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  • 8 Nov 2022 10:36 AM | AAML NJ Administrator (Administrator)

    Panel discussion facilitated by Sharon L. KleinExecutive Vice President and Head of National Divorce Advisory Practice | Wilmington Trust | AAML NJ Bronze Sponsor

    In a three-part video series hosted by Family Lawyer Magazine, Sharon Klein moderated a discussion among Cary MogermanMaria Cognetti and Peter WalzerThis powerful team provides insights on notable changes in the family law arena and offers their predictions on how the future of the practice may unfold. 

    Watch the videos to learn what family law firms need to do to evolve, adapt and prosper in the future.

    Link to the videos here

    For more information, reach out to Sharon L. Klein at 212-415-0531 or sklein@wilmingtontrust.com.


  • 1 Nov 2022 10:13 AM | AAML NJ Administrator (Administrator)

    By Carolyn Daly, Esq. | Daly & Associates | AAML NJ 2022 - 2023 President

    You have made the decision to seek a divorce, or to at least get advice about getting a divorce. You have the names for potential lawyers, but what do you ask them?

    There are certainly more than six questions that you will want to ask, but these are a good start to help you in making a decision.

    1. Do you specialize in divorce cases and what credentials do you hold?

    When getting divorced, you want someone who has a lot of experience and hopefully specializes in divorce, particularly if you have complex custody or financial issues. You don’t want someone who is practicing in several different areas of law as they likely lack the depth of knowledge needed to handle your issues.

    You also want someone who understands divorce is emotional so that they will work with you on emotional issues. They can also probably understand the emotions occurring on the other side of the case to navigate how issues are approached with them.

    2. How will my case be handled in the office?

    In some offices, one lawyer will be the only one working on your case. However, in most offices multiple attorneys and other legal staff (e.g. paralegals) will also work on the case. You want to be comfortable with your legal team and know who is working for you. Will the lawyer you consult with be at all court appearances? Is someone else going to handle scheduling or day-to-day questions so that you aren’t billed at the highest rate? Who will be drafting and reviewing documents? You will want to understand how the office works and, if you want the lawyer you are consulting with to be the only one appearing in court, you need to say that in the consult.

    3. How do I communicate with the office and receive information on my case?

    If you retain a smaller law firm, it may be that the lawyer or one secretary is handling all communications. In other firms, there may be specific communication guidelines – you may not be able to simply “walk in” to meet your attorney, but will need to schedule an appointment, or you may need to work with a paralegal or associate to try to resolve minor issues in your case. You will want to know who you can and should e-mail, text (unlikely), have a phone call with or come in person for a meeting. You also need to remember your attorney is handling other cases, so you should know the protocol for how quickly communications are answered. Having good communication with your lawyer will keep you de-stressed and will also help you clarify and define your goals with your lawyer.

    4. How long does it take to get divorced and are there alternatives that might save time and money?

    Most people ask this question multiple times during their case, but it is very hard to answer, especially post-COVID with the very significant shortage of judges that we currently have.

    While the court’s “goal” is to have your divorce complete (including any trial, if necessary) within a year, that is definitely not the norm at present. In most counties, trials take well over two years, and some trials are paused completely. Knowing that, you will want to ask about what alternatives there are that might assist in getting the case, or certain issues, resolved sooner, such as mediation, collaborative divorce and arbitration to name a few. Find out all your options.

    5. What is your retainer amount, the hourly rates for people working on my file, billing cycle and what happens when my retainer is exhausted?

    Divorce can be very expensive so you want to understand what you need to pay to get started. And the “cheapest” lawyer may not be the best choice. You also need to know what each person working on your file charges per hour so that you can try to decide who you may need to speak to, or work with, at different stages of the case. You also want to know how often you will get bills so that you can keep track of your retainer and charges. Finally, you want to know what you will have to pay when the retainer runs out so that you can plan ahead. 

    6. Now that we have talked a little about my case, how would you approach it?

    This person is going to be representing you and working with you to get you what you hope to achieve in the case. So, you want to know that the way they would approach your case, or certain issues aligns with your goals and approach. You may want a very aggressive lawyer, or one who takes the high road, or one who can be either, when necessary. You may be willing to compromise on certain issues to achieve favorable results in others and you will want to know if the lawyer would agree to approach it the way you do, or, if not, why not? You want to gain some insight into the lawyer and what it will be like working with them so that you can decide if that is a person you want to work with for the next year or more.

    There is no right answer to any of these questions, but hopefully the answers help you make a decision on the lawyer you want to represent you as you navigate the difficult, often emotional issues in divorce. And it is why you should always consult with a lawyer before retaining them.

