Middlesex County Divorce Attorneys

I’m not usually one to place a lot of stock in celebrity gossip, but I couldn’t help but take notice of the fact that it has been rumored that Amber Heard’s monthly income is $10,000, yet she spends $44,000 a month on shopping, dining out and vacations. Her ask for spousal support: $50,000 per month, based upon the parties’ marital lifestyle.

45351836 - champagne bottle in ice bucket and two full glasses realistic vector illustration
45351836 – champagne bottle in ice bucket and two full glasses realistic vector illustration

Amber Heard may not be only one spending beyond her means. This phenomenon applies to us common folk as well.

Particularly during the economic downturn, we have seen many cases where parties have splurged during times of plenty and then failed to scale back when the economic downturn hit. As a result, the parties are living on credit or perhaps not paying their bills. It, in effect, creates an artificial lifestyle which neither party really has the ability to maintain.

This puts the Court in a tough spot. On the one hand, the Supreme Court explained in Crews, “the standard of living experienced during the marriage . . . serves as the touchstone for the initial alimony award.” On the other hand, what happens when the marital standard of living is based on nothing more than irresponsible spending?

An unpublished case was just recently decided by the Appellate Division that touched on this issue. Although the crux of the case really focused on the reversal of a judge’s suspension of alimony as a discovery sanction, what peaked my interest was how the judge dealt with what he classified as an “artificial lifestyle,” marked by the parties’ “irresponsible spending and outlandish behavior, whether going on expensive vacations to South America and Europe, or purchasing fancy cars” when awarding alimony.

In Ponzetto v. Barbetti, decided on June 28, 2016, the parties had a nineteen year marriage which ended in a contentious divorce when the parties were in their mid-forties. The parties did not have any children and the only issues in the case were equitable distribution and alimony, both of which were hotly litigated during the course of a lengthy trial.

The husband had started a sound system business when he was a teenager, for which the wife kept the books. At one point, the business was so lucrative, that it generated revenue of $500,000 per year. These were the times of plenty.

Unfortunately, the business suffered during the economic downturn. The parties’ lifestyle, however, did not. They continued to spend lavishly. By the time of the divorce, they had two Ferraris, a Harley Davidson, Pontiac Fiero and two hummers.

While typically a judge would look at the parties’ spending during the last several years of the marriage to determine lifestyle, in this case, the trial judge found that it would not be appropriate to do so in this situation, where the lifestyle was not based on income or need.

As a result, the judge declined to use “the parties’ irresponsible spending from 2006 through 2008 in determining marital lifestyle” and instead determined to “kindly” utilize the marital lifestyle from 1990 through 2006, which the judge determined to be $14,500 per month. Ultimately, the wife was awarded $400 per week in alimony.

This is just one example of how a judge has dealt with this increasingly common situation. However, judges are frequently placed in these precarious situations, where the parties have exceeded a reasonable lifestyle based upon their income as compared to their expenses. In the case of Ponzetto v. Barbetti, the judge crafted a remedy that was equitable given the specific circumstances of the case.
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.

As a lover of all things Coldplay, I was sad to hear that lead singer Chris Martin and his wife of more than 10 years, Gwyneth Paltrow, were divorcing. Gwyneth Paltrow announced the separation on her website Goop.com and used the term “conscious uncoupling” to describe their approach to divorce.  Although the term had been originally coined by marriage and family therapist, Katherine Woodward Thomas, as with anything else endorsed by celebrities, the phrase went viral after her post.  It was of particular interest to me personally given my chosen profession as a divorce lawyer.

As professionals, especially ones whose practice is client-centric, we are always striving for better ways to do our jobs.  In my case, that means getting clients their desired result in the most effective and streamlined way possible. After practicing for several years, experience has shown me time and time again, that people going through divorce are most satisfied with the process when they feel they have control over it (i.e., are “conscious[ly] uncoupling”) and can proceed with a form of alternative dispute resolution (such as mediation) rather than traditional, costly, protracted litigation.

Even as American culture has become more progressive and accepting, divorce is still considered taboo and is almost always surrounded by extreme negativity and hostility.  Even if the couple themselves wants to proceed amicably, they are unfortunately often allowing others in their life (parents, siblings, friends, new boyfriend or girlfriend) to control the dialogue and encourage them to dig in their heels.

