The growth of college expenses and tuition has far outpaced the growth of the average person’s wages. Student loan debt affects the majority of young college students today, and it is no surprise that parents want to help ease the burden for their children. When couples divorce, and college is contemplated for their kids, it can be an issue as to who should be responsible for the costs associated with a university education. In a recent unpublished case, D.M v K.M, the New Jersey courts grappled with college expenses in a NJ divorce.

The parties had been married for seventeen years when they decided to file for divorce in December 2010. They had two children – a daughter, born in 1992, and a son, born in 1996. During the proceedings, the parties signed a property settlement agreement (PSA), which was incorporated into the final order of divorce. The PSA held that the couple would address payment of college expenses at the time their children would be attending, as well as requiring Plaintiff (the husband) to pay $100/week in child support. Each party also agreed to claim a tax exemption for one child each.

The parties’ daughter entered college, and the defendant paid the first three semesters, after which she filed a motion with the court requesting contribution from the plaintiff, as well as payment from him for future expenses. She alleges that Plaintiff contributed money from the children’s payroll checks into a college fund for the children, but actually used the money for his own purposes.  He motion was dismissed, and she appealed. The appellate court held that the trial court improperly denied her motion based solely on the fact that defendant requested reimbursement after she paid expenses. The court remanded, and ordered the trial court to conduct a full Newburgh analysis. The Newburgh factors are used in family cases when analyzing college contribution claims, even though the case was actually a wrongful death action. The Newburgh case asserts that parents have the duty to provide a necessary education for children – even after they have reached the age of 18. Continue reading

Divorce is never simple or easy. Maybe you wrestled with the decision for years before finally deciding to proceed with a divorce. Perhaps your former spouse made the decision for you. Maybe you and your partner chose to end things on amicable terms. No matter how your divorce came to be, it’s important that you take the time to work through your emotions and feelings regarding the separation. Then you’ll be able to help your children cope with their own emotions, as well.

Whether your children are infants or teenagers, they’re going to experience a variety of emotions regarding the separation. Their entire life will change when you get divorced, so it’s important that you help them deal with it as effectively as possible. No matter how old your children are, there are several steps you can take to help them face these new changes.

First off, make sure you avoid talking negatively about your former spouse. While it can be easy to point fingers and place blame during a divorce, try to remember that to your children, this is their beloved parent. Even if your partner has been terrible to you, try to avoid saying anything that would stress out your children or make them feel like they’re being placed in the middle of your divorce. If you can’t say anything positive about your former partner, simply avoid saying anything at all to your children. Continue reading

Getting divorced can be stressful, even in the most amicable situations. Before you proceed, it’s a good idea to get an idea of what to expect before you begin filing for divorce in NJ. You should, reach out to an experienced family law attorney to guide you through the process.

Terminology

It’s important to have a basic grasp of the words used when filing for divorce in NJ. If you file the petition, or the one requesting the divorce, you are the plaintiff, and your spouse would be the defendant. The words ‘divorce’ and ‘dissolution’ are used interchangeably, and in fact, the initial form to file is called the ‘Complaint for Divorce/Dissolution.’

A no-fault divorce is in New Jersey is either based on living at two separate residences for at least 18 months before the divorce, or where the parties had irreconcilable differences for at least 6 months before filing. A fault divorce is when a party’s actions resulted in the breakup of the marriage, such as adultery, cruelty or abandonment.  It is important to note that in most cases there is nothing to gain by filing a fault divorce. In most situations if you prove fault you will not receive more alimony, child support or receive more in asset division.   Continue reading

Unfortunately, in matters of family law, there are circumstances in which a parent’s rights to their children are under investigation, and parental rights can be terminated. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) is the agency charged with ensuring the protection of children, and are typically the party requesting involuntary termination of a parental rights. Recently, they were involved in an appellate case, DCP&P v. PD and AW, which covered a breadth of issues, including international treaties and constitutional due process.

Background

In 2006, AW, the mother, gave birth to a child called SD. Several days later, DCP&P got word that there were adults abusing alcohol and drugs in the same apartment the children were living. SD tested positive for cocaine. As a result, SD was removed from AW’s custody on an emergency basis, and the child was put in a resource home. The DCP&P then filed a complaint with the court requesting care, custody and supervision of SD. The court approved their request, and AW agreed that she was responsible for neglect of the child. SD was then placed in the care of KA and RA, maternal relatives. PD was proven to be SD’s father, after a paternity test. He was offered supervised visitation, which eventually had to be held at the offices of the DCP&P given the fractious relationship between the resource parents and the biological parents. Eventually, SD was returned to AW’s care, with the DCP&P remaining involved. The court entered an order preventing PD from having any access to the child in March of 2007 until he had participated in various evaluations and programs to get access to SW reinstated. He did participate, until he was charged with a probation violation, and stopped attending the programs. In 2008, the court determined that AW and PD were to share legal custody of the child, with AW having physical custody. PD received charges for aggravated assault at some point, and was sentenced to three years in prison. In December 2008, PD was deported back to Cape Verde, Africa.

