The divorce process can be an overwhelming time for the entire family. There are many questions to be answered and decisions to be made. There are financial issues that need to be addressed, as well as custody matters when there are children involved. When going through a divorce, it is important to have a Mount Laurel family law lawyer on your side to represent your needs and goals in settlements, custody agreements, and financial arrangements.
An experienced Mount Laurel family law lawyer will be able to work with you, your ex-spouse’s attorney, and the court system in order to reach a resolution that is beneficial to you and your loved ones. Your lawyer will represent your interests throughout divorce proceedings to ensure that your priorities are addressed and taken into consideration. There are multiple facets of a divorce, and having an experienced lawyer helps make navigating an otherwise difficult process go much more smoothly.
Among the areas that a family law lawyer can assist clients with include the following:
- Prenuptial agreements
- Child custody and parenting time
- Child support
- Grandparents’ visitation rights
In New Jersey, prenuptial agreements are called premarital agreements, which can also be entered into before a civil union. A premarital agreement must be in writing and signed by each spouse and becomes effective on the date of the marriage or civil union.
The agreement establishes how a couple will divide their assets in the case of divorce and is a way to protect each spouse’s individual assets before the marriage. There are several provisions the agreement can include, such as the following:
- The rights and obligations of the involved parties in regard to properties.
- The rights and obligation to buy, sell, use, abandon, exchange, lease, consume, mortgage, create security in, or manage or control the property.
- The disposition of said property in the event of divorce, death, dissolution, or designated occurrence.
- Wills, trusts, and details of death benefits. Details are agreed upon and carried out.
- The distribution of property and spousal support agreement.
- Any other matter including but not limited to personal rights and obligations.
A couple has a wide range of flexibility in what they choose to include in the agreement. However, they cannot include any provisions that will have an adverse impact on either one to provide child support. The only way to revoke or change the agreement is through a written request signed by both spouses.
Concerns over property and finances can increase emotional stress and make the divorce process more difficult. It is important to understand the divorce process if you have decided that getting a divorce is the best course of action for you and your family. There are different routes and options available to you with a divorce in New Jersey.
In New Jersey, an uncontested divorce occurs when both parties agree on all major factors of the divorce, including child custody and parenting time, child support, division of assets and debts, alimony or spousal support, any tax-related issues, or other marital issues, such as ownership of a business or monies received from an inheritance. An uncontested divorce in New Jersey can move quickly to a final hearing, usually with no need for pretrial proceedings such as discovery.
In New Jersey, uncontested divorces have two basic requirements:
- At least one of the spouses must have lived in New Jersey for at least 12 months prior to the initial divorce filing.
- One more both of the spouses has been experiencing irreconcilable differences for six months, indicating there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.
There must be a ground, or legal reason, cited for the divorce. In an uncontested divorce, couples typically select “irreconcilable differences” as the ground because neither spouse is to blame for being the cause of the dissolution of the marriage. This is called a “no-fault” divorce in New Jersey.
In New Jersey, an uncontested divorce can be expedited if several criteria are met:
- The marriage lasted for less than five years.
- There is no dispute about the facts or issues surrounding the marriage, such as income, value of assets, or child custody.
- The spouses have agreed to the terms of a written and signed property settlement agreement, detailing their entire agreement.
A contested divorce is known as a “fault divorce” and requires proving one spouse’s wrongdoing. If the court believes the spouse is at fault, then the divorce may be granted.
Fault divorce may be pursued on the grounds of the following:
- Adultery: For the purpose of New Jersey divorce law, adultery is defined as one spouse rejecting the other spouse by entering into a personal intimate relationship with another person. The law does not specify any particular sexual act as constituting, only that by one spouse having a personal and intimate relationship with a person outside the marriage the other spouse is rejected.
- Marital abandonment or desertion: This must be for at least 12 consecutive months immediately prior, and spouses can still be living in the same residence.
- Extreme cruelty: This includes acts of physical violence and acts of mental cruelty which endanger safety or health or which make continued living together unreasonable or improper.
- Institutionalization due to mental illness: This must be for at least 12 consecutive months immediately prior to filing.
- Incarceration: This has to be at least 18 months immediately prior to filing.
- Habitual drug or alcohol use: This must be for at least 12 consecutive months immediately prior and has to be persistent and substantial.
- Deviant sexual conduct: Any deviant sexual act performed on you by your spouse without your consent qualifies for this ground for divorce; however, be aware that it can be difficult to prove in court.
In New Jersey, the terms “alimony,” “spousal support,” and “spousal maintenance” are all used interchangeably. It involves an amount of money that one spouse pays to another on a routine basis during the divorce proceedings and/or for a period of time after the divorce is finalized.
The goal of alimony is to prevent either party of the divorcing couple from experiencing a severe change in their standard of living in an effort to help balance the financial consequences and impact of the divorce itself. There is no universal calculator for awarding alimony in New Jersey. Each time alimony is awarded, it requires an analysis of the unique factors and circumstances related to the divorcing parties.
Division of Assets and Debts
In New Jersey, the law requires that all property, assets, and debts accumulated during the marriage be equitably divided between the spouses upon dissolution of the marriage. Equitably does not mean equally, as New Jersey courts consider a long list of factors when dividing assets and debts between divorcing spouses.
Assets include all financial and real estate holdings, as well as pensions and retirement funds. An experienced lawyer can assist in determining what assets and debts are subject to equitable distribution and give you a clear understanding of how New Jersey courts are likely to divide them. A lawyer will also help draft a property settlement agreement or marital settlement agreement related to the equitable distribution of these assets and debts.
In New Jersey, when parents’ divorce, the final settlement agreement will specify which parent has what type of child custody and how often the other parent is granted parenting time. In some cases, this can be worked out between the parents themselves. However, that is not always the case, and these issues are decided by the court. The ultimate goal is to determine what arrangement is in the children’s best interests.
