New Jersey Family Lawyers 2018-08-22T11:52:48+00:00

How to Choose a Divorce Lawyer

Selecting the right attorney is an important decision in ending a marriage and successfully beginning the next stage of your life. Here are Ten Guidelines to consider in selecting your Divorce Attorney.

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Why Hire Wilentz

Our Divorce Lawyers offer substantial experience, will never be outworked and will assist you in identifying the issues, understanding your legal rights and developing an agenda to achieve your goals.

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The practice of Family Law is as real as it gets. We meet people from all walks of life, who are going through one of, if not the worst, experiences that life can offer. This phase of your life can be challenging, and you deserve an experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney – a trusted advisor who listens to you and understands your goals. The Wilentz Family Law Team will help you define objectives for your case and work to zealously protect your rights.

Our Department is dedicated to assisting families navigate the tremendous financial and emotional burdens of a family law matter. We are immersed in the practice of Family Law including divorce, same sex marriage, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, domestic violence, same sex marriages, grandparent rights, appeals and prenuptial agreements.


Joseph J. Russell, Jr
Joseph J. Russell, JrShareholder & Chair of the Family Law Department






The divorce process is started by filing a complaint, which states the parties, the disputed issues, and the requested relief.  The filing party is called the plaintiff.  The case is then assigned a docket number by the court and the complaint is served on the defendant.  The defendant will be given the opportunity to file a responsive pleading to the plaintiff’s complaint.  Within twenty days of the responsive pleading, both parties must file a Case Information Statement (“CIS”), setting forth earned and unearned incomes, expenses, assets and debts. While the parties will obtain additional information about the finances through the discovery process, the CIS is an important document that attorneys, mediators and the Family Part Judges will rely on to evaluate settlement, argue motions and/or render a final decision after trial. 

The discovery process may include Interrogatories (questions answered on paper), depositions (questions answered orally while under oath at risk of perjury), and the exchange of relevant documentation. Relevant documentation is exchanged through a Notice to Produce and may include: bank statements, titles to real and personal property, retirement account statements, credit card bills, and the like. Parties may also find it necessary to work with financial experts, such as real estate or pension appraisers, or forensic accountants, to determine the value of assets such as property, businesses, retirement plans, cash flow and the marital lifestyle. 

If custody is an issue in the divorce, the parties will be required to attend parent education classes and custody/parenting time mediation at the courthouse. If custody remains in dispute, the parties may retain a joint or independent mental health professional to perform an evaluation and render a report recommending the parenting arrangement that is in the best interests of the children.

Court appearances may include Case Management Conferences (“CMC”), where the Family Part Judge assigned to your case will establish the issues in dispute, set deadlines for discovery and make certain that the case is moving toward a settlement or alternatively, trial.  Family Law Matters that do not settle after the first CMC will eventually go before an Early Settlement Panel (“ESP”), comprised of one or two neutral attorneys who are well versed in Family Law and, who will provide the parties with a recommendation for settlement. The recommendation is confidential and non-binding to the parties. The parties may elect or be ordered to attend economic mediation with a retired judge or licensed attorney. Mediation is also confidential and non-binding on the parties. In the event that financial or custodial issues arise that require the Trial Court’s immediate attention, counsel for the parties may file an application with the court for relief pending the outcome of a trial. This application is called a Notice of Motion, or if it is an issue that may pose irreparable harm, the application may be filed on an emergent basis as an Order to Show Cause.

The overwhelming majority of matrimonial cases do in fact settle before trial, typically through the use of complimentary dispute resolution processes like mediation and arbitration.  Once the settlement is reached, both parties will briefly appear in court for an uncontested divorce hearing. If both parties cannot agree upon a settlement, a pre-trial conference and trial date are scheduled.  There is also a possibility for trials to be held on only a limited number of issues, if some but not all of the issues are resolved by agreement. 

