In a new, published (precedential) decision, J.G. v. J.H.Judge Koblitz, of the Appellate Division confirmed and explicitly held what we all should have known before:  No matter what type of case, the same rules apply with respect to discovery and investigation, and the trial court judge is under the same obligation to apply the legal standard resulting in a decision that is in the best interests of the child.

FD Docket versus FM Docket

It sounds obvious:  the welfare of all children should be determined using the same standards and practices.  Child custody and parenting time determinations are made under either one of two case or “docket” types.  The FM docket type refers to divorce cases; obviously, oftentimes a child custody decision is made incident to a divorce.

When a child custody or parenting time issue arises between unmarried parents (or, more uncommonly, married parents who have not yet filed for divorce), these are handled under the FD or “Non-Dissolution” (i.e. a marriage is not being “dissolved”) docket.  These types of cases are known as “summary proceedings,” meaning that they are to be handled much more quickly than divorce cases.  While divorce cases are automatically assigned timeframes for exchanging information and appointing experts if needed, this is not automatically done in FD cases and if you want discovery or experts, you have to request it.

As a result, in practice, many judges are tasked with and face the pressure to move FD cases along quickly.  Unfortunately, in the J.G. v. J.H. case, and perhaps in many others like it, this led to a very important decision about a child’s custody and welfare being made quickly without taking the proper steps to investigate the best interests of the child that would have occurred in due course in a divorce case.  In this important decision, the Appellate Division reminds us that bona fide disputes in child custody cases must not be treated differently just because they may arise in different case types.

The Facts of J.H. v. J.G.

In J.H. v. J.G., although there was no court order establishing same, the parties essentially shared joint legal custody of the minor child, with the mother designated the parent of primary residence and the father the parent of alternate residence with liberal parenting time.  When the mother began dating someone else, the father alleged that this new romantic partner posted a threat to the safety of the child, and came to court requesting sole custody.  The Court temporarily awarded the father sole custody.  When the mother challenged this, the Court entered a permanent change in the parenting schedule, making the father the parent of primary residence and significantly reducing the mother’s parenting time.  The judge made each of these decisions without investigation, and gave the parties no opportunity to resolve their differences amicably.  The judge did not allow for discovery (even though the mother’s attorney requested it), did not allow the mother’s attorney to meaningfully participate in the proceedings; nor did the judge conduct a hearing despite the the fact that the parties’ claims were completely contradictory.

Requirements for ALL Custody Disputes

Thus, the Appellate Division affirmed that the following requirements must be adhered to in ALL custody disputes, no matter the docket type:

Pre-Hearing Requirements

  • Pursuant to Rules 1:40-5 and 5:8-1, parties must attend Custody and Parenting Time Mediation prior to a trial.
  • If parties are unable to resolve the issues in mediation, they must submit a Custody and Parenting Time Plan to the Court, pursuant to Rule 5:8-5(a) and the case Luedtke v. Shobert (Luedtke), 342 N.J. Super. 202, 218 (App. Div. 2001).
  • Where there is “conflicting information regarding which parent can serve the long term best interest of the child,” but there is no issue as to the psychological fitness of either parent, the Luedtke case requires that a Social Investigation Report should be completed.
  • In FD cases, if a party requests that the matter be placed on the “complex” case management track, the court can in its discretion grant this request under Major v. Maguire, 224 N.J. 1, 24 (2016), a case on which I have written in the past.  Absent a clear reason to deny such a request, it should be granted.
  • Pursuant to Rule 5:8-1, an investigative report should have been prepared by court staff before any custody determination is made.

Required Plenary Hearing

In all contested custody matters, a thorough plenary hearing is required where parents make materially conflicting representations of fact, pursuant to K.A.F. v. D.L.M., 437 N.J. Super. 123, 137-38 (App. Div. 2014) and many other cases.  The plenary hearing must afford both parties the opportunity to present witnesses and to cross-examine the other party’s witnesses, and parties and counsel must have a meaningful opportunity to participate.

Requisite Fact-Findings and Reasons for Award

Judges must explicitly make findings of fact and apply those facts to the custody factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c), which are:

  • the parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
  • the parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;
  • the interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
  • the history of domestic violence, if any;
  • the safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
  • the preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;
  • the needs of the child;
  • the stability of the home environment offered;
  • the quality and continuity of the child’s education;
  • the fitness of the parents;
  • the geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
  • the extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
  • the parents’ employment responsibilities;
  • the age and number of the children; and
  • a parent shall not be deemed unfit unless the parents’ conduct has a substantial adverse effect on the child.

Without specifically addressing each and every one of the above factors after listening to the facts presented by both parties and assessing credibility, a court cannot make a determination as to what is in the child’s best interests.

