New Jersey family law encompasses a wide range of different legal matters impacting families throughout the state. Because every family has their own unique needs and challenges, a one-size-fits-all approach to handling divorce and other family matters will not work. Clients in the Garden State should choose a law firm that gives every case the time and personal attention it deserves.
Adoption is a rewarding process and a wonderful way to build a family. In New Jersey, anyone can be adopted, provided he or she is at least 10 years younger than the person petitioning to adopt them. Anyone who is 18 years or older can petition to adopt. Married petitioners must file to adopt jointly with their spouse, or at least have their consent. Prior to an adoption, prospective parents receive pertinent information regarding the child, including their medical history, health history of the parent or parents, and developmental concerns or needs they should be aware of.
From there, New Jersey’s Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) conducts a home study in which they assess potential adopters and provide training to ensure the home is safe and ready for the new family member. State law requires a six-month home residency before an adoption can be finalized. Although fostering children is a temporary process, many procedures are similar to permanently adopting a child in New Jersey. All foster and adoptive families are licensed by the Office of Licensing, which verifies the appropriate criminal and background checks have been completed.
Divorce is an unfortunate reality for many couples. When a marriage is not made to go the distance, couples turn to experienced family law attorneys to answer their questions and protect their interests so they can move forward to the next chapter. Grounds for divorce in New Jersey include the following:
- Conviction of crime, with incarceration for at least 18 months
- Cruelty or violence
- Deviant sexual behavior, without plaintiff’s consent
- Drug/alcohol addiction
- Insanity/mental illness
New Jersey is also one of many states offering no-fault divorce, provided the couple was separated and living apart for at least 18 months prior to filing. At least one spouse must be a New Jersey resident to file in the state also.
Overview of the Divorce Process
The divorce process begins when one spouse, the plaintiff, files a divorce complaint with the court. The complaint includes contact information for both parties and the grounds for divorce. Next, the other spouse, the defendant, responds with an answer or countercomplaint. From there, both parties provide the financial information and other details that will be relevant to determine support and the division of assets.
Both parties can then work to settle their divorce details through various procedures before they go to court. If they cannot resolve their disputes through a settlement agreement, economic mediation, or an intensive settlement conference, their divorce goes to trial, where there are no opportunities for negotiation. Fortunately, most divorces are settled before going to court.
One of the most contentious aspects of divorce is how marital property and other assets are distributed. Soon to be ex-spouses often have different opinions about what each contributed to the marriage and who should get what when it is over. When it comes to dividing assets in divorce, this property is classified in different ways:
- Separate property: Property acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage, such as a gift or inheritance.
- Marital property: Property acquired during the marriage, including income and real estate.
- Community property: Property considered jointly owned and subject to a 50/50 split after divorce; not applicable in all states.
New Jersey does not subscribe to the concept of community property, but instead applies equitable distribution. That means the court distributes property in a way that is fair and reasonable based on a variety of factors. They take into consideration each spouse’s age, health, standard of living, debts, and income before deciding who gets the house and other property.
Alimony, or spousal support, contains financial payments one spouse makes to the other after separation or divorce. Not every divorcing couple has to contend with alimony. A lot depends upon both parties’ standard of living, expenses, and earning potential. In New Jersey, couples whose marriages or civil unions lasted less than 20 years cannot have alimony exceeding the length of the marriage, unless there are extenuating circumstances. There are several different types of alimony in the state, and one or more can apply:
- Limited duration alimony: Reserved for short-term marriages in which the recipient is young and gainfully employed or employable.
- Open durational alimony: Paid out while the recipient can provide a valid reason why they are unable to support themselves.
- Rehabilitative alimony: Short-term alimony used to fund education or training the recipient needs to become employable.
- Reimbursement alimony: Alimony used to repay a spouse who cared for the family or paid for the other spouse to advance their education/career.
In rare cases, an otherwise eligible spouse cannot receive alimony. For example, anyone convicted of a serious crime, including murder, manslaughter, or criminal homicide, is not entitled to alimony under New Jersey law.
Child support payments are given to the custodial parent to help them with the financial costs of caring for the children. In New Jersey and several other states, child support payments continue until the child turns graduates high school, or later if they continue their education or have special conditions or limitations that require additional care into adulthood. Child support payments cover the following expenses:
- Necessities, such as food, shelter, and clothing
- Education, which includes supplies, tuition, and transportation
- Health insurance
- Childcare expenses
- Visitation, which covers costs to allow the child to see the other parent
- Costs for recreation and other activities beneficial for the child’s well-being
Overview of New Jersey Child Support Guidelines
Couples who are of the same mind can negotiate the terms of child support in a civil case and request for a judge to approve their support order. For other couples, the process begins when one parent submits an application for child support with their local Child Support Agency (CSA). The CSA helps manage the process when one parent is hard to locate or unwilling to participate in parenting. The CSA has the authority to do the following:
- Establish paternity for children born out of the marriage
- Locate noncustodial parents
- Establish, collect, and distribute support
- Work with the Probation Division to enforce support obligations
The New Jersey child support calculator is a helpful tool to estimate what child support payments might look like depending on how much each parent earns and where the children spend most of their time. It is important to note that payments calculated this way are just estimates. New Jersey courts consider additional factors to determine final child support orders, including daycare costs, health insurance fees, and Social Security benefits.
