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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.