  • 17 Oct 2022 11:43 AM | AAML NJ Administrator (Administrator)

    By Jonathan Blinken | Strategies For Wealth, AAML NJ Bronze Sponsor

    Getting divorced can be a painful process. For many it can mean starting over. Unfortunately, that may include starting over financially. This can mean different things to different people - if one spouse was the primary breadwinner in a long marriage, they may be ordered to give a significant portion of their retirement plan to their spouse who focused on raising the children. This may cause concern over how they will support themselves in their twilight years. On the flip side, one spouse might have put their career on hold to raise the family and are now having trouble making ends meet, securing a job, and developing or restarting their own career. That’s why, from the moment you know you are getting a divorce, creating a viable financial plan is one of the most important things you can do. Of course, you can develop a plan and budget on your own, but it may be helpful to seek out professional advice from a financial advisor or CPA who specializes in helping people create their own financial plans, particularly in light of an impending divorce. 

    Budget Your Way To A Better Future

    One of the first things you should do, once you know you are getting divorced, is create a budget with a focus on savings and investment. Remember, without a second income, you should recalculate your needs, and the ability to meet them, and make a reasonable prediction about your monthly cash flow. This may mean a significant change in lifestyle and habits. If you frequently dine at restaurants, you may need to begin to prepare more meals at home. You might need to explore alternative vacations, or a “staycation”, rather than lavish trips. Learning to live within a new set of parameters can be challenging, but it is crucial for your future financial success after a divorce. Create a budget, and stick to it. 

    Make sure you are aware of all your debts, and work on paying those down as quickly as feasible, particularly high interest rate credit card debt. Then, whenever possible, pay yourself first! Put as much as you can into a savings account for emergencies. Try to contribute monthly to either a retirement plan or an investment account that has well diversified investments to ensure continued and measured growth consistent with your risk tolerance. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this goal is to commit to automate deposits into savings, investments, a 401(k) or permanent life insurance. This eliminates obstacles or excuses that may present itself – or the temptation to spend on the next big thing or bright, shiny object, such as the latest consumer gadget. Building up a good nest egg and emergency fund is a critical step in creating a financial plan after a divorce.

    Records And Reality

    Keep detailed and accurate records of your current spending. This will be important as alimony, or spousal support, is considered. In many states, the amount awarded is dependent on numerous factors, including the needs of both the recipient spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay for it. Depending on your personal situation, think carefully about how best to protect yourself. It is important to recognize both ex-spouses often end up with a lower standard of living, post-divorce, than they had when married.

    When the division of real property is at issue, be realistic about what you can afford, and pick your assets carefully. Keeping the marital home is often a goal for one or both of the divorcing parties; however, the debt usually comes with it, and if you cannot feasibly afford the mortgage payments each month, you may need to walk away. Think about your short and long-term needs, and make smart decisions. 

    Don’t Make Emotional Decisions

    Try not to get caught up in the emotions. One former client was heartbroken when her marriage to her husband of 30 years ended. The husband offered to give her a generous amount of money for several years as spousal support. She put her emotional pain aside, and sat down with a calculator and her advisors. They analyzed several alternative arrangements, and determined the one that best met her future needs.

    While she was tempted by the initial offer, she negotiated for one-half of the couple’s rental property portfolio. Although she needed to pay property taxes, mortgages, maintenance, and insurance on the properties, at the end of the day this would earn her more than she would have received in spousal support, and ensured that her earnings were indefinite. You must be prepared to think long-term in your financial planning, which can often mean foregoing your initial emotional impulses.

    Be Aware Of The Tax Man

    Many of the financial decisions you make during a divorce can have tax implications. It is important to consult your accountant, or a tax attorney, to ensure that you make wise decisions. For example, it is common for one or both parties in a divorce to have significant assets in their qualified retirement plan. If a qualified retirement plan is divided in a divorce, it is important that the parties do not actually withdraw any money before age 59 1/2. Early withdrawal not only incurs penalty fees (usually 10%) but you will also be taxed at your ordinary income rate for the year that you take out the money, leaving you with significantly less than what you may need during retirement.

    No Extravagancies During Divorce 

    Whatever you do, during a divorce, do not make any major financial purchases. Most states consider anything acquired during the marriage as community property – therefore, you could be forced to repay your spouse for your spending. Additionally, many courts impose injunctions, or orders preventing parties from spending money unnecessarily. 

    Another former client purchased a boat for nearly $50,000 during the divorce and attempted to keep it a secret. He thought he could get away with it, until he parked it in front of his house for a week. His wife got suspicious and asked for his bank records, where she found a monthly payment to a well-known boat dealer. That $50,000 boat cost my client an additional $25,000 in assets, because he wanted to fulfill his dreams before he was divorced. Patience is a virtue – wait until the divorce is finalized. 