The family law attorneys of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer are skilled and experienced at negotiating an amicable settlement, but practiced in litigation if your matter is litigated at Trial.  They are also sensitive to the needs of their clients and understand that every case is unique and must be approached individually.  The Wilentz Family Law Department works closely with its clients to achieve their particular goals in resolving all issues concerning children, alimony, child support and equitable distribution of property.  The experience and knowledge that the family law attorneys of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer have in divorce law and its real life implications on clients allows them to expertly guide their clients through the legal process.



No aspect of any family action is more important or emotionally-charged than a custody dispute. The paramount concern and the standard that the courts will use in deciding a custody dispute is the best interests of the child. There are two main aspects of custody: (1) legal custody and (2) physical/residential custody. Parties typically have joint legal custody, unless one parent is unfit due to extreme circumstances. Physical/residential custody can also be joint, whereby the child spends an equal amount of time with each parent. More routinely, physical/residential custody will be shared so that the child lives primarily with one parent and spends time with the other parent according to a fixed schedule. It is critical for parents to set aside their personal differences in order to effectively co-parent children and advances the best interests of the children. Of course, this is easier said than done. As experienced family law attorneys, we are well-versed in the emotional turmoil that clients suffer during a custody dispute. We understand that these types of issues involve much more than zealous advocacy and good lawyering. You can rely on us to sympathetically explore every avenue available to protect your custody rights and the best interests of your children. Our work may include where appropriate, retaining a psychological expert to conduct a best interests evaluation, retaining a parenting coordinator to help you co-parent with your child’s other parent, or litigating in court. A custody issue could involve anything from modifying a parenting time/visitation schedule to compelling the return of a child from out-of-state. Unfortunately, it may also involve abuse, neglect, violence or sexual assault. These issues are difficult; allow us to ease you through it.


Child support

In New Jersey, children have a fundamental, constitutional right to be financially supported by both of their parents. Child support is paid from one parent to the other for the benefit of the child. The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are used to calculate the amount of child support, but courts have the discretion to deviate from a guidelines-based child support award when good cause is shown. In cases where a court determines it is appropriate to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines, the judge must consider several factors:

  • the child’s specific need;
  • the parents’ respective lifestyles and what standard of living the child is used to;
  • all sources of income of the parents, including assets that are non-income producing assets;
  • all sources of debt for the parents and the child, if applicable;
  • the parents’ respective earning capacities, educational histories, skills, and work experience;
  • the roles that the respective parents have taken in the child’s life thus far;
  • the expenses for which each parent has historically paid for the benefit of the child;
  • the need and ability of the child for higher education;
  • the child’s age, health income and assets, and earning ability;
  • and the responsibility of the respective parents for the court-ordered support of others.

Our skilled and experienced family law attorneys at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer are committed to ensuring that children have the financial support they are due under the law.



Alimony is financial support that a dependent spouse receives from the other spouse following divorce. The purpose of alimony is to provide the dependent spouse with a level of support that will allow him or her to live a lifestyle reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage. There are five types of alimony. The first is pendente lite alimony, which is paid to the dependent spouse during the divorce litigation as a temporary financial arrangement to maintain the status quo pending final judgment of divorce. The second is open durational alimony, which is generally reserved for marriages lasting over twenty years. Open durational alimony is not permanent, as it may be terminated, for example, upon the payor reaching full retirement age. The third type is limited duration alimony, typically awarded in shorter term marriages, and is paid for a fixed period of time not to exceed the length of the marriage absent exceptional circumstances. The fourth type is rehabilitative alimony, which is alimony paid for an amount of time that the court decides the dependent spouse needs to become fully employable, such that he or she is no longer in need of such support. The fifth type of alimony is reimbursement alimony, which is generally reserved for cases involving short marriages, where the dependent spouse contributed to the other spouse’s obtaining of a professional degree or furthering of his or her career, but there are little or no assets available for equitable distribution. The theory is to compensate the dependent spouse who fostered and promoted the other spouse’s career. Under the statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b), in determining the amount and type of alimony to award, a court will consider, among other things:

  • the needs of the dependent spouse for alimony;
  • the ability of the supporting spouse to pay alimony;
  • the respective age and health of the parties;
  • the lifestyle that the parties enjoyed during the marriage and the potential for each party to maintain such a lifestyle following divorce;
  • the earning capacity and employability of each party, including a consideration of the parties’ respective educational and professional backgrounds and the time and cost that may be necessary to pursue further education or training;
  • whether, why and for how long either party has been absent from the workforce;
  • the roles of each party as a parent to any children of the relationship;
  • the financial and non-financial contributions that each party has made to the marital enterprise, including an interruption of one’s career to care for the children;
  • the division of marital assets and debts in equitable distribution; the respective incomes of the parties;
  • the ability of either party to receive income from investments;
  • the respective tax consequences that alimony will have on the payor and on the receipt;
  • and whether and how much pendente lite alimony has been paid in the case.

All types of alimony awards aside from reimbursement alimony are generally subject to modification after divorce upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances.
Our knowledgeable and experienced family law attorneys at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer can help you and/or a court craft an appropriate, workable alimony award, as they understand not only the laws governing alimony, but the multitude of practical financial issues that both spouses must consider in the context of a divorce. The attorneys in the Wilentz Family Law Department also understand that life changes after divorce, often unexpectedly, and that such changed circumstances may warrant a court to revisit the original alimony award made at divorce.


Equitable distribution

In any New Jersey divorce, in addition to awarding support such as alimony and/or child support, a court may divide marital property and debts between the parties.  This process is called “equitable distribution.”  Any and all property that is acquired by either party during the marriage is potentially subject to equitable distribution, regardless of whether the property is technically owned in one party’s name or in the parties’ joint names.  The theory behind equitable distribution is that marriage is a partnership between the spouses and that all property acquired during marriage is the result of both spouse’s financial and non-financial contributions.  However, “equitable” does not necessarily mean “equal.” Marital property is not automatically split 50-50 between the parties.  Rather, equitable distribution is defined as the division of marital assets and debts in a manner that is fair under all the circumstances. Under the statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1, in deciding how to equitably distribute property between divorcing spouses, the court considers, among other things, the length of the marriage; the age and health of the respective parties; the income, assets and/or debts that either party brought into the marriage; the lifestyle that the parties enjoyed during the marriage; any written agreement made between the parties during marriage to divide property; the parties’ relative economic circumstances at the time the property division takes place; the earning capacity and employability of each party, including a consideration of the parties’ respective educational and professional backgrounds and the time and cost that may be necessary to pursue further education or training; whether, why and for how long either party has been absent from the workforce; the roles of each party as a parent to any children of the relationship; the financial and non-financial contributions that each party has made to the acquisition, preservation and/or maintenance of marital property; contributions that either party made to support the educational and/or professional development of the other party to the detriment of his or her own educational or professional pursuits; the tax consequences of potential property divisions; the present and potential value of property subject to equitable distribution; and the existence and sources of marital debts.


Domestic violence

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive, controlling behavior that results in physical and/or mental harm to its victims.  Under The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 et seq., a victim of domestic violence is defined as an individual who is at least eighteen years old, or who is younger but has been emancipated, who has been subjected to one or more of the following acts by a current or former spouse or any other person with whom the victim currently or previously shared a household: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, stalking, criminal coercion, robbery, contempt of a domestic violence order, or any other criminal behavior involving risk of death or grave bodily injury.  The Act provides temporary emergency remedies, as well as long term remedies, to protect victims of domestic violence.  To initiate court proceedings, the victim first files a complaint, specifying the parties involved, the act committed, any history of domestic violence, and the requested relief, which is usually an emergent, temporary restraining order (“TRO”) against the wrongdoer (the “defendant”).  The TRO and the complaint are sent to law enforcement to be served on the defendant.  The defendant has the option of filing a cross-complaint for domestic violence against the other party.  A final hearing on the TRO is to be scheduled within ten days of the filing of the initial complaint, during which the TRO remains in effect.  At the final hearing, the court will decide whether to grant a final restraining order (“FRO”).  In doing so, the court will consider, among other factors, the previous history of domestic violence between the parties; whether either party is at risk of imminent danger to his or her person or property; the parties’ respective financial circumstances; and the custodial arrangement over any child between the parties or over children outside of the allegedly abusive relationship.  Victims of domestic violence can also generally request financial support, temporary changes to custody/parenting time arrangements, and/or counsel fees.

