The Art of Forgiveness in Divorce

By:  Bruce P. Matez, Esquire

I spend most of my days with couples who are divorcing in mediation sessions, clients in the process of divorcing or who are divorced and continue to have ongoing disputes with their former spouses, and with couples who are seeking alternative ways to resolve disputes.  One of the major themes I have found in working with such people over the past almost 30 years has been the astonishing inability to forgive and let go. Sadly, that inability is one of the major reasons why I believe divorce is so expensive and why people spend so much money fighting in divorce and thereafter.

Betrayal in a marriage comes in many forms; some cheat, some overspend, some hide money, some lie about finances, and so on.  There are lots of reasons that trust becomes an issue in a marriage or other relationship; why anger, hurt, and all too often, vengeance rear their ugly heads and create impasse.  Forgiveness may very well be the key to unlocking the gateway to resolution, peace, and a happy life moving forward.

President Clinton once asked Nelson Mandela about inviting his captors and jailors to his inauguration, appointing his persecutors to government position.  He asked “Weren’t you really angry all over again?”  Mandela responded “Yes, I was angry.  And I was a little afraid.  After all, I’d not been free in so long.  But when I felt the anger well up inside of me, I realized that if I hated them after I got outside that gate when they would still have me. But I wanted to be free, and so I let it go.”

If Nelson Mandela was able to forgive his persecutors, jailors and captors and “let it go”, I have to wonder why spouses, parents of children, are unable to forgive each other and “let it go.”  One of the many goals I have in my mediation and litigation practice is to help my clients move on with their lives, to let go of the past and focus on the present and future.  Often that requires forgiveness and that is an extremely difficult thing to achieve in divorce.  I often wonder if divorce would be less expensive, less stressful, less acrimonious and less anxious for people if they were able to find forgiveness in their hearts.

Domestic Violence And Your Options

By: ​Peter M. Halden, Esquire

During the past half century or so, the subject of domestic violence has evolved from a laughing matter to a deadly serious societal concern.

One of television’s most popular early shows was The Honeymooners, a staple of the mid-1950s, which starred Jackie Gleason as the oft-frustrated Ralph Kramden. As the live television audience responded with gales of laughter, Kramden would routinely threaten his wife, Alice, with bodily harm, mimicking a punch to the face while exclaiming, “One of these days, Alice……POW, right in the kisser!”

We know better today. Domestic violence isn’t funny at all; rather, it’s a serious problem that affects relationships across virtually all societal and economic groupings.

Victims of domestic violence are often presented with two independent legal options, but they have vastly different focal points. While these two options are not mutually-exclusive, meaning that victims can pursue either or both, they lead to dramatically different results.

The first option is a restraining order which, if granted by a judge, prevents the aggressor from any future contact with the victim. Restraining orders are heard as part of a civil proceeding in the Superior Court, first as a temporary restraint, entered based on the convincing testimony of only the victim. Then a judge without a jury decides whether to grant the restraining order following a trial to determine whether the victim requires a restraining order for reasons of future personal safety after both parties are given the opportunity to testify and be cross-examined by the other or the other’s attorney.

The other option is filing a criminal charge such as assault or harassment against the aggressor in the municipal court. If convicted by a judge (again without a jury), the aggressor faces fines, surcharges and even potential incarceration.

But there’s an even more basic difference between these two potential remedies, and it boils down to one word: CONTROL.

In the civil proceeding (aimed at securing a protective restraining order), the victim has complete control over the process. He or she can pursue the restraining order or, alternatively, decide to drop it. The decision is totally up to the victim, since the case is captioned as “Victim v. Aggressor.”

Not so in municipal court. Once the charge is filed, the case is captioned as “State of New Jersey vs. Aggressor.” The charge can then be dropped only with the consent of the prosecutor. Years ago, the prosecutor almost always did what the victim wanted, meaning the case was dropped or pursued, depending on the victim’s discretion. However, as society became more concerned with repeat domestic violence offenders, the judgment of the victim gave way to an approach that encouraged prosecution of domestic violence cases even when the victim had a change of heart.

