Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

Today’s blog was written by the latest and greatest addition to our law firm, Associate Attorney, Ali Sutak, Esq.  

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You’ve made it to the finish line. After months, or perhaps even years of settlement talks and court dates, finally, your long-awaited final divorce uncontested hearing date has arrived. The i’s have been dotted and the t’s have been crossed on your Matrimonial Settlement Agreement. You go into the courtroom, answer some questions, and the judge gives you a Judgment of Divorce. After all this time, it seems like it’s over in the blink of an eye. You can’t wait to go home and start your new life. Now that you’re done, the last thing that you want to do is think about your divorce and anything related to it. And you certainly don’t want to look through that agreement again for a long, long time.

But you should.

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Approximately fourteen years of age. Under New Jersey’s custody of child statute, one of many factors that a judge of the Family Part of the Superior Court of New Jersey shall consider is the child’s preference. However, the court must take into consideration the child’s age and maturity level. The lawyers at our law firm typically advise our clients that, as a rule of thumb, a child needs to be at least fourteen years old for their preference to be taken into consideration. Of course, the court has wide discretion when deciding whether to have an in camera interview of the child. If the judge decides not to interview a child, they must state their reasoning on the record for not doing so. This allows both the parents and their respective attorneys to understand why the decision was made and whether in case an appeal of the decision is on the horizon.

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Many facts can be derived when a judge interviews a child, ranging from their day to day lives when in the custody of each parent, respectively, to major decisions such as a client’s desire to be relocated from the state of New Jersey with one parent. When conducting such an interview of the child, the judge keeps a careful eye on their competency and emotional development when framing their questions. There is also always a witness present during the interview. The judge also is an expert at keeping the interview relaxed and non-formal. This not only prevents the event from being traumatic for the child but also will allow the child to relax so the judge can extract the relevant facts required in order to make their decision. Moreover, as a matter of public policy of always protecting the best interests of a child, a judge does not necessarily ask the child, point blank, whom they would rather live with. Instead, the judge frames their questions in a manner that extracts crucial facts. Nevertheless, from the child’s point of view they feel that they merely having a friendly chat. The following cases further explain this essential area of New Jersey child custody law.

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In 2014 New Jersey’s alimony laws were amended following a joint effort between divorce lawyers and the legislature to “modernize” our states’ alimony statute. One of many changes involves how New Jersey courts would interpret cases wherein the payor of alimony attempts to eliminate (or lower) their alimony payments due to losing a prior job wherein they were employed for a lengthy period of time and has now gained new employment. However, the new job provides a “significant” reduction in income that, in turn, compromises their ability to pay alimony at the same level as previously agreed upon in the Property Settlement Agreement prepared by one of the attorneys in the case or ordered by a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey following a trial.

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In a recent case the payor of alimony was successful in obtaining a decrease in their alimony payments. First, the amount of alimony payments was lessened in amount when the payor lost their job (which must be W-2 job as per the amended alimony statute) and has successfully proven to the court that they made a realistic effort to obtain a similar job with comparable employment.

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Yes. Throughout my career as a family law attorney, I have observed New Jersey laws evolve along with technology. Ranging from divorce and child custody cases to domestic violence matters, posts on social media websites have become powerful evidence for lawyers to present to judges of the Family Part of the Superior Court of New Jersey. Such posts can be used to prove a plethora of behaviors spanning the cause for a divorce (i.e., pictures with a paramour) to child neglect and even terroristic threats.   Furthermore, what your “ex” expresses about you on a social media platform, especially when children are involved, can generate high emotions and serious problems ranging from embarrassment (especially considering the wide scope of people that social media reaches) to fear for one’s (or your family’s) safety and well being.  Moreover, with more and more children on social media, it is clearly not in their best interests to be watching their parents “go at it” for all to see.

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Therefore, the lawyers at my law firm have taken steps in cases wherein the parties agree that it is not in anyones’ best interest to have the other making disparaging, public comments on the internet. It is essential that both parties stipulate to such an arrangement to become a court order. This is because a judge cannot order such an arrangement due to a legal theory known as stare decisis (i.e., precedent). However, your attorneys may still draft language that would achieve the goal of neither “ex” disparaging the other on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.   Specifically, you may have your lawyer prepare a Consent Order that would memorialize such an agreement. Once the terms of the consent order are finalized, the judge assigned to your case shall execute the Consent Order and it then becomes law. Consequently, if the other party violates the consent order, you would have the right to have your attorney file a motion with a New Jersey Family Court to enforce your litigant’s rights, sanctions and attorneys’ fees in connection with the application.

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Throughout my career as a divorce attorney here in my hometown of East Brunswick, New Jersey, I have had many folks come to visit my office after their divorce has already been concluded and are now seeking my advice. Sadly, sometimes the lawyer who represented these folks did not exclusively practice divorce and family law. Consequently, myself and the associate attorneys at our law firm often find poorly written Property Settlement Agreements (“PSA”) that do not protect the client to the fullest extent. Many times this lawyer’s lack of experience in New Jersey divorce cases inhibits their ability to see problems down the road and therefore the PSA does not contain the proper language required to best protect the client.