Domestic violence is a serious wrongdoing against society and the victims, who come from all social and economic backgrounds.  Children, even if they themselves are not physically assaulted, suffer deep and lasting emotional effects from exposure to domestic violence.  In light of the significant consequences domestic violence has on those involved, clients need a competent and tenacious, yet compassionate family law attorney in a domestic violence action.  The Wilentz Family Law Department is experienced in both seeking protection for victims of domestic violence, and defending and protecting the interests of those individuals wrongfully charged of committing domestic violence.  


High net worth

The family law attorneys at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer have substantial experience representing high net worth individuals and celebrity clients with whom the public has a special interest.   There are unique issues involved in these types of divorces.  For instance, high net worth individuals often have multiple sources and forms of compensation and a diversified portfolio of assets, all of which has a distinct impact on issues such as alimony, child support and the equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities.  Another reigning concern in high net worth/high profile divorces is privacy.  Particularly for a public figure, such as a professional athlete and/or artist, or a highly successful entrepreneur, privacy is crucial.  Not only must all attorney-client communication remain confidential, but an individual’s financial documents must also remain protected from the public eye.  Accordingly, alternative dispute resolution programs, such as confidential mediation and/or arbitration proceedings aimed at settlement, should be explored before trial.  In the event the case does not settle and court submissions become necessary, litigants should typically seek protective orders from the court, as all court submissions become public record upon filing.  As can be expected, these divorces often draw media attention, requiring a competent divorce lawyer to consult with the client’s publicists, agents, financial advisors and other personal consultants before releasing any information about the divorce.  Ultimately, the Wilentz family law attorneys recognize that while high net worth/high profile divorces are usually accommodated by these unique set of issues, every divorce is unique.  It is the mission of the Wilentz Family Law Department to, above all, understand each of its client’s individual needs, regardless of the public or financial status of the client.


Same sex marriage

Our attorneys have substantial experience representing same sex couples with both prenuptial agreements and in divorce actions. We are fortunate enough to live in a country that now accepts same-sex marriage in every state. However, it had not always been that way. For years, same-sex couples were limited to getting a civil union or a domestic partnership. Even though same-sex marriage is now legal, it does not mean that all civil unions and domestic partnerships are automatically converted into a marriage. Indeed, there are several differences in the rights of those who are divorcing a marriage as opposed to those that are dissolving a civil union or domestic partnership. Our Family Law Department at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer understands the differences and the implications they may have for you. Another issue that often arises in the context of same-sex relationships is parentage – that is, the recognition of each partner to the relationship as the parent of a child that was born during the relationship. Under New Jersey’s current law, husbands are presumed to be the biological father of children born to their wives during marriage. The same does not hold true for same-sex partners who are not a biological parent of a child born during a same-sex relationship because the statutory framework is gender specific. That being said, there are several avenues of relief that a non-biological parent may pursue to assert his or her right to establish a legal parent-child relationship. This may include a “Second Parent Adoption” or other proceeding. These processes can be confusing and often difficult to navigate, but rest assured, the Family Law Team at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer has the experiences and resources to best protect your interests.



