Category - family law

Benefits of a Collaborative Divorce

The typical divorce often involves parties sparring with each other as adversaries. A collaborative divorce utilizes a different approach. Family law attorneys guide their clients to work together to find equitable solutions to issues such as custody, visitation, and property division. Instead of entering the divorce process contentiously, spouses agree to work together to troubleshoot and solve problems through negotiation and mediation.

In a collaborative divorce, proceedings are less expensive and can be completed more quickly than litigation. Both parties can feel confident about having their concerns addressed. Additionally, a compromise occurs during negotiation, which allows the parties to reach a settlement without a judge interceding. In this format, all parties, including children, typically experience less stress and anxiety.

Both parties must be willing to work with each other to achieve a collaborative divorce. With this plan, a family law attorney can help spouses end their marriage and move forward without the acrimony usually associated with divorce.

Factors That Merit Changing a Final Judgment

Modifying a final court decision is common in family law. Changes regarding income, illness, and the residence of either party can make adhering to the judgment unfair or even impossible. A post-judgment modification is when a judge alters a court decision after a final judgment is made. Often in divorce cases, the custody, child support payments, and the marital status of either party can change. If some event impacts at least one of the parties, the judgment may need to be modified.

Life Events, Injury and Illness

A change in circumstances for either party such as employment status or health could require the court to review the family law case. If the party paying the support loses their job rendering them unable to fulfill their duty, they must inform the judge. If the payer is injured and cannot work for a short amount of time, a judge may temporarily reduce or stop the payments. If the illness is permanent and debilitating, they may be incapable of providing support. However, if the child has an illness, the amount of support may increase. Further, if the supported parent gets a job, the payment amounts could be reduced or stopped.

Relocation to Another State

The custodial parent may want to move to another state, which would call for the court to reevaluate the decision. The reason for the move may be for a job, to live near relatives or for a cheaper cost of living. While such a move would clearly impact visitation with the child by the noncustodial parent, the move is permitted unless the noncustodial party can demonstrate that the relocation is not in the child’s best interest.

Emancipated or Alimony Recipient

A child is emancipated when he or she reaches the legal adult age and no longer needs to be supported financially. The child may be granted emancipation earlier than legal adult age if they can demonstrate financial independence and no mental illness. However, support may still be required if a child has a condition rendering them physically, mentally or even financially dependent. If a spouse who is receiving support remarries, she may not need as much support.

Family law is not the only field of practice to utilize post-judgment modifications. The details of which parent gets custody, the amount of support being paid and either party’s fluctuating income often mean that settlements will probably be modified more often than other cases.

Resolving Difficult Family Law Matters

Family law tends to be particularly challenging because emotions often run high. Whether a situation involves the dissolution of marriage or the custody of children, people usually have strong feelings that become part of the process. It may be possible to resolve some problems without excessive intervention, depending on the situation.

Reaching an Agreement

The goal of any family law matter is to reach an agreement. While this often involves going to court to enlist the help of a judge, this is not always necessary. The parties can also make an agreement without the intervention of any outside entities. The process may also involve negotiation, mediation, counseling, and arbitration. If each of these options fails, the final step may be entering the dispute into the court system for a ruling.

Even though it’s typical for these situations to be unpleasant, parties can take steps to resolve issues in a positive manner. Avoiding personal attacks and blame, keeping children out of the process, and striving to communicate effectively are three ways that people can work to resolve differences amicably.

Relocating With Your Children

Frequently people come in to see me who want to relocate to another state with their children.  Sometimes divorced, and sometimes having reached the end of non-marital cohabitation with the other natural parent, these individuals express a number of different reasons for wanting to leave New Jersey.  Among the most common reasons are: A desire to go to a sun-belt state with appreciably cheaper costs of living and better job prospects; reuniting with family members who reside in another state; and a job transfer by a new spouse.

Under New Jersey law, N.J.S.A. 9:2-2, minor children of parents divorced, separated or living apart, who are natives of New Jersey, or having resided five years within its limits, cannot be removed for residential purposes out of this jurisdiction without the consent of both parents unless the court shall otherwise order.

