Articles Posted in Protecting Children in Divorce

In nearly twenty years of practicing divorce and child custody law in New Jersey, this is a question that my law firm is frequently asked. While this is a fairly complex area of the law, I trust the following shall be a helpful and useful explanation.

In 1997, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) was passed and has been adopted by every state except Massachusetts (which should be passing the UCCJEA shortly). The UCCJEA was passed so that there are clear guidelines as to what state has jurisdiction over a child in family court in order to ensure that children may be protected at all times.

The first thing that must be determined is the child’s “Home State.” For instance, if the child has lived in New Jersey for the past six months OR the child lived in New Jersey for at least six months before the filing a Complaint for Custody in the Superior Court of New Jersey, provided a parent (or someone acting as the child’s parent) still lives in NJ, then New Jersey is the child’s Home State. If NJ is not the home state in this manner, then the state that has the most connections with the child and one of the parents shall have jurisdiction over the child. This way, any and all substantial evidence shall be located in this state. By way of example, let’s say Little Eddie lived with his parents in New Jersey for all five years of his life but then his father moved to New York while Little Eddie remained with his mom in NJ. In this case, N.J. would remain his Home State and a New Jersey family court would handle the child custody case.
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The first round of the holidays is behind us, and I do hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend. For those of you who are divorced and co-parenting I hope it was filled with easy schedules and cordial interactions with your co-parent/ex-spouse.

In my nearly 20 years as a New Jersey divorce and family law attorney I have helped countless clients work out their parenting time and child custody plans. This planning always involves the division of holiday time, and usually includes times and locations of where children will be dropped off or picked-up. I always tell my clients that while there may always be some awkwardness during these exchanges, it is always in the best interest of the children and the parents’ sanity to make them as civil as possible.

Clearly, I was not the attorney helping Halle Berry and her co-parent/ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry. Just in case you missed it, things did not go smoothly at Berry house Thanksgiving morning. While Aubry was dropping off their daughter, Barry’s fiancé made a reference to a recent court battle (Halle wants to move the child to France). The dad and fiancé exchanged words and fists, and police were called to the home. After all was said and done, both men were in the hospital with cuts, a broken rib, and bruises. By the end of the ordeal, a temporary restraining order issued, and Aubry, the father, is not only forbidden from seeing his child but also from coming within 100 feet of the daughter, Halle, and her fiancé. Most striking, a child witnessed violence, and that is inexcusable.

I had the opportunity to be part of a much more civil exchange on Thanksgiving night.

As I shared last week, over Thanksgiving dinner, my girlfriend’s children met my family for the first time. We had a fantastic time at my house including a meal with all the trimmings (my first turkey brining experiment was a great success) and the festivities concluded with an extensive trivia battle over pumpkin pie. Shortly after my family left it was time for Jen’s kids to go off with their dad for the rest of the weekend, and he was coming to my home to pick them up. This is exactly the type of hand-off I have negotiated, and the first time I was going to be part of the action.

My girlfriend and her ex-husband have a very peaceful relationship revolving around what is best for the children. They are in constant communication about schedules, academics, and activities. But, in my experience, the holidays can bring up great emotions and I was putting lots of energy on us all having a very positive experience.
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October is National Domestic Violence Month and as a New Jersey Divorce and Family Lawyer I am very proud to live in a state where laws are place to provide protection to victims. Currently, victims of domestic violence can take legal refuge under the The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, (a readable brochure is available by clicking here). In addition to put very specific and strong language around what constitutes an act of domestic violence, this act provides victims with two very important forms of relief:
1) Civil relief: ability to file a restraining order.
2) Criminal relief: victims can file criminal charges against the abuser.
On numerous occasions this act has enabled me to protect my clients ensuring their safety and protection from violent acts committed against them by family and household members.

In an effort to straighten the penalties for offenders and provide greater support for victims, there are two very important pieces of legislation under review by the New Jersey Legislature.

The first, is A-3271 sponsored by Assemblywoman Celeste M. Riley . This bill would make it a crime to commit an act of domestic violence in the presence of a minor child (under 16 years of age). An offender could face the possibility of conviction both for the original act of violence and of committing that act in the company of a child. In Ms. Riley’s own words: “Many children who have witnessed domestic abuse at home develop emotional and behavioral problems that impact their development. They often carry that scar into adulthood and see violence as an appropriate reaction to conflict. It’s a sickening cycle with dangerous consequences,” said Riley. “This bill recognizes that in a household inflicted by domestic violence, children who witness the abuse are victims as well and creates the appropriate punishment.”
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Many people believe that divorce has to be an all out war with family members, friends, and even the children taking sides. They wage battle after battle, and allow the anger and hostility to impact every nook and cranny of their lives. No doubt, going through a NJ Divorce process is a stressful time. When there are broken hearts and hurt feelings to manage, a divorce can get downright ugly. However, what happens in these cases is children get caught in the crossfire. The negativity seeps into their little lives and often they suffer tremendous emotional strain as their developing psychological frameworks cannot handle the pressure. As a New Jersey divorce lawyer, I see all too often how the battles parents wage create an unhealthy atmosphere for themselves and their families.

