Articles Posted in Divorce

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Despite the recent heat wave, Fall has arrived. Besides the presumably cooler weather, when the calendar hits September, we can always look forward to a number of things – school starts, rush hour traffic resumes, shorter days, etc. However, for us lawyers September brings with it the annual amendments that have been approved by our Supreme Court to the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey. Unlike last year, a number of these recent Rule Amendments directly impact upon Family Part Practice. A number were in response to statutory changes that recently went into effect. In light of the number involved, I will summarize and discuss these Amendments over the course of several blog posts. Court-Rules-2018-300x300

First, there have been a number of significant changes to Rule 5:3-5, the rule dealing with attorney’s fees, retainer agreements and withdrawal of counsel in Family Actions. Under Rule 4:42-9, an allowance for the awarding of attorneys fees in Family Actions is expressly authorized. Rule 5:3-5 set forth the procedural and substantive prerequisites and requirements for such fee applications, not only referring to the factors enumerated in the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC 1.5(a)), but the provisions of Rule 4:42-9(b), (c), and (d).  Rule 4:42-9 (b) requires that all applications for the allowance of fees be supported by an affidavit of services addressing the factors in the RPC 1.5. Notwithstanding the fact that reference to this Rule was included already, the Supreme Court felt it prudent to repeat the language of Rule 4:42-9 (b) almost verbatim as new subsection Rule 5:3-5(d), and thereby avoid any doubt that all such applications for the allowance of fees be supported by an affidavit of services. As a result, former subsection (d) became subsection(e), dealing with withdrawal from representation.

In actuality, the most significant amendment to Rule\5:3-5 was the addition of subparagraph (e)(3) dealing with the handling of motions to withdraw from a procedural or scheduling basis. Often a breakdown in the attorney/client relationship occurs during the midst of the divorce litigation. Sometimes this occurs when there are other disputed issues that are being brought before the court by way of motion. The problem which often arose was how these substantive disputes would or could be addressed where a breakdown in one party’s attorney/client relationship had also lead to an application to withdraw or to be relieved being filed.  The new Rule 5:3-5(e)(3) attempts to address this predicament. This Rule provides that upon the filing of a motion or cross motion to be relieved as counsel, the court, absent good cause, shall sever all other relief sought by the motion or cross motion from the motion to be relieved as counsel, and whereby the court would first decide the motion to be relieved and, in the order either granting or denying the motion to be relieved include a scheduling order for the filing of responsive pleadings and the return date for all other relief sought in the motion or cross motion. This is obviously designed to avoid situations where the party and/or counsel are forced to address substantive matters when there has been a apparent breakdown of relationship and/or conflict between a party and his or her attorney at that juncture.

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Summer is over. The kids are back in school. The normal routine has returned to your life.  This is a comparatively calm time for most households. There are fewer stressors, a little more “me time”0HFF1UYS9S-300x200

and a lot less “rock ‘n roll” than during the summer.  It is a good time to take stock of where you are, what you have accomplished and for those with marital difficulty the State of the Union.

Bad marriages generally careen toward divorce until the final straw. Some people affirmatively try to resolve their problems and sensibly review their options. Others like the famous Ostrich in the middle of the crowded highway simply stick their proverbial heads in the ground until the inevitable truck cuts them down.  Marriages are work and, to a degree, organic. They need nurturing and dialogue to keep them alive. Time, indifference, the cumulative effect of unresolved arguments all weigh it down.

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In the case of Slawinski v. Nicholas, 448 N.J. Super. 25 (App. Div. 2016), the Appellate Division addressed a dispute involving parents who entered into a consent order establishing rights to grandparent visitation but then later wished to abrogate those rights. In this case, a motion was brought by the mother to terminate the visitation rights of the fraternal grandparents, claiming that the children were being harmed by the visits. The Appellate Division reversed the decision of trial court and stated that a parent could not unilaterally modify the consent order granting rights of grandparent visitation. The Court rejected the mother’s argument that, “[T]here is no burden that [mother] has to do anything other than say this is not working out, I tried.” The Appellate Division addressed grandparent visitation, as follows:

“We recognize that a parent’s fundamental right to raise a child as he or she sees fit encompasses the authority to determine visitation by third parties, including grandparents. See Moriarty v. Bradt, 177 N.J. 84, 114-15 (2003), cert. den., 540 U.S. 1177 (2004). Yet, that autonomy gives way to the need to protect the child from harm. Id. at 115. Thus, “grandparents seeking visitation . . . must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that denial of the visitation they seek would result in harm to the child.” Id. at 88. “If the court agrees that the potential for harm has been shown, the presumption in favor of parental decision making will be deemFAye_and_Dick-300x230ed overcome.” Id. at 117.

Still, proof of harm involves a greater showing than simply the best interests of the child. Id. at 116 (stating that a dispute between a “fit custodial parent and the child’s grandparent is not a contest between equals[,]” Consequently “the best interest standard, which is the tiebreaker between fit parents, is inapplicable”). Substantively, it is a “heavy burden.” Major v. Maguire, 224 N.J. 1, 18 (2016); cf. Fawzy v. Fawzy, 199 N.J. 456, 479 (2009) (“The threat of harm is a significantly higher burden than a best-interests analysis”). The harm to the grandchild must be “a particular identifiable harm, specific to the child.” Mizrahi v. Cannon, 375 N.J. Super. 221, 234 (App. Div. 2005). It “generally rests on the existence of an unusually close relationship between the grandparent and the child, or on traumatic circumstances such as a parent’s death.” Daniels v. Daniels, 381 N.J. Super. 286, 294 (App. Div. 2005). By contrast, missed opportunities for creating “happy memories” do not suffice. Mizrahi, supra, 375 N.J. Super. at 234. Only after the grandparent vaults the proof-of-harm threshold will the court apply a best-interests analysis to resolve disputes over visitation details. Moriarty, supra, 177 N.J. at 117.

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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. 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

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image1-232x300On Friday, billions of people around the world observed the Christian Holy Day of Good Friday. It marks the day that the Trial of Jesus of Nazareth occurred and when he was sentenced to death for failing to deny that he believed himself to be the Son of God. Christians believe that Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of humanity (1 John 1:10). Easter Sunday celebrates Jesus rising from the dead, an event which is referred to as the Resurrection. Set in the springtime every year and often close to the Jewish Holy Day of Passover, Easter symbolizes a time of rebirth and renewal. Holy Thursday, which occurred yesterday, marks the event of the Last Supper of Jesus and his Apostles, during which the group were celebrating a Passover Seder when Jesus informed the group that he would be betrayed by his followers. Continue reading

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I recently attended a seminar where the topic concerned the obtaining, analysis and use of medical records. While the main focus was how medical records were dealt with in civil litigation matters such as medical malpractice and personal injury cases, it was clear that a number of the issues discussed could apply to Family Court matters as well. A spouse may allege that they are unable to work, or may be limited in what type of work they can do, as a result of some sort of medical or psychological condition or disability, thereby impacting a claim for spousal and/or child support. A spouse may allege that they suffered physical and/or emotional injury as a result of an act or course of abuse by the other spouse leading to a claim for damages in an action for domestic tort. Continue reading

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There are some points where federal law intersects with or affects the economic consequences of pending or finalized divorces. Recently one of those point of intersection was the topic Job-Application-SSN-300x225of conversation of a prospective client. Her concern I am sure are shared by many. The question dealt with Social Security and how one computes the 10 year requirement for derivative benefits. Continue reading

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Going through a divorce can be time consuming, expensive, and emotionally draining, among many other things. For this reason and more, many people try to rush the process and enter into an file0001849487704-300x225ill advised settlement agreement  on their own in order to obtain a quick divorce and move on with their lives sooner rather than later.  Conversely, other people prefer to stick their heads in the sand and do nothing when their spouse files a divorce complaint, which can lead to the entry of a default judgment of divorce by the court that is contrary to their best interest.  While taking either of these actions may work for some individuals, if such actions result in an unfavorable outcome, it can be costly and possibly difficult to correct, if they can be corrected at all. Continue reading