Of course, ALL children and parents deserve this type of extensive inquiry into their welfare and the parent-child relationship – but thankfully this case makes it official and provides additional precedent for overruling or remanding trial court decisions made in haste, without the requisite inquiry.


headshot_diamond_jessicaJessica C. Diamond is an associate in the firm’s Family Law Practice, resident in the Morristown, NJ, office. You can reach Jessica at (973) 994.7517 or jdiamond@foxrothschild.com.

There has been a lot of talk about the lack of preparedness for last week’s snow storm that left many people stranded in traffic for hours trying to get home.  While many have argued, perhaps rightly, that the storm turned out being much worse the forecast, at the end of the day, as with many other things in life, people focus on the end results.  In fact, my bet is that most of the people who were complaining when schools called an early dismissal the night before, when the forecast was for much less snow than actually fell, were the same people complaining about the ultimate outcome.

Divorce is very much the same way.  While you may not know exactly when the process may start, few people are really, deep down, surprised that it is actually happening because the warning signs are there, whether it is adultery, lack of intimacy, constant fighting, lack of communication, bad communication, lack of agreement regarding parenting, etc.  This reminds me of a story that a client told me many many years ago.  He and his wife were in marriage counseling for years and he ultimately decided to tell his wife that he intended on pursuing a divorce during a counseling session.  The wife responded with epic histrionics suggesting that she was shocked.  The therapist ultimately told her that she could express any number of emotions but surprise wasn’t one of them.

The point again is that divorce is seldom a surprise.  Moreover, you don’t really know how bad the storm is going to be until it happens.  Most people want an “amicable” divorce but seldom agree on what that actually means at the beginning.  Very often, emotion takes over and derails what should be an “easy”, legally speaking, divorce.  On the other hand, some matters that appear like they can be very complex resolve easily because one or both of the parties are sufficiently motivated to get a deal done.

And because the ultimate divorce is seldom a surprise, if you think that divorce is possibility, you can do two things.  One is to put your head in the sand and then be overwhelmed by the storm when it comes.  The other is to prepare for the storm, just in case.  What are the things you can do to prepare?  Here are some things you can do:

  1. Familiarize yourself with your finances – income, assets, liabilities, budget.  Perhaps prepare a balance sheet of your assets and liabilities and start putting together a budget of your historical spending.
  2. Familiarize yourself with your spouse’s income?  How are they paid?  Do they receive a base and a bonus? Is the bonus guaranteed?  Is there a target bonus? Is there deferred compensation – stock options, restricted stock, RSUs, REUs, and/or any of the other of the alphabet soup of other earned income?  Finding out if there what is vested or not, if there is a vesting scheduling, when are these things usually paid, where have they been historically deposited, do they automatically convert to cash or stock when they vest, etc.
  3. Familiarize yourself with your spouse’s benefits and perquisites, including health insurance, other insurances, retirement plans, and the like?  Is there are vehicle that the employer or your spouse’s business (if they are a business owner)?  And if they are a business owner, is there a business credit card?  What things does the business pay for?  If there is a business, is their cash?
  4. While you are doing all of the above, start assembling historical financial documents.  Five years of tax, income, bank, brokerage, retirement and credit card information is a good start but if there are other seemingly important documents in the house, on computer hard drives or online, secure copies of those, as well.  And after you go about doing that, don’t leave the documents lying around the house or in the trunk of your car where your spouse can take them.  Make copies and secure them off site.
  5. If you have assets that are premarital, received via a third party gift and/or inherited, it is your burden to prove to a court that those assets are exempt.  If you can prove exemption, then they are not divided in equitable distribution typically.  It should be of no surprise that when a divorce occurs, these documents disappear, as well.  Accordingly, if divorce is a possibility, secure these documents as well.
  6. If there are valuable items that may “disappear”, you may want to secure them – eg. putting jewelry in a safe deposit box.  You would not believe how many times a wife’s engagement ring (which is legally exempt in most cases), disappears on the occurrence of a divorce.
  7. If custody and/or parenting time could be an issue, familiarize yourself with your children’s teachers, doctors, friends, etc. both at present and in the past.  Think about who may be witnesses regarding your involvement with the children.
  8. Research potential therapists for both yourself and your children.  Even if they are not needed at the moment, once the storm comes, they may be a resource that you want to avail yourself of.
  9. Identify a solid support system.  I am not suggesting that you tell the world that your marriage may be coming to an end.  Rather, identify for yourself the people that you believe you can rely on when the storm comes.
  10. Have a consultation with a divorce lawyer – even if you are not ready to proceed.  For one, you will get some education about your rights and responsibilities.  Fear of the unknown often paralyzes people.  Moreover, based upon your specific facts and circumstances, the above list to help you get prepared in case of the storm may expand.

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Eric S. Solotoff, Partner, Fox Rothschild LLPEric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973) 994-7501, or esolotoff@foxrothschild.com.

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I recently represented a client at mediation during which the parties were able to resolve virtually all of their issues, save for the Wife’s claim that the Husband should make a significant contribution to her counsel fees.

