Divorce & Family Law Services
Making the decision to get a divorce is never easy. Divorce is a highly emotional and legally complex experience that may involve major decisions about your property, child custody, parenting time and support. Your finances, family, and future can all be impacted for years to come during this process.
For these reasons, divorce is often traumatizing for families. If you are confronting the possibility of divorce, it is important to discuss your situation with a qualified New Jersey divorce lawyer. At Pontoriero Family Law, LLC, we guide you through every step of the process and advocate for your best interests at every stage. Susan Pontoriero is an experienced attorney who helps individuals with divorce and other family law issues. She can combine her extensive experience and innovative strategies to address issues involved in your case.
Issues That We Help Resolve in New Jersey Divorce
Divorce (or “Dissolution” as it is referred to in New Jersey) may involve various legal issues that affect your property rights, relationship with your children and future. Couples have the option to reach an amicable agreement regarding these issues, or they can ask the Court to apply the law in New Jersey with regard to family law issues to make determinations regarding the following matters:
Marital Property Distribution
Most of the assets a married couple acquires during their marriage are considered marital property and are subject to distribution upon divorce. Property that is acquired during the marriage, from the date of the marriage through the date of filing with the Court of the complaint for divorce, is generally considered marital. There are exceptions to marital property, which will be discussed below.
You and your spouse can agree on how you want to divide your property – like your home, bank accounts, and personal effects – or you can ask a judge to divide your property. In that case, the property may need to be valued and the Court may determine what share of property to give to each spouse by using various factors related to equitable distribution principles.
Some divorces involve the issue of alimony. Alimony is money one spouse pays to the other spouse to lessen the economic disparity between a higher-earning spouse and a lower-earning spouse.
New Jersey has different types of alimony that courts may order depending on the circumstances. There is no set formula for alimony amounts in New Jersey.
Whenever a party has requested an award of spousal support in a New Jersey divorce, New Jersey’s alimony statute (NJSA 2A:34-23) requires courts to consider a specific list of alimony factors. Any judge who places more importance on certain factors than on others is required to explain the reasons for this in writing. The listed factors are:
- The actual need and ability of the parties to pay;
- The duration of the marriage or civil union;
- The age, physical and emotional health of the parties;
- The standard of living established in the marriage or civil union and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living, with neither party having a greater entitlement to that standard of living than the other;
- The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties;
- The length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance;
- The parental responsibilities for the children;
- The time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, the availability of the training and employment, and the opportunity for future acquisitions of capital assets and income;
- The history of the financial or non-financial contributions to the marriage or civil union by each party including contributions to the care and education of the children and interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities;
- The equitable distribution of property ordered and any payouts on equitable distribution, directly or indirectly, out of current income, to the extent this consideration is reasonable, just and fair;
- The income available to either party through investment of any assets held by that party;
- The tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award, including the designation of all or a portion of the payment as a non-taxable payment; and
- The nature, amount, and length of pendente lite support paid, if any; and
- Any other factors which the court may deem relevant.
In September of 2014 the legislature added additional factors that courts must look at in determining the duration and amount of alimony. In addition to the factors above, courts must “consider the practical impact of the parties’ need for separate residences and the attendant increase in living expenses on the ability of both parties to maintain a standard of living reasonably comparable to the standard of living established in the marriage or civil union, to which both parties are entitled, with neither party having a greater entitlement thereto.” For marriages of less than 20 years, open durational alimony (alimony without a specified ending date) is not appropriate, and alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage except in the following “exceptional circumstances”:
- The ages of the parties at the time of the marriage or civil union and at the time of the alimony award;
- The degree and duration of the dependency of one party on the other party during the marriage or civil union;
- Whether a spouse or partner has a chronic illness or unusual health circumstance;
- Whether a spouse or partner has given up a career or a career opportunity or otherwise supported the career of the other spouse or partner;
- Whether a spouse or partner has received a disproportionate share of equitable distribution;
- The impact of the marriage or civil union on either party’s ability to become self-supporting, including but not limited to either party’s responsibility as primary caretaker of a child;
- Tax considerations of either party;
- Any other factors or circumstances that the court deems equitable, relevant and material.