In 2012, DCP&P received another report of violence between AW and a man called JG. AW was charged with neglect and SD was placed in the care of the DCP&P, at which point PD was notified. SD was eventually placed once again with KA and RA, and PD was notified of the child’s placement. DCP&P considered placing the child with PD, but there was difficulty in determining whether his home would be suitable, given his international location. An international home study was carried out in November 2013, and the court found it inadequate, particularly in light of concerns regarding PD’s criminal history. There was no recommendation for SD to be placed with PD. In January 2014, the court approved of the DCP&P’s plan to terminate PD and AW’s parental rights. In December 2014, AW surrendered her parental rights to KA and RA. The court held trial on the DCP&P’s complaint concerning PD’s parental rights in June 2015. PD was still in Africa, so did not participate in trial on day one, but participated by phone and gave sworn testimony on day 2. He opposed his parental rights being terminated, and asked the court for SD to live with him.   Continue reading

Settling on a custody and visitation schedule can be the most difficult part of a divorce. Your kids are the most important part of your life, and it’s natural to want to fight for as much time with them as possible. However, when you consider issues of custody, you have to keep your children’s best interest as your top priority.

Here are five tips for making a co-parenting arrangement work for the kids in your life.

Give kids a voice.

Unless your children are very young, they will have preferences about where they want to spend their time. While custody arrangements are not decided by children, it’s important to make them feel that their opinions are valued.Talk to your kids about splitting time between Mom’s house and Dad’s. Are there particular nights of the week that your child has sports or another activity? Are you being sure to take this into account when you plan the schedule? Divorce can shake a child’s life to the core. It’s important to keep as much consistency in their lives as possible. They shouldn’t be forced to give up activities because of the divorce. When a family is going through turmoil, children often feel like they have no control. Giving them a voice will help them cope. However, do not sign-up your child for activities with the intent interfere with your ex-spouse’s parenting time. Continue reading

One unfortunate aspect of practicing family law means one will inevitably have to deal with issues of domestic violence. NJ domestic violence laws are an interesting intersection of family law and criminal law. The L.C. v M.A.J. case which recently came down from the Appellate court offers some perspective on the realities of the law in New Jersey. The case concerned the defendants’ communications to plaintiff. The complaint filed by the plaintiff alleged, among other things, that defendant had emailed plaintiff asking if she was staying home with the child who he understood was sick. Plaintiff did not respond to the email, so defendant called the child, who said he was home sick. Defendant then accused the plaintiff of making the child lie, while also claiming the plaintiff left the child at home alone, sick. Furthermore, defendant called her employer to find out if she was working because he did not hear from her. Plaintiff stated that defendant called her employer a total of three times, and a police officer came to her home to check on her. On top of this, the defendant used a fake name when inquiring about her whereabouts.

As a result of these actions, the plaintiff filed a domestic violence complaint against the defendant, and at a brief hearing, was granted a temporary restraining order from one judge. The complaint alleged a pattern and practice of domestic violence from the defendant, including physical abuse and controlling behavior, and currently, she alleged the defendant harassed her through communication to her and her employer. On the day of the final hearing, in front of a completely different judge, the attorney for the defendant presented a motion to dismiss, which were argued to be on the basis that there was no claim presented upon which relief could be granted. The appellate judges noted that the defendant’s motion did not say this at all, but rather said only the facts alleged by the plaintiff concerned only his parenting issues and did not constitute harassment. The appellate court reversed based on the current state of NJ domestic violence laws.

They first held that they have repeatedly condemned any consideration of in limine motions which seek to terminate an action. The rules of court do not allow filing dispositive motions at the last minute – in fact, these sort of motions should only be permitted to address preliminary or evidentiary issues. Defendant sought only dismissal rather than the resolution of any sort of preliminary or evidentiary issues. The judge should have rejected it out of hand. But instead, he not only considered it, but granted it. To make matters even more grave, this case was a domestic violence matter. The court held that NJ domestic violence laws even more vigorously prohibit the use of such motions to dismiss the action when the alleged victim’s safety is the primary consideration of the court. Rarely will a domestic violence action be able to be dismissed without a full hearing – and even in that case, due process must be upheld, with the victim getting an opportunity to file an opposition with a chance to be heard. In this case, the judge disregarded due process, by his willingness to hear the defendant’s motion.  Defendant could have requested a dismissal at the close of all evidence. Continue reading

Child custody evaluations are often used by the court when the case has a highly contested custody matter before it. The evaluator is able to speak to both parties with an objective perspective, as well as the children, and as a result their opinion is very important to the judge.

