Archives: Mountain Lakes Divorce Attorney

Someone recently showed me a bar coaster that was being used advertising for a divorce lawyer.  While amusing, maybe, are gimmicks, as opposed to something that suggests knowledge, expertise and/or experience, how you really want to find the lawyer that will be shepherding you through a very difficult time?  Similarly, when you see an ad where someone proclaims themself to the be absolute “best”, should your radar go up?   Aside from being potentially unethical, should you be concerned when someone needs to proclaim themselves the best?

This all reminds me of a blog I posted a few years ago.  One weekend, I was driving around town and saw many lawn signs, like those you would see for a political candidate, advertising a “Free Divorce Seminar.” The old adage, “you get what you paid for” came to mind.

While I am aware of the phenomena of these “seminars” over the last several years, putting aside potential conflict of interest issues that could perhaps be created, is this the type of thing that one contemplating a divorce should be attending?  Or rather, should a person schedule an honest to goodness divorce consultation with an attorney to which they have been referred or otherwise have researched?

There is no privacy or anonymity at the seminar – you may see neighbors, parents of your children’s classmates, etc.  There is no confidentiality or privilege at a seminar.  You have these things at an initial consultation.

You cannot ask confidential questions at a seminar; maybe you cannot ask questions at all (and the smart attorney probably would not take questions for risk of prematurely creating an attorney client relationship.)  You cannot show the attorney any pertinent document for the same reason.  And how can you develop a rapport with a speaker at a seminar?  The seminar can never be tailored to your special circumstances because one size never fits all. At a seminar, you cannot really probe the presenter’s experience, depth of staff and other resources of the firm, ability to commit to your case, etc.

At the end of the day, a one-on-one consultation, even if you have to pay for it, will be far more worthwhile to protect your dignity and get the attention and information you deserve.  Amd beware of gimmicks that don’t deliver content or value.  Enjoy the joke, but them make sure to find the right professional for you.

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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.

Mark Ashton, a partner in our Exton, Pennsylvania office, and the editor of the firm’s Pennsylvania Family Law blog, wrote an excellent post on that blog entitled, "Custody Evaluation". To read the post, click here.

I have previously blogged on this topic, as well.  To review my prior post on How to Prepare for a Custody Evaluation, click here.

Though Mark is in Pennsylvania, much of what he says would apply in NJ too.  However, while he says that the evaluations typically cost between $5,000 and $7,500, while that is not an uncommon "retainer" for an evaluation in New Jersey, it is rare that the costs do not exceed the retainer, and that is just for the report.  It does not include fees for testimony at trial or a deposition. 

However, in New Jersey, I think that typically, judge’s do find the reports useful, especially if the expert is a joint or court appointed expert.  That said, a judge is required to make independent fact findings and cannot simply defer to and/or abdicate judicial responsibility to the expert.  There are times that you have to fight the deference to the expert.  In those cases, you may need to get your own expert.  Given best practices,  judges do not always allow you to get a new expert if the expert is a joint expert.  If it is a court appointed expert, a party has a right to get their own expert.

At Fox Rothschild, our family law group is capable of handling the most complex and/or contentious custody litigation.  I have also previously blogged on the new American Psychological Association Guidelines for custody evaluations.  To review that post, click here.  Similarly, I have blogged on other "experts" for custody/parenting issues in high conflict divorces.  To review that post, click here. 

We’ve all read the salacious gossip at the local food store news stand when popular celebrities bear children out of wedlock or famous couples battle it out in a nasty divorce and heartless allegations fly.  Even in those widely publicized cases, it can be an uncomfortable and awkward situation for any parent to question the paternity of a child.  I will admit that in my experience it is not a common occurrence for a parent to question the paternity of a child.  That’s not to say it doesn’t happen.  What happens when that question arises?

In NJ and many other states there’s a presumption that the name listed on a birth certificate is the father of a child.  There is also a presumption that a father who assumes paternity by allowing their name to be listed as the father on a birth certificate along with participating in the upbringing of the child, making financial contributions for the child and representing himself to the public as the child’s father is that child’s father, whether DNA says so or not.  These cases are factually sensitive and depend upon a number of factors for consideration, such as:

-When paternity is questioned?

-Who is questioning paternity?

-Is there another man submitting himself as the biological father of the child?

-Does the mother know who the biological father is?

These are just a few factors to consider.  Recently, the Appellate Division, in the unpublished decision of Qian v. Wang, A-1873-08T1, decided October 14, 2009 addressed this issue.

