Articles Posted in Other Family Actions

During one of my recent commutes, I heard a commercial on the radio for a New York law firm talking about people’s “fear” of the divorce process. When I hear the term “fear”, it brings to mind the phrase uttered by FDR to the effect that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. I believe that this expression rings true when it comes to divorce. When I consult with a prospective client, one of my most important jobs is to reassure that person that there should be nothing to fear from the divorce process and of making the leap of moving on from an unhappy, unhealthy, and/or destructive relationship.

Perhaps fear is too strong a word. Apprehension. Trepidation. Nervousness. Embarrassment. Concern. Ignorance (i.e. a lack of knowledge). These seem to better reflect the range of feelings and emotions that I see from most of my prospective clients when they first meet with me. Whether these consultations are conducted in person, virtually, or over the phone, my experience is generally the same. Regardless of whether the person is a man or a woman, their voice is full of emotion. Their voice may crack. They have trouble finding the right words or even getting the words out. They may tear up. Often they feel the need to apologize. But no apology is needed. I assure them that what they are feeling is real, is normal, and to assure them that I am there to help them and to listen to what they have to say. Gradually, those acute emotional feelings begin to subside. They become more comfortable in opening up as to what is going on in their lives and why they are considering the possibility of divorce. After having done this work for almost 40 years, the reasons why people are considering divorce are often similar; however, everyone’s life story is personal to them and is entitled to respect and understanding. It is not only important to hear but to listen. And when someone senses this, a client will not only lose their apprehension in speaking to whom only minutes ago was a perfect stranger, but will be receptive to answering the questions us attorneys must ask to learn exactly what the issues are in a given case and to provide the appropriate advice and knowledge to the client to move forward with whichever course of action they may want to pursue.

When it comes to divorce, fear can be a most negative emotion. Fear can be paralyzing. Fear can cloud one’s judgment. Fear can lead to rash and imprudent decisions. Fear can lead to harm to oneself or others. This destructive side of fear can arise at any time. Hence my job is not only to temper it at the outset but to prevent it from infiltrating my client’s psyche throughout the process. At the outset of a representation, it is important for a client to know that they have someone that listens, that has explained the law, their rights, and the divorce process. However, as the disputes surface, and the reality of the marriage’s end arise, an attorney’s job is to provide a constant state of assurance and not allow one’s emotions to take over. Being there, listening, explaining, and advocating hopefully serve as an antidote from destructive emotions such as fear overrunning a case.

Ever since I wrote my past blog on correcting judicial errors, I have gotten a lot of questions from readers and interested clientele alike about how judicial errors can be addressed and amended. When it comes down to it, there are essentially three types of judicial error:1) Clerical, 2) Legal and 3) Matters of Law.pexels-magda-ehlers-1329297-300x211

Clerical errors encompass the indisputable or incontrovertible mistakes that have been made; these can include but are not limited to computation errors or other matters where both parties are in agreement.  These errors can be correct by the court on its own initiative or when called to the attention of the court by either party.  Usually, they can be corrected with something as simple as a letter but if the adverse party contests that an error exists it may require a motion. Computation errors can be corrected at any time, so there is generally no specific time frame in which an application needs to be made; however, it is best to make the application as soon as the error is discovered to avoid claims of estoppel.

Errors of the law or mixed errors of law and fact pertain to situations where the court either misinterprets legal precedents in the former or misapplied the precedents to the facts in the latter.   Legal errors may be corrected through an application to the court within 20 days of the receipt the court’s order if it is a final decision, or if the decision is not final anytime prior to the final decision.  If the decision is final, one also has the option to appeal the court’s decision to the Appellate Division rather than take the matter back to the court. The decision to bring a  motion for reconsideration rather than an appeal is a tactical decision, best discussed with your lawyer.

