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My spouse and I would like to legally separate before deciding whether to divorce. Can we do this?

The legal separation of married couples is technically not permitted in the State of New Jersey.  Instead, spouses may choose to separate informally, enter into a separation agreement, or consider a limited divorce. In a “divorce from bed and board,” (also known as  Limited Divorce) a married couple has the option to end their marriage from a financial standpoint while still remaining legally married. Since it may be revoked, a limited divorce makes it easier for spouses to later reconcile. Similarly, such a divorce may be converted into a standard judgment of  (Absolute) divorce. Since all support determinations and asset distributions are made when a “divorce from bed and board” is granted, property and financial issues are no longer an issue if a New Jersey couple ultimately chooses to end their marriage after engaging in a limited divorce.

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I keep reading about celebrity co-parenting in the news. What does it mean?

Unfortunately, no one is immune from divorce. Couples across all walks of life from celebrities to your favorite friends or neighbors choose to end their marriages every year. Regardless of the cause, it is important for divorcing parents in New Jersey to work together to ensure the best possible outcome for their children. Although ending a marriage is no doubt difficult for the divorcing couple, parents should remember that their children are likely experiencing similar feelings of loss, anger, betrayal, and emotional pain.

Most couples in New Jersey and elsewhere don’t consider on their wedding day that they may divorce. Similarly, many parents never pictured themselves negotiating parenting time or alternating holidays with their children. In order to provide kids with the stability they need, many former couples choose to co-parent. While effective co-parenting can be difficult at times, working towards this common goal is often vital for a child’s well-being. How do you do that? Good question!  Here’s how.

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My children are on summer break from school, and I would like to take them on vacation. May I do so?

Due to work, summer camp, vacation, and other obligations, a child’s schedule can vary wildly during the summer. Since it is common for parents to disagree about summertime custody and parenting time  schedules, all divorced or separated parents in New Jersey should have a clearly defined summertime child custody and parenting time arrangement. Such an agreement may be formal or informal, depending on the needs of the parties.

Normally, a family switches to a summer custody schedule when the school year ends. Others choose to wait until Memorial Day or the first day of summer. Regardless, a variety of tools from simple written calendars to smartphone apps can help separated or divorced parents stay abreast of a child’s often changing summer schedule. Even if summer activities do not have a direct effect on parenting time, it may be helpful for parents to communicate with each other in order to stay informed or ensure that particularly active weeks are followed by more low-key events.

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How can I keep my divorce from bankrupting me?

The choice to end a marriage typically has both an emotional and a financial impact on a former couple. Despite this, getting divorced doesn’t have to leave you both in the poor house. There are a number of ways a divorcing couple can refrain from making the process more expensive than it needs to be.

First, it is important to choose the right divorce attorney as soon as you are able. You want a New Jersey lawyer who is experienced in family law and has the ability to answer all of your questions. Now is not necessarily the time to rely on the recommendation of a friend or relative. If you are concerned about keeping costs down, remember that selecting an experienced attorney is vital.

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I suffer from a mental illness and my spouse wants a divorce.  Can this hurt my chances for gaining custody of our children?

In general, the best interests of the child are of paramount importance in a New Jersey child custody matter.  In some situations, a parent’s physical and mental health history may be relevant when child custody is determined.  For instance, if a parent’s mental health issues have a negative impact on his or her ability to parent a former couple’s children, a family court will normally take this into account.  In order to utilize such medical information, however, medical records must be obtained.

In particularly contentious child custody matters, a psychologist may be engaged to evaluate each parent and make a custody recommendation to the family court.  In order to make such a recommendation, the psychologist will need to obtain access to each parent’s medical and mental health records.  Sometimes, such records are also required in order to confirm or refute the other parent’s mental illness claims.

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My spouse and I separated and now he is threatening my safety. What are my options?

New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was created to provide the victims of domestic violence in our state with comprehensive protections. In order to seek  protection under this specific body of the law,   a victim must have suffered at least one of the  particular domestic violence acts set forth in in the statute (known as Prong 1 under a case known as Silver vs. Silver) AND, in addition, the court must conclude that the victim of the domestic violence has  an ongoing need for protection from the perpetrator (Prong 2).  If both prongs are not met, the court will not grant a final restraining order ( an “FRO”).