In Qian, the parties had been married for 13 years before the father questioned paternity of the parties’ only child in the midst of their divorce.  After DNA testing, there was no dispute that the child was not the biological child of the father.  The mother testified at trial that she believed the father was the biological parent of the child until the DNA tests revealed otherwise.  The trial judge found this testimony to be credible.  Also at trial, the father testified that at the child’s birth, he had suspicions about paternity but did nothing to pursue those suspicions.

Continue Reading QUESTIONS OF PATERNITY

Driving around town this weekend, I saw many lawn signs, like those you would see for a political candidate, advertising a "Free Divorce Seminar." The old adage, "you get what you paid for" comes to mind. 

While I am aware of the phenomena of these "seminars" over the last several years, putting aside potential conflict of interest issues that could perhaps be created, is this the type of thing that one contemplating a divorce should be attending?  Or rather, should a person schedule an honest to goodness divorce consultation with an attorney to which they have been referred or otherwise have researched? 

There is no privacy or anonymity at the seminar – you may see neighbors, parents of your children’s classmates, etc.  There is no confidentiality or privilege at a seminar.  You have these things at an initial consultation. 

You cannot ask confidential questions at a seminar; maybe you cannot ask questions at all (and the smart attorney probably would not take questions for risk of prematurely creating an attorney client relationship.)  You cannot show the attorney any pertinent document for the same reason.  And how can you develop a rapport with a speaker at a seminar?  The seminar can never be tailored to your special circumstances because one size never fits all. At a seminar, you cannot really probe the presenter’s experience, depth of staff and other resources of the firm, ability to commit to your case, etc. 

At the end of the day, a one-on-one consultation, even if you have to pay for it, will be far more worthwhile to protect your dignity and get the attention and information you deserve.

It has recently come to light that the court may have been calculating child support incorrectly.  This revelation comes to light from a Mercer County case where an attorney recalculated child support using the software in his office and came up with the different result than the Court.  As a result, the attorney wrote to the Court and the Court directed the matter to the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) for review.  Sure enough, the attorney was correct and a corrected Order was entered. 

Since the support as calculated by the Court’s child support software was about 10% too high, this has raised concern among the bar whether all support orders calculated by the Court in the recent past have been too high. 

When the new Child Support Guidelines came out about a dozen years ago, there were essentially two main software packages that calculated support and the Court had one of the two.  While they usually were close, it was not uncommon for their to be a slight deviation in the calculations.  If there was a real discrepancy, the Court would usually accept the guidelines calculated using the same software that the Court had.

Several years ago, the Court went to a web based program to calculate child support.  This program was not available to the public or attorneys.  It now appears that there could be a problem with this program. 

If this is so, who knows how long it has been going on.  Perhaps there was user error in the matter described above – but that does not seem to be the case. Further, as both the taxes considered and other aspects of the Guidelines are essentially updated yearly, perhaps there was a programing error in the most recent update.  Worse yet would be if there has been a "glitch" in the Court’s program since it’s inception.

In the mean time, if your child support was calculated by the Court, you may want to have the calculations checked. 

Either way, stay tuned for updates on this story.

Summer is over.  Kids are either back to school by now or will start by Tuesday.  The regular routine for most families will soon be back in full swing.

Another phenomena occurs this time of year.  A surge of people call for divorce consultations.  At first I thought it odd or coincidental.  Over the last several years, it has become commonplace.  There is a similar phenomena after New Year’s Day. 

New Year’s seems logical – New Year’s resolutions.  Seemingly decisions are made to not be unhappy anymore and improve what one perceives to be a problem in their lives.  Back to school, however, does not have the same immediate "of course" as to why things occur this time of year.

I suspect that for most people, theirs kids are the most important thing. Since the kids are off and around during the summer, I suspect that many people do not want to start the process while their children are off, where long planned family vacations are scheduled, etc.  Once the routine is back it place, there are more distractions.

This is not to say that people do not start divorces at other times of the year.  Just that there are noticeable surges at these two times of years.

Though this is not to suggest that anyone should rush out to get a divorce, for those with questions about the process, our firm can answer any of your questions.  With our three offices in New Jersey, we cover the entire state.

A typical question that I hear at most initial consultations (and I suspect most other divorce attorneys hear the same question) , is "how do I get my spouse out of the house?"  The typical answer is that unless there is a new act of domestic violence, you cannot usually have a spouse removed from the house while the case is pending.