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On the other hand, if the client had a more savvy divorce attorney in the first place, the PSA would extremely clear as to certain issues that would serve to protect the client down the road. The following case is an example of a litigant who lost out on a significant amount of money because their attorney failed to include specific language to that would have provided the client certain credits. However, as this PSA did not include specific language regarding these credits, they lost their motion. Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Yes. Over the past 20 years as a child custody attorney I have observed New Jersey law transform in alignment with modern technology. When I first became a lawyer in the 1990s, when two parents had a significant distance between them, the telephone was the primary manner in which a child could hope to remain in contact with a parent who lived in another state.

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Over the years, I have observed an evolution in which court orders concerning visitation began to allow for contact ranging from email to texting to even social media contact between a child and their parents. Today, technology such as Skype and FaceTime has allowed for unprecedented opportunities for a child and parent to truly stay part of one another’s lives. Any parent who has ever been away for their child loves being able to see them on their phone, computer or tablet while communicating and sharing. As all parents embrace, the difference is truly night and day (as opposed to a mere phone call). Today, the attorneys at our law firm seek court orders in which judges allow for FaceTime or Skype even when both parents are still living here in New Jersey. The motto at our law firm has always been, “Kids First.” Clearly, a child’s ability to actually see their mom or dad when chatting dramatically enhances the child-parent bonding experience.

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When it comes to the division of your assets in a divorce, that is. Under New Jersey law certain orders relating to alimony, child support, child custody, and parenting time may be modified upon a showing of changed circumstances. Therefore, you and your lawyer may return to a New Jersey Family Court to have these types of issues reviewed.

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However, Court Orders from the Family Part of the Superior Court of New Jersey regarding equitable distribution of assets are not subject to change absent fraud, misconduct and the like (and even then you have only one year to seek such relief). That is another reason that you should only hire an attorney with a law firm that only handles divorce cases because, as the saying goes, you only get one bite at the apple.

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Throughout my career as a divorce and family law attorney, I have seen many folks who feel that they can, “play the system.” Many times, this involves the high conflict issue of alimony. Let’s call it the way it is; no one wants to pay alimony to their “ex.” While the lawyers at our law firm sympathize, we always give our client’s an honest assessment of their case throughout the divorce process, including the “hot button” issue of alimony. However there are times that, notwithstanding our advice to the contrary some folks proceed, pro se, thinking that they can “play the system” and avoid their alimony obligation. Some folks quit their jobs thinking that this will allow them to circumvent alimony payments. Others hurry right back to court immediately after the divorce thinking that they can convince a judge that alimony is unfair. All told, a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey can see right through these vain and fruitless attempts to avoid paying alimony. Sometimes, these folks make the situation only worse for themselves when they have to pay their “ex’s” attorney’s fees if the court finds that they are acting in bad faith.

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This is an excellent example of why you should consult with a law firm who only handles divorce and family law. The lawyers at our law firm stand prepared to assist you or a loved one if they would like an honest assessment regarding potential or ongoing alimony payments. Following, please find a recently decided case the illuminates the foregoing.

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No. If you voluntarily become unemployed and go back to college, New Jersey law is clear that this voluntary decision is temporary in nature. Moreover, a judge of the Family Part of the Superior Court of New Jersey shall not relieve a parent of their legal obligation to be responsible for supporting their children when making decisions and changes concerning their occupation. This is another example of why folks should consult with a lawyer (or law firm) who only handles family law related matters before making significant changes to their income or filing an application to reduce their child support.

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Child support is the right of every child, and during my many years of practicing family law I have seen first-hand that New Jersey Family Part courts will enforce a child support obligation in almost any situation. That said, a child support obligation may be modified upon a showing of a valid change of circumstance. One such change of circumstance might be unemployment, but only under certain circumstances. The unemployment must not be voluntary or temporary. A parent with a child support obligation cannot just choose to quit his or her job and expect to no longer have to pay child support. Sometimes people leave their jobs to enroll in college full-time. While a parent attaining a college degree may be beneficial for a child in the future, that does not mean that a parent can just leave his or her job to study, and expect that his or her child support obligation will be terminated. Leaving work to get a degree is a voluntary decision, and is only temporary. Doing so will not relieve a parent of his or her child support obligation.

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No. Pursuant to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, an employer may not chastise, obstruct promotions or terminate an employee simply because they are getting divorced when it has no impact on the quality of their work product or adversely effects the atmosphere at their place of employment. About 10 years ago, an employee was fired because his supervisor was concerned that he was about to begin an “ugly divorce.” This week, the New Jersey Supreme Court handed down a decision clearly stating that it is discriminatory to fire an employee based upon their marital status.

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As an attorney for the past 20 years with a law firm in my hometown of East Brunswick, New Jersey, any and all new decisions are emailed to all lawyers at my office on a daily basis. This ensures that we stay on the cutting edge of divorce or family law in order to best protect our clients.

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