South Orange Divorce Attorneys

We have an adversary who loves to say, when responding to motions that we have filed, that the best defense is a good offense.  He has even taking to giving official attribution to the person that came up with that line.   The gist of the statement is that our client is going on the attack to divert from his/her own wrong doing.  But really what it is is a tactic to create a smoke screen.  If permitted at argument, I was prepared with a few quotes of my own (“the lady doth protest too much, methinks”; and “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck” both came to mind.)

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That said, here’s how it works.  Parent #1 makes an allegation that the parent #2 interfered with parenting time.  Parent #2’s response goes something like this, “In response to the allegation that I interfered with Parent #1’s parenting time, ADD ATTACK AGAINST PARENTING #1 HERE THAT IN NO WAY ACTUALLY RESPONDS TO THE ALLEGATION.  Put another way, instead of specifically addressing the conduct that was alleged to have been perpetrated, just say what the other party did wrong – or worse, that the other party does it too – so it is justified or some in some way okay.  What you have here is what seems to be a denial, but it is really a non-denial or a some type of two wrongs make a right justification.

That is, until you point out, if you even have to, that the specific conduct was never denied.  Don’t assume that the judge is going to pick up on it – be prepared to point it out.  Be prepared to actually quote the specific response.  Judges expect parties to spin facts.  They don’t like to be lied to and don’t like it when parties or lawyers sidestep issues.  This happened just recently in a case and the judge made a point of saying that, when you read the papers carefully, this is the unusual case where the allegations really weren’t denied – just before she came down hard on the parties.

The bottom line is that quotes and other fancy tricks are great, except when the court actually cuts through the morass and realizes that you didn’t actually deny what was said.  Have fun then.

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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. Connect with Eric: Twitter_64 Linkedin

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During the current football free agent season, you hear the pundits frequently say that if you get a free agent that you want to sign in your building, don’t let him leave without a deal.  Why?  You don’t want them to get wooed by some other team or have second thoughts.   How does this apply to divorce, you may ask?

The case has been going on a long time.  One or both of the litigants or opposing counsel is difficult.  You are finally all together at a settlement conference, mediation, Intensive Settlement Conference at court.  Much to your surprise, real progress toward settlement is being made.  Finally, after a long, torturous day, you have a deal.

Arrows Choice Shows Options Alternatives Or Deciding Stock Photo  Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Now what do you do?  Do you do something to bind the parties to the essential terms of the deal?  If in court, do you put the terms on the record?  If at mediation, do you prepare some type of memorandum as the Willinboro Mall case that we have blogged on requires?  Or do you adjourn to prepare a formal Marital Settlement Agreement or Consent Order, knowing that someone could have second thoughts and blow the deal?  What if your client is desperate for the case to be done, but they are agreeing to a borderline bad or really bad deal?  Do you suggest that you adjourn to allow cooler heads to prevail with the hope that your client may re-think their acquiescence (maybe it was out of guilt, shame, fatigue, duress, emotional abuse going on behind the scenes, maybe they didn’t really understand, maybe they didn’t take their medicine. may they took a substance, etc.)?

That said, why do we not seal the deal, all of the time, even without a formal agreement listing all of the terms?  Because the devil is often in the details.  There are logisitical issues, issues about security, specific tax issues, issues regarding the specifics about how you will divide a retirement asset, etc. as well as a lot of other boilerplate – some meaningfull – some less so – that you would include in a formal agreement.  Sometimes you think you have a deal but then when you start discussing the details, you realize that there is more work to do, or in some cases, that there really wasn’t a meeting of the minds, at all.

Ok – so it sounds like you should never have a settlement without a formal agreement.  That’s not always true either, even though it is probably advisable.  In a recent matter, one party repeatedly reneged on a deal, even after my client agreed to “just one more thing” over and over and over.  At a court settlement conference, both that litigant’s attorney and the mediator were of the firm opinion that if the deal wasn’t put on the record, they feared that the other party would renege yet again.  So even though this was complicated, we put the basic terms on the record because it was important to bind them for other reasons.  There are other times when it may make sense to bind people to their agreement, as well.  It really is a case by case decision.

