Articles Posted in Settlement

covid19-300x200Co-parenting children when parents are separated or divorced can be challenging in normal circumstances.  One would agree, however, that times are not normal.  The country is in the midst of a pandemic due to the COVID-19 virus.  Governor Murphy has closed schools and many business, and he has directed that we engage in “social distancing” and stay at home for the indefinite future.

Families all over the State are concerned about their children’s health and well-being, not to mention family finances due to the number of people who have lost jobs, been furloughed or suffered from cuts in pay or hours.  Existing arrangements for custody and parenting time were designed for normal circumstances, not necessarily for unprecedented times such as these.

Questions may arise as to how  separated parents address custody, parenting time and child support issues.  To what extent do existing orders have to be followed? Generally, many existing agreements or orders for parenting time can and should be followed.  However, can a parent withhold or refuse parenting time?  What happens if a parent or child is exposed to the coronavirus or is at heightened risk of exposure?  What if a parent, child or family member begins to exhibit symptoms?  How should parents accommodate a household that has an elderly family member or a family member with a health condition which makes COVID-19 particularly deadly?  What if one of the parents lives out of state and the child has to travel some extended distance?  What if the households do not have the same social distancing practices?   Can both parents’ homes accommodate educating the children while school is closed?  Should parenting time be modified to reflect that both parents are home more either due to having lost their jobs or they are working from home?

The Appellate Division in the recently published case of Bermeo v. Bermeo, A-1312-17, addressed a post-judgment application by a supported spouse seeking to modify alimony based  on her inability to maintain the marital lifestylefile000142175851-300x230 after entering into a marital Property Settlement Agreement and the lack of findings by the court of what the marital lifestyle was pursuant to Crews v. Crews, 164 N.J. 11 (2000).

In this matter, the parties divorced in 2015 after entering into a Property Settlement Agreement that was incorporated into their Final Judgment of Divorce.  The issue raised post-judgment by the Plaintiff, the supported spouse, was the extent of alimony that she was receiving and her inability to maintain a lifestyle comparable to the marital lifestyle.   During the marriage, the parties had a middle class lifestyle.  The Plaintiff was a homemaker while the Defendant earned an average income of $471,000 in the last several years of the marriage.  By the time of the divorce, however, the Defendant had changed jobs.  The parties negotiated a property settlement agreement through counsel that provided that the Husband would pay $4,000 per month in alimony.  The Plaintiff was earning $6,000 at the time of the divorce but the Agreement was based on an imputed income to her of $25,000 per year.  The Agreement also was based on an imputed income of $160,000 to the Defendant.  In addition, the Agreement required the Defendant to pay a percentage of supplemental income earned by the Defendant in the form of commissions, deferred compensation, stock options and bonuses.   The Agreement expressly stated that neither party would be able to maintain a lifestyle that was reasonable comparable to their marital lifestyle and that the parties “freely and voluntarily waive determination of the joint marital lifestyle at this time.”

Plaintiff in 2017 filed a post-judgment application seeking an increase in alimony to $6,000 per month, arguing that the Defendant was voluntarily underemployed and that alimony should be based on imputed annual income of $220,000 to Defendant.  After the divorce, Plaintiff had not received supplemental alimony because the Defendant earned $120,000 which was less than the $160,000 of imputed income upon which alimony was based.  The family court judge denied the Plaintiff’s application without ordering a plenary hearing or additional discovery and without making a finding as to marital lifestyle pursuant to Crews v. Crews.  The Plaintiff appealed.

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 ›