Once people “dig in”, it is often impossible to “dig out”.  Protracted litigation only intensifies negativity and hostility. The idea that divorce has to be a negative experience then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which divorcing parties behavior, is influenced by their expectation that divorce must be awful.  I believe if you change the conversation surrounding divorce and allow yourself to “consciously uncouple” you will have much more satisfying experience surrounding your divorce.

I recently completed a 40-hour divorce mediation training program. This program has only solidified my beliefs that in many cases, a mediated divorce, is a better divorce. That is not to say that litigation is never necessary. There are some circumstances that cannot be mediated and some people that simply cannot effectively participate in mediation. That said though, divorce is multi-dimensional: it is legal, it is financial, and it is emotional. The great thing about mediation is that it can effectively address each of those dimensions.


Whether you litigate or mediate, you achieve the same end result: a legal divorce.  A mediated divorce however is often faster, less adversarial and provides more flexible and creative resolutions, narrowly tailored to your specific family dynamic.  It also allows for a more confidential process than airing out your dirty laundry in a series of public court filings and appearances.


I will never say “always” or “never” because I’ve come to learn that nothing is absolute.  A mediated divorce however, can certainly be more cost effective. Spending less to uncouple leaves more to be divided between the parties and therefore places both parties in a better position to maintain financial independence and stability post-divorce.


Although emotions can run high during mediation, there is a much more focused approach on compromise and collaboration rather than “winning” as is seen in litigation. When people feel their spouse is negotiating in good faith and trying to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem (i.e., zealously litigating over the smallest of disputes), they walk away feeling better about uncoupling, which leads to healthier relationships with themselves, their ex-spouse, and future romantic partners.

The takeaway from all of this is that choosing to uncouple, does not always have to be adversarial, financially draining and emotionally damaging. Take control of your divorce and find avenues in which to minimize the long-term effects.  Before deciding to wage war against your spouse, consult with an experienced and trained family law mediator to see how mediation can work for you.


Lauren K. Beaver is a contributor to the New Jersey Family Law Blog and an attorney in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Lauren practices out of the firm’s Princeton, New Jersey office representing clients on issues relating to divorce, support, equitable distribution, custody, and parenting time.  Lauren also offers mediation services to those looking to procure a more amicable divorce. Lauren can be reached at (609) 844-3027 or lbeaver@foxrothschild.com.

As a matter of public policy, New Jersey Courts favor the enforcement of agreements reached between parties. Since Marital Settlement Agreements (“MSA”) are entered into consensually and voluntarily, they are often approached with a predisposition in favor of their validity and enforceability.  That notwithstanding, these agreements are enforceable only if they are fair and equitable. A bedrock principle of New Jersey divorce jurisprudence is that parties may be able to modify support provisions within their divorce agreements if they are able to show a continuing change of circumstances.

Although the ability to modify agreements based on a change of circumstances is essentially the default so to speak, parties are free to contract around same. Often times in exchange for additional financial considerations, such as unequal asset division or a “discount” on alimony, parties will agree that the amount of years alimony is paid and/or the actual amount of alimony paid each year is non-modifiable regardless of a change of circumstances, foreseeable or otherwise.

Unfortunately all too often parties are entering into agreements that are “non-modifiable” without really thinking through the consequences of same in an effort to “get the deal done” only to have it come back to haunt them.  This is exactly what happened to Mr. Fiorenza in the recent unpublished (non-precedential) case of Fiorenza v. Fiorenza.

In Fiorenza, the parties were married for 24 years and had three children. At the time of their divorce, they were able to come to a resolution regarding the Husband’s alimony and child support payments and agreed that Husband would pay $100,000 per year in alimony ($8,333/per month) and $833.00 per month in child support. Shortly after the divorce however, Husband stopped paying support and Wife filed an application to enforce the support provisions of the parties’ divorce agreement.

The parties were able to resolve their differences and entered into a Consent Order, which lowered Husband’s total support obligation to $5,000 per month ($833.00 of which would be considered child support), included an escalation clause that support would go up if his income did and vacated $10,000 in support arrears.  The parties also agreed however that the new support amount would be non-modifiable and included that if there was a default on this new payment structure, that the total support amount would revert back the original amount under the parties initial MSA. Specifically, the parties agreed:

No matter defendant’s annual gross income, at no time shall monthly support be lower than $5,000, except after the emancipation of [the parties’ youngest child] when the child support component may be reduced”.