These are scenarios that divorce lawyers and litigants face every day.  This is tough stuff.  There is sense of relief, if not euphoria, when a matter is settled. That said – you have to choose wisely before you walk out of the door without the settlement being completely buttoned down.


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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The Canning case has dominated the news in New Jersey and points beyond over the last two weeks.  You know, the so-called “spoiled teen” that moved out of her parents house, and among other thing, sued to have them pay for college.  Robert Epstein has blogged on it several times on this blog. While it was reported today that the matter may have been amicably resolved, the trial judge and legal pundits far and wide spoke of her uphill battle to succeed in the case.

 

Graduation Concept Stock PhotoPhotos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

But why?  The pundits again point to the constitution.  The constitution, they say, prevents government from intruding in the care and parenting decisions of fit parents.

Page one of the original copy of the Constitution

But we know that government can act to prevent harm.  There are laws governing car seats, education and a whole host of other things that infringe on a parents rights as to their children.  Fit parents cannot provide alcohol to their children before they are of legal age. In fact, we know from the grandparent visitation cases, that the constitutionally protected decisions of fit parents to deny grandparental access can be overcome by a showing of harm to the children.  Some of the pundits have suggested that children of divorced parents will be harmed if their parents are not compelled to pay for college – that’s not quite right – but query why children of in tact families can be harmed if their parents refuse to pay for college – and that is ok – but children of divorce need some special protection from the exact same “harm”?

So where does the obligation for college come from?  The Supreme Court case of Newburgh v. Arrigo is most often cited as the basis for this.  Though I have read the case dozens of times over the years, I read it again when the Cannings invaded our consciousness. Here is what Newburgh actually says:

Generally parents are not under a duty to support children after the age of majority. Nonetheless, in appropriate circumstances, the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children. Frequently, the issue of that duty arises in the context of a divorce or separation proceeding where a child, after attaining majority, seeks contribution from a non-custodial parent for the cost of a college education. In those cases, courts have treated “necessary education” as a flexible concept that can vary in different circumstances. …

In the past, a college education was reserved for the elite, but the vital impulse of egalitarianism has inspired the creation of a wide variety of educational institutions that provide post-secondary education for practically everyone. State, county and community colleges, as well as some private colleges and vocational schools provide educational opportunities at reasonable costs. Some parents cannot pay, some can pay in part, and still others can pay the entire cost of higher education for their children. In general, financially capable parents should contribute to the higher education of children who are qualified students. In appropriate circumstances, parental responsibility includes the duty to assure children of a college and even of a postgraduate education such as law school. (Emphasis added)(internal citations omitted).

So does Newburgh speak to harm?  No, it says that college education is a necessary.  Does the case limit the obligation to provide this necessary to a divorce?  I don’t know – as noted above, the case simply notes that the issue frequently arises in the context of divorce.  You could certainly argue that Newburgh doesn’t limit the issue to divorce cases.  But then Newburgh speaks to the concept that the obligation attaches to those who are “financially capable” (often honored in the breach because many judges have treated the obligation for college absolute even without financial capability but that is an issue for another day.)  That said, if the standard is financial capability, one could argue that in tact families are likely more capable that divorced families where the same income that once supported one household now has to support two homes.  If college is a necessary, does the denial of payment for college rise to the level of harm?

This leads me back to the question raised in the title – why do parents who are divorced have to pay but parents in in tact families do not?  I know, I know, the Constitution.  Maybe just maybe, the harm standard can be raised to overcome a fit parents decision to deny a child of this necessary.

Finally, the constitutional attack is rarely raised in this way, but from time to time, is raised by divorced parents who are forced to pay for college.  The court usually avoids deciding this issue.  That said, in many other states (and NJ is in the minority of states that require parents to pay for college), the obligation to pay for college was struck down on constitutional grounds – i.e. there is no basis to compel the obligation for divorced parents but not married parents.