    Play By The Rules

    Always follow the court order. If you have been ordered to deliver property or execute documents to convey it, then you need to do so. If you have been ordered to pay attorney’s fees, then you must do so. Failure to follow a court order can have serious financial implications. The court can sentence the offending spouse to jail for contempt of court, which is not only embarrassing and uncomfortable, but could affect your ability to work. Your property may also be subject to a lien, meaning it is now secured by debts you owe to creditors. If you ever need to liquidate your property, the value will be diminished by the liens on top of it. 

    Invest In Yourself Post-Divorce

    After your divorce is finalized, it is a great time to invest in yourself. You are beginning a new chapter in life. Think about what that means to you, and develop concrete personal and financial goals. For some, it might mean going back to school. For others, it may mean starting a business. Maybe you have always wanted a second home to rent out and increase your income. Whatever it is, find out how much it will cost to invest in you, and determine if it’s worth the money. If it is, come up with a financial plan to start saving and go for it.  

    Divorce is hard, no matter how amicable. Setting aside emotions and thinking clearly about your financial future is the most important thing you can do for yourself, and your children. Consult with professionals who are familiar with the financial implications of divorce, develop a financial plan, and have patience in achieving it. You may be starting over, but with planning and persistence you can build a strong financial future. 

    Enjoy this article? Share it with a friend.

    GUEST AUTHOR:

                  

    Jonathan Blinken

    Financial Advisor at: Strategies For Wealth

    120 Broadway

    37th Floor

    New York, NY 10271

    Office:   212-249-9200

    Mobile: 212-960-3105

    Email: Jonathan_blinken@strategiesforwealth.com 

    Web Page: www.Blinkenfinancial.com

    https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathanblinken

    Jonathan Blinken is a Financial Advisor at Strategies For Wealth. His mission is to educate his clients and empower them to feel more in control of their financial life and decision-making. 

    Connect: www.blinkenfinancial.com 

    Registered Representative and Financial Advisor of Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS). Securities products and advisory services offered through PAS, member FINRA, SIPC. Financial Representative of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), New York, NY. PAS is an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian. Strategies for Wealth is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian. 2017-46539 Exp 9/19

  • 3 Oct 2022 1:52 PM | AAML NJ Administrator (Administrator)

    By Our Family Wizard, AAML NJ Bronze Sponsor

    What is birdnesting divorce?

    When birdnesting after divorce or separation, the children stay in the family home—a safe and cozy nest—and the parents take turns living with them.

    When one parent is staying with the kids, the other parent stays at another place, like a rented apartment or a family member’s house. Then they swap, and the other parent stays with the children while the parent who was with the kids before stays somewhere else.

    “A short-term nesting plan is incredibly beneficial to children at the initial stages of a divorce or separation,” explains Elle Barr, an experienced family law attorney and a court-appointed guardian ad litem, or child welfare expert and attorney for children, for nearly 20 years.

    Read the full blog post here

  • 23 Sep 2022 1:36 PM | AAML NJ Administrator (Administrator)

    By LEAP US, AAML NJ Silver Sponsor

    New Jersey family law firms recognize the need to adopt technology to improve productivity, revenue, and overall client satisfaction. However, the legal technology market is growing with multiple offerings that can make it challenging for matrimonial lawyers to find the right solution that will improve law firm business practices. This article is the ultimate guide to legal practice productivity software for New Jersey family law firms and will answer the following questions:

    • What is legal software?
    • What are the benefits of legal software for New Jersey family law firms?
    • What does an all-in-one solution look like?
    What is legal software?

    Legal software helps matrimonial attorneys run and manage all aspects of their family law practice. These law firm software solutions can be a single, comprehensive, and integrated system or a collection of different systems with one goal: to help attorneys manage their law firm business and client needs. For family law firms, this would include centralizing contacts, documents, emails, and more in a single electronic matter and simplifying time recording for more frequent and accurate billing and invoicing. Other functions include managing, automating, and enhancing:

    • Business development and matter creation
    • Document assembly and management
    • Time recording on billable tasks
    • Trust accounting and bank reconciliation
    • Law firm reporting
    • And more
    What are the benefits of legal software for New Jersey family law firms?

    The right legal software will improve law firm productivity, efficiency, and profitability along with several other benefits. New Jersey family law firms that take advantage of legal cloud software technology also experience reduced overhead costs, less manual day-to-day work, better legal client services, and better financial management. Not only do these benefits improve law firm employee output but they also drive higher client satisfaction which improves business development. Additionally, New Jersey family law firms can reduce their risk of malpractice and noncompliance by implementing a solution that ensures the availability of up-to-date legal forms, elimination of data errors from multiple entries, and increased profitability with streamlined timekeeping, invoicing, billing, and trust accounting.

    What does an all-in-one solution look like?

    An all-in-one legal software solution should include everything legal professionals need to run a law firm including practice management, document assembly, legal accounting, and legal publishing. LEAP legal practice productivity solution includes all four aspects to support New Jersey family law firm’s daily operations.