It was the Wife’s position that the Husband had run up her legal fees with multiple order violations, refusal to turn over discovery, and by taking totally unreasonable positions; moreover, since he made more money than her, he had a greater ability to pay her legal fees.

It was the Husband’s position that the Wife had run up his legal fees with her own unreasonable positions.  He also criticized her for choosing lawyers who are more expensive than those he chose to engage, arguing that he shouldn’t be held responsible for her choice to do so.

With this being a major impasse for the parties, it seems inevitable that a judge will decide the issue either in isolation or together with a trial on other unresolved aspects of their divorce.

Because the Family Court is a court of equity, a judge determining whether to award legal fees to one side has to consider the parties’ relative financial positions, including their respective incomes, assets, debts, support obligations, and other relevant financial circumstances.  The Court also must give due consideration to the question of whether one party acted unreasonably, or in bad faith, or violated court orders, or refused to produce discovery and therefore thwarted efficient resolution of the matter.  The Court Rule allows for consideration of legal fees already awarded by the Court, for whatever reason.  Perhaps there was a pendente lite contribution to legal fees for which the moneyed spouse should be credited.  Or, perhaps there is a history of court order violations for which fees were awarded as a form of sanction.  Whatever the reason, prior fee awards must be considered.

Ultimately, the question of whether one side must contribute to the legal fees of the other side is a question of fact, for which the Court must consider the following factors:

  1. The financial circumstances of the parties.  
  2. The abilities of the parties to pay their own fees or contribute to the fees of the other party.  
  3. The reasonableness and good faith of the positions advanced by the parties both during and prior to trial.
  4. The extent of the fees incurred by both parties.
  5. Any fees previously awarded.
  6. The amount of fees previously paid to counsel by each party.
  7. The results obtained.
  8. The degree to which fees were incurred to enforce existing orders or compel discovery.
  9. Any other factor bearing on the fairness of an award.

But here’s the rub.  Just like any other question of fact, the Court must make findings based on evidence.  In other words, there must be a trial or at least a lengthy written submission including evidence produced as exhibits.  As parties, you have to decide:  are you willing to incur the fees to try the issue, or is the amount in controversy going to exceed the fees you would spend to have the judge decide?

And, importantly, what you may view as a clear cut bad faith action or unreasonable position taken by your adversary, the Court may not be so inclined to think is all that bad.  Submitting the issue of counsel fees for a judge to decide is most definitely a gamble, and like any other wager, you should assess the odds, cost-benefit, and the possible outcomes before making the decision to fight the issue to the bitter end.


headshot_diamond_jessicaJessica C. Diamond is an associate in the firm’s Family Law Practice, resident in the Morristown, NJ, office. You can reach Jessica at (973) 994.7517 or jdiamond@foxrothschild.com.

Going through a divorce is one of life’s greatest disruptions. Whether you are resistant to the divorce and it feels like a tragedy or you are initiating the divorce and it feels like an escape, there is no doubt that divorce creates a massive change in your family life, finances and day-to-day routine.  At its core, divorce is the process of going from “we” to “me” which can be daunting, exhilarating or something in between. Many clients going through a divorce ask: when can I start dating and how will it affect my divorce?  The answer is never black and white, as dating during a divorce can have its pros and cons.

people holding sign pros

  1. Dating is a much needed distraction during divorce

For all parties involved, the process of getting divorced is difficult. Divorce can turn your life upside down, add new stressors to an already hectic life and create a financial burden that wasn’t there before. Your spouse, the court (and yes, sometimes the lawyers) can at times be frustrating. It is perfectly normal to want to forget about your divorce and take a break from it, even if it’s just for an evening. Dating can be a much needed “vacation” from the reality of divorce.

Many divorcing couples do not go from marital bliss to divorce court overnight, and it may have been a while since you’ve had a positive romantic experience. Dressing up for a night on the town with an uncomplicated new partner is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. Spending time with a new, exciting person can be a wonderful distraction from the messy, tortured history of your marriage.  This breath of fresh air can give you the reprieve from the drama that you need to forge ahead in your divorce.

  1. Taking control of your dating life is empowering and can boost self esteem

Divorce can make a person feel unappreciated, undesired and out of control. Whether you did not want the divorce, or you don’t like a decision a judge has made, it can be unnerving to feel like you have a diminished say in what happens in your life. Dating can put you back in the driver’s seat of one area of your life, and provide some semblance of control. The positive benefits of a “clean slate” cannot be understated.  Stepping out with a new partner who finds you desirable and engaging, unburdened by the complications of parenting and finances that can come with a marriage, can work wonders for your mental health and sense of self-worth.  After long periods of battling with your spouse, it can be exceptionally refreshing to spend time with someone who is nice to you! Getting back in the game and feeling pursued and appreciated might be the ego boost you need to power through an unpleasant divorce.