While the Cannings may now be in our rear view mirror, hopefully for them and for the rest of us, I expect that this debate may rage on.

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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 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.

There has been an alimony reform movement that has been gaining traction throughout the country.  Some of the major concerns appear to be this issue of permanent alimony and the lack of uniformity in alimony awards, both in amount and duration, from case to case.  In the recent past, alimony laws have been reformed in Florida, Massachusetts and Maryland.  Is New Jersey next?

On March 7, 2013, A3909 was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly, which, if passed, would radically change alimony as we know it in New Jersey. 

The following are a highlight of the changes:

  • All references to permanent alimony are deleted from the statute, though, as noted below, for marriages of more than 20 years, an indefinite award of alimony can be be granted

 

  • The concept of imputing income to someone that is unemployed or underemployed, which already exists in the case law and child support guidelines, would be codified

 

     

  • The amount of limited duration alimony should not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 percent in the difference between the parties gross incomes at the time of the initial award, though a court would have the discretion to deviate.  Some reasons for deviation would be advanced age, chronic illness, unusual health circumstances, whether the payer is providing or ordered to provide health insurance to the recipient, sources and amounts of unearned income not allocated in equitable distribution, the recipient’s inability to become self-supporting based upon the abuse of the payer, and others, including a catch all "any other factors that a court deems relevant and material."

 

Continue Reading Is Alimony Reform On Its Way in New Jersey

How many prenuptial agreements have language in them that the parties are entering into the agreement free from duress, coercion, undue influence, etc?  The answer is all of them.  Some even ask people to waive fraud – how you can do that I don’t know because if you knew you were being defrauded, you probably wouldn’t enter into the agreement.  How many times is the agreement presented at the last minute, after the bride to be’s parents are out tens of thousands of dollars for the wedding?  How many times does the person presenting the agreement say "Don’t worry about it, it doesn’t mean anything", "don’t worry about it, I’ll give you more" or "don’t worry about it, I’ll rip it up in 5 years or after we have kids, etc?" 

This probably happens all to often or at least, more often then we want to believe.  In most cases, since you have said you have entered into the agreement free from duress, etc., you will have a hard time getting out of the agreement at the time of divorce.

But alas, comes the Petraikis case out of New York discussed in yesterday’s New York Post.  In this case, Elizabeth argued that Peter coerced her signature, threatening to call off the wedding even though her father had already paid $40,000 for the reception.  She also claimed that he told her that he would rip up the agreement as soon as they had children.  The trial court set aside the prenup on the basis that Peter fraudulently induced Elizabeth to sign it.  The Appellate Court upheld this decision.

In New York, prenups are usually particularly hard to overturn so many deem this to be a landmark decision.  The take away here is that despite the recitations in the agreement, the door is open to try to prove contrary behavior and/or that there were additional promises outside of the agreement.  One wonders whether a video taped signing with the usual questions that the agreement was voluntarily being entered into would have saved the agreement.  That said, for the proponent of the agreement, you need to be really careful about what you say to induce the other side to sign an agreement and what pressure is put on to get an agreement signed.

 

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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.

 

I sit here stewing on this overcast Friday because the other side reneged on the settlement in two matters, after we believed we were all but resolved in both.  Whether or not these were enforceable settlements is a topic for another blog.  That said, one is particularly frustrating because the other side essentially undid a package proposed by them a few mediation sessions ago which been discussed at a few mediation sessions, only to come back with a new proposal that was accepted by my client. 

The problem is that no one ever just says "my client changed his/her mind."  This would be a fine answer especially in situations where we have laid the ground rule that there is no deal until it is signed of by everyone.  Rather than truth, we get hit with lame, absurd, and/or intellectually dishonest explanations as to why there never was a deal in the first place, and/or why the back tracking (a nice way to say bad faith negotiations) was justified.

What are some of the "dog ate my homework" excuses we have heard.