After the entry of the Consent Order, Husband made the new support payments for a period of one year but then again stop paying altogether.  Wife immediately filed an application to enforce the terms of the Consent Order and asked that the initial amount of support be reinstated.  In response, Husband cross-moved for a reduction in alimony.

Both the trial Court and Appellate Court upheld the parties’ agreement and increased the support payment back to the original amount in the parties’ MSA (due to Husband’s default on the new support payments) noting that each party got the “expected benefit and burden of the contract”. Because of Husband’s current inability to pay the full support amount however, the Court set a reduced alimony and child support figure of $2,500 per month and allowed the difference between the MSA support award of $8,333 and the $2,500 to accrue as arrears.

The take away from this case is that you should think long and hard before you include any non-modifiable provision in your divorce agreements and consult with an experienced attorney to discuss the ramifications of same. Although you might feel you are getting a tangible benefit in the present by agreeing to a non-modifiable provision, it is important to think through all the circumstances that may occur in the future that would complicate your ability to comply with same (such as loss of income/employment) as you cannot expect a Court to simply invalidate the terms of your settlement agreement because you now view them as unfair with the benefit of hindsight.


Lauren Koster Beaver is a contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Lauren 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, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Lauren at (609) 844-3027, or lbeaver@foxrothschild.com.

Talk about sticker shock.  A New Jersey father was recently ordered to pay more than $112,000 for his daughter to attend Cornell Law School.


But is it really shocking?  The parties’ divorce agreement, entered into in 2009, did provide that the parents would split the cost of law school provided that she maintained over a ‘C’ average.  After all, isn’t that what agreements are for?  To be upheld and enforced?

There was a wrinkle, however.   At the time of the divorce, the daughter had already been emancipated.  In years that followed, father and daughter had a falling out. There was therefore no communication regarding the choice of law school or the daughter’s decision to attend Cornell.  Also, the daughter waited about three years from her college graduation date to enroll in law school in order to take time off and work.

While the parties’ attorneys attempted to settle the dispute, it was to no avail.  Apparently, the mother rebuffed the father’s offers to pay $7,500 per year toward Rutgers Law School, provided that the daughter lived at home with the mother and provided the father with weekly updates as to her progress.

Ultimately, he was ordered by the trial court to pay one-half of the daughter’s tuition at Cornell Law School.  The Appellate Division upheld that decision in light of his clear agreement at the time of the divorce to pay half of law school.

In that regard, the Appellate Division stated:

Where a settlement agreement is used to define the terms of a divorce, the agreement should be “‘entitled to considerable weight with respect to [its] validity and enforceability’ in equity, provided [it is] fair and just.” … We find nothing unfair or unjust in enforcement of paragraph 7 of the parties’ divorce settlement agreement as they executed it.

But is it fair and just?  The father, a Rutgers University professor, did offer to pay a portion of the cost of Rutgers University Law School, a state school, whose total cost is approximately $22,000 per year.

By contrast, Business Insider ranks Cornell – total tuition $76,680 – as #7 in their list of Top 10 Most Expensive Law Schools, broken down as follows:

Tuition:  $55,220

Living, Transportation & Personal Expenses: $16,250

Health Insurance:  $2,110

Books, Supplies & Computer:  $3,100

Blowing Your Life Savings On A Law Degree In One Of The Toughest Markets For Lawyers In History: Priceless?

While the total price of tuition may seem like a swift punch to the gut, it may sit even worse when you realize that chances are that the daughter, who was admitted into a prestigious Ivy League institution, would have received a scholarship at Rutgers.

In these tough economic times, especially when law degrees may not be as valuable as they were once thought to be, does it make sense for parents to be compelled to pay for pricey education, especially when he or she had no chance to put their foot down and say “no, it’s just too expensive”? Is an agreement to pay for half of law school and invitation for the child to attend any law school, without regard for the cost or the financial toll the decision will take on her parents?

Interstingly, this story has just gained national attention in the wake of on Tuesday mornings ruling by a Superior Court judge in Morris County refused to order a Lincoln Park couple to pay private school and college tuition for their 18-year-old daughter who moved out of their house and is suing for financial support.  See Robert Epstein’s recent post on the issue here.