While in a perfect world, attorneys are not telling their client’s to get restraining orders that are not legitimate, that seems naive.  Similarly, I am sure that badly motivated litigants, when hearing that a restraining order is necessary to get rid of their spouse, will do whatever it takes to get that restraining order, including provoking altercations and/or fabricating an incident.  I have, unfortunately seen or heard of this many times.  In fact, I often advise people to have a recorder with them at all times to protect themselves from a set-up.  In a recent case, the wife told the husband that she would no anything she could to get him out of the house.  I have unfortunately heard this a lot.  Aside from the obvious reason to get rid of a spouse, the other reason is that with the entry of a final restraining order comes a rebuttable presumption that the victim should get custody of the children.  Also, there is the practical advantage of gaining possession of the home and temporary custody of the children by virtue of a restraining order. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Domestic violence, real domestic violence is a blight on our society and is in no way acceptable.  That is not what I am talking about.  I am talking about, at best, what the Appellate Division has called "domestic contretemps" (i.e. your garden variety argument) and at worst the set-up noted above. 

Continue Reading THE ABUSE AND MISUSE OF THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE STATUTE

i have heard on a number of occasions lawyers and judges saying that they cannot, at trial, award retroactive support for the pendency of case if no interim (called pendente lite in New Jersey) support motion was made seeking support.

In the unreported case of Bright v. Bright decided July 9, 2009, the Appellate Division firmly holds to the contrary, affirming the decision of the trial court.  While the case is very fact specific, the logic of the decision was clearly enumerated as follows:

The purpose of pendente lite support is to preserve the status quo, maintaining the parties in the positions they were in prior to the litigation. Mallamo v. Mallamo, 280 N.J. Super. 8, 11-12 (App. Div. 1995); Rose v. Csapo, 359 N.J. Super. 53, 58
(Ch. Div. 2002). "Maintenance of the status quo involves payment of the marital bills and expenses necessary to maintain the dependent spouse at the standard of living enjoyed during the course of the marriage." Rose, supra, 359 N.J. Super. at  60.

Moreover, logically, if someone is not receiving proper support during the pendency of the matter, eatery because they didn’t seek it, by agreement or by court order, why should it matter how the deficiency occurred? 

An opinion issued by Judge McGann in Monmouth County in December 2008 was released for publication in June 8, 2009.   In the case of Centanni v. Centanni, the Court held again that child support could be modified retroactively in limited circumstances.

In this tragic case, one of the parties’ children died in a car accident in October 2007.  The father did not file a motion to modify his child support per the parties’ 2004 Property Settlement Agreement until January 2008. 

While typically the law is that child support cannot be retroactively modified, there are limited circumstances where it is possible.  However, prior to this case, there were no reported decisions dealing with the death of a child.  Judge McGann held that:

Upon the tragic death of the parties’ daughter, the duty to pay support for her ceased. Nothing within the four corners of the statute evinces an intent on the part of the legislature to bar retroactive modification upon such an occurrence. Moreover, there are other equities at work here. To bar retroactive modification would be to punish financially an obligor who has thoughtfully, and in good faith, allowed an appropriate period of grieving and healing to take place before seeking redress in court. Consequently, a bar on retroactive modifications would encourage an inopportunely-timed filing while families are still in the midst of coping with the tragedy.

Given the previous reported decisions allowing retroactive modification in certain circumstances, for instance, upon emancipation, one has to wonder why the mother fought the retroactive termination of support. Certainly, the legal fees that she expended were going to substantially cut into if not exceed the support at issue. 

In reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Mani v. Mani (which held that non-economic fault was not relevant to alimony except in "egregious circumstances") and the Appellate Division’s decision in Calbi v. Calbi (which did not preclude alimony to a woman who beat and kicked her 14 year old son to death during an alcohol related incident), on April 17, 2009, Governor Corzine signed a bill that did the following:

  • It amended the alimony statute to deny alimony to a person convicted of murder, manslaughter, criminal homicide, death by auto, aggravated assault of a similar office in a other jurisdiction if the crime results in the death of a child and is committed after the divorce.
  • It eliminated inheritance rights for a surviving parent that abused, abandoned, committed a sexual offense against or negligently endangered the child
  • It eliminated under the worker’s compensation statutes recovery by a parent who committed those same acts against their child. 

We previously blogged about the tragic Calbi case.  To see that post, click here.

The new law takes effect in July 2009.

Though the Appellate panel in Calbi invited the Legislature to amend the law, it will be interesting to see if there will be further legal challenge to these laws, particularly as to the alimony  and worker’s compensation aspects, because of the specific purpose of those laws.