Joseph J. Russell, Jr
Joseph J. Russell, JrShareholder & Chair of the Family Law Department


David M. Wildstein
David M. WildsteinShareholder
Jenna N. Shapiro
Jenna N. ShapiroAssociate
Sean Wirth
Sean WirthAssociate


client testimonial stars
“Joe continually had a firm grasp on the pulse of my case. His insight as to how to proceed with each step was spot on, and proved to be invaluable to me and the settlement of my significantly complicated divorce case. Joe is honest, trust worthy, and demonstrated several times throughout my case his desire to NOT take a course that would have increased his fees-but rather the best course-even if it meant it would minimize legal costs. I would highly recommend his services to my family and friends.”
Gary M., Monmouth County, New Jersey
“Mr. Russell is one of the most professional, compassionate, trustworthy, fair and kind human beings that I have had the pleasure and good fortune to have known and had in my corner during a most difficult time. Joe always went out of his way to be thorough and patient in explaining the process every step of the way. I highly recommend Mr. Russell to friends and family.”
Denise V., Monmouth County, New Jersey
“Joe was extremely professional and knowledgeable throughout the whole divorce process. Joe also showed real compassion, he was honest, practical, patient and very responsive to all my questions and needs, which made the difference, and this difficult time much more bearable. I could rely and trust his advice thus would highly recommend Joe to my friends and family!”
Tsipi F., Essex County, New Jersey
“I was extremely pleased with the service I received from Joe and his team throughout my divorce process. Whenever I emailed or called with any questions or concerns I was contacted back in a timely manner. Joe’s professionalism and understanding made this difficult process much less stressful. I would highly recommend him (and have) to friends and family in the future.”
Jennifer F., Ocean County, New Jersey
“Mr. Russell not only kept me highly informed of the entire process… he also reached out to me personally via email and telephone contact. He was extremely responsive to my needs during this difficult process, and always had a way of keeping me at ease. He was extremely confidential and trustworthy. I would highly recommend Mr. Russell.”
Marcy P., Ocean County, New Jersey
“Joe kept me in the loop and provided me with the best course of action throughout the entire process. I felt comfortable knowing he was working toward the best possible resolution for myself and my sons.”
Chris H., Morris County, New Jersey
“I spoke with several lawyers before I hired Joe to represent me in my divorce. What I liked most was his straight forward style, i.e., he did not tell me what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear in order to view the divorce with less emotion and more like a business transaction. I trusted that he was not looking to draw out the process for more legal fees, but to realistically come to a settlement, and was mindful of my priorities throughout the process. Divorce is emotionally charged and contentious by nature, but at the end of the day the law provides some ground rules and structure, so being mindful of a realistic outcome is important if you do not want to drive up legal fees to only, most likely, get the same results in the long run. I think in a successful / fair divorce settlement both parties leave the table not 100% happy. Joe did a great job in navigating through the emotions and keeping on task, while also fairly representing my best interests. I would not hesitate to recommend Joe and never regretted my choice in placing my trust in Joe.”
Maney F., Somerset County, New Jersey
“Take every misconception and misnomer you may have regarding lawyers and throw them out the window, because Ms. Jenna Shapiro has confidently, yet humbly, destroyed stereotypes and won our hearts. She possesses a patience, thoroughness, and resolve that all clients seek (but do not always get) from an attorney. She seeks amicable methods of resolving conflicts… those that are in the best interests of children, should they be involved, are among her highest priorities. However, she is not afraid to stand nose-to-nose with adversaries should the need arise. This is particularly important when working with sensitive matters, such as those commonly found in family law. It is these traits which endear her to her clients, such as my wife and I. Knowing Jenna is on our side puts us at ease when matters arise that require legal intervention, and it is precisely why we’ve recommended Jenna to friends and family members who have needed counsel as well.”
Anthony and Christina C., Monmouth County, New Jersey
