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This week the Northern Hemisphere celebrated the Summer Solstice which marks the longest day of the year and the official start of the summer season. The month of June also brings with it the end of the school here in New Jersey and the many high school graduations. In New Jersey, approximately 70% of those graduates are enrolled to start college in the months ahead. For most families, once the euphoria of graduation wears off and celebratory balloons begin to deflate, it does not take long for the anxiety related the costs, both emotional and mainly financial, associated with a child[en]’s attendance at college to set in. The stress associated with the process can also be magnified in situations where the parties are divorced.

In New Jersey, while an intact family unit has no legal obligation to contribute towards their children’s education, the same principle does not apply to divorced families.  In the seminal New Jersey Supreme Court case of Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 IMG_1930-300x225N.J. 529 (1982), our Supreme Court held that, “in appropriate circumstances, the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children.” Newburgh, supra, 88 N.J. at 543.  The Supreme Court identified twelve non-exhaustive factors a court should consider when deciding a motion by one parent for contribution from the other parent toward the cost of a child’s higher education. The factors are: (1) whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education; (2) the effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education; (3) the amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education; (4) the ability of the parent to pay that cost; (5) the relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child; (6) the financial resources of both parents; (7) the commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education; (8) the financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust; (9) the ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation; (10) the availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans; (11) the child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and (12) the relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.” The Court added “[i]n 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.” Id. at 544.

The factors set forth in Newburgh, contemplate that a parent or child seeking contribution towards the expenses of higher education will make the request before the educational expenses are incurred. As soon as practical, the parent or child should communicate with the other parent concerning the many issues inherent in selecting a college. At a minimum, a parent or child seeking contribution should initiate the application to the court before the expenses are incurred. The failure to do so will weigh heavily against the grant of a future application. Gac v. Gac, 186 N.J. 535, 546 (2006).

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On June 5, 2017 the Appellate Division approved for publication its opinion in the matter of TMS-v-WCP, A-4900-15T2, which involves reinstatement of  a final domestic violence restraining

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order.

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For attorneys and litigants alike, the legal fees attendant to the handling of a divorce matter are an important consideration. When it comes to legal fees, time is money. Because our Rules of Court prohibit the handling of divorce cases on a contingent fee basis, legal services are billed based upon the actual time spent working on the case at an hourly rate and charged against an initial retainer amount to be paid by the client. When prospective client asks how much in legal fees the divorce will cost, I explain that there are too many variables to give a precise estimate, including the number and complexity of the issues involved, the level to which those issues are contested, the reasonableness of the other spouse and/or attorney in regards to their positions, cooperation and/or course of conduct during the process, and the extent litigation or court involvement is needed to resolve those issues. Several years ago I wrote a blog post suggesting five ways a client might be able to reduce their legal fees in a divorce. However, prospective clients sometimes ask how we come up with the initial retainer fee amount requested to commence their representation in a given case. Candidly, I have found that there is no set formula or uniform approach upon which a given attorney or law firm will quote an initial retainer amount to a prospective client, and that is true with this firm. However, as with the overall legal fees that might be incurred in a given case, I explain that there are a number of variables which bear upon the amount of an initial retainer. This blog post will address some of them.checkbook-register-300x200

First, it is important to discuss what an initial retainer is not. From the outset a prospective client must not be given the impression that the amount of an initial retainer represents the actual or full amount of legal fees their case will cost. If fee disputes arise, this is often a common refrain clients make. At the outset, the attorney must make clear to the client that the amount being requested for an initial retainer is just a baseline amount to commence representation in the matter, an amount sufficient to cover a core level of anticipated legal services based upon the attorney or firm’s hourly rates. The client must understand that the total legal fees may likely be more, depending upon the variables noted above and the facts and circumstances of their case. That should be reflected in writing, preferably in the Retainer Agreement itself to be entered into between the attorney and client as mandated by Rule 5:3-5(a). Nor should a retainer amount be driven by an emotional reaction to a client or his/her circumstances. Both the attorney and client must recognize that they are still entering into a professional business relationship, and the financial terms of that relationship should be determined accordingly.

