Photo of Sandra C. Fava

Sandra C. Fava is a partner in the firm’s Family Law Practice, resident in the Morristown, NJ office. She has dedicated her legal career to the thoughtful and diligent representation of clients in divorce and family law matters. A certified mediator and a compassionate and creative attorney, she takes a solution-oriented approach, working closely with clients to identify their goals and develop a strategy that effectively and efficiently meets those goals. You can reach Sandra at 973.994.7564 or sfava@foxrothschild.com.

In a movie that I adore and one that should be required viewing for anyone contemplating marriage, Dean reluctantly says to Cindy, “You said for better or for worse. You said that. You said it. It was a promise. Now, this is my worst, okay? This is my worst. But I’m gonna get better.Blue Valentine concludes with the heightened events that normally precede a client contacting a family law attorney for the first time. This climactic scene also represents the unspoken backstory that normally informs the still amorphous shape of the forthcoming storm known as a divorce proceeding.

Fittingly enough, one of the most scrutinized steps in the divorce process is its origin: the form and fashion of the service of the complaint. I have always been confounded by the level of anxiety associated with this step, as I imagine that anyone despondent enough to file for divorce must have previously manifested such animosity in some other form to their spouse. However, I have learned that many defendants are often too narcissistic, heedless or detached to believe that their spouse possesses the fortitude to follow through with what they previously dismissed as mere idle threats. As a result, receipt of the complaint can illicit  reactions that run the gamut from incomprehension to indignation. This spectrum is akin to the bewilderment and disconnect you experience upon seeing your souvenir  photo taken midflight during a rollercoaster ride, such that we each deal with stress in unique and unforeseen ways.


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The immortal George Carlin once said, “That’s the whole meaning of life, trying to find a place for your stuff. That’s all your house is, just a place for your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”

In the context of Family Law, the topic of personal property is rarely discussed and consistently dismissed by the court and counsel. It is clear that both view personal property as being simply stuff. In fact, it has been assigned multiple euphemisms to it in order to deflate its relative importance. We have all heard the dismissive terms: chachka; accoutrement; trinket; fixture; knick knack; and of course, whatnot- a word specifically designed to describe all the things the item is actually not. In addition, there is often such contempt for personal property that we have created an amalgamation, personalty, simply in hopes of accelerating the process of distributing it by reducing the length of the term, itself.


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During the early stages of my legal career, I had the opportunity to work on a tragic case, Khan v. Rajput, which resulted in the unpublished appellate decision,

The case centered around my efforts to facilitate the return of two young children to their father, Mr. Khan, after their mother removed them from New Jersey to Pakistan, without his consent. Ms. Rajput, then a medical student in the US, escorted the children back to her homeland to live with her family. After several months, she returned to the US without the children in order to complete her schooling. Upon arrival, she was arrested at the airport but patently refused to return the children to their father. She was subsequently released from custody, and we instituted trial court proceedings to ensure the children’s swift return. However, Pakistan’s unwillingness to be a party to Hague Convention meant that unless the case became a national story that it would be an uphill battle to compel their return.


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I recently read a quote from Joseph Addison, an eighteenth century British author, which said, “Husband a lie, and trump it up in some extraordinary emergency.” It lead me to consider how family law attorneys categorize the notion of an emergency, often with a mixture of histrionics and hysteria, in contrast with how the rest of the world does.

In the world of family law, emergencies are governed almost exclusively by the filing of the well-conceived and ill-named Order to Show Cause. R. 4:52-1 of the New Jersey Court Rules governs the filing of an Order to Show Cause in most scenarios in Family Court, when we are seeking temporary restraints or injunctive relief. It addresses the standard for filing an emergent application, which we all know by heart by now is, that immediate and irreparable damage will probably result to a party or the parties’ child(ren), unless an Order is entered immediately.

As a former law clerk and current family law practitioner, I have a unique perspective on both the utilization and exploitation of the Order to Show Cause.  What was designed to ideally be filed judiciously and to address genuine emergencies is habitually used as a litigation tool to get our clients the instant gratification that they far too often seek. Fittingly enough, these applications filed to presumably accelerate a divorce proceeding often become the ultimate double-edged sword.

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You work hard in high school, graduate top of your class in college, go on to graduate medical school, spend the longs hours and dedication needed to finish your residency, and finally after thousands of hours of studying, hundreds of tests and years of hard work – you are a doctor.  You start your own practice. You made it professionally. Personally, things are a bit different. You are facing a divorce. What does that mean for the medical practice you’ve worked so hard to establish?

Doctors may face unique issues during a divorce. Long term marriages may have seen years of what is considered relatively ‘average’ income (medical school and residency), followed by a dramatic or steady increase in salary (or a combination of both). It is no secret that self-employed doctors are usually not a typical W-2 employee. So what does this mean in the context of a divorce? What happens to the medical practice when the couple divorces?

Equitable distribution in New Jersey does not automatically mean half or 50% of a marital asset. Equitable distribution is not a simple mechanical division of assets accumulated and/or created during a marriage. The word ‘equitable’ itself implies the weighing of many considerations and circumstances that are presented in and unique to each case.  A judge would not be fulfilling his/her judicial obligation if he/she routinely or mechanically divided assets from a marriage equally.

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Going through a divorce can be overwhelming – equitable distribution, visitation, alimony, child support, division of retirement accounts, where to live, re-entering the workforce.  All of these are important, long-lasting decisions.  But there is one thing that many people fail to consider during a divorce………..divorcing your credit reports.