  1. Embracing positivity can set the scene for a rational and amicable divorce

When you are in a bad place mentally, it is difficult not to make emotionally-charged decisions. Strategizing in a divorce based on emotions will position you and your spouse further away from resolution and, in the end, cost you more time and money.  While it may feel good to exact revenge or act out of spite, in the long term, it will likely only make your divorce that much more protracted and painful.

When you are in a good place mentally, you can more easily make decisions based on reason and practicality. You will feel less incentivized to hurt your spouse or be vindictive. In many cases, your approach to the divorce will shape your spouse’s attitudes, after all, no one wants to play the villain, but people are all too happy to take the gloves off when their spouse is already playing dirty. Dating may make you happier, which in turn, will enable you to approach your divorce with a level head and amicable attitude to create a more pleasant experience for all those involved.

holding sign cons

  1. Dating may fan the flames of acrimony between you and your spouse

While dating may make you happier, it might spur feelings of anger, jealousy or resentment in your spouse which will promote an ill-will in your divorce proceedings.  In this regard, you know your spouse best, and can gauge how they will react to you reentering the dating world. If you believe that dating again will cause your spouse to fly off the handle, be warned that it will likely lead to your spouse taking less reasonable positions and being more litigious in your divorce. In this sense, dating can backfire – as you are trying to move on with your life, your spouse may dig his or her heels in further, dragging out the divorce even longer as a result.

  1. Your kids might freak out

If you have children, you should give serious consideration to their thoughts and feelings before you start dating.  Without a doubt, your children’s lives will change drastically as a result of a divorce and they will likely mourn the loss of your family unit.  Do your children hold out hope that you and your spouse will reconcile? Have they (or are they old enough to) express their emotions about the divorce? Do they have the assistance of a family therapist or mental health professional to guide them through this process? All of these things must be considered before you throw another curveball into the family dynamic.

With regards to the legal implications of dating, how involved your new partner becomes with your children may have an effect on a custody battle between you and your spouse.  If custody experts are involved in your case, they will interview collateral contacts (including your new partner) as part of the evaluation and his or her past can affect the outcome of your case! A new partner with a criminal record, substance abuse or certain mental health issues can be a red flag for a custody evaluator (especially if they are around your children a lot) and may impact the custodial issues in your divorce.

  1. (Serious) dating might affect your spousal support

Most people who start dating after a divorce are in no rush for a big commitment, but some find it easier to cope with a divorce by jumping right back into a serious relationship.  You may lose your alimony if you are cohabiting with a partner in a marital-type relationship. Accordingly, you need to remain cognizant of how living with your new partner may affect the amount of alimony you receive in divorce or whether your ex-spouse can make an application to terminate alimony based on your cohabitation after divorce. It is important to note that this is a one-sided consequence. If you are paying alimony, feel free to date to your heart’s content – it won’t affect your obligation to pay your ex-spouse alimony.

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Katherine A. Nunziata, Associate, Fox Rothschild LLPKatherine A. Nunziata is an associate in the firm’s Family Law practice, based in the Morristown, NJ office. You can reach Katherine at (973-548-3324) or at knunziata@foxrothschild.com.

Most clients hire their lawyers for the lawyers expertise and experience.  There is an expectation that the lawyer will guide the client through the process, given them the strategic options, and counsel them regarding settlement positions and opportunities.  Sometimes, client’s hire lawyers that they think they can control, who will do their bidding whether or not the strategy is sound or the legal position meritorious.  Others still, hire their attorneys because of their expertise and experience, yet cannot help themselves and seek to control every detail.

While often, collaboration with a client can create excellent results – after all, who knows the details of their life better then the client.  That said, there is a difference between collaboration, and the client imposing her or her will on the aspects of the case that should be the domain of the attorney.  Even when the client is an attorney, it is dangerous if they think that they know better then their attorney how to present their case.

Several years ago, I represented the wife of an attorney in particular – a litigator.  At a very early mediation, he came into the room boasting, if not threatening that he has tried more cases than anyone in the room.  Throughout the case, he made his lawyer take legally unsupportable positions, played games with discovery, tried to hide assets, failed to provide full information to his own forensic accountant and then, at trial, clearly directed his attorney’s questioning of the witnesses.  Needless to say, after an 11 day trial, he was crushed on every issue.  Moreover, his conduct both before and after the trial caused him to pay a substantial amount of his wife’s legal and expert fees.  His attorney was made to look bad and his forensic accountant was essentially called a liar – albeit in nicer terms – all because of the husband thinking he knew better than anyone else.

I am presently involved in another long trial where it is clear that the opposing litigant is running the show.  His direct examination was unusually long and contained numerous self created exhibits that were testified about in unnecessary detail.  Moreover, the same was true for the expert testimony, both direct, and more importantly on cross examination.  The client created questions at best, unduly lengthened the process, and at worst, could arguably hurt both his own credibility and credibility of his own expert.  Aside from causing the cost of the matter to increase exponentially, the insistence on controlling the questioning could actually negatively impact his case.