This becomes especially problematic when one realizes that punishing the aggressor in municipal court often adversely affects the victim as well. More often than not, a conviction for a domestic violence-related offense in municipal court results in a fine against the aggressor. But when the aggressor is the spouse of the victim, and they share bank accounts, a fine against one party affects the other in equal measure.

In addition, a conviction leaves the aggressor with a permanent record as a domestic abuser, which can result in a loss of immediate employment or of a future employment opportunity. In a situation where the victim and aggressor remain in a relationship, the aggressor’s employment limitations going forward may also affect the economic welfare of the victim.

Thus, the decision by the victim as to whether to file a criminal charge against the aggressor in a domestic violence should not be taken lightly. Once filed, the victim no longer controls the process. Legal advice, for both the victim and aggressor, is readily available and should be strongly considered in domestic violence situations.

New Jersey Adoption FAQS

By: ​Deena L. Betze, Esquire

New Jersey is known nationally as an “adoption friendly” state. Families from all over the country come to New Jersey adoption agencies to place and adopt their children in this state. Why? New Jersey statutes, case law, and public policy all favor adoption and the best interests of the child, which is the standard by which New Jersey courts must base adoption decisions. New Jersey laws strive to promote finality of family arrangements for the child. The following are some frequently asked questions and answers about adoption based on New Jersey adoption law:

• Who can adopt a child?

In New Jersey, married couples are not the only ones who can adopt. Single adults, as well as same sex couples, may also adopt. There are no restrictions on who may adopt in New Jersey based upon gender, marital status, or sexual orientation. A married person cannot adopt a child alone unless the other spouse consents or is noticed and does not object.

• What is an “open” adoption and are those arrangements enforceable in New Jersey?

An open adoption is one in which there is some level of contact between the adoptive parents and the biological parents, both before and following the adoption The level of contact varies from case to case. A typical arrangement might involve the biological parents sending pictures and letters on regular intervals or, in some cases, even having visits with the child. Ultimately, the biological and adoptive parents reach an agreement on the nature, type, and frequency of contact with which they are comfortable. Currently, open adoptions are not recognized in this state. Therefore, while such arrangements are often made between adopting parents and birth parents, courts in New Jersey cannot enforce open adoption arrangements.

• What is a “surrender of parental rights?” Can a birth parent change her/his mind after signing one?

A surrender of parental rights is a signed consent to place a child for adoption and surrender of all parental rights by a biological parent. It can only be taken by an adoption agency, approved by the state, at least 72 hours after the birth of the child, or by a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey. Once a valid agency surrender has been signed, it is irrevocable. There is no further waiting period during which the surrendering, biological parent can change her or his mind. A biological parent can only contest a surrender in court if he/she is able to prove that it was obtained by fraud, duress or misrepresentation on the part of the adoption agency in taking the surrender.

• Must a birth-mother who is placing a child for adoption name or identify the birth-father?

No. A birth-mother wishing to place a child for adoption in New Jersey is not required to name or identify the birth-father. If a birth-mother refuses to name the birth-father and he cannot be identified, the adoption will proceed without notice to him.

• What if the birth-father is identified?

If any identifying information has been provided about the birth-father, the agency (or the attorney for the adoptive parents, if it is a private placement) must attempt to undertake a diligent inquiry to notify him of the potential adoption. However, a birth-father who is noticed of a potential adoption is charged with the responsibility to assert his parental rights or he may lose his ability to participate in or contest the adoption. If he does not either file for a paternity determination or seek to amend the birth certificate to add his name as the father within 120 days of the date of birth of the child, he will not be entitled to notice of the adoption proceedings.

• Who can contest an adoption?

A biological parent who has not signed a valid agency surrender can contest an adoption, but a birth father will only receive notice of the adoption proceedings if, within 120 days of the date of birth of the child he has acknowledged paternity by amending the birth certificate to add his name or has made an application to the court to assert his parental rights. In certain circumstances, a guardian or relative of the child may file an objection to the adoption, if that person has provided primary care and supervision for the child for six months or half of the child’s life, whichever is less, during the last two years. Under current New Jersey law, a birth-parent who is contesting an adoption is entitled to legal counsel, potentially pro bono (free of charge), because of the significant, constitutional rights that are at stake in an adoption proceeding.

