & Angst P.C. | 37 South Clinton Street, Doylestown | 215-348-5200 | 878 Main Street, Harleysville | 215-513-1517 |



Family Law

Gregory LaMonaca, who earned his Juris Doctorate degree from Widener University School of Law, founded his own firm—the Law Office of Gregory P. LaMonaca P.C.—in 1995. LaMonaca has represented individuals throughout Pennsylvania, and has also been admitted to practice in New Jersey, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Although his primary focus is family law, the firm’s associates and affiliate attorneys handle a wide area of general practice, including but not limited to personal injury, estate planning, employment law, medical malpractice, wills, trusts, probate, contracts, criminal defense, expungements, motor vehicle and immigration. He’s also an author, martial arts enthusiast and “very family oriented” father of two.


When going into a divorce, how should someone go about searching for the right attorney to represent them?

Family law is a very emotional area of the law, and it takes a different mindset to be able to do this. Of course, you should work with an attorney who has a superior understanding of the law, but there should be more than that; it’s not a conveyor belt where a client comes in one side and out another. My personal goal is to have each of my clients move on to the rest of their lives [after a divorce] equipped with the resources necessary for them to begin their new life. It could just be giving them financial expertise, where one spouse never did the finances and has no skills in that regard, so I might recommend a financial planner or an accountant. It could also be putting them in touch with a highly qualified psychologist or doing whatever we can do to alleviate their fears and concerns about the future. We assist the client with putting together a plan and give them the self-confidence to get there, by guiding them towards an empowering and compelling future for them and their children.


It’s very important to have the right chemistry with an attorney if they’re going to represent you. I suppose I can understand why some people would choose to rely on a family friend or acquaintance who may be an attorney, but if the attorney doesn’t understand or is not willing to do what it takes to help you, then it won’t work to your benefit. I interview my clients to make sure they’re the right client for me, much like they should be interviewing me to make sure I’m the right person for them.


The Law Office of Gregory P. LaMonaca P.C. | 755 North Monroe Street, Media | 610-892-3877 |



Family Law

Paula Munafo, an attorney with Bennett & Associates, earned her Juris Doctor and MBA from Villanova University. Her areas of practice include family law, collaborative family law and family law mediation. Licensed to practice in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, she was named a “Rising Star” in family law by Super Lawyers for 2010; the award is given to the top 2.5 percent of attorneys in the state who are 40 years old or younger, or who have been practicing law for fewer than 10 years.


What are the benefits of collaborative divorce?

The collaborative divorce process provides numerous benefits to clients. It generally results in lower fees, a faster resolution and a less adversarial process, which helps families transition in a more positive manner. When clients choose the collaborative process, they are agreeing to settle their divorce matter out of court reducing the number of meetings with professionals and, in turn, the legal fees. In the court process, there are separate tracks for support and equitable distribution, and often the issues are intertwined and cannot be dealt with in isolation. In the collaborative process, your attorneys will work together to set agendas for each meeting so that the issues are dealt with in the manner that makes the most sense. They also have the opportunity to discuss how these issues are interrelated and be creative in their solutions.


Being collaborative does not mean that you are losing advocacy. Your attorney will be present to advise you at each step in the process. Generally, the process begins with a four-way meeting with both clients and both attorneys present. At the initial meeting the goal is to resolve any custody issues that exist and to bring in a co-parent counselor who can help deal with the children as they transition, if necessary. If children are not involved, the goal of the first meeting is to begin resolving temporary issues surrounding the transition; usually the first issues involve support, finances, and what will happen to the family residence. If both parties are willing participants in a collaborative divorce, the process can be completed within months as opposed to years in the court process. 


What can divorcing spouses expect from the mediation process?

Mediation differs from collaborative divorce in that, although clients are often represented by an attorney, attorneys are generally not present in their client’s meetings with the mediator. Clients should have a meeting with their family law attorney prior to having their initial mediation session so that they understand their rights and responsibilities under the Divorce Code. Thereafter, like the collaborative model, the clients will have several meetings with the mediator, who will first work to resolve temporary issues and then move on to equitable distribution. Again, attorneys will not be present at those meetings. Clients are encouraged to consult with their attorneys both before and after mediation sessions to help them work through legal issues as the mediator does not provide legal advice. Ultimately, with the mediator’s help the clients come to an agreement called a Memorandum of Understanding, which they bring to their attorneys to use as the framework for their Property Settlement Agreement.  Mediation, like collaboration, should include full disclosure of all assets. 