Eliana T. Baer is a frequent 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.

As noted by Robert Epstein in his blog post from earlier today, issues surrounding jurisdiction are often complicated and fact-specific.  Luckily, in the recent published decision (precedential) Johnson v. Bradshaw, the Court was able to draw a clear line regarding jurisdiction over support orders for parties that no longer reside in New Jersey.

The central facts of the case are not in dispute.  The parties were never married but a child was born from their relationship in October of 2010.  At the time the child was born, the defendant was a running back for the New York Giants and was residing in New Jersey.   Plaintiff and the parties’ child resided in Virginia and have since never lived in New Jersey.

Shortly after the child was born, plaintiff filed a Complaint in June of 2011 in New Jersey seeking to establish child support from the defendant.   A hearing was held on the issue of child support and the court set a pendente lite (temporary interim award pending further litigation) award of monthly child support in December of 2011.  Although the award was meant to be temporary in nature, neither party requested a future court date or a discovery (exchange of documents) schedule.

Eventually the parties did agree to engage in discovery and plaintiff then sought a modification of the temporary pendente lite child support order.  Since the time of the initial hearing however, the defendant was released from the New York Giants and became an unrestricted free agent, eventually signing with the Indianapolis Colts on June 11, 2013.  Defendant then purchased a home in Virginia and no longer resided in New Jersey.  Based on the fact that neither party continued to reside in New Jersey, defendant’s attorney sought to dismiss the New Jersey action on the basis that New Jersey no longer had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the issue of child support.

As such, the main issue in this matter was whether the New Jersey maintained continuing, exclusive jurisdiction of the defendant’s support obligation after the defendant left New Jersey under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA” – which is enacted to assist states in the establishment, enforcement and modification of support orders for parties that reside in different states).

The Court found that under the mandates of UIFSA, New Jersey, as the only state that ever entered a support obligation, maintained jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the temporary order entered in December of 2011.  In contrast however, the Court, relying on the legislative comments to UIFSA, held that an issuing state (here New Jersey) cannot modify a child support order after all the parties have left that state.  As a result, the Court determined it could not adjudicate plaintiff’s request for a modification of the December 2011 order because both the mother and father no longer reside in New Jersey.

The Court further noted that even if jurisdiction were appropriate in this matter, the case should still not be heard in New Jersey under the doctrine of forum non coneniens given that to do so would have required both parties to litigate in a state in which they no longer reside.

While this case resulted in a rather straightforward result, any time litigants reside in different states and have ongoing issues concerning support and custody issues, it is imperative to seek experienced matrimonial counsel in order to ensure you are filing your application in the proper jurisdiction.



Lauren K. Beaver is an attorney in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Lauren practices in the firm’s Princeton, New Jersey office representing clients on issues relating to divorce, custody, parenting time, support and equitable distribution.  Lauren can be reached at (609) 844-3027 or lbeaver@foxrothschild.com.

Just in case you find yourself rereading the title of this blog over and over thinking you missed something, I promise you read it correctly the first time. Every divorced/divorcing parent should be thankful for their ex (or soon to be ex) spouse. As a divorce attorney, I realize that such a lofty suggestion is a hard feat to accomplish year round, even for parents who are happily married.

Our lives have become complicated and chaotic.  The concepts of “multi-tasking” and “work-life balance” test our will each and every day.  We spend our days rushing through life from what seems to be one obligation after the other.  After people divorce, another layer of complications are thrown into the mix.  The spouse on whom you used to rely upon to have dinner ready at 6:00 p.m. or pick up Johnny from soccer practice is no longer there each day.  These now “single parents” are forced to fill, not only the daily multiple roles they already filled during the marriage (dinner maker, dog walker, homework helper, carpool driver, etc.), but now they are required to take on the daily roles of the other spouse as well.

I realize that because of our overly busy lives, it is easy to lose sight of how much your ex really does for the children you share.  Therefore, I suggest that on Thanksgiving, a holiday specifically dedicated to “thankfulness” for the many blessings in life, you should also be thankful for your ex.  I dare to go as far to say that you should consider sharing this thankfulness with your ex.  While you may not be able to the first Thanksgiving you spend apart, you will find that you may muster up the courage as the years pass and your children grow older.  The old adage “a little goes a long way”, in my experience, is therapeutic for divorced parents trying to co-parent.