I have previously discussed ways the many ways you can help protect your children from divorce. Now, I turn my attention to the actual divorce process so you can make it as child friendly as possible. This will be of great benefit to you as a parent knowing that an atmosphere of peace will be of great psychological benefit to your children.

While your children will not (and should not) be involved in the negotiations of your divorce, there are three ways to handle your divorce proceedings to ensure the process is child friendly.

First, demand an atmosphere of respect between you and your soon to be ex-spouse. A former client of mine referred to this as “taking the high road.” Each and every time there was any communication throughout the divorce process (email, face-to-face meetings, letters, texts) she and her now ex-husband did not allow each other to get nasty or raise their voices. There were some rough discussions, but each and every one was handled with a very impressive high level of professionalism. And no, this was not easy, on either one of them at times. However, as hard as it was to keep even the most contentious parts of their divorce calm, out in the real world they were able to then civilly deal with each other because there were no hard feelings.
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1209081_city_people_at_sunset.jpgThe psychological community has long considered divorce the number 2 most stressful event that a person can go through in their lives. And in the stressful pressure cooker of the state of New Jersey, divorcing parties often feel like they are on a never ending emotional rollercoaster. As every single aspect of your past, current, and future life is examined and negotiated, at no other time in your life do you need the support of friends and family as you dismantle your old life and then build anew. However, just as these personal relationships are critical to getting you through the NJ Divorce Process, you will also need to assemble a team of professionals and experts to help you navigate the murky waters to protect your rights and future. Whether you are going through a divorce, or dealing with post-divorce, child custody, child support, or alimony issues, the guidance received from impartial third parties can be invaluable.

An aggressive and compassionate divorce attorney should be at the top of your list. You need an experienced NJ divorce lawyer who can guide you through the process with particular care for your personal circumstances.

Divorce is a tough time for any well-balanced individual. And no matter how strong your mettle, you may benefit from talking with a licensed mental health professional. Gone are the days when anyone should be embarrassed by seeking out this type of care. Today, there are a variety of options for you to receive support and guidance during this difficult time. Psychological help can come in the form of a therapist, life coach, psychologist, family therapist, parenting counselor, psychiatrist, as examples. Find an experienced professional

To accurately evaluate your current economic situation and protect your fiscal future, several Financial Professionals may need to be consulted. These become increasingly important in high net worth divorces and/or those including extensive investments and business ownership. You should discuss with your attorney the inclusion of accountants, forensic accounts, and business advisors on your divorce team.

More than likely, one of your greatest assets is your marital home. But your current real-estate portfolio may also include a vacation home and investment properties. As part of your divorce negotiating, these assets may be divided and/or sold. A licensed and experienced real estate agent can be of great help to you in securing accurate appraisals, listing the properties, and help you through a successful sale. Look for an agent with a track record of success in your neighborhood.
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There are many mistakes that can be made when getting a divorce in New Jersey. It is a complex process where all aspects of your life are scrutinized. Working through the legal and emotional aspects can be overwhelming for most people and emotions tend to escalate. When children are involved the stakes are higher as both parents battle over not only separating their life as a couple but parenting time and support payments. Most parents go into the divorce process with the promise to protect children. But when negative emotions take over and “battle mode” is assumed, these three common mistakes are often made:

1. Parents sometimes use their children as pawns or bargaining chips when attempting to negotiate terms of their divorce. They leverage either child support or parenting time against other aspects up for negotiation and package the pieces together. This often looks like “if you want a certain amount in support then I want extra time with the children.” This type of vindictive behavior creates conflict which in the end causes devastation. Your children are not bargaining chips to use for favor or revenge regardless of circumstances.

2. Trying to get your children on your side – Children often, and rightfully so, should feel a loyalty and connection to both parents regardless of details of your divorce. Any attempts you make to garner unnatural favor with your child are putting them in an unnatural and unhealthy position. Children should not be forced to choose a side in any parental conflict, and this holds true even more so during the divorce process. The transition to mom and dad being divorced is traumatic enough for children. During this time of transition children need to be comforted and assured that their relationships with both parents are going to remain intact.

3. Badmouthing the other parent – by talking negatively about the other parent, children are shown that hatred is an acceptable form of behavior. Negative talk creates doubt and insecurity in the mind of the child during a time when they need a great deal of love and support. It can also create a distance between you and your child as they see you as a negative person. In doing this you run the risk of sabotaging your relationship with your child.

What can you do?
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