    Practice Management

    LEAP enables matrimonial attorneys to manage their practice whether they are in the office, in court, or on the go and with a secure connection through Amazon Web Services (AWS). Remote accessibility for matter and case management means that lawyers can onboard legal clients, access files and documents, manage legal deadlines, capture more billable time, send invoices, and receive payments from anywhere.

    Document Assembly & Management

    New Jersey family law firms using LEAP can auto-populate forms and documents, with client information and commonly used clauses, with only a few clicks. This document automation starts by pulling details from electronic matters that are then filled into the correct document fields. This eliminates redundant data entry and potential errors that arise when manually keying in information. Update the client details once and use it for all legal documents and forms.

    LawConnect integrates with LEAP so matrimonial attorneys and clients can share large files through a secure portal. Given the nature of family law matters, these extra security layers provide the needed protection to store, access, and share documents. LEAP makes it easy for matrimonial attorneys to collaborate with clients on documents and request e-signatures for filing.

    Legal Publishing

    Access to automated legal documents and matter types helps to reduce time spent on manual tasks and errors caused by duplicate data entry. LEAP offers access to legal forms and pre-built matter types for New Jersey matrimonial lawyers to eliminate hours of administrative work. The LEAP Content team ensures that all forms are up-to-date so that New Jersey firms can rest assured that they are maintaining compliance. Additionally, attorneys have access to the LEAP Clause Library to simplify and expedite the legal drafting process. Matrimonial attorneys can easily find and complete legal forms like Certificate of Insurance Coverage Pursuant to R. 5:4-f (LD-NJ-FAM-0025), Summons (Divorce) (LL-NJ-FAM-0123), Case Management Order (R. 5:5-7) (LL-NJ-FAM-0011), and Confidential Litigant Information Sheet (LD-NJ-FAM-0328). This tool helps save time and reduce potential errors from copying and pasting each clause.

    Legal Accounting

    Office and trust accounting are crucial functions to law firm success and compliance. LEAP makes it easy to generate invoices, manage retainers and trust accounts, and directly capture disbursements in the system to simplify compliance with IOLTA and New Jersey state bar rules with built-in office and trust accounting functionality. Law firm staff can use built-in time recording, legal calculators, and legal billing codes to make it easy for matrimonial lawyers to instantly capture billable time in a timesheet without starting or stopping a timer. LEAP also helps New Jersey family law firms make more invoices with customizable billing templates to create, edit, and send invoices. Additionally, Xero and QuickBooks Online integrate with LEAP to reduce redundant data entry and enable online payment options to improve client experience and get paid faster.

    Conclusion

    Legal technology is no longer optional if New Jersey family law firms want to remain competitive and experience longevity, productivity, and profitability. As the #1 legal practice productivity solution on the market, LEAP Legal Software offers all the tools matrimonial attorneys need in a single, cloud-based solution, including practice management, document management, legal publishing, and legal accounting. New Jersey legal professionals will have access to dedicated support teams, user feedback forums, and ongoing training resources to be up and running on LEAP in as little as two days. To learn more about LEAP and how it can benefit your New Jersey family law firm, schedule a demo today! 

  • 20 Sep 2022 10:59 AM | AAML NJ Administrator (Administrator)

    By Sharon L. Klein, Executive Vice President and Head of National Divorce Advisory Practice, Wilmington Trust, AAML Bronze Sponsor

    Remarriage that results in blended or stepfamilies can come with challenges. As part of Wilmington Trust’s monthly tip series for Family Lawyer Magazine, Sharon L. Klein leveraged the celebration of National Stepfamily Day in September to share key strategies to help blended families live in harmony. Read Sharon’s 6 Top Tips to check your clients’ estate and financial plans reflect their evolving family dynamics.

    Link to the article here

    For more information, reach out to Sharon L. Klein, Head of Wilmington Trust’s National Divorce Advisory Practice at 212-415-0531 or sklein@wilmingtontrust.com.

  • 22 Aug 2022 1:45 PM | AAML NJ Administrator (Administrator)

    By Jonathan Blinken | Strategies For Wealth, AAML NJ Bronze Sponsor

    Divorces are major undertakings. Dividing up jointly owned property and assets, managing custody arrangements for children, and exchanging payments of alimony or child support can all have a significant impact on your life – both emotionally and financially. You should consult a family law attorney for their expertise in divorce matters, however, it is important to recognize that they may not possess expertise regarding tax implications impacting their divorcing clients. Hiring a financial planner in addition to your legal counsel will help you properly address the tax consequences of proposed divisions of property or alimony payments.

    1. Alimony is poised to transform divorces in 2019. 

    Alimony is traditionally fraught with complications and often, resentment. State laws vary widely concerning calculations of alimony, and whether or not one of the parties is eligible. But the federal tax laws have been clear for at least 75 years, easing the pain for at least one party: the paying spouse was allowed to deduct their payments, while the receiving spouse had to account for alimony received as income. But starting Jan 1, 2019, this certainty is gone. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in late 2017, has abolished the principle, meaning the payment of alimony is no longer deductible, and the recipient no longer has to pay taxes on it. This makes it more akin to child support payments, where the obligor cannot deduct, and the recipient is not taxed. 

