Fox Rothschild LLP

The issue of what happens when a parent who has to pay support has income from a special needs trust has been recently addressed by the Appellate Division in an unreported (non precedential) decision. In that matter, the father of a child had been involved in a motor vehicle accident several months prior to her birth. The accident resulted in permanent brain damage and the father received a substantial settlement in excess of a million dollars .  The settlement was placed in a special needs trust. A special needs trust, also known as a supplemental needs trust, is a trust that is created to allow a Medicaid recipient to shield certain funds and income from Medicaid eligibility provided that once the recipient dies, any remaining funds in the trust are paid to the State up to an amount equal to the total assistance paid on behalf of the individual.

The trial court, which was affirmed on appeal, noted that parents have a moral obligation and a legal duty to support their child. The court further pointed out that the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, which clearly state that total family resources should be considered to be available for child support, define gross income to include social security, an interest in a trust and personal injury awards. 

Had the father kept the proceeds from his settlement and not placed them in trust, the money would have been unquestionably been available for child support. He further noted that the trust itself stated that distributions could be used for such expenses including “vacations, technology, cable television, etc.” The judge then determined that nothing prevented a conclusion that the father’s “special needs” might include support for his daughter. Continue Reading Income from Special Needs Trust to be Considered for Support

As many parents get ready to send their children off to college, those who are collecting child support from a non custodial parent wonder how their child support may be affected. The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are applicable when computing child support for children who are less than 18 or more than 18 and attending high school and living at home. What, then, happens to child support when a child leaves for college? The guidelines specifically state that they should not be used to determine parental contributions for college or other post secondary education. As an exception, they may be applied when a child is living at home and commuting to college. Over the years, courts have taken an inconsistent view as to how child support should be calculated for children living away at school. In the recent, published ( precedential) case of Jacoby v. Jacoby, the NJ Appellate Division addressed this issue.

In the Jacoby case, the parties who were divorced had two children. When the oldest matriculated at college, the non-custodial father moved to reduce his child support obligation to Ms. Jacoby since the child no longer resided in his mother’s house. The trial judge granted his application, and reduced the child support by employing a formula in which the judge calculated child support for two children, and then one child. The judge then took the difference of these two sums and determined 38% of the difference and 25% of the calculated remainder   These two sums were then added and set as support.   Essentially, what the trial court did was to recognize that child support is comprised of three broad categories: fixed costs – those costs that are incurred even when child is not residing at home. An example is housing related expenses; variable costs – those costs which are incurred only when the child is with the parent ( food is an example); and controlled Costs – costs which are incurred by the primary caretaker of the child, such as clothing and entertainment. The court then presumed there was a lower amount of variable and controlled costs when the child was away at college and reduced support accordingly. 

 

When the second child matriculated, Mr. Jacoby again sought a reduction. A different judge heard the application and denied Mr. Jacoby’s request. He then appealed. Continue Reading A New case on Child Support for a College Student

There is no secret that New Jersey is suffering a significant crisis with respect to judicial vacancies. This year alone has seen a significant number of retirements without replacements being named.  The effect on the family courts, and in particular, the divorce docket, has been catastrophic.   I was at a meeting of family lawyers just recently at which the assignment judge of a county in the southern part of the state was kind enough to come and discuss directly with the bar the situation.  And while I deeply appreciated the fact that he did, and the efforts that the judges are making to accommodate the needs of the public, the fact of the matter is that the situation is untenable throughout the state.  In some counties, the situation is so bad that there are no, I mean no, trials for contested divorce cases.  In others, a case will not reach a judge for final disposition for three years,  In several counties, judges have upwards of 500 cases to handle.  Only a superhuman can give a matter the attention it deserves when having that type of case load.

The purpose of this blog is not to pass blame, nor to comment of the swirl of political posturing that goes on when this subject comes up. Rather, despite the fact that the vast majority of judges that I know are working late nights and weekends, they simply can’t keep up effectively.  And that means that attorneys and litigants have to find an alternate method to resolve their cases in order to save money and get on with their lives and those of their children. Any good family lawyer will have an honest conversation about the cost ridden road to the Courthouse.  Certainly, there are times that judicial intervention is necessary and as lawyers, we are prepared to take a case to the judge. However, alternate dispute resolution is an important piece of the puzzle.

There are several effective methods of alternative dispute resolution that must be considered by litigants.  Some of these are woven into the court system.  Some are complimentary to the system. Before filing for divorce, talk with your lawyer to determine whether mediation, or arbitration is a viable option for your situation.