Do all the Easy Stuff

The easy stuff is things that you should be doing that goes without saying: showing up on time to the child custody evaluation and dressing appropriately, for example. You should act like you’re going on a job interview. Do not lie to the evaluator. They will be able to catch you if you are dishonest, and they usually have a sixth sense about whether someone is telling the truth. This goes double for any psychological tests you may be given, because they are designed to detect malingering, lying, and other defense mechanisms.

Answer What is Being Asked

This means listening to the questions you are being asked. Do not make assumptions, and if you are unclear about anything the evaluator is asking you, do not be afraid to ask for clarification. If the answer is something you think the evaluator may not want to hear, then just be direct and sincere. Do not embellish or try to explain away the facts. Be frank about your strong and weak qualities as a parent, and concentrate on the strong ones. Admit any errors you think you have made when questioned about them, and display remorse. A child custody evaluation asks you to take an honest look at the circumstances of your family. With that said, make sure you do not provide extraneous information. If you are afraid there will be some issues that do not get covered, bring a short list with you. If the evaluator does not ask you about some of your concerns, ask them if it would be alright if you could discuss these with them. But remember, these are professional people, and their time is important. This is not a counseling session or a chance to vent. Continue reading

One of the most financially impactful events in life can be the possibility of a divorce. New Jersey is not a community property state, but rather, an equitable distribution state. This means that, under New Jersey equitable distribution law, the courts have the discretion to divide marital property in an equitable manner – meaning the split between you and your spouse will be fair but not necessarily equal.

The recent Slutsky v Slutsky case provides a good application of New Jersey equitable distribution law after a party appealed their final decree of divorce. This case illustrates the idea that dividing up property in a divorce is very often complex, and not straightforward. Nancy Slutsky filed for divorce from Kenneth Slutksy after 30 years of marriage. The court case was long and difficult, and eventually, a trial was conducted over 19 days. Both parties challenged various provisions of the final judgment, and Kenneth ultimately appealed. There were nine issues he brought before the court, but for our purposes, this article will focus only on the equitable distribution issues. Essentially, Kenneth claimed there were factual flaws in what the judge found, and argues that the calculations of the division should be reversed.

Defendant was a lawyer, having graduated from Harvard Law School. He was a tax law specialist, became an equity partner in his firm, and owned one share of stock. Shortly before the divorce was filed, the firm changed its payment structure, from a corporation to a limited liability partnership. As capital, Kenneth provided $300,000 to the firm, which was financed through a four-year promissory note. Plenty of evidence was presented concerning Kenneth’s compensation, including the payout for his stock, estimated earnings until retirement, value to the company and his contributions to the firm in general, in order to determine the value of his ‘termination credit account’ (TCA), or what his interest in the firm was. Nancy’s expert initially found the TCA value was $350,830 – but on cross-examination, he admitted the value was likely closer to $292,908, excluding goodwill. Not surprisingly, Kenneth’s expert found the value of the TCA to be $285,000. However, Nancy’s expert estimated goodwill in the firm to be over $1 million, resulting in a revised TCA value of $1,185,304. Kenneth’s expert denied there was any goodwill, to the judge’s dismay. The judge accepted Nancy’s expert’s valuation, finding that Kenneth shared in the firm’s goodwill and awarded plaintiff one-half of the value as her equitable interest. Continue reading

While divorce can be a traumatic experience for some, for others it can be quite liberating. Before separating, you might have tried everything to save your marriage, and in the process realized that divorce was the best option. While “until death do us part” might not have worked out, don’t let divorce ruin your life.

Try Something New

Perhaps the first thing to do is to make a clean break with the past. Move into a different house or apartment, with different furniture and decorations. Get rid of everything that reminds you of what once was. If possible, move to a different city.

Give Yourself Time After Your Divorce

Whether the divorce was sudden or you saw it coming, give yourself time to adjust. There will be good days when you are positive you did the right thing and can make it on your own, and there will be days filled with memories that might bring you to tears. It’s normal to feel like that, but you won’t feel down or doubtful forever. Continue reading

 

Going through a divorce is rarely an easy process. Most divorces are challenging to get through at the very least. Not only can things get emotionally messy, but there are often a lot of tricky legal matters involved as well. One decision that’s often quite contentious is what to do with the house. If you are getting divorced and own a home with your spouse, then the following are some of the options that you have when it comes to selling the house:

  1. Divide the profits of the house equally

If neither you nor your spouse wants to keep the house, or if neither of you can afford to keep it, then simply selling it and splitting the profit might be the best decision. However, it’s important that you understand that your divorce can affect how much money you end up pocketing. If you’ve lived in your house for a long time, then your profits may be affected by the capital gains tax.

Couples can exclude upwards of $500,000 in capital gains. If you sell your house for above that amount, any profit over that sum will be taxed. If the divorce is finalized before you sell the house, then you could end up losing more money towards capital gains tax due to the fact that unmarried individuals can only exclude up to $250,000 in capital gains. Continue reading

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Peter Van Aulen is certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a Matrimonial Attorney.

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