Bennett & Associates | 150 Strafford Ave., Suite 210, Wayne | 610-254-9060 |



Family Law

Kevin Zlock earned his Juris Doctor from the Dickinson School of Law, now known as Penn State Law. His firm, Kevin Zlock P.C., is capable of handling virtually any client issue related to family/domestic law, such as divorce, spousal and child support, equitable distribution of property and other related matters. Interestingly, he won a national karate championship in 1992 at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.


What’s the difference between contested and uncontested divorce?

There are a lot of issues that could be contested in a divorce: grounds, distribution of property, custody, support, alimony and other smaller issues. Husband may say, “We agree on dividing assets 50/50,” and that part is uncontested. However, wife may say, “I want alimony of 10 years,” where husband says two. That is where the contention enters in such a case, with the parties fighting over the term of alimony. In some cases, the contention may be over the amount or the percentage of property. Some people walk into it with the attitude of “I want blood, and I want 100 percent of the assets,” but the best outcome arises when there is compromise on both sides. Fault conduct, such as adultery or desertion, does not factor into the overall distribution of assets, just the grounds for divorce and the entitlement to spousal support and alimony, so people need to maintain perspective. It’s emotional, but most of the time people agree on most issues. 


What advice can you provide for determining spousal support?

For spousal support, a lot of people say, “Just run the guidelines; I can do this without a lawyer,” but determining support can be a complex matter. Consider the following scenario: I get a paycheck of $1,000 a week; I put $100 in my 401(k), and my company pays for my car. For purposes of determining support, the 401(k) gets added back in to determine my net income, and the car is considered a fringe benefit for income. A lot of times, spouses have too much taken out in taxes, and in April they get a refund, so the amount of income indicated on the pay stub is overinflated; you cannot rely on a pay stub in Support Court. Then there is health insurance, which can be very difficult to determine; if one party pays for health insurance, then the other party has to pay a portion back. This is just skimming the surface. If you do not know all the issues, you can wind up either leaving a lot of money on the table or paying too much. It is not as simple as plugging a number into the guidelines.


Kevin Zlock P.C. | 1705 Langhorne-Newtown Road, Langhorne | 44 East Court Street, Doylestown | 215-968-1800 |



Business Law

Robert Angst of Angst & Angst P.C. is a graduate of Villanova University School of Law and a graduate of Ursinis University, where he earned degrees in accounting and economics/business administration. He has been admitted to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He has experience representing clients in civil litigation, personal injury, family law and all aspects of bankruptcy, and is also a trained family law mediator. The firm has been in practice in Doylestown since 1998, and its Harleysville office opened in 2005.


If a business is “winding down” and going out of business, which creditors need to be paid first?

My best and only advice is to get to an attorney as soon as possible, and not to make decisions without qualified legal counsel. There are different priorities of debt—tax debt vs. secured debt vs. guaranteed debt—and the business owner needs to know which to pay first to avoid exposure. Any debts guaranteed by the individual, as in they signed a personal guarantee, those would get the highest priority. Then you have tax debt—taxes on payroll and that sort of thing—and secured debt against things like equipment; for example, a machine shop that’s paying down the debt to keep the creditor from taking the machines back. From there the rest is unsecured debt. The goal is to wind down the business properly without getting into trouble.


How can a business owner make sure his or her personal assets are protected when winding down a business?

People drain their 401(k) sometimes to pay down their debt, but 401(k)s or IRAs are exempt in bankruptcies. In order to pay an American Express bill or some other creditor, sometimes there’s a knee-jerk reaction for the debtor to give up an asset that would otherwise be exempt. You can’t get that back once you let it go, so before anyone pays a creditor, talk to an attorney. In distressed situations, you have people who have major financial problems that are trying to get themselves out of it. Some people are going to credit-consolidation companies, and those can work when you have a low amount of debt and a decent income, but it’s almost impossible for those to work if you a lot of debt; you can end up getting in deeper trouble and getting nowhere. The point is, there are different types of people to go to so they can deal with credit and debt, but going to anyone but a local Pennsylvania attorney is very risky; anyone else is not going to be able to defend you from lawsuits, and they’re also not going to be able to provide the same service.