A New Jersey Supreme Court case, Baures v. Lewis, 167 N.J. 91 (2001), establishes that a party seeking to move out of New Jersey with his/her children bears the burden of proving that there is a good-faith reason for the proposed move, and that the proposed move will not be inimical to the children’s interests.  The following factors are addressed by the court in making this decision:

(1)        the reasons given for the move;

(2)        the reasons given for the opposition;

(3)        the past history of dealings between the parties insofar as it bears on the reasons  advanced by both parties for supporting and opposing the move;

(4)        whether the child will receive educational, health and leisure opportunities at least equal to what is available here;

(5)        any special needs or talents of the child;

(6)        whether a parenting-time schedule and communication schedule can be developed that  will allow the non-custodial parent to maintain a full and continuous relationship with the child;

(7)        the likelihood that the custodial parent will continue to foster the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent if the move is allowed;

(8)        the effect of the move on extended family relationships here and in the new location;

(9)        if the child is of age, his or her preference;

(10)      whether the child is entering his or her senior year in high school at which point he or she should generally not be moved until graduation without his or her consent;

(11)      whether the non-custodial parent has the ability to relocate; and

(12)      any other factor bearing on the child’s interest.

From my experience practicing in South Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part judges in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem Counties will almost always let the custodial parent move to either Philadelphia or New Castle County, Delaware, if minimally sufficient reasons are set forth by the party seeking to move as long as New Jersey retains jurisdiction of the case for so long as the law allows.  As far as distant locales are concerned, I have always found that the best approach is to present the judge with a host of favorable options so as to make it difficult for him/her to deny the removal application.  These reasons may include: An offer by the custodial parent to permit the non-custodial parent substantially extended summer and holiday parenting time; agreement to fly the non-custodial parent to the children’s new location several times per year if financially feasible; providing the judge with comprehensive statistics about the lower cost of living in the proposed new state, including housing costs, lower taxes and the consumer prices; more favorable job prospects in the new state than those available in New Jersey if the parent seeking to move has not already been offered or accepted new employment; and offering extensive telephone, Skype or Face Time contact with the children.

In a particularly thoughtful, comprehensive opinion, Benjamin v. Benjamin, 430 N.J. Super. 301 (Ch. Div. 2012), Judge L. R. Jones held that it was not a mandatory prerequisite for relocation that the parent seeking to move had obtained a guaranteed job in the other state.  The court reasoned that it was not realistic to expect an employer in another state to offer guaranteed employment to an arms-length job applicant who (a) still lives in New Jersey, (b) is in the middle of ongoing family court litigation which may last for months, and (c) cannot reasonably tell the employer whether or when he or she might be able to start work.

If the other parent objects to the relocation, and there are genuine issues of fact as to whether or not the move would be personally, socially and financial harmful to the child, generally, the court schedules the removal application for a plenary hearing.  This procedure is akin to a trial where witnesses are presented, documents introduced into evidence, and the attorneys prepare  post-hearing, proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.

All in all, if the party seeking to relocate out-of-state prepares his/her application comprehensively, taking all of the factors set forth in Baures and Benjamin into consideration, there is a reasonable chance that relocation will be permitted.

Top Benefits of Premarital Agreements

To ensure financial solvency and to protect assets, some individuals may choose to sign a prenuptial agreement. The decision to get a prenup, however, should not be based on wealth. No matter your financial situation, a prenup could add a layer of protection to your finances and benefit your relationship.

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First and foremost, prenups are an essential tool for business owners. In the event of a breakup, this agreement protects small businesses by keeping commercial assets with the owner. Divorce lawyers may try to claim partial or full ownership for their client, even if the client was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. A prenup ensures one party maintains legal ownership. Building a small business is a monumental task, and business owners can help ensure the integrity of their life’s work by seeking counsel from an attorney before tying the knot.

Debt Protection

Prenups are not just an arrangement reserved for the wealthy. If one spouse enters a marriage with a significant amount of debt, a prenup may protect the other spouse from these debt obligations. In some instances, one party may have to relocate or quit a job for the marriage. Upon divorce, it may be challenging to find employment. A prenup could make this person financially whole by providing support.

Defining a Relationship

While it’s not romantic, the process of sitting down and discussing finances and goals can strengthen a relationship. Couples need to have an open dialogue and a shared vision of proper money management. Disagreements over money can dissolve a marriage. A prenup is a preventative measure that removes all ambiguity. It gives couples a solid foundation to build a long-lasting marriage.

A divorce lawyer can prepare a prenup. During a consultation, this attorney should cover these benefits as well as other logistical information to help you make an informed decision. Remember, a prenup can strengthen the bond between two people all while providing invaluable asset protection.

Thanks to Andrew Bird on flickr for the image used in this post.