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Custody Options in New Jersey

As many divorces are not amicable, there can be jealousy, sadness, and often anger. In addition to hard feelings, there are a multitude of complicated legal issues for parents and the courts to manage. One of those issues, and often a very painful one for parents and children, is custody.

What is Joint ‘Legal’ Custody?

Joint legal custody is when both parents make decisions regarding their child’s life in areas such as healthcare, education, and religion. Parents with joint custody have access to a child’s medical and school records and have the ability to choose if the child attends church or religious education.

Legal custody exempts child support as the courts prefer both parents be involved in the lives and welfare of their children, and will often elect to award joint custody.

What is Physical Custody?

Physical custody, also know as residential custody in some New Jersey courts, determines which parent the child will live with. One parent may have full physical custody while the other one has visitation rights. Structured visitation occurs when there is a set schedule for when one parent sees their child. Joint physical custody includes a schedule of when the child will be with each parent. In certain situations, the child may stay with one parent for longer periods of time.

Custody can impact how child support is calculated. In cases where one parent has full custody of a child, the other parent is usually ordered to pay child support to the custodial parent. Where parents have joint custody, the parent with the higher salary can be ordered to pay child support to the other parent. Courts often order child support even if the parents have joint custody, while considering the type of physical custody agreement parents have, as well.

There are several factors in determining child support formulas in different states, including the number of children, daycare and health insurance costs, and income. While parents may have come to a decision regarding physical custody, there are many factors to sort out during a trying and emotional time. Divorce is a process that changes the family dynamic and has life-changing impacts.

Cherry Hill Divorce Lawyers at the Law Offices of Richard C. Klein Advocate for Family Law

During this tumultuous time, you can turn to our Cherry Hill divorce lawyers. Building relationships to better meet the needs of our clients is our top priority. We communicate regularly with clients to give and receive updates, address concerns, and answer questions about the legal process.

If your family is facing a divorce or experiencing any other family law conflict, call the Law Offices of Richard C. Klein at 856-544-9155 to schedule a confidential consultation. We serve clients in Cherry Hill, Maple Shade, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel, as well as throughout New Jersey.

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Make Summer Co-Parenting a Breeze

Summer is a time of endless fun and freedom for your kids, but can sometimes mean more frustration and stress for couples going through a separation or divorce.

Parents will face a myriad of new challenges such as agreeing on how to divide parenting time, deciding on schools-out child custody arrangements, divvying up the bill for summer camps, and learning how to successfully co-parent to eliminate the tension and stress that goes in hand with a divorce.

Children of divorcees will also be navigating a challenging time and learning how to cope with their parents’ separation and their newly divided schedules. They will undergo a series of new emotions: anxiety from the divorce and fear of not spending enough time with the non-custodial parent. They may experience sadness because they miss the other parent’s constant presence, or feel resentment. If a new potential step-parent is introduced into the equation, the child will need to learn to adapt, which can be scary.

Balancing time with your kids over summer break can be challenging with the boundless activities that arise during the season.

Here are several tips to make summer co-parenting a breeze:

Be flexible: Summer is a busy time for both parent and child, especially in a single parent household. If last minute arrangements need to be made, or the co-parent wants to take your child out of the country to travel, try to work out an agreement with them. Have rational conversations about the fears and concerns present. Successful coparenting involves heavy compromising and sometimes deviating from the agreed upon custody schedule.

Put the children’s best interest first: Seek their input for summer activities and whom they want to spend their time with. Last minute sleepovers or events might come up and could cut into your scheduled custody and quality time with them. Everyone will have a little less time with each other after a divorce. Do not let your child resent you for controlling all their time without consulting them.

Discuss summer expenses: The expenses could be shared equally by both parties, or it could be decided that a child support agreement covers it. Be realistic. If one parent is footing most of the day-to-day childcare expenses, then it is fair for the co-parent to incur more of the summer costs.

Notify the child’s other parent about vacations: This eliminates last minute scheduling and allows both parents and their children to have the stress-free time off they deserve.

If you are looking for an advocate to give you the best solution for child custody agreements in New Jersey, contact us. Let our child support and custody lawyers help keep you and your children’s summers memorable. Call (856) 988-5470 now to schedule a consultation.

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Child Custody – Is It Only The Courts That Can Decide?

The Long History of Child Custody Disputes

The New Jersey Courts have always determined that matters involving the best interests of children can only be determined by a Judge if the parties cannot come to an agreement. No third party has been allowed to make those determinations under the theory that it is a Superior Court Judge that stands in the shoes of parents if they cannot come to an agreement to determine what the best interests of the parties are. This has often resulted in long and arduous and very expensive custody battles which often consisted of dueling mental health professionals.

In yet another far reaching and cutting edge opinion by Justice Virginia Long of New Jersey Supreme Court in the matter of Fawzy v. Fawzy, Justice Long only a few years ago, determined that “the constitutionally protected right of parental autonomy includes the right of parents to choose the forum in which to resolve their disputes over child custody.” The holding of the Court has far reaching effects over the way attorneys can work with their clients to resolve custody and parenting time disputes. This may include binding arbitration which is a much expedited proceeding whereby the parties may introduce a broader range of evidence and information to an individual jointly agreed upon by the parties who will make the ultimate decision with regard to child custody, parenting time, and other issues surrounding children. However, the Court has not completely adopted a hands off approach. Even with arbitration, the New Jersey Supreme Court has concluded that the arbitration determination must be in writing or recorded and must establish that the parties are aware and having knowingly and voluntarily waived their rights to a judicial determination. In other words, the Court wants to be certain that the entry into arbitration and the understanding of the arbitration rules and any agreement that may result was understood by the parties in advance and they have agreed to be bound by it.