  • My client didn’t really understand (Were you, the attorney not there?)"
  • the mediation session was chaotic and ended abruptly (note – no denial that there was a deal)
  • my client didn’t believe that any agreements were reached that date (of course, the lawyer isn’t saying that there were no agreements reached)
  • "Oh, is that what we agreed to"
  • My client never agreed to that
  • We may be close on the big stuff (how is that when we accepted your offer on the "big stuff")
  • My client was very emotional
  • My client was hungry
  • My client didn’t take their medication or took too much medication

I am sure that my colleagues could add dozens more.  That said, if a non-binding settlement is reached, wouldn’t it be just better to tell the truth – i.e. my client changed her mind – then create anger and bad feelings spewing nonsense to cover for the acceptable truth?  I’m just sayin …

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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

Back in 2009, we blogged about the possible inclusion of Parental Alienation Syndrome in the long awaited next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

In that post, I discussed a US News and World Report article that addressed a movement afoot to add "parental alienation" to the next addition of the DSM (ie. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

However, as expected for some time, the American Psychiatric Association board of trustees has recently approved the DSM 5 which has will be released in May 2013 and it has been confirmed that Parental Alienation Syndrome will not be included in the DSM V.

I am sure that this is both a defeat to some and a happy time for others. As I noted back then, while there appears to be little debate on whether parental alienation in both subtle and not so subtle forms goes on, there is a debate as to whether it represents a mental illness. On top of that, there is concern that certain opposition to visiting with a parent could either be age appropriate (eg. a teenager being oppositional) or otherwise justified.

No matter where you stand on the debate as to whether parental alienation is a mental illness, it is clear that alienating behavior in whatever form, big or small, cannot be good for the children that are exposed to it.  That said, because it will not be in the DSM, the debate over the issue shall rage on.  Moreover, without a diagnostic code, it will be difficult to get insurance companies, where coverage for mental health issues is often challenging, to pay for treatment related to parental alienation.
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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.

Aaron Weems is an attorney in our Blue Bell (Montgomery County), Pennsylvania office and editor of the firm’s Pennsylvania Family Law Blog wrote an excellent post entitled "Emotional Abuse Just as Harmful as Physical Abuse."

While some of the local programs Aaron discusses for his county may not be available in New Jersey, the piece provides a good explanation of the issues and I encourage you to read it.

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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.

When settling a case, the parties and their lawyers can be far more creative in settlement then a judge can be if the case is tried.  While family judges have wide discretion in their decision making, creativity is crafting the most beneficial result for both parties is rarely something they can do.  In fact, in many ways, they are constrained from the type of creativity that we see every day in divorce agreements. 

What if you are a high earner, but your income fluctuates greatly from year to year?  While a judge will likely have no choice but to determine your average income over 3 to 5 years and base support upon that as well as the rest of the statutory factors, you may want to agree on some kind of formula so that there is fairness year over year, i.e. you pay more in a better year and less in a down year. For example, if your average income is $2,500,000 but your income fluctuates between $1 million and $4 million per year.  You would really hate paying alimony in those years you only make $1 million.  If a judge decided this case using averages, you might be forced to pay your entire net income, or more, to you ex spouse in the down year.  Similarly, a judge could never say that support "automatically" is reduced or even reviewed if your income is less than $X in the future. 

This concept was reiterated again by the Appellate Division on October 29, 2012 in an unreported  (non-precedential) decision in the case of Means v. Snipes.  In this case, after a trial, the judge decided that in the event that defendant’s annual income fell below $2 million, he would receive a reduction in alimony. This is the one thing that both parties agreed was in error – a rare agreement in a very contentious case.

Continue Reading Another Reason to Settle – Parties can agree to things that Judge's can't mandate – like automatic reductions and formulas for alimony

Having just experienced several months of "interesting", to say the least, negotiations on several matters, it got me thinking about creating a list of things to do if you really don’t want to settle your case.  Hey, every body 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 thousand of dollars.  Here is the 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 spouses 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 wont try protect 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.

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.

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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.