A victim may be a current or former spouse or household member, a co-parent or person who is expecting a child soon, or an individual who is in a dating relationship with an alleged perpetrator. It is important to note that a household member is not required to be a romantic partner, and New Jersey courts have, more recently,  opted to construe what constitutes a “dating relationship” liberally.

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I have been married for less than one year and we have no children. Can I get an annulment?

Unlike a divorce that terminates a marriage, an annulment is a legal determination that a marriage or civil union never existed. Individuals often seek a civil judgment of nullity due to religious or personal preference. Although a New Jersey couple may pursue a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences, obtaining a judgment of nullity in this State is not as easy.

In New Jersey, an annulment must be based on the statutory factors included in N.J.S.A. Section 2A:34-1 (2014). Typical grounds for a New Jersey annulment include incurable impotency, incest, bigamy, fraud, duress, mental incapacity such as intoxication or insanity, or one or both members of the couple being younger than 18 at the time of the marriage. Despite this, certain circumstances such as a partner’s prior knowledge about the impotence, parental consent, or continuing to live as a married couple after a fraud was discovered may serve to  ratify the marriage in some situations and frustrate or defeat the ability to secure an annulment.

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As with all family law questions, there is no “one size fits all” answer regarding pension distribution.  How a former couple’s marital assets are split can depend on a variety of factors.  Typically, retirement accounts are one of the largest assets distributed between spouses following a divorce.  Pensions, 401ks, 403Bs, traditional and Roth IRAs, deferred income, and any other monies that are allocated for retirement are subject to the provisions included in New Jersey’s equitable distribution statute.

In general, New Jersey’s equitable distribution statute requires that each party to a divorce receive a portion  of the marital assets regardless of  how the title to the asset is registered (i.e.- in one spouse’s name alone or in joint names), including a pension or other retirement account. Only the portion of a retirement benefit that was accrued during the coveture period (the date of marriage thru to the date of the complaint for divorce) is subject to equitable distribution. The portion of a retirement benefit/plan that predates the marriage or was contributed after the complaint  for divorce is filed,  are typically exempt from distribution.   Such an account is typically divided using a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”).  A QDRO is a court order that directs the administrator of a pension or other retirement asset to distribute a portion of the account to another party following the dissolution of a marriage.  Although a QDRO must be signed by a judge, it should be negotiated by the divorcing couple through their respective attorneys or other means.  Prior to entering into a QDRO, however, a number of factors must be considered.

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I lost my job. Can I stop paying alimony to my ex?

Since September 10, 2014, New Jersey residents whose marriage lasted less than 20 years typically may not be required to pay alimony for a period that is longer than the length of the marriage, absent specifically enumerated special circumstances. The Alimony Reform Act of 2014 created this durational cap for marriages that ended after the law was signed by the governor. For couples whose final judgment of divorce was granted prior to this time, there must be a legitimate reason, such as a job loss by the payer, a significant increase in the income and/or  wealth of the payee, disability,  or cohabitation by the recipient, for a New Jersey court to alter a spousal support award. Most importantly, a New Jersey court may not revise an alimony order if a former couple’s judgment of divorce specifically addressed alimony adjustments in advance.

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I am about to retire. Can I stop making alimony payments to my former spouse based on New Jersey’s 2014 alimony reform law?

Since the Alimony Reform Act of 2014 was signed into law last September, New Jersey residents whose marriage lasted fewer than 20 years generally may not be required to pay alimony for more years than the couple was married, absent certain special circumstances. This durational cap only applies to couples who received a final judgment of divorce after the reform law was signed by the governor. For couples who ended their marriage prior to this, there must be a legitimate reason, such as retirement, cohabitation, or loss of a job, before a New Jersey court will modify an alimony award. In addition, a court may not alter an alimony order if the couple’s divorce judgment addressed such issues in advance.

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