In many divorce cases, obligations for the payment of alimony and/or child support are established. Whether the result of an agreement between the parties or an order of the Court, such support obligations are generally determined based upon the relative financial circumstances of the parties at the time the agreement was made or the order was entered. However, as has clearly been reinforced by the pandemic, the financial circumstances of either party can substantially or dramatically change. Incomes can increase or decrease. People can lose their jobs or obtain new ones. Someone can suffer from a disabling illness or injury. Needs and expenses may increase or decrease. A recipient of support may enter into a new relationship. Generically referred to as “changed circumstances” they can be many and varied. The issue is whether they are significant enough that it would render continued enforcement of an existing support obligation to no longer be fair and equitable, and in some instances, perhaps even unconscionable. As a divorce lawyer, a significant percentage of our practice are litigants looking to either modify existing support obligations or defending against requests for same. When someone meets with me and believes they have a basis upon which to modify support, whether they are seeking an increase in the amount they are receiving or a decrease in the amount that they are paying, the first hurdle to determine is whether the circumstances which they allege have changed are sufficient, either factually or legally, to support a possible modification. While in some instances the changes proffered may be convincing and irrefutable, the real test is whether the changes claimed, and the proofs substantiating same, would at least rise to the level of making out a threshold showing of changed circumstances. Often when parties come in to discuss these issues they focus less on what their circumstances are and focus more on what they believe the other party’s financial circumstances may be, and feel a right and entitlement to obtain information from them regarding same. When that occurs, I need to explain to the party that before you may have the ability to obtain financial information from the other side they must first establish to a Court’s satisfaction that they have met their own threshold, what the law refers to as a “prima facie” showing of changed circumstances. What does “prima facie” mean?

Black’s Law Dictionary defines a prima facie case as either (1) the establishment of a legally required rebuttable presumption or (2) a party’s production of enough evidence to allow the fact-trier to infer the fact at issue and rule in the party’s favor. The New Jersey Supreme Court has defined prima facie evidence as that which, “if unrebutted, would sustain a judgment in the proponent’s favor” Baures v. Lewis, 167 NJ 91, 96 (2001). Similarly, the United States Supreme Court has previously defined prima facie evidence as “such as, in judgment of law, is sufficient to establish the fact; and, if not rebutted, remains sufficient for the purpose.” Bailey v. Alabama, 219 US 219, 234 (1911) (quoting Kelly v. Jackson, 6 Peters, 632)

In establishing a prima facie case, the “evidentiary burden is modest” and the Court should evaluate the prima facie case “solely on the basis of the evidence presented by the plaintiff, regardless of the defendant’s efforts to dispute that evidence”. Zive v. Stanley Roberts, Inc., 182 NJ 436, 441 (2005) “As in a summary judgment motion, courts should view the facts in the light most favorable to a defendant to determine whether a defendant has established a prima facie claim”. State v. Preciose, 129 NJ 451, 462 (1992) A movant seeking to establish a prima facie case should further be given the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the evidence presented. See Kant v. Seton Hall Univ., 210 NJ Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2469, *7(App. Div. 2010); Teilhaber v. Greene, 320 NJ Super. 453, 464 (App. Div. 1999)

I often get asked questions about the Division of Child Protection & Permanency, more commonly referred to by its old name, DYFS. Specializing in child abuse and welfare defense, it is not uncommon for both individuals and family law attorneys who do not specialize in this area to have questions when the Division becomes involved with a family. One frequent question is whether it is necessary to retain an attorney if the Division has not actually taken parents to court, but rather is involved with the family on what I would refer to as an administrative level.

To answer this question, it is important to understand the role of the Division of Child Protection & Permanency on at least a basic level. The Division is responsible for investigating calls alleging abuse or neglect of a child. These calls are often anonymous and there is no minimal level of proof that triggers an investigation. When the Division gets a call, they must investigate. Investigating the allegation may include coming to the family’s home and assessing for any safety concerns, speaking to both the parent(s) and the child(ren), and speaking to professionals involved with the child(ren) such as the school or daycare and their pediatrician.

Upon completion of its investigation, the Division will make one of four findings: Substantiated, Established, Not Established and Unfounded. A finding of Unfounded means there is not a preponderance of evidence that a child has been abused or neglected and the evidence indicates the child was not harmed or placed at risk of harm. Such a finding will not be reported and remains confidential, and often any Division records regarding the allegation and investigation will be eligible to be expunged after three years (understand this is not always true). A finding of Not Established again means that there is not a preponderance of evidence that a child has been abused or neglected, but some evidence indicates the child was harmed or placed at risk of harm. This finding will not be reported and remains confidential, but the Division’s records may not be expunged and will be permanently maintained by the agency. A finding of Not Established may be appealed, but only to the Appellate Division within 45 days of receipt of the finding. pexels-pixabay-236215-300x198

pexels-tairon-fernandez-450301-300x179To say that 2020 was a challenging year would be an understatement. While it started off with a sense of optimism and relative economic prosperity, the coronavirus, racial unrest, and political rancor gave this world, and this country, in particular, a set of punches to the gut. And while it may have always been under the surface, the events of this year brought into the open an unprecedented level of anger. The devastating impact of the coronavirus upon the economy, i.e. loss of jobs, reduction in incomes, shuddering of businesses, etc. resulted in feelings of anger towards the economic system. The George Floyd tragedy led to calls for racial and social justice which unfortunately turned violent fueled by anger over the police and views that our country as a whole was systemically racist. Add to all of that the 2020 election – politically charged, to say the least. Feelings of anger if not outright hatred dominated the campaign. Whether justified or not, anger was the emotional thread that seemed to have run throughout the year 2020. While anger, as an emotion, may have its place in the human psyche, when that anger becomes one’s primary feeling, it ends up overwhelming and clouding everything else. Reason and rationality. Common sense. Communication and dialogue. They all end up getting lost. That was clearly on display throughout 2020.