“I am writing to you today to boast, praise, brag and just admire Jenna Shapiro. After 7 years of being a single mother with no child support being paid to me I decided to finally go to court for my daughter. I “shopped” lawyers for months because, lets face it, if I am spending big bucks I want the Pit Bull of lawyers to fight for what I deserved all along. I met some pretty boring and nasty lawyers who wanted nothing but the dollar and did not care about my needs or my daughters. The second I met Jenna I calmed right away. Her and I sat for hours and she really wanted my back story everything from the beginning. I cannot tell you what it feels like to know and be comfortable from the first moment you meet someone. I knew right away not only was this woman going to FIGHT for us but she and I would be friends someday. Jenna I cannot thank you enough for everything you did for us. You allowed and opened so many doors for us. We are now living in our new home, my daughter is in private school and thriving. I am so blessed to call you a friend now. Always there when I need you and YES WE WON!!! Thank you again from the bottom of our hearts.”
Monica B., Monmouth County, New Jersey
“I have worked with Joseph Freda for over 6 years and can say that he is without question a top notch attorney and client advocate. Unfortunately for me, I have had a host of very serious post-divorce issues that continue even to this day. Throughout all of the conflict, Joe has never steered me wrong and is always concerned about doing what is in the best interests of his client. Unlike many attorneys, Joe never ran up my legal fees and was always available to assist me whenever I had any questions, concerns or worries. I am very thankful that Joe has ALWAYS given me his thoughtful, straightforward and honest advice-even if I did not want to hear it at times. If settlement was the way to go, Joe found a way to settle. If settlement was not humanly possible, Joe was not afraid to bring forth litigation and was always very comfortable and prepared in court with the results speaking for themselves. Above all, Joe is a trustworthy and extremely knowledgeable attorney who is passionate about family law and truly cares about his clients. I honestly do not know where I would be without the professional expertise of Joe Freda… He is one in a million!”
Cathy, Union County, New Jersey
“Mr. Freda, in my opinion, happens to be a superior, very well trained and dedicated family law attorney. He was a true gentleman who showed compassion by always being available day or night on his personal cell phone to be there for support and hand holding. He was a superior litigator having knowledge of the law, and my case details, and was able to articulate all of that information into precise briefs, which were essential to enable me to achieve an extremely favorable outcome. He wasn’t afraid to challenge my advisory or even the judge assigned to my case if he felt that I was being taken advantage of. I would therefore recommend Joseph Freda to represent ANYONE who is looking for an extremely competent and fair family law attorney. We all know that going thru a divorce is a very trying, stressful, expensive and an emotional roller coaster. Mr. Freda was someone who made this experience as palatable as possible. Mr. Freda is the type of attorney who truly changed my opinion about family law attorneys.”
Elesa, Essex County, New Jersey
“I hired Joe Freda from an excellent recommendation from my realtor in October of last year. I am extremely happy with the divorce settlement that he worked on for me, and my divorce was done and over with by mid-May. He is personable, intelligent, returns emails and phone calls… he put me at ease through the whole divorce process and it was a good feeling to have someone on my side who KNOWS divorce! If you are going through a divorce it is in your best interests to get a lawyer that only does divorce, especially Joe! All in all, excellent lawyer!!”
Janet, Somerset County, New Jersey
“I had a very difficult and long divorce. My ex was an attorney in his own practice and represented himself, which made it that much worse. I had spent over $100,000 in legal fees with a firm who did nothing for me, but run up my bill and battled my ex over things that were irrelevant to the divorce. Three years later, I still had nothing and wasn’t any closer to getting the case resolved. I hired Joe to take it over, based on a referral from his former adversary. Joe wrapped it up in a matter of months! He’s a no nonsense guy with the patience of a saint. He was on top of everything – always returned phone calls and emails promptly, and did whatever he could to get this done. He knew my case backwards and forwards within a very short period of time. I know I was a little unreasonable at times with some things (and he let me know when I was being an idiot) and I don’t feel like I got the lion’s share, but I did get a fair settlement and a far better one than I would have had I used my prior attorney who wasted my time and money. I would definitely recommend Joe to anyone who needs a great divorce lawyer. I’m sorry I didn’t find him sooner.”
Jaki, Morris County, New Jersey

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If you are in need of assistance with a Family Law matter in New Jersey, you’ve come to the right place. Contact our experienced Family Law Team anytime for immediate assistance at (732) 726-6236.

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