Angst & Angst P.C. | 37 South Clinton Street, Doylestown | 215-348-5200 | 878 Main Street, Harleysville | 215-513-1517 |



Business Law

Michael J. Brooks earned his law degree from Ohio Northern University, and now practices business law in the state and federal courts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Having studied economics at three prestigious universities, he’s well versed when it comes to advising entrepreneurs in how to form and successfully operate the small-business models now powering the nation’s steady economic recovery.


Is it absolutely necessary for a sole proprietor to advertise his or her fictitious name registration in Pennsylvania?

A formed business entity filing a fictitious name is not required to advertise. An individual sole proprietor filing a fictitious name is required to advertise, in a newspaper of general circulation and in the county law journal. If an individual, who is required to advertise, does not, they cannot maintain legal proceedings against those they would otherwise choose to sue. When the issue of not properly complying with the Fictitious Name Act is brought before the Court, the noncomplying party is given an opportunity to correct the issue of noncompliance. However, that can take time and the lawsuit may move forward, prejudicing the party attempting to come into compliance.

The fees a sole proprietor spends trying to avoid hiring an attorney is usually counterintuitive. For example, a limited liability company would offer more protection from liability. Although it is only $70 to file a fictitious name, and $125 to file an LLC, an LLC is not required to incur the additional expenses of advertising. In the long view, an LLC is usually the better way to go. Further, with an LLC your business name is protected, in that no one else can file under the same name in Pennsylvania; anyone can file the same fictitious name.


Michael J. Brooks Esquire | 110 Hyde Park, Doylestown | 215-230-3761 |



Labor/Employment Law

Robin F. Bond, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, uses her more than 25 years of experience as both an employee advocate and former in-house legal counsel to help employees succeed in severance, employment and noncompetition matters through her firm, Transition Strategies LLC. She is an accomplished negotiator, and also handles mediation and litigation of the full range of employment claims, including wage payment and collection matters, commission and stock-option claims, and wrongful termination and discrimination claims. The success she has had in helping more than 2,000 employees maximize the value they achieve in all types of employment-related matters earned her the recognition as the Top Employment Lawyer of Philadelphia’s Main Line for 2011. She is also an on-air legal commentator for FOX News, and a variety of other national and local media for workplace issues. 


How does someone know if a termination is “wrongful”?

I generally look at four things to start: (1) Was the termination in violation of your rights under either an employment agreement or a union collective bargaining agreement; (2) Was it in violation of public policy—because you had to serve on jury duty, serve in the military, or your boss was requiring you to do something illegal; (3) Was the real reason you were targeted because of illegal discrimination based upon your membership in a class protected under the Civil Rights laws—race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy and age; or (4) Were you retaliated against for complaining about unlawful discrimination, seeking medical leave or for complaining about suspected illegal conduct by the company.


Some surveys have shown that an employee has a one-in-three chance of being fired. With odds like this, everyone needs to learn more about their workplace rights and responsibilities. Generally, you don’t have a “right” to your job, but rather can be fired by an employer as long as the termination is not for some unlawful reason.


If an employee thinks he or she is going to be fired, should he or she just quit?

No! Then you will likely be denied important state Unemployment Compensation benefits. You may also forfeit bonuses or commissions, and will not get any severance pay. In these days, the stigma of losing a job is not fatal, so don’t do anything to risk losing these important post-termination benefits.


It is possible to negotiate for a better severance package?

Absolutely! Don’t be pressured into signing anything on the spot. Tell the employer you need time to review the agreement, and you will get back to them. Federal law gives employees age 40 and older at least 21 days to review with an attorney any severance agreement that contains a release of claims. My approach is to help employees argue each case on its merits: length of service, achievements for the employer, the state of the economy, special health circumstances, etc. … Our goal is to help maximize important pay, perks and protections to enable you to take care of yourself and your family until you land that next job.  


Transition Strategies LLC | 88 Militia Hill Drive, Chesterbrook | 610-640-5373 |



Labor/Employment Law

Edward C. Sweeney, an attorney with Wusinich, Brogan & Stanzione Law Firm, earned his Juris Doctor degree from University of Chicago Law School. He has more than 15 years of experience in civil litigation, with a particular focus in employment-related litigation, including discrimination cases, unemployment matters, long-term and short-term disability issues and workers’ compensation.