It is of the utmost importance to make sure any adoption agency you are working with is licensed, state approved and in good standing. If you are adopting internationally, you should know whether the agency you are working with is Hague accredited. Private placement (non-agency) adoptions are permitted in New Jersey as well, but different legal standards apply for their finalization. An attorney’s role in New Jersey really does not begin until after a child has been placed for adoption, at which time certain statutory requirements and timelines must be met before the adoption complaint can be filed. These requirements differ depending upon the type of adoption and the nature of the placement.

When choosing an adoption attorney, you should assure that your attorney is experienced in adoptions and fully familiar with the laws and requirements to make the finalization of your adoption as seamless and joyful as possible.

How To Avoid Divorce Court

By: ​Gary L. Borger, Esquire

While less than 2% of the divorce cases filed in New Jersey actually going to trial, a lot of money can be wasted on legal fees as a divorce is processed through the court system heading toward trial even if it settles (as most cases do) at some point before trial actually starts. Trials involve live testimony of witnesses before a judge (as there are no juries in divorce trials in New Jersey), with each witness being cross-examined by the other spouse’s attorney, and with documents being presented as evidence to the extent allowed or limited by the rules of evidence.

Trials are costly in terms of legal fees and lost time from work and are fraught with uncertainty of outcome. Preparation for trial is also very costly as attorneys review all the documents in the client file; identify, prepare and number documents for presentation as evidence at trial (to the extent allowed by the rules of evidence); interview and prepare each witness who may testify at trial; and prepare questions to interrogate witnesses, both on direct examination (when presented by that attorney) or on cross-examination (when presented by the other attorney).

There are alternatives to divorce litigation and trial.

Agreement Directly Between the Spouses

First, in the rarest of cases the spouses can sit down together and reach a settlement on their own, then have an attorney for each spouse review that outline of settlement terms, address items that the spouses may not have considered, and ultimately put the settlement into the form of a marital settlement agreement (MSA) to be signed by both spouses. The case then becomes a settled or uncontested case.

Mediation

Second, the spouses can pursue mediation. Mediation involves the spouses sitting with a neutral mediator (usually but not always an attorney) who does not represent either spouse but rather assists both spouses in their effort to reach acceptable terms of settlement, helping them over impasses, keeping the process orderly, and making sure that all necessary items are addressed. If mediation results in a settlement, most mediators then prepare a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that can be used as the basis for an attorney to prepare a formal MSA to be signed by both spouses. The case then becomes a settled or uncontested case.

Collaborative Divorce

Third, the spouses can consult with attorneys trained in the collaborative divorce process. In the collaborative divorce process, both attorneys and spouses sign a collaborative divorce participation agreement that governs and sets forth the rules of the process for that couple to go through settlement negotiations in an orderly fashion. Rather than each attorney taking an adversarial posture, attacking the other spouse, although the attorneys still each represent one or the other spouse, they actually collaborate together with the couple to try to achieve a settlement that meets the most important goals of each spouse. Obviously, as with all negotiations, give and take (compromise) is at the center of the process. In most collaborative divorce cases a divorce coach assists the spouses and the attorneys in addressing the emotional issues that often are a barrier to settlement. In some cases, a financial neutral expert (usually a CPA) assists the parties in developing the list of expenses each will need as they live separate and apart from one another and in valuing any businesses, business interests, or professional practices that a spouse may own or in which he or she may be a partner, shareholder, or member. The collaborative divorce participation agreement includes a provision that, if either spouse wishes to terminate the process and file for divorce before a settlement is achieved, the collaborative divorce process ends and neither attorney, in such case, can represent his or her client in the divorce litigation. (If a settlement is achieved, as often is the case in the collaborative divorce process, the attorneys can be involved in assisting the spouses in processing an uncontested divorce in the court system after a marital settlement agreement (MSA) is drafted by the attorneys and signed by both spouses.)

