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At its essence, a marriage or civil union is essentially a contract. The term “contract” is defined under the law as an agreement between two (or more) parties that creates a legal obligation to do (or refrain from doing) a certain thing. Several elements must be present in order for a valid contract to be formed:  competency of the parties, subject matter, consideration, mutuality of agreement, and mutuality of obligation.

In a recent New York family law case, a trial judge was called upon to decide whether a husband and wife had formed a valid contract with regard to the husband’s agreement to pay rent for the couple’s grown children.

The Agreement, as Claimed by the Wife

In the Nassau County Supreme Court case of Liberman v. Liberman, 201429/2014, the parties had purportedly entered into an agreement under which the husband was to pay $1,900 per month to each of their children to subsidize the rent on their respective apartments in Manhattan. Although both children were employed, college graduates, and over the age of 21, the wife claimed that the husband was obligated to continue the payments until the children were either married (or had cohabitated with someone for a certain time) or reached the age of 30, whichever occurred first.

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covid19Are you concerned about the safety of your child during parenting time?

During this more than troubling time, where it feels like there is no safe shelter from the Corona Virus, all parents are having extreme concerns about the safety of their children, and their other family members, when it comes to whether a child should be transferred between homes for court ordered parenting time.

If you are having any questions or concerns about exposing your child to the virus by way of permitting parenting time, or whether you have questions or concerns about not being permitted to have parenting time with your child because of the other parent’s claims of possible exposure, you are not alone.        The law is clear that the existence of the pandemic, in and of itself, is not grounds to suspend parenting time in New Jersey.  However, this does not mean that the courts will permit all parenting time in cases where a child’s exposure to the Corona Virus is higher than the average circumstance.  Every case with respect to parenting time that comes before the court will be taken on a case by case basis, depending on the facts of the case.

My grandchild has lived with me for several years, but his mother wants him back now. What are my rights?

Until 1993, grandparents in New Jersey were not permitted to seek the right to visit with a grandchild as long as the child’s immediate family unit was intact. Currently, a grandparent who seeks visitation must show the family court that such an arrangement is in the best interests of his or her grandchild. When considering such an application, a court will consider the relationship between the grandparent and grandchild as well as the effect a visitation order will likely have on the child’s relationship with his or her custodial parent.According to the 2010 United States Census, about one in 10 children across the nation resides with a grandparent. In a number of cases, a grandparent becomes a child’s primary caregiver due to a parent’s unfortunate circumstances, such as unemployment, drug addiction, or imprisonment. In order to preserve a custodial relationship, a grandparent may obtain legal custody through a court order, seek guardianship, or adopt the child. In situations where a grandparent is provided with legal custody or appointed a child’s guardian, the child’s parents retain the right to engage in parenting time. When a child is adopted, a parent’s legal rights are terminated.

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Must I give my children to their other parent for parenting time during this Pandemic?  

Sharing parenting time can be challenging in ordinary times, but these are certainly unprecedented times, especially now, with the State of Emergency and the Quarantine and Shelter in Place in effect during the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Parents who share joint custody and share a parenting time agreement are probably experiencing a difficult time now, as lives are altered by remote work schedules and residential conditions and with our children home from school.

If you are wondering how, if at all, these events may now impact your parenting time, as a general rule, the parenting time arrangement should remain the same and uninterrupted.  However, each case is fact sensitive.  If, for example,  you or your child’s other parent are having difficulties, or one party is attempting to utilize the COVID-19 Pandemic to their advantage and is trying to use the pandemic to unreasonably deny and/or limit any parenting time- what should you do?

My Spouse or Loved one has recently died. What do I need to know?  Estate-Administration-Picture-300x200

First and foremost, you should locate their Will. The Will identifies the Executor or another individual who will be responsible for making the funeral arrangements. After that, the Executor should contact an Estate Attorney to probate the Will and begin the Estate Administration process.

If there is no Will, the next-of-kin determines the funeral arrangement. This is usually the spouse or a child. If the deceased never married or had children, next-of-kin could be a parent or sibling. The closest living relative should then contact an Estate Attorney to qualify as Administrator and begin the Estate Administration process.

What Steps should I take to Assist the Estate Attorney?

At the outset of every estate, your Estate Attorney will need to see the Original Death Certificate and Original Will, including any Codicils thereto. Your Attorney will also need a list of all immediate relatives, including the deceased’s spouse, children, parents, and siblings. Finally, the Estate Attorney will need a list of all assets and debts in the deceased’s name or in which they have an interest. Assets include real property, bank accounts, life insurance, stocks, bonds, etc. Debts include funeral expenses, unpaid final medical expenses, mortgages, auto and other loans, and credit cards, etc.