To be clear, I am in no way suggesting that this “thankfulness” requires a grandiose gesture – in fact, just the opposite.  Even just a simple “thank you” in a short note or when you are dropping the children off for holiday parenting time with your ex, will work wonders to ease the strain on your relationship.  More importantly, these small gestures remind your children that even though their parents are no longer married that does not mean they should not be thankful for their family.

In the end, one simple important fact remains — without your ex, your children as you know them, would not exist.  Remind your ex the inverse of this is true as well.   You may even find yourself thanking them more than once a year.


Lauren K. Beaver is an attorney in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Lauren practices in the firm’s Princeton, New Jersey office representing clients on issues relating to divorce, custody, parenting time, support and equitable distribution.  Lauren can be reached at (609) 844-3027 or lbeaver@foxrothschild.com.

Oftentimes I hear from clients that gathering their financial information is the most daunting task they will face during the divorce process. They picture being buried in an avalanche of documents, account numbers and canceled checks.

The New Jersey Divorce App’s Finance Tracker can help.  In fact, I have recommended it to my clients before, with great results.


The Finance Tracker is designed to help you focus in on the necessary information that you will need throughout the divorce process.

It is split up into 4 categories:


Assets – like your house, car, bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc.



Each section is then split into subcategories, which allows you to categorize the information in a way that makes sense.

Here is the best part: you can send the information directly to your attorney – straight from the app!

While the divorce process can be overwhelming at times, the New Jersey Divorce App, along with its Finance Tracker and other great features make things a little bit more manageable.

For more information and to download the New Jersey Divorce App, click here.


Eliana T. Baer is a frequent 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.

Last year, I wrote on this blog about “How to Not Settle Your Case.”  This case on the heels of several months of “interesting”, to say the least, negotiations on several matters which got me thinking about creating a list of things to do if you really don’t want to settle your case. In justifying this list, I noted:

Hey, everybody is entitled to their day in court if they want it. So what if there is nothing that can be gained from it. So what if you can’t win. So what if forcing the matter to trial will create other legal issues. So what if trial will cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Since then, I thought of a few more to add to the list.

  • Your new significant other is a lawyer, they know better than your lawyer.  Of course they know better, you have been completely honest with them.  Of course they aren’t telling you what you want to hear – why would they do that?  And when they are speaking to their matrimonial partner about your case, they are giving them all of the facts, context and subtext of the case.
  • Every case is the same, so make sure that you demand the same deal that your hairdresser, or cousin’s friend, heard that that their cousin’s friend got.  While this information, if true, may be food for thought or points of discussion, ignore the potential differences inherent to each matter and demand that you get the same, even if it bears no relation to the appropriate resolution of the case.
  • Pretend that you are Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, and keep having the same conversation over and over, hoping that the answer will be different.  And don’t just do that with your spouse, do it with your lawyer too.
  • Hold grudges and let anger blind you from coming to a resolution that lets you move on with your life.  They are your feelings, don’t only embrace them but let them control all.  And don’t get therapy to deal with the real hurt, betrayal, rejection, depression, mourning, etc. that you are feeling.
  • Allow emotions to impair your judgment on financial issues.  I know that you can’t imagine your spouse living in your home with someone new, but it’s a good idea to take less for the house by selling it rather than allowing your spouse to buy you out.
  • Create a ruse that an emotional issue is really a financial one.  There will be a lot of nasty letters and everyone will be confused because you are not even arguing about the same thing, but at least one of you and his/her lawyer won’t know it.
  • Profess a desire to settle but then never compromise on any issue.  Also, don’t let your experts compromise either, even in the face of an error in their report.  And if they do have to concede the error, make sure that they change something else so that their final number never actually changes.
  • Hire a new lawyer on the eve of mediation or trial, and let that person enter the case like a bull in a china shop, as if the case just started, and there was no prior history.  Ignore the fact that both sides were making concessions and working towards and amicable resolution, and just blow things up and start from scratch, without any basis for doing so.  I am not saying that people cannot and should not change lawyers.  Sometimes it is necessary.  Sometimes the concessions being made are too much, for a variety of reasons.  But in cases where the negotiations and concessions are appropriate on both sides, if you don’t want to settle, pull the rug out from under the negotiations.
  • Hire a second, then third, then fourth, then fifth attorney every time something doesn’t go your way. 
  • In alternating conversations with your lawyer, tell them that you need to settle immediately, then tell her that you want her to litigate aggressively, then settle, then litigate, and so on.  Follow that up by being angry with your lawyer because they were trying to settle when you were back to aggressively litigating, and vice versa.
  • Believe your spouse when they are pressuring you to settle for a lot less than your attorney tells you would be a reasonable settlement.  While perhaps this doesn’t belong on this list, because it is a “how not to settle” list, maybe it belongs on a new list regarding regrets people have after taking a bad deal for the wrong reason.
  • Let your spouse convince you that they you don’t need all of the discovery because “you can trust me”, when all other evidence indicates that you can’t.  Perhaps this belongs with the prior thought.