The bottom line is that client’s should be careful to not insist that collaboration turn to actual control thereby negating their attorney’s experience and expertise.  While it is not unusual to want to maintain total control, the attorney usually knows the law better and can better implement the jointly agreed upon strategy. The attorney will have a better sense of the big picture and is better able to view things more objectively than the client.  Sometimes less is more.  Not every question needs to be ask.  Not every fact needs to be presented if it doesn’t help, or perhaps can hurt your case.  If one of the allegations is that the spouse is overly controlling, etc., the controlling conduct at trial can prove that point almost better than the other spouse’s testimony.  In short, a client should be careful when insisting on taking over a case from his lawyer.

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Eric S. Solotoff, Partner, Fox Rothschild LLPEric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973) 994-7501, or esolotoff@foxrothschild.com.

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It is not unusual for parties to address their children’s college education in their Marital Settlement Agreements.  If children are college age or close, parties may actually specifically determine the percentages that they will pay for college costs (including pre-college costs such as SAT/ACT preparation, application fees, etc.)  If the children are younger, parties often acknowledge their responsibilities and define the types of things will be covered, but defer the determination of their actual percentage shares until the children are in their senior year of high school.  Very often, the agreement will provide that the children are required to apply for all available financial aid, grants and loans.  Since student loans may be easy to obtain to fund the vast majority of college, at times, parties may limit the loans that they are going to force their children to take to subsidized student loans (e.g. Stafford, Perkins) which are limited vs. private loans where they could borrow vast sums.  But if college is a part of support of children in New Jersey, at least children of divorced parents or never married parents (vs. children of intact families that don’t seem to have the same rights), can they be forced to take loans to pay for an obligation that is supposed to be their parents’ obligation?

The issue of student loans was one of the issues addressed in the unreported (non-precedential) Appellate Division opinion in the case of M.F.W. v. G.O. decided today.  In this case, the parties divorced in 2003 when their daughter was 5 years old.  Their settlement included an agreement to pay for college and also had the typical language requiring that the child, “… “shall apply for all loans, grants, aid and scholarships available to her, the proceeds of which shall be first applied to college costs.”  When it became time for the child to go to college, in this case Georgetown, at a cost of more than $66,000 per year, the mother sought the father’s contribution for both college and pre-college costs.  When the issue wasn’t resolved, an enforcement motion was filed.  One of the father’s defenses was that the daughter should have been required to obtain loans.  It should be noted that the father’s net yearly income increased from approximately $80,000 per year at the time of the divorce to approximately $217,000 at the time of the motion.

The trial judge rejected the father’s request to enforce the agreement and require the daughter to seek student loans, finding it to be “repugnant.”  As noted by the Appellate Division:

The court found it was “unfair and unjust” to require Jane to apply for “all loans, grants, aid and scholarships available to her” and to apply them first to the college costs because Jane “should not be bound to a contract which she is not a party to” and because the parents “have a legal obligation to support” her “and cannot compromise that obligation even if they both agree.” The court found this provision of the PSA is “repugnant and will not be enforced.”

That is an interesting holding because I have seen these clauses enforced all of the time.  Seemingly, this is because the court found that “the parties have the financial wherewithal to meet all of their daughter’s financial needs for college.”  But many times I have seen this provision in agreements where the parties seemingly have the financial wherewithal though sometimes I shake my head because unless parties have saved substantially for college, most people can’t afford to pay for college out of income, even at the income levels in this case.  Moreover, some people of means include these clauses because one or both believes that the children need to have “skin in the game”, or because their parents didn’t pay for their education, or for any other reason.  As noted above, if parents of means in an intact family make their child take out loans for college, that is their prerogative and the children probably have no recourse.

Back to M.F.W., the father appealed arguing, among other things not germane to this post, that the trial court should have enforced the parties’ agreement regarding loans and the Appellate Division affirmed the decision.  With regard to the student loan issue, the Appellate Division noted that agreements are usually enforced and should not be disturbed, unless there is a change of circumstances.  You get the sense that the court was inferring that this is what the trial judge meant in his decision, assuming it was not specifically stated as such.  The change of circumstances was the parties increased income.  Accordingly, they held that

The court found “unfair and unjust” the provision that required Jane to apply for loans and financial aid because it was the parents’ obligation to pay for college and they had the ability to do so. Defendant acknowledged that “[t]he parties both have significant financial resources and can afford to send their daughter to Georgetown University.”  The court did not err by not enforcing this provision.

We cannot say, given the parties’ incomes, that the court erred by not requiring Jane to obtain loans or other financial aid where she would be financially obligated to repay the funds in the future. Her parents had agreed to pay for her college expenses under the PSA. This would include any loans to pay those expenses.

