Articles Posted in New Jersey Divorce Process

Over the years, many potential clients that I have met are under the mistaken belief that if a marriage is of very short duration, then they may obtain an annulment as opposed to a divorce. This is a desired outcome for many because, as opposed to a Divorce, an annulment does not terminate a marriage but rather completely voids the marriage so it is as if the marriage never existed. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1 It is at this point of the consultation that I utilize a case for an annulment that I handled back in the 1990’s in order to explain the difference between divorce and annulment.

First I explain that in the state of New Jersey, the most common ground for an annulment is “fraud in the inducement” to marry. When the potential client looks at me with some confusion, I explain that many years ago a young man came to see me for an annulment. Now, by this point of my career I had many folks ask me if they qualify for an annulment, and roughly 90%-95% of the time they do not. However, once this poor fellow answered a number of my questions, I quickly realized that he qualified under New Jersey law for an annulment.

Long story short, he was dating a girl for a few months when she suddenly announced that she was pregnant and that he was the father. So, he did what he felt was the “right thing to do,” and proposed to her on the spot. They were married in a small civil ceremony shortly thereafter and the newlyweds moved into his parent’s house.

Approximately one month later, they were have an argument during which the young wife exclaimed, “oh yeah, well I was never even pregnant!” I then realized that this was a perfect example of “fraud in the inducement” to marry. If she had never lied about being pregnant, he would not have married her. However, her fraud induced this fellow to ask her to marry him, I successfully obtained a Court Order for an annulment, and he left the Courthouse content that his marriage was legally voided.
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In my job as a New Jersey Divorce Lawyer, I wear many hats. While I enjoy helping clients through the legal aspects of their divorce, I often find myself providing support through the process. Just as I stay current on issues related to the law, I also like to read relevant and topical information on coping with the divorce process. There are many great resources from typical shelf-help books to an abundance of articles on websites.

“I need support to help me get through my divorce” is a statement clients often say to me.

During your divorce process it is critical to take care of your mental and emotional health. Most find the legal and personal process of untangling lives to be very stressful. How you cope with and manage your stress can have ramifications on every aspect of your life and even effect your children. So it is important to put supports in place that will help you through the process.

Recently, I have been seeing many articles on divorce support groups and I have done some research that I think it is important for all divorcing people to keep in mind when looking for support.

By joining a group you quickly realize that you are not alone and you may find great solace in the comfort of strangers. Many clients have expressed to me over the years that they do not have any friends and family members who are divorced. A divorce group may be a great ways to find peers going through the process.
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“What happens to my debt when I get divorced?” is a very common question I am asked by clients starting the New Jersey Divorce Process. Typically, couples are worried about debt they have accrued on credit cards, a home equity line of credit, student loans, and car loans. Often, your attorney will review the documentation you provide and combined with other financial factors, explain options to you.

Every financial aspect of your divorce agreement is up for negotiation. This includes how all assets will be divided as well as who will assume debts once your divorce is finalized. It is critical to work with an attorney who can offer creative solutions to your debt exposure with great care that you will be financially sound in your post divorce life.

As you get started with the divorce process, we will file a complaint for divorce with the Superior Court of the county where you reside. As of that date, you and your spouse are no longer responsible for each other’s debts. At this time it is best to cancel your joint credit cards and open new individual accounts.
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When going through the New Jersey Divorce Process most women face the decision on whether or not they want to take back their maiden name or keep their married name. During the final New Jersey Judgment for Divorce, a woman is legally allowed to change her name. She may assume her maiden name, or any other last name she wishes to at that time. This is legislated by New Jersey Statutes 2A:34-21 “The court, upon or after granting a divorce from the bonds of matrimony to either spouse, may allow either spouse to resume any name used by the spouse before the marriage, or to assume any surname.”

The name change is formally written into your final judgement (the papers signed by the court). As part of the divorce proceedings in court, you will be asked to swear, under oath, that you are not in fact changing your name for any fraudulent reasons, if criminal charges are pending, and any crime convictions.

Many women struggle with the decision and ask for my guidance in the decision. I always explain the many factors to consider.