One of the most important determinations that can be made during a divorce case is child custody. This issue is often highly emotionally charged since it can impact the family for years to come.
There are two types of child custody in New Jersey, Legal Custody and Physical/Residential Custody. Legal custody refers to the parent who will have the legal right to make important decisions pertaining to the child. Physical or residential custody refers to the parent with whom the child will spend most of their time.
With regard to Legal Custody, there are two options, Joint Legal Custody or Sole Legal Custody. “Joint Legal Custody” is the most common since it allows both parents to actively participate in their child’s life. Typically with joint legal custody, one parent serves as the primary residential custodian for the child, and the other parent serves as the alternate. In Joint Legal Custody situations, both parents are responsible for making joint decisions for their children on major issues such as health, education, and general welfare. The primary custodial parent is responsible for day to day decisions and should consult with or notify the non-custodial parent when appropriate. The parent who has the child in his or her care at any given time is expected to make decisions that are in the child’s best interest.
“Sole legal custody” is not as common as joint legal custody. Criteria must be met in order to obtain this designation. With sole legal custody, one parent makes all the major decisions regarding the child. Sole custody may be granted in situations where a parent is absent or unfit or where there is a history of drug use and neglect, etc.
Physical/Residential Custody: In the vast majority of New Jersey child custody arrangements, one parent is deemed the custodial or primary residential parent, while the other, referred to as the non-custodial parent or parent of alternate residence, is awarded parenting time or visitation. The parties can also agree to share the designation of residential parent.
In New Jersey, the court’s main consideration for determining custody is “the best interest of the child.” The court will take into account factors such as the child’s age, gender, health and established living pattern, as well as the parents’ lifestyles. NJSA 9:2-4(c) states that in making an award of custody, the court shall consider but not be limited to the following factors:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;
- The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
- The history of domestic violence, if any;
- The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
- The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;
- The needs of the child;
- The stability of the home environment offered;
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
- The fitness of the parents;
- The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
- The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
- The parents’ employment responsibilities; and
- The age and number of the children.
Parenting Time (Visitation)
New Jersey’s public policy is to ensure that children have frequent and continuing contact with parents. They may order parenting time to ensure this occurs.
What is sole parenting, and how is it different from shared parenting?
Child support may be awarded to ensure the financial needs of the child are met. New Jersey uses child support guidelines to determine the presumptive amount of support to order, but there are times when the courts deviate from this presumed amount.
If at all possible, divorce litigation should be avoided. A contested case can result in a much more expensive process and a longer time to resolve the issues. It can also cause spouses and coparents to battle each other, leading to a bitter relationship for years to come.
Spouses have the right to draft a marital separation agreement regarding the legal issues discussed above. A judge still has to sign off on the agreement, but they generally will as long as the agreement seems fair.
If spouses are unable to come to a fair agreement on their own, they may turn to mediation. Mediation is an alternative to litigation that involves a neutral third party who guides the parties to settlement by using enhanced communication and conflict resolution skills.
How an Experienced New Jersey Divorce Lawyer Can Help
An experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer can help you throughout the process of divorce by:
- Explaining the divorce process and what to expect
- Preparing and filing legal pleadings and other documents
- Answering your questions as they arise
- Explaining New Jersey divorce laws that impact your case
- Investigating the case and conducting pretrial discovery
- Helping you achieve an uncontested divorce, if at all possible
- Preparing pretrial motions and requests for temporary orders
- Advising you of your parental rights and advocating for you to maintain as much contact as possible
- Negotiating a fair and equitable marital settlement agreement
- Preventing mistakes that can negatively affect your case
- Examining legal issues that are directly related to your case, such as finding hidden assets, the sale and disposition of real estate, tax consequences, and restructuring a family business
- Fighting to protect your rights at every stage of the case
How an Experienced New Jersey Divorce Lawyer Can Help
If you are considering filing for divorce or have recently been served with divorce papers, it is critical that you meet with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer for help. Pontoriero Family Law, LLC can guide you through the process, answer your questions, and explain your next steps. Contact us today for a confidential consultation by calling (732) 785-9700.
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We help New Jersey families with all aspects of family law, including, but not limited to:
Pontoriero Family Law, LLC
2597 Hooper Avenue
Brick, NJ 08723