    The law will apply to divorces finalized in 2019, so divorces finalized before that day will be ‘grandfathered' into the current regime. Still, most family law professionals are apprehensive. Previously, at least the paying spouse had the benefit of deducting this payment, which helped push negotiations along. Now, without any incentive, divorces might be messier, longer and ultimately, more expensive. The recipient spouse might be less able to use the alimony money in retirement accounts like IRA’s, which require payments to be made from taxed income. While there are still many questions about the full extent the tax cuts will have on alimony and divorce, a qualified financial planner can help mitigate any problems stemming from the changes in the law.

    2. Know how you will be filing your taxes during and after the divorce.

    Most people assume that if you are married for part of a year, you will have to file taxes as married. But, if your divorce is finalized in that year – even on the last day – then you are free to file taxes as a single person. Additionally, you can still file as a couple, but that often does not make sense financially. If one spouse files as head of household, for example, they might receive a boon in tax savings. But, you would have to live separate and apart at least six months, and pay more than half of the costs to the household. The other spouse would have to file single. 

    3. Understand that the division of assets carries significant tax implications

    Divorcing couples need to worry about the actual value of their debts and assets when they begin dividing up their estate. But many assets can affect the tax liability of each party. First, married couples receive a relative windfall on their principal residence if they decide to sell – up to $500,000 gain on their principal residence without incurring a tax liability. Of course, once divorced, then each party can only realize $250,000.00 in the event of a sale. If one party is awarded the property, then they might be entitled to use the mortgage interest deduction. This is only attractive if the house still has an outstanding mortgage, which might not be the case for long-term couples. 

    4. Lingering taxes after divorce

    Wealthy couples or individuals who are self-employed might have to pay estimated taxes, sometimes resulting in an overpayment of taxes owed. If a couple filed a joint tax return in previous years, and the overpayment of tax was applied to any tax owed the year of the divorce, then any overpayment is equally allocated between the spouses. Each gets to benefit from the overpayment, even if one spouse earns significantly more than the other. The same concept applies to joint tax returns filed during the marriage if taxes are still owed. However, courts do have the discretion to determine whether or not one party is assigned the existing liability during the division of property.

    5. You need to figure out which parent can claim the child’s tax dependency, or you will be subject to the default rules.  

    Only one tax return can claim each child on the dependency exemption. If the divorce decree assigns one parent as the primary custodial parent, then by default, this parent will get to use the tax dependency exemption. Generally speaking, the custodial parent is the party who has had actual possession of the child the longest. Courts will be allowed to approve agreements between the parents who might alternate which parent claims tax dependencies each year. For families with multiple children, some parents might agree, for example, that each parent can claim one child in a family with two children. By claiming the dependency exemption, parents stand to benefit from other benefits, like the child tax credit or various education credits. If you have questions about the implications of a divorce on child tax dependencies, it is best to seek out a qualified financial planner in addition to your family lawyer.

    6. Retirement accounts have some of the biggest tax penalties if handled wrong. 

    For long-term marriages, retirement accounts are often the largest assets to be divided up. If done inappropriately, it can carry a tax penalty as well as an early withdrawal penalty, decimating the account. Therefore, for many retirement accounts, like 401(k)’s, if the parties choose to divide the funds, they must be done through a qualified domestic relations order (or QDRO). These essentially allow one party to ‘roll over’ their retirement savings to another without the IRS treating it as a taxable distribution. 

    If you are in the middle of a divorce, you should seek out expert guidance for every aspect – both legal and financial. Contact a qualified financial planner who can give you comprehensive and competent guidance through the many tax issues associated with a marriage dissolution.  

    Jonathan Blinken is a Registered Representative and Financial Advisor of Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS). Securities products and advisory services offered through PAS, member FINRA, SIPC. Financial Representative of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), New York, NY. PAS is an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian. Strategies for Wealth is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian.Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents, and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. Consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional regarding your individual situation. 2018-59852 Exp. 5/20.

  • 2 Aug 2022 11:11 AM | Anonymous

    By Jeralyn Lawrence | Law Law Firm, AAML NJ Immediate Past President

    In New Jersey, child support guidelines were established to ensure consistency in child support awards and to provide courts with the financial information needed to issue appropriate child support orders. The guidelines provide a framework for courts to use when making child support determinations for people whose incomes fall within the guideline amounts. Currently, the child support guidelines apply to parents with combined net incomes ranging from $8,840 per year to $187,200 per year. 