There appears to be a contradiction here.  Was the loan requirement eviscerated because of the parties’ increased income or because the parties agreed to pay for college and that this would include loans?  The latter suggests that it was intended that the agreement to pay for college included the agreement to pay for the loans that the child was going to be required to pay.  That certainly is not the standard practice.  Moreover, if the court is interpreting the agreement in that way, then there would not be a change of circumstances because they are interpreting the agreement to pay for college to also be an agreement to pay loans too.

Left unsettled by this case is (1) whether you can make your kids take out loans and if so (2) whether that agreement means that you have to pay for the loans your children take out if you agree to pay for college.   If nothing else, though not precedential, this case provides ammunition to parents seeking to compel the other parent to pay for college, whether or not their Agreement requires that the children take out loans.

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Eric S. Solotoff, Partner, Fox Rothschild LLPEric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973) 994-7501, or esolotoff@foxrothschild.com.

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It may seem counter-intuitive, but the month of Saint Valentine is also generally the month that sees the highest volume of filing for divorce.  For some people, getting divorced may be their New Years Resolution.  Others wait until the start of the new year so that they can have one last holiday season with their families as usual.  Whatever the reason, many people find themselves at the beginning of the divorce process on Valentines Day.

We all know that there are any number of ballads and love songs out there that celebrate the romance of a happy relationship, and no doubt the airwaves will be filled with them today.  But you don’t want to listen to those songs if you find yourself at the start of a divorce, or even in the thick of one, this Valentines Day.  Instead, have a listen to the following anti-Valentines Day playlist and take a cue from these songs about how to approach your own divorce case:

What’s Love Got to Do With It? by Tina Turner:  When it comes to the divorce, love has nothing to do with it.  Of course, divorce can come with emotional turmoil and it is important to deal with this, perhaps with the help of a qualified therapist.  But it is helpful to consider the divorce itself as a business deal.  How are we going to wrap up and distribute the assets and debts of the marriage (otherwise known as Equitable Distribution)?  How are we going to re-distribute the division of labor (Custody and Parenting Time)?  How are we going to make sure the parties to the marriage are fairly supported in the future (Alimony)?  If possible, leave the emotion at the door, and think practically.

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?  by Culture Club:  Ask yourself:  Are you taking a position or engaging in conduct just to hurt your spouse? Do you really want to do that?  Sometimes, you do.  We are all human, after all.  But a case driven by vengefulness and anger is not one that is likely to resolve, or resolve quickly.  And when you have spent money in legal fees because of a hurtful, non-meritorious position that went nowhere, you’re probably going to wish you had taken a different tack.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take a tough position – you should when the position is merited – but there is no point in being hurtful just to thumb your nose at your ex.

No Scrubs by TLC:  While the ladies of TLC were complaining about the obnoxious men in their lives…both men and women can be scrubs.  Don’t sit around talking about how you want your case to be resolved or what you think you or your ex deserve.  Instead, work towards a resolution.  Cooperate with your attorney and provide needed documents in a timely manner.  Take reasonable, and justifiable, positions.  Come to the table with ideas about how to move forward instead of focusing on the past.  If you are a proactive participant in your divorce, you will feel more empowered and comfortable with your case and the result.

I Want It All – Queen:  Many times, clients “want it all, and [they] want it now.”  Unfortunately, in most cases, you can’t have it all.  Neither can your spouse.  Cases settle based on compromises that leave everyone feeling like they won a little and lost a little.  When cases go to trial because they cannot be settled, nobody gets everything they want from the judge either.  When preparing for a divorce and beginning settlement conversations, it’s important to prioritize your goals and know what you are willing to give up to achieve your top priorities, because you are unlikely to get every single thing you want.

Cry Me a River by Justin Timberlake:  Simply put – this is what you’re going to tell your ex when they are complaining about how long the divorce is taking, or why you’re being unreasonable, or why can’t they have the dog, and so on and so forth.

Poison by Bell Biv Devoe:  Don’t let your divorce poison everything else around you and every other aspect of your life.  While divorce can feel all-consuming and scary, don’t let it run everything else you do, and don’t tell everyone who will listen about the nitty gritty details, as this is never appropriate.

Don’t Speak by No Doubt:  I am all for clients who can talk to one another and work out some of their differences amicably.  But sometimes, it’s better to say nothing at all.  You don’t want to commit to part of a deal in piecemeal, or make your spouse think that you are more or less committed to a position than you really are.  If you can’t speak honestly or productively with your spouse (and let’s face it, many people are getting divorced for that very reason), then it’s better not to speak to them at all without counsel present.

The Long and Winding Road by the Beatles:  Divorce can be a long and winding road, indeed.  While there will be ups and downs, left turns and sudden stops and starts, with the help of an attorney and a support system, you will come to the end and hopefully feel that the result is fair and equitable to both you and your spouse.