Mediation can occur any time during the process, and can happen with or without attorneys. Many times litigants will agree to go to a mediator to resolve their differences and then the mediator will prepare a memorandum of the agreement that the parties have reviewed by their respective counsel.  Sometimes, someone may be uncomfortable going through mediation without legal counsel.  In that case, going with a lawyer can be a cost and time effective method to settle the case. When you go with a lawyer, you can make sure that your rights are protected, and you do not agree to anything without having the opportunity to discuss the ramifications.Continue Reading Another Day, Another Judge Lost

Oftentimes, when a party to a divorce action is a partner in a small company or partnership, suspicion falls to the other partner or business. I am often told by my client that he or she is sure that the other partner is helping hide money or engaging in some behavior in order to lower the value of, or the income from the company. Not surprisingly, the question then arises of whether the company itself or the other partners can be brought into the divorce action. Except in rare circumstances, the answer is generally no.

The rules of court govern when a non-spouse can be joined to a divorce action. First, in order to bring in a non-spouse, the moving party must show that the company or partner is what is known as an “indispensable” party. According to Mustilli v. Mustilli, 287 N.J. Super. 605, 607 (Ch. Div. 1995), “courts are free to refuse leave to amend when the newly asserted claim is not sustainable as a matter of law. In other words, there is no point to permitting the filing of an amended pleading when a subsequent motion to dismiss must be granted.” This means that a corporate party may only be joined if it would be difficult, if not impossible for the case to proceed without the addition of the corporation. This is usually not the case. Even when the company or other partners are not actual parties to the divorce action,   the Rules of Court provide ample mechanisms for litigants to obtain discovery from non-parties, see, e.g., R. 1:9-1 (issuance of subpoena to non-party for attendance of witness); Rule 1:9-2 (issuance of subpoena to non-party for production of documentary evidence); Rule 4:14-7 (issuance of subpoena to non-party to conduct discovery depositions).

The Rules are designed to make sure that all necessary information is available to the court so it can make a fair decision in the divorce. Thus, complete financial records of the company are generally available for review. The rationale behind this makes sense. If at any time it could be said that a company or business partner is an interested party due solely to the fact that one of its members is getting a divorce, it would throw the entire business world into disarray, not to mention an already over-taxed family court system.Continue Reading Concerns About the Actions of a Business Partner in Divorce

>Often times, when I meet with a new client, they will tell me that a parent, a sibling, great aunt, or good friend loaned the client and the spouse money that must be considered a debt to be repaid in equitable distribution. Many times, this was for a down payment for a house, or to get the couple through difficult financial period. The other party, just as often, takes the position that the “ loan” was really a gift. And so the games begin.

Generally, in the law, a gift has several elements. First the he donor must perform some act constituting the actual or symbolic delivery of the gift. Second, the donor must possess the intent to give. Third, the donee must accept the gift. There us also an additional element, which is the relinquishment by the donor "of ownership of the gift. A loan, on the other hand, is generally defined as The giving or granting of something, particularly a sum of money, to another, with the expectation that it will be repaid (typically with interest) or returned.

When comparing these in the context of a divorce, several questions come to mind. First, if the money was given when the parties purchased a home, was there a “gift letter.” This is very often required by the banks in order to make sure that the money is not a loan. If there is such a gift letter, this is often the end of the inquiry. On the other hand, if there are periodic payments to the person who gave the parties the money, then it may in fact be considered a loan for purposes of distribution. Continue Reading A Loan by Any Other Name Is a… Gift… To Be Shared

 As if it isn’t hard enough for custodial parents to collect child support arrears, the New Jersey Appellate Division just decided a case in which it was held that the United States government cannot be held responsible for damages when it fails to pay support arrears   from payments due to an obligor. 

 In the recent case of Jacobson v. United States, Steven Tetz was ordered to pay child support to Mindi Jacobson, the mother of his child.   Steven was receiving disability benefit from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the NJ office of child support ( the NJ state agency which is in charge of collecting child support) sent a garnishment order to the SSA. Steven fell behind on his child support payments, and in March of 2008 when he dies, he had arrears of more than $76,000. However, and here’s the kicker, in December of 2007 the SSA had given him a retroactive payment of almost $60,000. Needless to say, Steven did not give any of that to Mindi or his daughter.

 

When Mindi found out, she brought an action against the government, claiming that it owed her for the amount of arrears plus interest, attorney fees and costs for its failure to properly garnish the disability. She brought the matter under the laws, both state and federal that provide that a person or an entity that is responsible for the collection and payment of child support fails to withhold payment, it may be responsible for the amount it should have withheld.Continue Reading Another blow for child support collection