    While judges can deviate from the guideline amounts to account for a child's extraordinary needs, most child support decisions typically adhere to the guideline amounts. However, the determination of appropriate child support amounts differs when the parents have a net combined income exceeding $187,200 per year. Here is how courts make child support determinations when the parents' incomes are above the child support guidelines.

    Understanding the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines 

    The New Jersey child support guidelines were initially adopted in 1986 and can be found at Child Support Guidelines, Pressler & Verniero, Current N.J. Court Rules, Appendix IX-A to R. 5:6A (2017). They were established following the federal government's passage of the Child Support Enforcement Amendments, which are codified at 42 U.S.C. § 651. These amendments provided federal matching funds to help states enforce child support orders. In 2007, the guidelines were amended to cap combined parental net income at $187,200.

    Under R. 5:6A, the child support guidelines provide a rebuttable presumption that the appropriate child support order should be the guideline amount. However, courts can deviate from the guideline amounts for good cause when the guidelines are inappropriate in a specific case. When New Jersey courts deviate from the guidelines, they must specify their reasoning for doing so per the decision in Ordukaya v. Brown, 357 N.J. Super. 231, 241 (App. Div. 2003).

    Above-Guidelines Cases

    While the guidelines provide a rebuttable presumption of child support for parents whose combined net incomes fall within the guideline amounts, they do not address couples with net incomes exceeding the maximum income contemplated by the guidelines. While some people might believe that they can simply extrapolate the child support amount by using a similar factor as what is used under the guidelines, courts have held that such an extrapolation is inappropriate. 

    In Walton v. Visgil, 248 N.J. Super. 642 (App. Div. 1991), the court found that extrapolating the guideline calculations to parents with high incomes is inappropriate. Instead, courts should take into consideration both the child's basic support needs and any extraordinary expenses to determine the appropriate amount to award.

    In many divorce cases involving children with high-net-worth parents, child support issues typically turn on the children's extracurricular activities and extraordinary expenses. Courts recognize that children with high-income parents deserve to share in their parents' good fortune and to enjoy a standard of living in line with that. In Zazzo v. Zazzo, 245 N.J. Super. 124 (App. Div. 1990), the court noted that these types of additional expenses often exceed what might be contemplated as a part of the basic support obligation. 

    Several types of additional expenses that might be considered under the decision in Isaacson v. Isaacson, 348 N.J. Super. 560 (App. Div. 2002) include the following:

    • Private school tuition
    • Private tutoring
    • Summer camps
    • Art/music lessons
    • Vacations
    • Sports camps
    • Clothing/incidentals for teenagers
    • Insured vehicle for teens who drive
    • Costs for studying abroad
    • Home renovations for the primary custodial parent to have a more presentable home for the children
    • Establishment of a trust for the children to share in the high-income parent's good fortune beyond a 529 plan

    The child support award should be determined by the child's interests rather than by the parent's interests. The determination is also case-specific and can vary based on the circumstances of both the child and the parents. For example, in Loro v. Del Colliano, 354 N.J. Super. 212 (App. Div. 2002), the appellate court remanded the case to the trial court to determine the extent of appropriate home renovations. However, it did uphold the trial court's award of cellphone costs for the child and the cost of Philadelphia Flyers season tickets.

    If a child is attending college, other considerations will be important, including the location and cost of the school, the child's tuition, books, and housing expenses, any scholarships that might have been awarded, and any expenses the parents have been providing for to the college-aged child for transportation, cellphone bills, entertainment, and others. 

    In many cases, divorce attorneys will begin with the child support guidelines as a basis. However, instead of extrapolating the guidelines amount from $187,200 up to the amount of the parents' combined net income, the calculation will instead be case-specific and include consideration of all of the extracurriculars and extraordinary expenses of the child in light of the high-income parent's good fortune. It should be noted that an award of child support should not be used as a substitute for spousal support. 

    If a parent's spousal support ends, the court will not modify the child support amount higher to replace it, but the end of alimony may trigger a review of child support. Even for high-income parents whose incomes exceed the child support guidelines, child support is meant to provide the child with the standard of living appropriate for his or her position as a child of a high-income parent instead of enabling the lower-earning spouse to enjoy a higher-income lifestyle.

    Conclusion

    Determining the appropriate amount of child support for above-the-guidelines cases can be complex. Attorneys should always try to negotiate reasonable amounts on behalf of their clients that take into account all of the child's extraordinary and extracurricular expenses. In most cases, mediation or the collaborative process might provide a way for parents to reach a decision outside of an expensive court battle. In most cases, families are happier when they can reach a negotiated agreement rather than leaving the decision up to the court. Focusing on the best interests of the child and meeting the needs of the child generally leads to a successful resolution.