You Can Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac:  I find that many clients have a hard time finding their voice and developing their own opinions.  In some cases, they are still highly influenced by their husband or wife and, oddly, inclined to listen to them even though they are in an adversarial role.  In other cases, clients may be listening to their friends about their divorces.  Whatever the reason, trust that your attorney is looking out for your best interests and will strive for your best outcome even if it’s not what your spouse thinks is right or what your friends experienced.

Stronger by Britney Spears:  Remember that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Hopefully, at the end of your divorce, you will walk away feeling like you got most of what you want, you’re stronger today than you were yesterday, and you can move on with your life better than you led it before you started the process.

Whatever you’re listening to this year, Don’t Stop Believin’ that You Will Survive if you just have some Patience and Try a Little Tenderness … okay, I’ll stop now.  Here’s hoping you hit up a different, more festive playlist next Valentine’s Day.


headshot_diamond_jessicaJessica C. Diamond is an associate in the firm’s Family Law Practice, resident in the Morristown, NJ, office. You can reach Jessica at (973) 994.7517 or jdiamond@foxrothschild.com.

Our partner in our Chester County, Pennsylvania office, Mark Ashton, just wrote an interesting piece on our Pennsylvania Family Law Blog entitled “”Tis the Season”  about how the time between November 1st and the end of the year used to be the quiet time for new matters and how he has found that this year has been different.  We have found that to be the case, as well, as noted below.

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That said, for many divorce attorneys, the busy season starts after the first of the year. For the last few years, I have posted on the phenomenon of the New Year’s Resolution Divorce. For whatever reason, this post has struck a chord and has been both well received and cited by other bloggers. As such, given that the new year is near, I thought I would share that piece again, updated slightly for the new year.

Over the years, I have noted that the number of new clients spikes a few times of the year, but most significantly right after the new year. Out of curiosity, I typed “New Years Resolution Divorce” into Google and got 540,000 results in .29 seconds. While not all of the search results were on point, many were extremely interesting. It turns out that my intuition about this topic was right and that there are several reasons for it.

One article on Salon.com put divorce up there with weight loss on New Years resolution lists. Also cited in this article was that affairs are often discovered around the holidays. Another article linked above attributed it to “new year, new life”. Another article claimed that the holidays create a lot of pressures at the end of the year that combine to put stress on people in unhappy or weak relationships. Family, financial woes, etc. associated with the holidays add to the stress. Turning over a new leaf to start over and improve ones life was another reason given. This seems to be a logical explanation for a clearly difficult and perhaps heart wrenching decision.

In my experience, people with children often want to wait until after the holidays for the sake of the children. There is also the hope, perhaps overly optimistic, that the divorce will be completed by the beginning of the next school year. These people tend to be in the “improving ones life” camp.

So as divorce lawyers, we hope to avoid or at least resolve in advance the holiday visitation disputes that inevitably crop up, then relax and enjoy the holiday as we await the busy season to begin.

In the last several years, the phenomena started early for us and many other attorneys. We were contacted by more people in December in the last few years than in any years in recent memory. This year, the calls started in November at a pace more robust than in prior years.  Moreover, we have heard of more people telling their spouse it “is over” before the holidays this year. I suspect that in some, it was the discovery/disclosure of a new significant other or perhaps pressure being exerted by that person that was the cause. In other cases, the person just didn’t want to wait until the new year to advise their spouse.

Whatever the reason, we await those who see 2017 as a chance for happiness or a fresh start. Happy New Year?!?!

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Eric SolotoffEric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland and Morristown, New Jersey offices though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or esolotoff@foxrothschild.com.

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Cersei Lannister may seem like she has it all: unbridled brutality, a mountain of a protector, disfavor in the Realm and a growing list of enemies she’s collected along the way. After all, she’s just destroyed her enemies in one fell swoop as she blew up the Great Sept of Baelor. Although Cersei seemed to have finally served her sweet revenge, she comes to discover that bittersweet aftertaste that just won’t quit.

Cersei soon found out that the fleeting rush she got from all the carnage and destruction (just a few of her favorite things) gave way to a mixed bag of emotions; on the one hand she finally got her seat on the Iron Throne, but on the other hand, she had lost all of her children in the process.

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Apparently, Cersei’s conflicted feelings on the subject of revenge are not unique to her.
A recent study in the upcoming edition of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that the emotional consequences of revenge “are a mixed bag, in that we feel both good and bad when we take revenge on another party.”

Take the good: we love revenge because we punish the offending party. Apparently, the brain areas in charge of making crime and punishment judgments overlap with areas that process reward, which explains the pleasure in punishment/ revenge.

But then there’s the bad: it reminds us of the original act. To put that kind of pain it in context, think about the revenge your stomach exacts the morning after you eat an entire pizza. We’ve all been there.