In matters of wrongful termination, at what point should an employee consider consulting an attorney?

One thing that occurs over and over again is that people come to me after they’ve already been terminated. If they foresee problems with an employer, they should consider going to an attorney immediately. A lot of employees can tell when they are being picked on and targeted for potential termination. Wrongful termination involves the violation of specific statutes, which usually involve class-based discrimination, and there are also rare areas where public policy is violated. Also, it can involve whether an employee quit or committed willful misconduct such that it would deprive the employee of employment benefits. It’s important to consult an attorney before things reach a head because, given the limited number of avenues of relief, the employee would want to make sure that his or her rights can be protected for the future.


What protections do employees have in regard to time off from work for sickness, injury or a new child?

Employees need to understand the Family and Medical Leave Act. Often lawsuits develop over the failure of employers to respect the rights of the employee’s family under the Family and Medical Leave Act. If there’s a problem between an employee and an employer, get resolution. It’s very difficult for employers to start blaming the employee if they don’t give them 12 weeks. There’s also something called intermittent leave, which is split up over a longer basis; as long as the employee can make up the hours and there’s flex time, the employer has to do it. Make sure your employer has designated relief time. Also, it’s important that the employee consults with their own medical doctor to make sure they have supported doctor’s notes for time off. Finally, they should document via e-mail with their employer their return-to-work date.


Wusinich, Brogan & Stanzione Law Firm | 537 W. Uwchlan Ave., Suite 200, Downingtown | 610-594-1600 |



Labor/Employment Law

Jonathan B. Young, an attorney with the Lansdale-based law firm of Dischell, Bartle & Dooley, is a magna cum laude graduate of Temple University who earned his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh. For more than 20 years, he has represented clients on a wide range of issues including general litigation, workers’ compensation, employment law, wrongful discharge and disability claims. Dischell, Bartle & Dooley has been successfully representing individuals, businesses, local governments and school districts throughout southeastern Pennsylvania since the firm’s founding in 1976.  


What should an employee do when asked to sign a noncompete agreement upon joining or leaving a company?

Noncompetitive agreements are becoming increasingly more common in environments where employers have concerns about direct competition. With many small and mid-size companies engaged in global sales and competition, employers routinely sell their products and services with few geographic restrictions. As a result, employers in the greater Philadelphia area are now demanding employee noncompete agreements, which can restrict your ability to work for a competitor regardless of whether you leave voluntarily or are terminated. In order to determine the enforceability of the proposed agreement and to ensure that you will receive adequate compensation, it is important to speak with a lawyer before you enter into such an agreement.


The independent legal analysis that a lawyer can provide will be of great assistance if you are in a situation where you are being asked to sign an agreement as an additional term of employment or if you are leaving a company and wondering whether a noncompetitive agreement that you previously signed will affect your future employment prospects.


If someone is unsure as to whether he or she qualifies for workers’ compensation, what actions should be taken?

If you have a work-injury claim that has been denied by your employer or its workers’ compensation insurance provider, you should contact an attorney who is familiar with this area of the law. The workers’ compensation law in Pennsylvania was originally written as a product of the industrial revolution and focused primarily on obvious physical injuries from the coal mines, factories, steel mills and manufacturers that once dominated the industrial landscape. While the law has undergone dramatic changes since its enactment, challenges remain with regard to the application of the law to white-collar and service-sector employees. Although it’s likely not the first thing to come to mind when you think about a work-place injury, repetitive-motion stress from word processing or injuries resulting from a non-ergonomic workplace can serve as the basis for a workers’ compensation claim in the same way that a falling piece of heavy machinery gives rise to a claim.


Dischell, Bartle & Dooley | 1800 Pennbrook Parkway, Suite 200, Lansdale | 215-362-2474 |



Elder Law

Debra G. Speyer is licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Connecticut, Maryland and Washington, D.C., focusing in areas such as elder law, estate planning and investment fraud. She went into private practice in 1990, before which she was an attorney with the enforcement division of the National Association of Securities Dealers. She is chair of the Elder Law Committee and a member of the Securities Regulations Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association, in addition to being a professor of law at Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University.


When and why would someone need the counsel of an elder-law attorney?