Likewise, a record of any evidence adduced during the proceedings must be kept, testimony must be recorded and the arbitrator must issue his or her findings of fact and conclusions of law. Rather than a Court reviewing any challenge to same, the arbitrators award is subject to review under the Arbitration Act under our New Jersey Statutes, in this case, N.J.S.A. 2A:23-B-1 to -32. Judicial review is also available if a party establishes that the award threatens harm to the child.

This is a tremendous movement forward on the part of the New Jersey Supreme Court recognizing the child custody disputes should have alternate methods of resolution as do matters of economics and other issues in a divorce proceeding.

I would urge that any time that there is a dispute about custody and parenting time which cannot be revolved by meetings between parties and counsel or mediation through the Court system, that parties with their counsel consider this process. It has the benefit of saving thousands of dollars, much time and should often result in a resolution just as fair and equitable as if determined by a Court.

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Gender Neutral Alimony – The Effect on Men Receiving Same

It has been approximately 30 years since the United States Supreme Court ruled against gender discrimination in alimony. However, there have been very few men who have benefited or stepped forward to talk about that entitlement.

The issue has been discussed primarily among celebrities or well known sports figures. In fact, during Joan Lunden’s divorce, the former television personality, when she was ordered to pay alimony to her husband of $18,000 per month in 1992 the question she asked was “Why the courts don’t tell a husband, who has been living off his wife, to go out and get a job is beyond my comprehension.”

This demonstrates the double standard that exists with regard to the perception rather than the reality of receiving alimony. The purpose of alimony is for both spouses to be able to maintain a standard of living as a result of the efforts of either spouse or both which accrued during the marriage. That has always been the underpinning of alimony awards to women and, as there have been societal changes it appears as though the acceptance of the reverse has become much more difficult.

Statistics demonstrate that fewer and fewer men are in fact rejecting any discussion of seeking alimony. In my particular practice, and particularly after the major change in our alimony laws in New Jersey, men do not appear to be ashamed of discussing the issue when there is a striking imbalance in income. Although in 2006 the percentage of men receiving alimony was only 3.6%, it is clear that that percentage has risen as more and more marriages feature a primary caretaker who is female.

In many modern marriages there is a joint decision for one party to help support the carrier advancement of the other spouse often times to one party’s detriment. It is analogous to a wife supporting a husband through medical school, internship and residency. It is obvious, that sacrifices are and can be made by either party. Oftentimes when this occurs based upon the lower income earner’s salary alone, they are unable to maintain a marital standard of living. Certainly, these men are often referred to as deadbeats and simply living off of their ex-wife. This is as far from the truth as a legitimate alimony award to any wife. The standard and analysis is and should be the same. As many feminists argue properly, “We can’t assert rights for women and say that men aren’t entitled to the same rights.”

Although many men don’t want alimony viewing it as an embarrassment, others do not have that issue and are willing to pursue the benefit. Unquestionably, many judges although well versed and understanding of the “gender-neutral” aspect of alimony are often times reluctant to provide the same type of award to a husband as would be given to a wife. It becomes the attorney’s responsibility to demonstrate what the standard of living was and the sacrifices made as well as the opportunity to earn on the part of the husband.

The bottom line is that more and more marriages involve women are highly successful and career oriented. How the marital lifestyle develops as a result of that success must be closely scrutinized by marital counsel.

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When Child Support is Excessive

Throughout both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, high income earning families are not controlled by child support guidelines but rather, an individual analysis is required of the reasonable needs of children. It has always been presumed, and the courts have always ruled that the good fortune of a high income earning parent should “trickle down” for the children. Children of high income earners generally have more options available to them, are involved in more activities, vacations, and tend to enjoy the accoutrements of a more lavish lifestyle, including education.

However, are there limits? Is it prudent that the budget of a family of extremely high earners should never be questioned? The Appellate Division in New Jersey has recently decided a matter which will have implications on both sides of the river.

Michael Strahan was a star linebacker for the New York Giants in the National Football League for years. He separated from his wife, having married in July 1999, and his wife had twin girls, born October 2004. A divorce was filed in March 2005 with joint legal custody being granted.

There is no question that the marital standard of living was well in excess of $1,000,000 per year for the family. Therefore, the question became one of the “reasonable need” of the children. The trial Court awarded $630,000 per year solely on behalf of the children! Further, the Court ordered the father to be responsible for 91% of the entire award. Strahan appealed.

In an enlightening decision, the Appellate Court reversed much of the monthly child support award and determined that the obligation was “beyond their reasonable needs,” referring to the children. The reasonableness of the children’s needs included such items as $30,000 in landscaping, audio visual expenses of $3,000 per year, and $36,000 per year for equipment and furnishings on behalf of the children. The Appellate Division concluded that these needs were completely unreasonable and were not given scrutiny by the trial Court, likely because of the high level of income of Mr. Strahan. The Court’s attitude is made clear from the rhetorical question, “How many ponies does one child need?” The Court reversed the decision. The importance of this decision demonstrates that in all cases where the overall income exceeds the maximum encompassed by child support guidelines, the Court must do an exhaustive analysis of the actual and reasonable needs of the children. While not disputing that the needs of the children of high income earners may be greater, there should not be a “carte blanche” approach to awarding child support. Excesses should be obvious and discouraged.

Therefore, when analyzing what a child support obligation is, it is important for parties and their attorneys to analyze the reasonableness of expenses being claimed, the actual details of the expenses, and to be able to justify those expenses to a Court. While the child support award may still be substantial, it is in no way limitless.

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