For clients with children I have found that women tend to keep their married name. They want to continue to keep the same last name as their children not only as a family connection, but also ease of dealing with schools, doctors, and in activities. It can be easier than always having to explain why there is a difference.

Many clients often choose to keep their married name if they are leaving a long-term marriage and have really established themselves in the community or at work. They feel that no one would know who they were in their profession or in their children’s lives if they went back to their maiden name. They also do not want the hassle of changing their identification (including social security and credit cards).
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We are fortunate in New Jersey to have an Early Settlement Panel (ESP) program. When two divorcing parties can not agree on financial matters, a judge will typically send them to the program.

The goal is to help settle the financial issues such as alimony, child support, dividing of property or any other issues involving money. When alimony is a contentious issue in a New Jersey divorce, about 90% of those cases find their way to the ESP program. Issues such as child custody and/or parenting time are not entertained by the panel.

The panelists are experienced New Jersey divorce and family law attorneys in the county in which your divorce was filed. These volunteers have extensive knowledge of the law and volunteer 4 times a year to help settle cases.

I have been a panelist since 2000. Panelists review your information prior to your ESP date. On the date of the conference they meet with your attorneys to discuss specifics, and then make settlement recommendations to you. Their recommendations are non-binding, you don’t have to accept their suggestions.

If you do accept the recommendations of the Early Settlement Panel, and can formally agree to move forward with the divorce, the divorce can be finalized that very day. If the recommendations are not accepted by both parties, the judge will call a conference and could decide to send your divorce to further mediation or even to trial.

There is a magic of the ESP program – 50% of cases settle that day or at the very least significant progress can be made where there was division between the parties. This is because the panelists have no vested interest in the case. They hear the facts, but are not representing either party. Their recommendations are based on experience. I have found that it is the impartiality of the panelists that can sway a divorcing person to reasonableness.
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The holiday season has an usual way of highlighting family drama. If there is already tension or discord in the family, the nerve is probably going to get stepped on, several times over. Visiting family all staying together, who is not going to see their family, and the fear of in-laws not getting along are perhaps the biggest in-law/out-law issues many of us face these days. Many divorcing clients have told me that a strain is when you have to choose which side of the family to visit with on a given holiday. Many families struggle with parents putting pressure on their own children to come “home.” However, care should be taken to establish a relationship with your son-in-law, it might just strengthen your daughter’s marriage.

In my many years of practice, I have seen what type of support parents can give to their own children as they go through the New Jersey divorce process. I have heard from many clients that their in-laws put tremendous strain on their marital relationship. Making demands of time, religion, ethnic customs, and parenting traditions can sometimes be too much and a couple can buckle under the pressure. Research conducted by the University of Michigan nods to my experience and actually supports a theory that in-law relationship can strengthen a marriage.

New research recently highlighted that the son-in-law relationship can be critical to holding together his own relationship with his wife. The research showed that when a husband felt strong ties and connections to his in-laws, his own marriage is likely to last longer. Researchers surmised that a husband putting time into his in-laws shows to his own wife that her family relationships are important.
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Here we sit in the middle of the holiday season. The actual holidays are starting to fire for some while others the planning continues. Our state is still recovering from the hurricane so many are struggling with the daily life and just giving their children a happy holiday while others are trying to fit in a few minutes to volunteer or a few extra dollars to give. Clients are visiting my office with issues of child custody and where their children are going to spend time over the next few weeks. Many of you are going through your first post-divorce holiday. There seems to be a overwhelming feeling of busy and stress in the air.

I have helped many clients through this difficult time of year and know that you will be ok. Here are some ideas to get you through this rough time.

Stay within your budget:
Gift giving for your children is not a competition with your ex-spouse or any of your family members. Make a commitment to give within your means. It will be less stressful for you now and, more importantly in January as you won’t have to face a stack of bills.

