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.

Apple Sulit-Peralejo, a partner in our Atlantic City office blogged earlier today regarding counsel fees and bad faith. 

Often counsel fee decisions come down to findings of bad faith and the case law certainly is replete with references to bad faith.  However, when Court Rule 5:3-5(c) was revised about 10 years ago, the standard was relaxed such that bad faith was no longer necessary, but rather, the "reasonableness" of the positions became the standard.  Or did it?  Reading the cases, such as the one cited in Apple’s post. a lot of time was spent on the issue of bad faith.

That said, when you see large counsel fee awards, it is usually after a trial.  In my experience, though few cases are tried (about 1 to 2%), when cases get tried, it is because one party’s conduct or the positions that the took were so absurd that a finding of bad faith is almost inevitable.

Earlier this week, after a 5 day trial that took place over the better part of a year, my client was awarded $40,000 in legal fees.  In this case, she was the parent of primary residence in the parties’ divorce agreement.  She told her ex-husband that she was going to move to Monmouth County from Hudson County with the parties’ child, to live with her fiance’.  The husband made a motion for custody, essentially seeking to preclude our client from moving with her child.  The case law is pretty clear that the custodial parent can move within the state of NJ.  After we cited that in our brief in opposition to the motion, he concocted a new argument that he was the de facto custodial parent and the trial followed on this issue.  During the trial we were able to prove that his claim was bogus and that for a very short period of time post divorce when he had the child more than 50% of the time, it was because he violated the Agreement and refused to return the child.  This conduct as well as his lies were simply unreasonable.  Similarly, the Court found that he was actively trying to remove our client from the child’s life.  This too was unreasonable.

Continue Reading IF I WIN, DO I GET COUNSEL FEES? – ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

Given the current economy, a major issue being discussed by family law attorneys and judges is how to handle the issue of support modification where due to the current economy, someones income is eliminated or greatly decreased.  The standard for modification of support is that there has to be a showing of a substantial and continuing change of circumstances.  One of the major issues being discussed is how long does one have to be out of work before making an application to the Court. 

The second issue is even if the change is temporary – whatever that now means – should there still not be some temporary relief because if the existing Order or Agreement is not fair.  A general proposition of law is that Agreements can only be enforced to the extent that they are fair.

Earlier this week, the Appellate Division decided the case of Baker v. Baker which leads me to believe that help may be on the way. To view the case, click here.

In Baker, the parties were divorced in 1998.  At the time, the husband worked was a Managing Director at Pershing Trading Company and earning nearly $800,000 per year, the great
bulk of which came in the form of an annual bonus.  The parties agreed that he would pay alimony in the amount of $10,000 per month.

Continue Reading MODIFICATION BASED ON THE ECONOMY – IS HELP ON THE WAY?

On February 13, 2009, the Appellate Division issued an interesting unreported decision in the case of Chopoorian v. Chopoorian dealing with a topic that we have blogged about frequently as of late – modification of support obligations. To review the full text of the opinion, click here.

The parties were divorced in 2005.  During the marriage, the husband operated a highly  successful advertising business which provided him with an annual income of over $900,000 in 2003. The parties also owned several valuable pieces of real estate.  The divorce agreement required the husband to pay $187,500 per year in permanent alimony and $50,000 per year in child support.  Of note, the Agreement stated:

Husband’s earned income as defined herein may increase to $650,000 gross per year (before taxes) before Wife is entitled to file a Motion to modify/increase alimony
based on an increase in Husband’s earned income. Husband’s earned income must decline to $400,000 gross per year (before taxes) or below before he is entitled to file a Motion to modify/decrease alimony based on a decrease in earned income.

The husband was also supposed to pay the wife $1.3 million over time for her share of the business interests.

Continue Reading SUPPORT MODIFICATION – ANOTHER DAY ANOTHER DECISION

Usually, the "you snooze, you lose" defense is not often a successful legal tactic.  However, in the recent unreported Appellate Division decision in Adler v. Adler the former wife’s application seeking unpaid child support, alimony and other obligations brought some 30 years later was denied essentially because she waited to long to collect.  To read the full text of the decision, click here. 

Pursuant to the Judgment of Divorce entered in 1973, the ex husband was required to pay $235 per week as undifferentiated child support and alimony until the oldest child was emancipated, at
which time the weekly support was to be reduced by $50 per week.  That same $50 reduction was to occur when each of the two younger children became emancipated. The JOD also obligated
defendant to pay: the mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities on the marital home; all reasonable and necessary medical expenses for the children; health insurance premiums for ex-wife and the children; $3,500 to the ex-wife on or before August 15, 1973; $6,231.85 for various unpaid bills arising during the marriage; college tuition for the parties’ three children; and orthodontic treatment for the parties’ two sons.  Other than an enforcement Order from November 1973, there were no other Orders in the case.  In addition, in 1975, the Probation Department closed their account, though arrears existed at that time, due to direct payments being made.