As the calendar changes from 2020 to 2021, there are a great many things that we can wish for. Back in the good old days, we might wish for things like a better job, finally getting that bigger house or a fancier car, losing weight or getting in shape, traveling more, or crossing things off your bucket list. However, most people’s wish lists are probably dramatically different this year. Obviously, the top on just about everyone’s list is that there be an end to this coronavirus pandemic and a return to some level of normalcy. This hope is fueled by the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine which our scientific and pharmaceutical community developed in “warp-speed”. Obviously, the end of the coronavirus pandemic is at the top of my wish list as well. However, right below that is another wish for 2021 – the creation of an anger vaccine. I know I am a dreamer but think how much nicer the world would be if the level of anger could somehow be controlled, reduced, or tempered. I know this would be the case when it comes to the handling of divorce matters.

In the almost four decades I have been handling divorce matters, some level of anger permeates many of them. Indeed, some feelings of anger are fully understandable. Your relationship with someone you loved and thought you would spend the rest of your life with has fallen apart. Perhaps that person has been abusive. Perhaps that person has betrayed you. Perhaps that person has somehow changed and it is no longer the person that you had fallen in love with. Maybe you are the one who has changed and want to find a way out of that relationship. You would not be human if you did not feel hurt, guilt, a sense of loss, maybe even a little anger. However, it is when parties to a divorce allow their feelings of anger toward the other person to totally dominate everything else that it becomes a major problem. The level of anger can range from mere loathing to out-and-out hatred. Those feelings of anger can be there the first time I meet a client or they may gradually boil over onto the surface as the strain of the marital litigation takes its toll. How is this manifested? They want to “bury” the other person. They want to “rake them over the coals”. They want them to “pay” for all the suffering and pain that they have caused. They want you as their lawyer to make that happen. They want to get all the money. They want to give no money. They want him or her to have nothing to do with “my” children. They want to win. They want the other person to lose. While sometimes these feelings are made by someone who is simply evil, most of the time it is a product of anger.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about how the Divorce process works. This blog is intended to outline the procedural steps usually taken in a Divorce Litigation. It is not tied to any particular complexity and as it is generic in nature and since litigation is not always one size fits all it is neither exhaustive nor is it intended to cover all the nuances in more complicated litigation.Person in White Long Sleeve Shirt and Black Pants

1) A litigation usually starts with a letter to the opposing spouse advising them that  A Complaint for Divorce is about to be filed and they should retain a lawyer and have them contact the writer. The hope is that the lawyers will be able to discuss The matter early on and save the litigants time and money.

2) A Complaint for Divorce is filed and either served on the opposing spouse or  More frequently acknowledged by the spouse’s lawyer.

pexels-ketut-subiyanto-4308054-300x200People are always asking me if they should divorce. My stock answer is that the decision to divorce is personal and that I am not qualified to make that decision for the client or even make a recommendation. Everybody has a different view of what a good marriage should look at and it is not mine to Judge. I do when the reasons for divorce seem like an argument that will blow over or the parties are older ask the client to think about options and give it a week to let things settle down and the realities of Divorce hit home. I am aware that not all marriages are built to last and that happiness like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Having said that I do have some views of my own about when a Divorce makes sense and when it does not. I am not a mental health professional. I am a lawyer who has practiced in this field for most of my career after a near-death experience ( from boredom) as a tax lawyer.

Often the decision to Divorce has been made by your spouse and you really have no option but if the choice is yours here are some things to think about. If you are in a destructive relationship and your spouse is physically or mentally abusing you should get out. Abusive people do not change. It is not your fault. If your spouse cheats on you and you will only reconcile if they don’t stop cheating now and forever and you can not live with a spouse who keeps cheating, get a divorce. My experience shows that once a cheater always a cheater.

If your marriage leaves you so unhappy that each day is drudgery or you find yourself wishing you were dead so the marriage can be over get the divorce. There is life on the other side.