There are so many potential trouble spots where you don’t want to be caught surprised without having preplanned things out. A lot of the time I’m advising the children of aging parents. Maybe it’s a situation where Mom doesn’t have a good memory anymore and she just fell down the stairs and now she’s sitting in the hospital. It may be that a family needs to downsize. Say someone has a $1.5 to $2 million home in Gladwyne, if they’re going to move to something smaller, what do they really need? In that case I might send them to a senior moving specialist. If Mom or Dad needs to move into a long-term care facility, I might refer them to a geriatric care specialist. It may be dealing with issues related to senior remarriage, where Mom or Dad is marrying a second or third time and need to protect their existing families financially. It could even deal with funeral planning. The point is that families need to plan ahead of time. The last thing someone wants or needs is to plan on an emergency basis because they haven’t thought things through.


I’m putting on a lot of different hats and often going through my rolodex of names and resources that can assist a family when they find they have the question, “Where do we go from here?” I may not be executing every situation, but I’ll get things done, and we may meet several times to make sure that happens. An attorney who works in elder law is really your counselor and guide to help you navigate through really tricky waters.


What kinds of preparations should people make for themselves and their parents as they age? 

First, you want to make sure you have a will. Without a will, typically the first $30,000 of someone’s assets goes to the spouse, and the rest is split between the remaining spouse and the children, or just split 50/50 when there are children from a prior marriage. That’s the law in Pennsylvania, but that might not be what someone wants. Say Father dies and he didn’t have a will but his intention is that everything goes to Mother. Kids often don’t want to breach this topic with their parents, but they need to make sure parents have everything they need in place to protect themselves and their loved ones: a will, any possible trust, health-care power of attorney, financial power of attorney. There are significant pitfalls of not acting now and addressing these difficult issues at a time when they are much less onerous.


You have the baby boomers coming up now, so seniors now make up a huge part of the country’s population. If we’re lucky we’re all going to get there one day. And when you do, you need an advocate and a counselor to direct you for the next 20 years. Whether you like it or not you have a partner, which is the U.S. government and state government, and in matters of estate planning, who do you want to be in charge? A good elder-care attorney can help you maintain your autonomy.


The Law Offices of Debra G. Speyer | Two Bala Plaza, Suite 300, Bala Cynwyd | 610-949-9555 | Two Penn Center Plaza, Suite 200, Philadelphia | 215-238-1980 |



Criminal Defense Law

Steven F. Fairlie, a partner in the fast-growing North Wales-based firm Fairlie & Lippy P.C., has been designated a Pennsylvania “Super Lawyer” in both personal injury and criminal defense by Philadelphia magazine. He also holds Martindale-Hubbell’s prestigious “AV” rating, which designates preeminent lawyers based upon legal ability and ethics. In addition to his work with the firm, he is chairman of the Montgomery County Criminal Defense Committee—a post he has held since 2000—and he is a former assistant district attorney for Montgomery County.


Should someone who’s pulled over and asked to take a Breathalyzer for a potential drunk-driving offense, should they always submit to it?

In Pennsylvania, the general rule is that you should take the Breathalyzer. If you don’t take it, you are automatically assessed a suspension of your license of at least 12 months and maybe 18 months—there are some variables—and it is very difficult to appeal later. In a situation where you decline, your starting option is a 12- to 18-month suspension, and you can still be charged with any additional DUI suspension. There are a few exceptions to that rule, but these exceptions are applicable only to a very small percentage of the population. For the majority of people who might read this, always take the Breathalyzer.


If someone is arrested for a criminal offense, what can they do to protect themselves if they do not yet have a lawyer present?

Miranda rights are a hot topic right now. The U.S. Supreme Court looked at this within the past month and took a little away from our Miranda protections. It used to be that you had the right to remain silent, and if you remained silent then that was it; the police had to stop questioning you. Now someone who doesn’t specifically say they want to remain silent can be questioned repeatedly by the police, and if they break down under questioning it can be used against them.

If someone doesn’t want to speak to the police, they need to verbalize it. The vast majority of times, someone who’s being investigated shouldn’t talk to the police without a lawyer present. Most people know this already, but everyone always tries to talk their way out of this sort of situation, and it almost never works.


Fairlie & Lippy P.C. | 1501 Lower State Road, Suite 304, North Wales | 215-997-1000 |