In case you don’t remember, here is last year’s list:

10. Ignore your expert’s advice. What do they really know about the value of your business or how a judge will likely assess your total income/cash flow? What does an accountant know about taxes, or more importantly, how the IRS may address the creative accounting practices that you or your business have employed? What does the custody expert really know?

9. Ignore your lawyer’s advice. What do they know anyway? If your lawyer is telling you that you should jump at the deal on the table because it looks like a huge win, disregard it. If they tell you that you have real exposure on certain issues or may be forced to pay your spouse’s legal fees, roll the dice. If your attorney tells you that they are willing to try your case, but that you should consider settlement because the cost of the settlement will be less than the cost of the trial plus the absolute minimum you have to pay, don’t believe it. And what does your lawyer know about the law or the judge anyway?

8. Ignore the facts of your case. Trust your ability to spin the facts in a way that doesn’t make sense. Plus, how can they prove if you’re lying.

7. Ignore what the neutrals are saying. What do the Early Settlement Panelists know? What does the mediator know? When the judge has a settlement conference and gives directions, what does she/he know? Assume that the people that have no “horse in the race” are aligned with your spouse or their attorney, have been bought off, or are just plain ignorant. Really, it has nothing to do with the facts of your case or the reasonableness of your position.

6. Ignore the law. It doesn’t apply to you anyway.

5. Continue to misrepresent things, even when the other side has documents to disprove virtually everything you are saying. Assume that you will be deemed more credible than the documents.

4. Believe that the imbalance of power that existed during the marriage will allow you to bully your spouse into an unfair settlement. Assume that your spouse’s attorney won’t try protecting her/him. All lawyers roll over on their clients, right?

3. Take the position that you would rather pay your lawyer than your spouse. Ignore that fact that this tactic usually ends with your doing both, and maybe your spouse’s lawyer too.

2. Pretend as if your spouse never spent a second with the kids in the past and has no right to do so in the future. Make false allegations of neglect or abuse. Ignore the social science research that says that it is typically in the children’s best interests to spend as much time as possible with each parent. What do the experts know about your kids anyway? And while you are at it, bad mouth your spouse to or in front of the kids. Better yet, alienate them. Then fight attempts to fix the relationship.

1. Take totally unreasonable positions implementing any or all of above and on top of that, negotiate backwards. Ignore the maxim “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” Put deals on the table and then reduce what you are offering. Negotiate in bad faith. Negotiate backwards. Don’t worry that this conduct may set your case back.

In case it needs to be said (though I doubt it), the above is clearly facetious and tongue in cheek. I do not recommend this behavior. It is usually self-destructive and short sighted. But, believe it or not, these things happen all of the time. While I am not saying that no case should ever be tried, because sometimes trials are necessary, if you want to ensure a costly trial that may not go well for you, try the things on this list. And if it is your day in court that you want, be careful you wish for.


Eric 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.

I have previously blogged about the permanent alimony , imputation and lifestyle aspects of the Gnall case decided by the Appellate Division last week.  The last interesting aspect of Gnall was the treatment of child support in an over guidelines case, specifically, college savings.