  • 26 Jul 2022 1:26 PM | AAML NJ Administrator (Administrator)

    By LEAP US | AAML NJ Silver Sponsor

    New Jersey family law firms already recognize the need to move their operations into the cloud to avoid the mishaps that come from manual and paper-based processes. Moreover, the cloud offers several benefits to law firms like streamlined tasks to improve employee outputs, reduced data errors, increased profit margins, reduced noncompliance, and enhanced security. In fact, 31% even said that they trust cloud solutions over their on-premises systems for increased security, according to an American Bar Association survey. However, it’s often difficult for matrimonial lawyers to identify the right cloud technology for their firm and what characteristics make up a “good” cloud-based legal software.

    Here are three characteristics New Jersey family law firms should look for when purchasing a cloud solution.

    1. Legal Expertise

    Law firm staff need to trust that the software provider they select genuinely understands the needs, complexities, and nuances of New Jersey family law practices. While engineers are experts at understanding and building software that looks and runs great, if they don’t have the industry expertise for the solution they’re building, it won’t truly address the needs of its users. The legal industry especially poses its own challenges as family law and New Jersey regulations, forms, and processes constantly change.

    Software providers like LEAP avoid this by employing the top legal talent needed to update common family law forms and templates across New Jersey jurisdictions, address current and emerging challenges legal professionals face, and ensure that all users get value from the software, regardless of their role in the firm.

    LEAP offers 11K+ forms and 2.5K+ pre-built matter types, including Summons (Divorce) (LL-NJ-FAM-0123), Certification of Insurance Coverage Pursuant to R. 5:4-f (LD-NJ-FAM-0025), and Case Management Order (R.5:5-7) (LL-NJ-FAM-0115), that are regularly updated for users to reduce double work and maintain compliance for users. Additionally, LEAP is a product of constant innovation and technology advancements based on legal technology trends and direct user feedback to solve common issues faced by family law practitioners that cost them time and money across the business. That’s why the first thing a firm should look for when purchasing legal software is if the company is using legal industry experts and customer feedback to build its solution.

    2. Comprehensiveness

    The second characteristic law firms need to look for in legal software is the comprehensiveness of the platform. Many software solutions only focus on one or two problem statements and don’t address all the challenges a family law firm faces in its daily work. These niche solutions lead to only partially digitized firms, select users having access to information and advanced technical skillsets, and high technology spending as firms invest in multiple solutions over time to address specific challenges.

    A comprehensive cloud solution creates a more productive firm with all team members accessing the same real-time information and updates to improve efficiency so more time can be spent on taking new clients, billable work, and better legal services. This also helps law firms reduce technology spending with one solution that immediately positively affects the firm’s bottom line. LEAP is the leading, comprehensive legal practice productivity solution for New Jersey family law firms and allows them to have practice management, legal accounting, document assembly and management, and legal publishing in a single solution. The LEAP implementations team can get firms onboarded in as little as two days to start taking advantage of a one-stop productivity solution.

    Another benefit is that law firms can foster their employee’s growth through new skillsets. As law firms continue to see growth, it means that law professionals have more options to find an organization that will support their career growth. If all staff members can use the same platform, the firm can then support them in training and developing new skill sets to support their career development and potentially identify new skills or areas of expertise.

    3. Scalability

    At its core, cloud software naturally lends itself to scalability as firms can use resources as needed instead of having to over-purchase on-premises software or risk the chance of being under-resourced by purchasing only what they need at the time. However, not all legal software is built to address growing family law firms.

    Family law firms may expand the areas of law and regions they practice in to grow their reach and potential client base. An excellent legal software solution will be built to address the varying regulations, processes, and forms that are used across different areas of law and regions. If that flexibility is not offered, law firms that want to expand will outgrow the software and run the risk of malpractice and cause permanent damage to their reputations and the future careers of their staff. Additionally, a cloud solution will need to enable organization across the firm to avoid creating confusion across team members due to a lack of transparency when it comes to up-to-date information, forms, and communication internally and with clients. 

    The software provider should also offer law firms ongoing support as they grow and evolve to get the most out of their partnership. For example, LEAP offers a dedicated Practice Management Advisor, online help centers, and ongoing training and webinars for new features or releases that law firms may need to use as they continue to grow. It is difficult for law firms to bring on and train new staff members on solutions and processes when this level of support is not offered.

    Conclusion

    With so many legal software solutions on the market, New Jersey family law firms are faced with a difficult choice to narrow down which solution is right for them. Whether a firm only has a sole practitioner or a full team, it’s critical to identify the right cloud solution by ensuring that the provider offers the expertise, comprehensiveness, and scalability needed for the firm to have long-term success and scalable processes. In addition, once a firm implements a fully encompassing cloud solution, it can solve current and future roadblocks to improve productivity, profitability, security, compliance, and client satisfaction across the business.

    Ready to bring your firm into the cloud to improve productivity, communication, collaboration, and profitability? Schedule a demo of LEAP to see why over 61,000 global legal professionals made the switch.

