All Hallow’s Eve is upon us. All month long, I have watched my favorite Halloween movies (Hocus Pocus, anyone?), visited haunted houses, carved my Jack-O-Lantern, and engaged in all the usual Halloween festivities. But it occurred to me: the scariest thing that many of my clients will go through in their lives is their divorce.
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.
The phrases “he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client” and “you get what you pay for” proved to be true in the recent unpublished New Jersey Appellate Division decision of Andreaci v. Andreaci, App. Div. Docket No. A-1934-08T31934-08T3, decided, January 25, 2010. In Andreaci, after 16 years of marriage, husband filed for divorce. The husband represented himself and the wife had a pro bono lawyer. The parties reached a settlement which was memorialized into a Marital Settlement Agreement and incorporated into the parties’ Judgment of Divorce. The Agreement provides, in pertinent part, the following:
- Wife obtained custody of the parties to two children and ownership of the marital home;
- The second home owned by the parties was to be sold, and the proceeds held for the education of the children; and
- Husband was required to pay $800 per week/$3,466 per month (Said sum was designed to cover the cost of the monthly mortgage payment of approximately $3,000 per month).
The husband quickly fell behind on his child support payments. He was incarcerated on a bench warrant for non-support, and borrowed $5,000 to obtain his release from jail. Thereafter, husband filed a motion to seeking to reduce his support payments and other ancillary relief. The trial court set the matter down for a plenary hearing and in the interim reduced husband’s support payments to $225 per week.
Almost a full 99% of matrimonial cases in New Jersey settle without the necessity of a trial. The settlement can take two forms – oral or in writing — and the methods for recognizing those settlement “on the record” of the case are three – reading the settlement into the record; attaching a written settlement to…