There are different types of child custody in New Jersey that dictate parents’ responsibilities:
- Physical custody: This pertains to the actual physical location where the children will be living as their primary residence and where they will go to school.
- Sole physical custody: If a parent is granted sole physical custody of a child, the child is only allowed to live with them. This parent is sometimes called the “custodial parent” or “primary caretaker.” The non-custodial parent is usually granted some form of parenting time, according to a set schedule. This may be supervised or unsupervised.
- Joint physical custody: Under joint physical custody, both parents have an equal right to have the child live with them. Parents with joint physical custody typically have joint legal custody as well. There is no visitation or parenting time in these cases.
- Legal custody: Legal custody determines who will be making important decisions regarding to the child’s care and well-being, such as health, education, and religion.
- Sole legal custody: In cases where it is preferable or necessary for one parent to make the child’s life decisions, they may seek sole legal custody. If both parents are not willing to sign such an agreement, being awarded sole legal custody can be very difficult. One parent must provide the judge with evidence that the other parent is not fit to make decisions regarding a child’s care and well-being.
- Joint legal custody: Joint legal custody is a common arrangement between parents in New Jersey. It entails both parents having equal input in major decisions related to their child, even if one parent has primary physical custody. It works well if the parents are able to communicate effectively with regard to raising the child and making joint decisions.
There are multiple factors a judge considers when determining the proper child custody arrangement for a particular family. For example, a judge will not initially grant custody to a parent who has a history of violence or domestic abuse. That would also factor into a non-custodial parent’s visitation rights as well. Non-custodial parents with a history of abuse still have a right to parenting time with their children, although it will be under different circumstances. These visits will take place at a neutral site, which is free from the influence of the custodial parent. The visit will also be supervised by a third-party state employee.
Other factors that a judge considers when determining custody arrangements include how the child interacts with each parent and sibling, the child’s preference if they are 12 years old or above, the overall stability of the home environments, and the parents’ employment schedules.
Some families choose shared parenting custody agreements. In these cases, the child spends an equal amount of time living with both parents, and the parents make joint decisions in the child’s best interest. This can be an ideal arrangement but is not always realistic or easy to put together. A lawyer can help with negotiations, as the lawyer will be removed from the emotional aspects of the situation and able to reason effectively.
If a parent fails to make their visitation time, it is considered a violation of a court order. They will then become subject to monetary fines. If the custodial parent is failing to honor the visitation agreement, they could also face fines and potentially lose custody of the child to the non-custodial parent.
In New Jersey, child support is calculated by starting with a basic allocation amount. This child support allocation amount takes into account factors, such as how much each parent earns and how much time the child spends with each parent.
New Jersey Court Rules provide guidelines to help establish a formula that yields an accurate base calculation for the vast majority of parents. Child support amounts are based on the number of children in the family and the combined net weekly income of the parents. Depending on the parenting plan agreed upon or ordered by the courts, categories of expense will be adjusted in the guidelines formula using sole or shared worksheets. Once a base child support calculation is determined, adjustments are made based on three categories of expenses.
The categories of expenses that effect adjustments are as follows:
- Fixed expenses. These include expenses such as mortgage, rent, and utility costs.
- Controlled expenses. These include expenses such as clothing, personal care products, entertainment, and miscellaneous costs.
- Variable expenses. These include food, transportation, and occasional entertainment, such as trips and vacations.
The goal of the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines and parenting worksheets is to determine a fair and accurate amount of child support to be paid by the supporting parent. Based on individual circumstances and requirements, adjustments may impact the calculations.
Typically, custody payment arrangements stop after the child turns 18 years old. However, they can be extended beyond that if the child is still in school or has certain physical or mental disabilities. In some instances, the parents can develop a child payment arrangement that is approved by the judge. If the two parties are unwilling or unable to negotiate, parents can seek help from the local child support agency (CSA). The CSA will work with the custodial parent to establish support obligations and manage the collection and the distribution of the funds so that the two parents do not have to have any interaction with each other. The CSA will also enforce any failures of the non-custodial parent to pay their obligations through the probation division.
Also, child support agreements often need to be modified as circumstances change in the parents’ and children’s lives. It is a good idea to have a lawyer on your side to assist you through the complex process.
Grandparents’ Visitation Rights
Grandparents are often an important part of children’s lives, especially if the children are not able to live with their parents. In New Jersey, grandparents may ask a court’s permission for visitation rights to see their grandchildren similar to parents seeking visitation rights. Other non-immediate family members, such as aunts, uncles, cousins, or siblings may also petition the court.
When deciding on whether to grant visitation rights, the court will consider the following factors:
- The relationship between the child and the applicant.
- The relationship between each of the child’s parents or the person with whom the child is residing and the applicant.
- The time that has elapsed since the child last had contact with the applicant.
- The effect that such visitation will have on the relationship between the child and the child’s parents or the person with whom the child is residing.
- The custody and parenting time arrangement that exists between the parents regarding the child.
- The good faith of the applicant in filing the application.
- Any history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect by the applicant.
- Any other factor relevant to the best interest of the child.
When grandparents go directly to court for visitation over the objections of the parents, there must be a showing of significant animosity in their relationships. In those instances, mediation might be a positive preliminary step to avoid having to take the matter to court.
Mount Laurel Family Law Lawyers at the Law Office of David S. Rochman Help Clients With All Aspects of the Divorce Process
Going through a divorce can be a difficult time. Our Mount Laurel family law lawyers at the Law Office of David S. Rochman have the experience to help you through this situation. Call us at 856-751-2345 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Burlington County and the surrounding areas.