Enforcing Child Support
In an ideal world, every parent would provide the love and support every child deserves. Many parents skip out on support payments, leaving custodial parents struggling to provide for their child. The New Jersey CSA has different means to get non-custodial parents to comply. There are severe consequences for those who do not comply. Child support enforcement includes the following tools:
- Civil awards/settlements
- Court enforcement
- Credit reporting
- Income withholding
- License suspension
- Seizure of assets
Parents who have fallen on hard times and become unemployed through no fault of their own should notify their family law attorney as soon as possible to avoid these penalties. In most cases, child support can be amended to reflect the actual income a non-custodial parent is earning, including unemployment. Parents experiencing a significant change in circumstances impacting their earning ability can apply for a child support modification with the courts.
New Jersey subscribes to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which exists to alleviate disputes regarding custody. There are two main aspects of custody throughout the country, including:
- Legal custody: Refers to the parent or parents who have the legal right to make decisions on behalf of the child.
- Physical custody: Refers to where the child resides.
When it comes to determining child custody, the courts always make the child’s best interests the top priority. Every child is unique, and so are their needs. A custody arrangement that works well for one may not apply to another child’s circumstances. The courts consider a host of factors before deciding who the child should spend most of their time with and if joint or sole custody is a feasible option. They look at the following:
- How the child interacts with their siblings and parents
- The stability of each parent’s home
- The mental and physical fitness of each parent
- Both parents’ job responsibilities
- What the child prefers; this applies if the child is over the age of 12
Types of Custody
Sole custody means the child lives primarily with one parent, the custodial parent, but still spends appropriate time with the noncustodial parent. Sole custody is more common when the noncustodial parent lives at a great distance from the child or is less active in the parenting process, either by choice or by circumstance.
Parents with joint custody not only share the physical custody of the child, but also work together to make important decisions about the child’s health, education, and free time. Children may rotate between homes every few days or every other weekend. Unless one parent shows signs of being unfit or unsafe, the courts generally promote custody agreements that encourage a healthy connection between the child and both parents.
New Jersey courts empower parents to make visitation arrangements that are best for the child and reasonable for everyone involved. Parents who cannot agree on visitation must ask the courts for help in the form of a court order. If a parent fails to uphold a court-approved visitation schedule, they are essentially violating a court order. If a few missed visits become a pattern, the courts may impose monetary fines or even revoke the noncustodial parent’s rights altogether.
When a parent becomes concerned the noncustodial parent is making dangerous choices that pose a threat to the child, they should work with an attorney to seek supervised visitation. Supervised visitation means the other parent can spend time with the child only in a safe, neutral setting under the watch of third-party volunteers.
Tips for Finding a Family Law Attorney
The right attorney can help manage the divorce process in a way that reduces conflict, encourages negotiation, and achieves a good outcome for all involved, especially the children. The following are tips to help find a caring and knowledgeable attorney:
- Choose one specializing in family law. Attorneys focus on a host of different areas of law. It is best to choose a lawyer who focuses primarily on divorce, child custody, and other family law matters. They will have a better grasp of relevant state and federal laws, and more experience handling similar cases.
- Look for a team player. Divorce is a complex issue that often requires the expertise of many different professionals. Prospective clients should ask their attorney if they have a pool of forensic accountants, business valuators, and child therapists and counselors at their disposal to assist with their case.
- Experience speaks for itself. Although every lawyer deserves an opportunity to prove themselves, matters involving family assets and children’s welfare are not best left to those right out of law school. Clients should look for a firm with proven experience tackling and resolving complex divorce cases. Prospective clients can learn a lot from a free consultation, learning more about a lawyer’s skills and background without committing to their services.
- Compassion goes a long way. Anyone going through a divorce can attest to the raw emotion it involves, even when both parties agree it is for the best. A good divorce attorney knows how vulnerable their client can be during this time and does all they can to reassure them, while skillfully managing their legal matter. Clients want a genuine connection with a lawyer who is truly invested in helping them build a happy and healthy future.
- Look at client reviews. Sometimes the best feedback comes from former clients. Positive online reviews and social media recommendations are a good indication that an attorney is fair, honest, and equipped to handle divorce, alimony, and support matters in New Jersey. Friends and family are another good resource.
The decisions made when a civil union or marriage ends can change the course of a family’s life for years to come. Because divorce and child custody matters are often fueled by anger and resentment, it is important to seek the guidance of a trusted family law attorney to lead the process with experience, not emotion.
New Jersey Family Law Attorneys at Ellis Law Help Clients Through the Divorce Process
Divorce is likely one of the most painful events you will experience in your lifetime. Even if you know it is the right choice, abandoning the idea of the life you envisioned is difficult. However, a New Jersey family law attorney at Ellis Law can mitigate conflict and help the process go smoothly toward a positive outcome. We take the time to fully understand your history, needs, and goals so we can position your case in a way that sets you up for success. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 732-308-0200 or contact us online.
Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.