Today, your credit report can have a significant impact on all aspects of your life – obtaining a credit card, getting qualified for a mortgage, car loans, a job, the interest rates you pay, car insurance, life insurance.  Not having good credit can cost you thousands of dollars.  That is why it is important to address your credit report, and the lines of credit that your spouse can access as early in the divorce process as possible.

The key to divorcing credit reports is understanding the difference in the way a court views debt versus the way credit companies view debt.  A court views debts as either marital debt or non-marital debt, and will divide it according to a variety of NJ statutory factors, which can be found here.  Credit companies view debt as either being joint or individual.  With joint debt, both spouses signed for the credit and both spouses are responsible for the debt. With individual debt, only one spouse signed for the debt, hence only one spouse is responsible for it.


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Fox Rothschild’s New Jersey Family Law Legal Blog welcomes Kelly Sutliff, MA, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor with Kelly Sutliff, LPC, located in Madison, New Jersey, as a guest blogger.

Having known Kelly for over ten (10) years and speaking at length with her about the trauma that many children suffer through as a result of divorce, I thought it would be helpful for readers to hear about the mental and emotional impact of this process from a mental health professional. Below is an excerpt from a piece written by Kelly to better help parents going through a divorce understand the impact on their child.

“It’s my fault”. “My parents don’t love me anymore”. “I lost my family”. “I’ll never see my mom/dad again”. These heartbreaking comments are commonly mentioned by children affected by divorce. Although these comments may be unrealistic, the sense of loss a child may feel as a result of his or her parents’ divorce can be overwhelming and devastating. It is important for parents to help their children to cope with the divorce as well as to seek outside professional help, if needed.

Divorce can be an emotionally traumatic experience that can have an impact on a child’s feelings of safety, security, and stability. Frequently, the stress children feel as a result of their parents’ divorce relates to the family structure changing. Children fear change and the amount of changes that follow a divorce can be overwhelming and frightening. Many children also feel a loss of attachment to one or both of their parents after a divorce. Changes in scheduling and how often they see a certain parent can cause a certain amount of distress. The fear of being abandoned is also a fear that many children of divorced families face. Often, they feel that because one parent has moved out of the “family home”, they are likely to lose the other parent at some point as well. They may blame themselves, feel unloved, and worry that they are the cause of their parents’ relationship ending. Another factor that can lead to children’s feelings of stress is hostility and fighting between parents. Arguments and tension between parents may make children feel angry, guilty, and alone. Some children feel “put in the middle” of their parents’ arguments and believe that they are being asked to choose sides. The internal struggle that these children face when feeling this way can have profound negative effects on their behavior.


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April 17, 2012 is the 2011 tax filing deadline and it’s quickly approaching. The Government does not care that you are going through potentially the most difficult time period in your life. Like the Godfather, the IRS wants its money. It does not want to hear excuses. It does not want to hear that you always filed jointly and now your soon-to-be ex-spouse will not sign the joint return, or provide their W-2, or disclose the income of the closely held business because they fear it will be used against them in the divorce process.

Filing your taxes can be difficult, especially if you owe money. Trying to file when going through a divorce can be especially difficult. That is why it is important to work with your attorney and a tax professional. There are many decisions to make when filing taxes during a divorce. First, you have to determine your filing status: married filing jointly, married filing separately, or head of household. If you decide to file jointly, make sure to be extra diligent. If your spouse prepares the returns, have your own tax professional review them to ensure that they are accurate. The IRS does not care that your spouse prepared or filed the taxes. If you sign the return, you can be held liable for misreporting.

If you decide to file married filing separately or head of household (if you qualify), the following determinations have to be made (and in some instances negotiated):

1. Who gets the mortgage interest deduction(s) and other itemized deductions?

2. Who gets to claim the child(ren)?

3. Can I deduct the temporary support?

4. Can I deduct my legal expenses for the temporary support?

5. Who gets to claim the Child Tax credit and the Household and Dependent Care credit?


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Divorce filings seem to be at an all-time high and, to no surprise, the trial courts are feeling the pressure.  Documents filed with the court can get lost in the shuffle.  Although motions should be addressed within 24 days from the initial filing date, it can take months until the court actually makes a decision.  By then, the issues grow stale or even worse, they grow more complicated. Emotions blaze as time passes.  Many would argue that having your "day in court" is becoming somewhat of an illusion.   With this in mind, attorneys must be more creative and diligent in addressing issues in a case before they arise.  Leaving it to the court can make it worse, especially if the judge does not follow proper procedures in providing their decision and the judgment/order of the court.  If the court does it wrong, you may get your day in court – TWICE!


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In these uncertain times, it seems as though everyone is talking about the impact of the economy.  We’ve posted many blogs about proving changed circumstances for an increase or decrease in child support and/or alimony as well as a modification of parenting time.  You can read a few of those blogs here, here or here.

The trend continues.  In the recent unpublished Appellate Division decision of Rosenthal v. Whyte, A-1776-10T4, decided December 5, 2011, stemming from two Orders from the Cape May County trial court, the Court affirmed the lower court’s Orders denying Ms. Whyte’s motions to modify custody and child support.  To put it simply, Ms. Whyte failed to meet her burden that enough of a change had occurred to warrant a modification of the parties’ 2008 Property Settlement Agreement (“PSA”).

The parties’ 2008 PSA provided for an anticipated move by Ms. Whyte with the minor child to upstate NY, more than 500 miles from Mr. Rosenthal’s Cape May county residence.  It also provided that Ms. Whyte was leaving her job as a school teacher to pursue a business opportunity in NY state.  Child support was set with these facts in mind.  Mr. Rosenthal’s parenting time was set forth as one weekend each month and one continuous month every summer with an additional week over the summer.


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