Between 1975 and 1978, the ex-husband stopped making payments.  There was an enforcement motion filed in Maine in April 1978 and another Order entered later that year in Delaware County, New York that held the husband in contempt. Another enforcement motion was filed in late 1979 but their appears to be no further enforcement efforts taken thereafter.

Continue Reading SHE SNOOZED, SHE LOST

Mark Ashton, a partner in our Exton (Chester County), Pennsylvania office and the editor of our Pennsylvania Family Law Blog, wrote an interesting post entitled "Property Settlement Agreements: Be Careful What You Sign Up For", on that blog. 

To read the full post, click here.

The post discusses how the Bankruptcy laws impact on divorce matters.  The bottom line is that while a debtor may be able to avoid all kinds of debts in a bankruptcy proceeding,  if your obligation is to a spouse or your kids, the rules are different and those obligations are going to survive your bankruptcy. The bottom line is that you should make an agreement that is realistic and reasonable, that you can actually pay and not one that you hope you will be able to pay.

 

I was supposed to start a trial yesterday,but, as often happens, with the judge’s assistance, settlement negotiations began.  In fact, in reality, the case probably settled about 3 times yesterday.  However, each time we tried to wrap it up, the wife changed the terms, seeking more and more.  My client, who believed that that he would probably do better at trial, made a business decision to agree to the changes, in consideration for the costs of trial, risks of loss, etc.  That was his call as we were ready  to start the trial and were thoroughly prepared.

On the other hand, on top of changing her terms over and over again, the wife became abusive to her attorney who was trying to counsel her that the terms of the proposed deal(s) were probably far better than she would do at trial.  On top of that, she had major exposure to pay the husband’s legal fees based on her conduct during the pendency of the matter (multiple violation of court orders and discovery abuses). 

That gets me to the point of this post.  Opposing counsel was in an impossible position.  He knew that the deal was too good for his client but could not force her to settle.  She is essentially forcing or demanding a trial, which counsel believes is not in her best interests.  His problem became compounded when she became abusive.

At the end of the day, the decision to settle is hers.  The refusal to settle may cost her tens of thousands of dollars.  The attorney fulfilled his obligation and told her.  It may ultimately be an expensive lesson learned.

 

The big news this morning was Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s $92 million divorce settlement.  With such a large payout, it makes you wonder whether there was a prenuptial agreement in place (if you type that question into Google, you get differing responses), and if there was, if it was disregarded throughout the marriage. 

In any event, prenups are not just for celebrities.  A common type of prenuptial agreement is one where there is a family business, trust or generally a lot of money and property on one side that the parents do not want to get into the hands of the new spouse, no matter what.  In fact, I blogged yesterday on a new reported case where that was the issue.  To see that post, click here.  Sometimes those types of prenups are difficult to negotiate because the spouse with the family money may want to be more generous to the new spouse than his/her family is willing to be.   I have seen this cause great distress on the eve of a wedding. 

Another common theme for a prenuptial agreement is when people get remarried later in life (due to divorce or death of a prior spouse) and they have children who they want to pass their assets to.  Sometimes, both prospective spouses are in this situation.  These are typically easier to negotiate.  The bigger issues in these cases are how will bills be paid, whether there will ever be any joint assets created, and sometimes medical issues – does the spouse or the children make decisions. 

I was recently involved in one of these later in life pre-nups where a big issue was whether the children of an incapacitated spouse could bring a suit for divorce on behalf of their parent.  This was an issue because the non-monied spouse received something different at the other spouse’s death vs. divorce.  Depending on where the parties were in their marriage, a maliciously motivated or more like self interested child could seemingly seek to pursue a divorce.  We had to craft language to protect the parties in this event.

Another circumstance where I have occasionally seen a prenuptial agreement, but questioned from the perspective of why the non-monied spouse would ever sign or go through with the marriage.  These are the cases where the parties are reasonably young, where one has more than the other (but not substantially so) or a premarital business which is not particularly successful and the less advantaged spouse is being asked to waive off on virtually all of the assets derived and/or income earned during the marriage, and perhaps also being to waive alimony too despite a clear disparity or soon to be disparity in income.  In fact, the parties plan to have children and the plan was that the non-monied spouse would be a stay at home parent. In one of these cases, the agreement was so unconscionable in my eyes, that I would not continue the representation.  I believe that the client signed anyway.  If there ever is a divorce, I suspect that she will either be very sorry she signed the agreement or will be in for a very expensive legal battle regarding the enforceability of the agreement.

For more information about prenuptial agreements in these or other circumstances, do not hesitate to contact any of the lawyers in Fox Rothschild’s family law group.