College Savings Stock Photo*Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Remember from the prior posts that in this case, the husband was earning well over $1 million dollars and $65,000 was imputed to the wife, plus alimony. The trial court calculated a basic support award, using the Child Support Guidelines of $997 per week. The judge further ordered a supplemental award of $19,200 per child per year, from which the maximum allowable federal gift tax exclusion was to be deposited into each of the children’s existing UGMA for higher education, and the balance remitted to the wife in equal monthly installments.  Both parties appealled with the wife arguing that it was too low and the husband arguing that it was too high.  The Appellate Division remanded because it found the fact finding to be lacking.

Of note, the wife objected to the portion of the support that was supposed to go toward college savings, instead arguing that she should have and control all of the money.  In response to that argument, the Appellate Division held:

Even though a supplemental support amount in addition to the guideline’s base amount is authorized because of the parties’ high level of income, the judge must identify the nature of the children’s supplemental needs to be satisfied by the supplemental support awarded. See Caplan, supra, 182 N.J. at 272 (noting that the trial court may take any reasonable approach in arriving at an appropriate award); Strahan, supra, 402 N.J. Super. at 309-10 (same). We reject claims that the judge improperly considered the parties’ past practice of funding the children’s anticipated higher education costs through annual deposits into the UGMA accounts. See Strahan, supra, 402 N.J. Super. at 311 (criticizing an above-guidelines child support award absent evidence of some “marital standard” regarding “the way the parties treated the children”). We merely require the court to express those needs, in addition to the annual past practice of saving for the children’s education, to be satisfied by the supplemental support award. (Emphasis added).

While court’s are vested with the authority to set up trusts for children’s future needs in the rare case, given the income and assets, it is curious that it was done here.  It is also curious that an UGMA account would be used, since at 18, arguably the money is the children’s and it cannot be compelled to be used for college (though people use UGMA and UTMA accounts for this all of the time).  It also ignore the perhaps more beneficial college savings vehicle that is a 529 account. Moreover, depending on the perspective, it is potentially requiring the children to pay for their own college when there is no apparent need for that given the parents’ incomes and assets; is requiring the wife to pay for college out of her child support and/or in lieu of receiving child support; or is requiring the husband to prematurely fund the college obligation before the issue of college is ripe.  If his circumstances later substantially change for the worse, he has perhaps funded more than his proportionate share.

On the other hand, it appears that the court was met with the dilemna of knowing that it had to supplement the basic child support award and wanting to do so because of the husband’s seven figure income, but being unable to justify a greater award because the wife (or her lifestyle expert) did not show enough additional “need” for the support over the guidelines.  Is the issue what the lifestyle was, or what the wife would do with the extra money if she had it (and remeber, the income went up substantially, both during the last few years of the marriage and again post-complaint)?  If the law says that the children are entitled to share in the increased good fortune of their parents, how was that considered in this case, especially if the analysis was of marital lifestyle.

All in all, Gnall provided a lot of interesting points for lawyers and litigants to chew on, both in terms of how issues were decided and possible contradictions with other cases.  It will be interesting to see whether this goes up to the Supreme Court, or provides fodder for alimony reform.


Eric 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.

This is my final offer!!!  Don’t you just love the ultimatum, the line in the sand, the threat of Armageddon if capitulation is not immediately at hand?  I sure do.  Is it because I love to go to trial?  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy trial but that is not the reason. 


Seldom does it mean that a reasonable counter proposal won’t be considered it it doesn’t materially alter the terms being discussed.  Usually it means that your are getting pretty close to a settlement so that the proclamation can alert you and your client that now may be the time to do a deal.  In a recent case that I just settled, almost comically, each side probably sent 5 "final offers." 


And why is a final offer seldom a final offer?  Because 99% of all cases settle.  Because the system is geared to promote settlement.  Because before you go to trial, you will go likely go to custody and parenting time mediation, an Early Settlement Panel (ESP), mandatory economic mediation (sometimes several sessions), and an Intensive Settlement Conference (ISC) with the judge, or many.  Often, your first trial date is not a real trial date, but rather another day to bring the parties (and perhaps experts too) in to try and cajole or finesse and strong arm a settlement.  Even on your real trial date, perhaps before and often during the breaks of a trial, the judge will encourage settlement and/or the circumstances of how the trial is going may encourage settlement. 


So keep giving us your "final offers."  Sometimes, our client will accept them.  Other times, we will make a counter offer and await your next final offer until one day, the case will be settled or tried to conclusion.


Eric 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 practices in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or esolotoff@foxrothschild.com.