  • 20 Jul 2022 9:24 AM | AAML NJ Administrator (Administrator)

    By Jeralyn Lawrence | Law Law Firm, AAML NJ Immediate Past President

    New Jersey courts previously analyzed divorce custody relocation cases differently, based on whether they were intrastate or interstate. Intrastate relocations of the parent with primary physical custody did not require that parent to file a motion with the court for permission to move the child. Instead, the other parent had the burden of proof and was required to file a motion objecting to the primary parent's move. By contrast, a primary parent who wished to move out of state had the burden of filing a motion with the court if there was a disagreement. While this difference between who has the burden in interstate and intrastate relocations has not changed, divorce lawyers should consider factors courts consider when analyzing divorce custody relocation cases have. In both types of relocations, courts now analyze them under the best interests of the child standard following the New Jersey Appellate Division's decision in A.J. v. R.J., 219 A.3d 579 (App. Div. 2019).

    Historical Treatment of Relocation Cases

    The New Jersey court had previously treated interstate and intrastate relocation cases differently. Relying on social science research, the New Jersey Supreme Court established 12 factors to consider when determining whether to allow an out-of-state relocation in Baures v. Lewis, 167 N.J. 91 (2001). Following that decision, the court gave more weight to the primary parent and would generally allow them to move out of state if good cause for the move was demonstrated. 

    In Schulze v. Morris, 361 N.J. Super. 419 (App. Div. 2003), the Appellate Division distinguished between interstate relocations like in Baures and intrastate relocations in which a primary parent relocated to a new city or county within New Jersey. Under the Schulze decision, the court did not consider intrastate relocations to be true relocations. The primary parent who wanted to move was thus not required to file a motion to relocate with the court. Instead, the alternate parent had to file a motion to oppose the primary parent's intrastate relocation with the court and present evidence that the relocation amounted to a substantial change in circumstance that was contrary to the best interests of the child because of the change in the alternate parent's parenting time with the child. If the parent could show that, the court would then consider the Baures factors.

    The New Jersey Supreme Court overturned its decision in Baures for interstate moves in Bisbing v. Bisbing, 230 N.J. 309 (2017), holding that courts must apply the best interests of the child factors found in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c) to interstate moves instead of presuming that such a move was better for the child. However, while this decision made it clear that the best interests of the child standard was to apply to interstate relocations, the Supreme Court did not address intrastate relocations. This question remained until the New Jersey Appellate Division's decision in A.J. v. R.J(commentary) in 2019. 

    Standard for Intrastate Relocations Under A.J. v. R.J.

    In A.J. v. R.J., the mother, who had primary residential custody, moved her child more than 60 miles away from the father's residence but remained in New Jersey. She did not ask for permission from the court or the father. The father filed a motion opposing the relocation, and the trial court issued an order to the mother to move back and live within 15 miles of the father's home so that the father's parenting time with his child would not be disrupted. However, the mother refused. The father filed a motion with the court to transfer custody of the child to him because of the mother's contempt of the court's order. 

    The Appellate Division reversed the lower court's transfer of custody, holding that the trial court relied on Schulze when making its decision. The Appellate Division pointed out that Schulze, which dealt with intrastate relocations, had relied on the Baures factors. Since the Baures case was overturned by the New Jersey Supreme Court, the Appellate Division found that the factors no longer applied. Instead, the Appellate Division held that the best interests of the child factors in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c) must be considered to determine whether an intrastate relocation is in the child's best interests.

    While this decision means that both interstate and intrastate relocations now must be analyzed according to what is in the child's best interests instead of giving a presumption that the primary residential custodian's choice to move will likely increase the child's happiness, there is still a difference in which parent has the initial burden. 

    In interstate relocation cases in which a primary parent wishes to move with a child out of state, the parent wishing to move must seek permission from the court by filing a motion to relocate. He or she will then have the burden of proving that the proposed relocation is in the best interests of the child before the court will permit the move. 

    By contrast, in intrastate relocation cases, the primary parent does not have to ask the court's permission before moving with the child within New Jersey. Instead, it remains the other parent's burden to file a motion in opposition to the relocation, and he or she must also present evidence showing that the intended move is inimical to the best interests of the child in order to prevail.

    Conclusion

    While it is good that both interstate and intrastate relocation cases are now analyzed under the best interests of the child factors, the difference in who has the burden of proof in interstate vs. intrastate relocation cases seems somewhat arbitrary. For example, if a primary parent decided to move to New York City from Bergen County, New Jersey, the moving parent would have the burden of proof even though the relocation would be relatively close to the alternate parent's residence. 

    If the same parent decided to relocate across the state of New Jersey from Bergen County to Cape May, but remained within the state, the other parent would have the burden of proof regarding that move. Regardless of which parent has the burden of proof, the parent must present evidence about what is in the child's best interests whether the proposed relocation is interstate or intrastate.

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