Where do I gather Information about Assets and Debts?

Gathering information about the estate is a bit like detective work. Unless you were familiar with their finances, it is going to take some investigation. The first place you should look is in the deceased’s personal papers, i.e. their desk, filing cabinet, safe, etc. If you have access to their email, that can also be a valuable tool. We are looking for recent financial statements, life insurance policies, credit card statements – anything having to do with their finances. You should also go to the nearest Post Office and forward their mail to your address.  As Executor or Administrator, you may open their mail.

Once your Estate Attorney has information about the location of accounts, we will reach out to the various institutions to request additional information, including a list of all accounts, the value or balance due, forms, etc.

My Spouse or Loved one had a Car. What should I do?

Do NOT drive the car under any circumstances. If you are involved in an automobile accident, the Estate could become a Defendant in a costly lawsuit, even if you are not at fault. This is to be avoided.

If the car is financed or leased, call the lender or leasing company to return the vehicle. If the car is owned outright, the primary method of disposing a motor vehicle is by selling it to a willing Buyer at fair market value. If the car is of little value, it may be permissible to donate it to charity or simply junk it in exchange for removal.

If there is a specific provision in the Will, the car may be transferred to the named Heir by signing title over to them.

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My former spouse took a job in another state and wants to move our child there. Can I stop this from occurring?

Typically, a New Jersey child custody order provides for regularly scheduled parenting time with each parent. Relocating a child to another state can significantly interfere with this schedule. Because of this, a custodial parent, or parent of primary residence (“PPR”), is prohibited from removing a couple’s children to another state without following the steps required by New Jersey law. A parent who fails to follow the steps enumerated in the law may be prosecuted for unlawful interference with parenting time.

Typically, a non-custodial parent, or parent of alternate residence (“PAR”), must consent to an interstate move prior to a child’s removal from New Jersey. In order to prevent future disputes, it is a good idea to ensure any such agreement is made in writing. If the PAR does not provide his or her consent, a court order must be obtained before a child may be removed from the state. In situations when a custodial parent is fleeing from an immediate risk of harm by a child’s other parent or the child’s welfare is presently at risk, a PPR must report his or her child’s emergency removal to the appropriate authorities within 24 hours.

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How long do I have to have lived in New Jersey before I can file for divorce here?

Except in cases alleging that the spouse against whom the divorce is sought committed adultery, at least one spouse must have resided in New Jersey for one year. It can be either spouse; it does not necessarily have to be the spouse who is seeking the divorce.

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How are child support payments calculated in New Jersey?

The State of New Jersey has established child support guidelines that are used in determining the amount of financial support that a parent should contribute to the care of his or her child. An “income-share” formula, which takes into consideration the income of both the custodial parent (now known as th4e PPR or, Parent of Primary Residence) and non-custodial parent (now known as the PAR or, Parent of Alternate Residence), is used to calculate the exact amount due. The guidelines also take certain expenses into account, including health insurance costs for the child or children,  and child care. In some cases, the parents may agree on the amount due under the guidelines. If this is not possible, the family court will make the decision.

Is it possible to deviate from the amount that the Child Support Guidelines say is owed?

Yes, but the family court must make a specific finding, in writing, for a deviation. In such a case, the court may disregard the guidelines or make an adjustment that reflects the children’s needs and the parents’ circumstances.

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Do I have any recourse if my spouse destroys our jointly owned property in a violent fight?

When an unmarried New Jersey resident destroys property that belongs to another individual, he or she may be committing criminal mischief under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (“PDVA”). Despite this, married spouses in the state are generally deemed to own all marital property jointly. This means a spouse who destroys marital property is also ruining his or her own property. Until recently, it was unclear whether such an act could be considered domestic violence under New Jersey law.

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Do I have to pay income tax on my spousal support payments?

In New Jersey and elsewhere, alimony is the transfer of money to a former or soon to be former spouse for his or her support and maintenance. This transfer typically results in a reduction in the taxable income for the payer and an increase for the payee. For alimony to be deducted from a paying spouse’s gross income, eight factors must be met. First, all spousal support payments must be made pursuant to a written decree that cannot state the payments do not qualify as alimony for tax purposes. In addition, the divorcing or former spouses may not reside together at the time the payments are made or file a joint income tax return. All alimony payments must be made to, or on behalf of, a former spouse in cash or using a cash equivalent and may not be referred to or deemed child support by a court. Finally, the spousal support obligation may not survive the payee’s death.

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