Again, what goes into setting a retainer fee varies from attorney to attorney or firm to firm. Some attorneys have established fixed retainer amounts for given types of cases and stick to those amounts – a retainer to handle a divorce is such and such. Some may have established fixed retainer amounts depending upon whether certain issues are involved. Obviously, the amount of a retainer fee will also depend upon the hourly rates of the attorney(s) handling the matter – the higher the hourly rates, the larger the retainer necessary to cover a baseline amount of legal services. For some attorneys, the retainer fee may simply be a multiple of their hourly rates times a baseline number of hours. The number of hours may reflect an attorney’s estimate of the minimum amount of legal services a case may take if everything – and I mean everything – went perfectly.

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Summer is upon us. Summer brings with it holidays, family time, holiday preparations and expectations, and some stress brought on by kids being home for the summer.  The reality is thatcohdrankntmbstn7-300x256 families that have problems often argue and fight at holiday time. The summer is unkind to rocky relationships.    Continue reading

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In the published opinion in the matter of Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. T.U.B. & J.E.C., (A-2565-15T2) the trial court terminated the Defendant’s parental rights in a Title 30 DSC2330-300x200guardianship case based upon the admission of hearsay statements by children about corroborated allegations of abuse or neglect pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(a)(4). The hearsay statements made by the children involved allegations of sexual abuse that were later in part recanted by one of the non-testifying child declarants. Continue reading

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We have all now probably seen or heard the public service announcement of “If you see something, say something.” which is usually in the context of witnessing suspicious package or person. On May 17, 2017 the Supreme Court of New Jersey, in affirming the ruling the of the Appellate Division in the case of New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. J.L.G  and In the Matter of B.G., M.A and M.G., (A-1746-13T2), sent a clear message to individuals that witnessing a domestic partner abuse a child and doing nothing to stop that abuse can lead to a finding that the witness also abused the child. Continue reading

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This week the Honorable Stephen Hansbury, P.J. Ch. published a Superior Court opinion that demonstrates how technology and social media is changing the legal landscape and creating new challenges and solutions.   In the published opinion in KA v. JL, in which Judge Hansbury addressed a cause of action that occurred based on a defendant’s use of social media, whether a New Jersey court can obtain personal jurisdiction over an out of state litigant over his use of social media, and whether pleadings may be served via social media. Continue reading

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I was at a social event recently. A woman attending that event, after learning that I was a divorce attorney, came up to me. She told me that her ex-husband had just filed court papers seeking to modify or terminate her alimony payments. With indignation in her voice she explained that “He can’t do that because I have permanent alimony!” It was obvious that this person had taken the word “permanent” literally, and believed that her alimony rights were forever immutable. She seemed genuinely shocked when I explained, without getting into the details of her case, that even “permanent” alimony may be modified or terminated upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. Continue reading

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There is a saying among realtors that the first offer is usually the best offer. Why is that?  Because the first offer is made when the property is freshly on the market. When real estate sits buyers6a3146dbdf81597192112ac03d77c7e4-300x200 become suspicious. There is also the cost of holding the property to factor in.  The first offer likely saves the seller from incurring more tax, mortgage, utility and upkeep costs. There is a lot to be said about the psychological benefits of a fast deal as well. No worry, no uncertainty, no sleepless nights. Continue reading

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This week the media was abuzz with news of the demise of another celebrity marriage, this time with the separation of professional basketball player, Carmelo Anthony, from his wife Lala

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Weddings rings and large bills of money

Anthony. The Anthony’s have been married since 2010 and have a 10 year-old son. Their potential divorce raises questions about what would happen with their assets and who would get custody of their son in their divorce, were such a case to arise in New Jersey. Continue reading