In fact, just ask anyone who has slashed their cheating ex’s tires. Or take the story recounted by Marylin Stowe, one of England’s top divorce lawyers: Lady Graham Moon has gone down in English family law history for acting like a milkman, except that she was delivering to her neighbors the contents of her estranged husband’s valuable wine cellar.

The act of revenge may feel good in the moment, but soon thereafter, people are reminded of how they felt to have evoked the desire for revenge to begin with.

The stakes become even higher when that cheating ex and you share children together. Indeed, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology study found that feelings of revenge support endless cycles of retribution that may emerge in the context of conflicts between families. And we all know how that can turn out for parents and children alike.

So take a page out of the book of Cersei, the Queen of Family Dysfunction, and now, the Seven Kingdoms. She should have listed to Mark Twain who said: “Therein lies the defect of revenge: it’s all in the anticipation; the thing itself is a pain, not a pleasure; at least the pain is the biggest end of it.”
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Eliana Baer, Associate, Fox Rothschild LLPEliana T. Baer is a contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or etbaer@foxrothschild.com.

A recent unpublished decision, Strunck v. Figueroa, serves as a not-so-gentle reminder that sometimes an enforcement application can be “too little, too late,” and that it is imperative to be proactive to protect your rights under a divorce decree or agreement, especially when your adversary acts in bad faith.  In Strunck, a 2011 divorce decree awarded the plaintiff $23,369, which was to be transferred from the defendant’s retirement account.  Before the plaintiff could act to collect the $23,369, however, the defendant withdrew the money from the retirement account.  In fact, the funds were withdrawn by the defendant before the divorce decree was entered, and the defendant did not disclose this.

Any family law attorneys out there may be thinking that this is an “easy” enforcement motion given there was a clear violation of the decree and an obvious bad faith attempt to shortchange the plaintiff his $23,369.  And that may have been true but for what happened next.

The defendant in Strunck didn’t just keep the money and go on her merry way.  About four months after the entry of the divorce decree, she filed for bankruptcy and, significantly, listed the plaintiff as a creditor with a claim of $23,269 incurred as a result of the August 2011 divorce decree.  The plaintiff was appropriately notified of the bankruptcy petition and the inclusion of the $23,369 as an unsecured claim in that petition.  He sought the counsel of a bankruptcy attorney, and claimed that the bankruptcy attorney told him not to pursue legal action against the defendant.  If the plaintiff is to be believed in this regard, then, incredibly, the bankruptcy attorney failed to advise him that the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, Rule 4004(b), allow a creditor to contest the dischargeability of a debt by filing “a complaint . . . objecting to the debtor’s discharge . . . no later than 60 days after the first date set for the meeting of creditors under section 341(a)” or as extended by the Court.  In other words, the plaintiff had the opportunity to contest the discharge of the debt the defendant owed him in the amount of $23,369, but did nothing to prevent the discharge of the debt.  As a result of his failure to contest it, the debt was discharged by the Bankruptcy Court.

Despite doing nothing to contest the bankruptcy petition in December 2011, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant in the Law Division in July 2013.  By this time, over a year had passed after the debt was discharged.  The complaint was dismissed.  Not finding any relief in the Law Division, the plaintiff then filed a motion to enforce the divorce decree in the Family Division.  Apparently ignoring the fact that the debt had already been discharged, the plaintiff argued that the debt COULDN’T be discharged.  He argued that the defendant made a false statement on her bankruptcy petition when she alleged that she was not “holding the property of another.”  The plaintiff contended that, actually, she was holding his property, or the $23,369 that should have been his under the divorce decree…even though the debt to him no longer existed…because it had been discharged…because of his failure to contest the bankruptcy petition.  The plaintiff’s application was denied (actually, it was denied twice; not accepting the Court’s decision, the plaintiff re-filed his application a second time and the Family Court denied it a second time).

As the Appellate Division succinctly put it:  “Plaintiff’s argument rests upon the flawed premise that he could utterly ignore the bankruptcy proceeding and pursue the funds awarded to him in the divorce decree through enforcement proceedings in the family court.”  The Appellate Division reasoned that the plaintiff ignored his recourse to do anything about the bankruptcy proceeding, and he can’t now enforce a debt that was discharged.  It was simply too little, too late.

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In this case, try as the plaintiff might, he could not win given his failure to preserve the debt.  Had the plaintiff contested the bankruptcy petition when he was notified of it, he may not only have been able to get the $23,369 he was owed, but perhaps could have obtained sanctions against the defendant for her bad faith theft of the money.  The lesson here is that it is important to proactively preserve your rights under a divorce decree or agreement; it is not enough to later say that you were owed money or that something should have been done pursuant to the agreement, when you ignored your earlier recourse to preserve your rights.


headshot_diamond_jessicaJessica C. Diamond is an associate in the firm’s Family Law Practice, resident in the Morristown, NJ, office. You can reach Jessica at (973) 994.7517 or jdiamond@foxrothschild.com.