Establish new Traditions:
This is a time of acceptance as you move into your post-divorce life. While your day-to-day has changed immensely, so have some of your annual events. Make sure to mark your new life with different traditions both involving your children and also just for yourself. Take a trip to NYC to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and visit the windows on 5th Avenue. Bake cookies or decorate gingerbread houses. Go out for a special meal or exchange presents at a different time than in the past.
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Not all couples are happy just because they have stayed together for a significant length of time. Each year since I opened my law practice nearly 20 years ago, I have handled many cases involving divorcing couples who are older in age. National statistics support my observations. Researchers at Bowling Green State University found that the divorce rate for people over 50 years old has doubled in the last twenty years. The term “grey divorce” was first coined over 20 years ago, but gained some prominence as a phenomenon starting around 2004.

If you are older and thinking “Am I too old to get a divorce?” or if you feel you are somehow alone in the decision to end your marriage that age, the answer to both question is no. As the name implies, couples divorce when their hair is grey. Children are grown and out of the house. Typically these baby boomers married young and are choosing to separate for their gold years. It is extremely common that many people remain unhappily married “for the sake of the children,” but once the children are grown, one or both spouses are prepared to divorce. Other times, the spouses take a hard look at their lives as they enter this new chapter of life and realize that that they do not have much in common and they really do not want to spend the twilight years with the other spouse.

In recent years we’ve watched several celebrity couples go through a Grey divorce. Al and Tipper Gore divorced after 40 years of marriage. More recently Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlan called it quits after 30 years.
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Since becoming a New Jersey divorce and family law attorney, I can attest to the fact that after holiday seasons, and even typical vacation times, the phone in my office tends to ring a bit more frequently with new clients making appointments. Sometimes, the holiday acted as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and a person wants to get out. It has been speculated that due to the stress of the December holiday season, that January is Divorce Month.

However, many times when sitting down for initial post-holiday consultations, new clients explain that they consciously waited to come to visit until after a family vacation, the holiday season, or a special event (family wedding or milestone birthday). And as we now find ourselves in the throws of the holiday season, many of you are making that same decision.

It is attractive for many reasons to trudge through these holidays as an intact family. You may feel that you don’t want to upset your children during the holidays. You may want to preserve a family tradition for one more round and want your children to see an intact family opening presents under the tree or lighting the menorah. I admire your dedication to your children, but caution you to tread carefully, there are a few reasons why you should not wait.

First, if you are the victim of domestic violence (physical or mental), you should not wait another minute to put legal protection in place for yourself. Holidays are full of stress and emotion for even the best of marital relationships. If your relationship is experiencing problems and there has been any incident of abuse, it can continue or even get worse during the next few weeks as budgets are stretched to purchase holiday gifts and alcohol is consumed during celebrations.
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Many times, I am the first person a client tells when they want a divorce. As a divorce lawyer, clients trust that I will listen with a sympathetic ear and help them plan out the best course of action to get them through the New Jersey divorce process. If they have not discussed the situation with their spouse, they often ask “how do I tell my spouse I want a divorce.” I then help guide them through that first conversation.

Unless you fear for your safety or even your life, a divorce conversation is necessary. This isn’t the type of news you deliver via text or on a post-it note. A marriage is a living breathing entity that is in its final stages and while it wasn’t a success, the relationship is worthy of a conversation. You have the opportunity to establish a clear line of communication which can be carried into your post-divorce / co-parenting life.

I always start out by saying that this is not going to be easy. I have never heard a client report back that the first conversation was “no big deal” nor have I heard anyone say “gosh that was so simple.” In the most extreme cases it is a shock to an unexpected spouse, but even when there has been marital trouble, it is always a difficult and awkward conversation. Getting the strength together to utter the words “I want a divorce” can be monumental, but we can get you there.

Having a plan is essential, and my best advice is that this first conversation should be rather short. You and your soon-to-be ex-spouse have many more conversations ahead of you to discuss details. Your plan for this first one can include notes or even a more detailed script you use to rehearse. I suggest you be as clear and brief as you can. Do not include blame, attempt to lay on guilt, or tell your spouse what you think he/she did wrong in the relationship.

Find a convenient time and quiet place to meet. This should not be discussed while the children are awake, and if at all possible, not when they are home. If not in the house, I advise my clients, you want an uncrowded public space that offers you some privacy. This can include a park or even the end of a boardwalk. You might meet for coffee at a diner or dessert at a restaurant.
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