I was recently asked by a high net worth client how they could save legal fees during their proceeding. I understood his concern as the matter is complicated and his wife had very little knowledge of family finances. Accordingly. it would be up to her lawyer to verify assets and advise the client. Half the cost of a divorce is the trial if the matter is not settled. One of the best ways to save money in a divorce proceeding is to avoid the trial and make a reasonable settlement. The other half of the cost of a divorce is pretrial preparation. Most of the pretrial action in a divorce deals with issues of child custody, interim support, and discovery. In this case, since the wife knew nothing about finances until discovery was exchanged, there could be no settlement. There were kids involved and my client was an active parent who wanted to stay involved. His wife opposed this may be out of anger or fear or desire to control the one thing that she did control during the marriage. My client liked bullet points and so I e-mailed him the following bullet points which have been sanitized to protect confidentiality:pexels-karolina-grabowska-4386373-1024x683

1) Put together a series of binders with all your bank and brokerage records over the last five years.

2) Do the same for the last five years of credit card statements.

Teaching and advancing the knowledge of the Bar and the Bench has always been part of the mission of our firm. In furtherance of that mission with Appellant Judge Hany A. Mawla I will present our annual seminar on recent cases in family law in the Fall of 2021. That seminar features The Yudes Family Law Citator, a compendium of every reported case in Family Law since 1949.

In January of 2021 at the Family Law Sections Annual Hot Tips Seminar I am presenting a paper in my role as a past Chair of the section entitled, Domestic Violence: Social Media & other Cyber-Activity, technology has given rises to a whole new platform of cyber harassment and this paper explores the issue and available legal protections. In February 2021 I am teaching an Advanced Course in property valuation for the Institute of Continued Legal Education, the educational arm of the New Jersey Bar Association, entitled, The Haunting Trinity of Vexing Valuation in High Asset Litigation; 1) active v Passive, 2) The Double Count, 3) Trusts. This seminar will explore; with a panel of distinguished experts in business and real estate valuation theory focusing on cutting-edge issues dealing with asset valuation and exclusion.

In the Supreme Court decision of, Dugan v Dugan, our firm established the standard for valuing professional practice. Since then we have been involved in various reported decisions dealing with various aspects of family litigation. Through our educational outreach, we try to share our view of how Family Law has and should develop.

Ahhhh, the Coronavirus pandemic. As I write this blog post, most people are torn between feelings of fatigue and fear. After more than eight months since this pandemic began, most people are understandably weary over the personal, emotional, financial, and societal upheaval that this has caused. To say that this situation has put one’s coping skills to the test would be an understatement. People yearn for a return to some sense of “normalcy”. At the same time, that yearning has been tempered by the predicted “second wave” of this pandemic, with increasing infection rates and the return of lockdowns and restrictions that had been previously eased. At the early stages of this pandemic, I had written a blog post highlighting the significant economic impacts this pandemic was having (i.e. loss of jobs, diminished incomes, reduction in asset values and net worth, increasing debt, etc.) and how all of this was complicating the ability to resolve divorce matters. Between the economic upheaval and the uncertainty over what the future would bring, negotiating settlements was becoming a daunting task.

One of the topics which I had touched upon in my earlier blog post was the extent to which this pandemic might impact a family’s most valuable asset – their home. Prior to the pandemic, the housing market was looking strong. Homes were moving, prices were rising and everyone was looking forward to a robust spring market. However, when the pandemic hit everything, including the housing market, essentially came to a grinding halt. The number of new home listings, as well as mortgage applications, dramatically declined as stay home requirements took hold and the uncertainties made people leery of moving or taking on new financial commitments. While it was too early to tell how this pandemic would impact real estate values, this uncertainty would likely complicate how to approach the disposition of the marital home for purposes of equitable distribution in a divorce.

Jump forward seven months. The pandemic has resulted in a flight of people out of urban areas and choosing to movepexels-pixabay-164522-300x215 to the suburbs or country. Rather than living like sardines in close quarters with other people where the virus could more easily spread, people sought the openness and space. Further, the restrictions and lockdowns evaporated much of the quality of life living in a city would bring. The racial and societal upheaval following the death of George Floyd only exacerbated and reinforced people’s decision to move. The consequence? The housing market throughout much of New Jersey has exploded. Houses are getting snapped up as soon as they hit the market. Bidding wars are prevalent. Home values have risen dramatically. To say that it has become a buyers market would be an understatement. What impact has this had on divorce matters?