Mediation and collaborative divorce enable the spouses to fashion the terms of their settlement that will govern them for the rest of their lives after the divorce and to do so in a private and confidential setting (as nothing discussed in the mediation or collaborative divorce process can be revealed to a judge should the case fail to settle and one or the other spouse files for divorce). Additionally, for those marriages which involve children, the direct negotiation involved in mediation and the collaborative divorce process helps the parents learn how to better communicate with one another to the benefit of their children in the future. It must be remembered that parents remain co-parents of their children after the divorce and have to communicate, discuss, and negotiate things for their children and attend important events in the children’s lives together such as graduations, marriages, births of grandchildren, etc.

Negotiated Agreement

Fourth, the most common method of reaching a divorce settlement is for each spouse to retain his or her own attorney (as one attorney cannot ethically represent both spouses in the State of New Jersey) and to have those attorneys negotiate terms of settlement with one another with the authority of their respective client. This process does not allow the spouses to work together to fashion their own settlement but rather relies upon their attorneys as their surrogates to do so for them. It generally is more financially costly and often takes longer than either mediation or the collaborative divorce process. Further, with attorney-to-attorney negotiation, the spouses do not get to communicate directly with one another to reach their own terms of settlement and may find that the tone of the communication between the attorneys is quite different than how one, the other, or both spouses would have liked it to be, causing more emotional distance between the spouses than is necessary.

Divorce Litigation

When a spouse (or his or her attorney) insists on filing for divorce before attempting settlement through one of  the alternative dispute resolution vehicles such as mediation or the collaborative divorce process, the spouses become caught up in divorce litigation in the court system. This ultimately results in a greater expenditure of money for attorneys’ fees and is a much less efficient process as it can involve multiple court appearances which oftentimes result in attorneys sitting around (while charging their clients for being out of the office), waiting for the judge to get to their case for the various conferences that inevitably get scheduled during the life of the case as it proceeds in theory toward trial. Another shortcoming of rushing into divorce litigation is that, rather than the spouses sitting down together with or without their attorneys to try to settle such issues as a parenting plan and support while the divorce is pending, oftentimes “motions” must be filed (written requests supported by factual certifications or affidavits and financial statements) that request an order of the court for parenting time, interim alimony, child support, etc. Motions are costly and involve filing fees and attorneys’ fees and are open to the public to review as our court system is a public system.

Attorneys are an important part of the divorce process, but spouses seeking divorce should spend their money wisely on attorneys and not waste money as a result of being motivated by anger, resentment, and the other negative emotions that are an inevitable part of the divorce process. (This is one of the reasons that counseling is so important for people going through a divorce.) It is always better to have saved money for one’s children’s college educations or one’s retirement rather than spending it wastefully on legal fees. That is not to say that money spent on attorneys is wasted, but rather that money spent on attorneys should be spent wisely.

Before rushing into the divorce process, consider mediation and the collaborative divorce process as wise alternative options to divorce litigation or negotiation through attorneys. Your future could be impacted substantially by the decision you make at the outset as to how you choose to divorce.

What About The Furniture?

By: ​Gary L. Borger, Esquire

One of the areas of dispute in divorce has to do with the contents of the home.

How is the furniture, furnishings, tools, cookware, collections and collectibles, antiques, art work, etc., handled in divorce?

Most couples eventually work out an in-kind division, that is, they divide up the contents of the home item by item, coming to agreement on who keeps what. That is the most reasonable option for those spouses who are able to act rationally. However, there are those contentious cases where the couple fights about everything, and that includes the furniture. In those cases, there are a variety of options, none good.

First, they can engage a neutral third party to act as a referee as the spouses alternate selecting items or collections (depending on the rules that are set up) until all the items are divided between them (regardless of value).

Second, the couple can engage and retain a personal property appraiser who, for a fee, will inspect the contents of the home and then write up a report on the value of each item or collection of items. That is rarely done and has a monetary cost to it.

Third, (and this is the worst option), they can exchange sealed bids, each spouse writing a number on a piece of paper with that number representing what that spouse feels is the total value of all of the contents of the home. The higher bidder gets it all and pays 50% of that bid value to the other, either by check of by offset against other assets such as the bank account balance, the investment account (if there is one), the difference in the value of the motor vehicles, or even as a credit against a share of retirement accounts. (This is the option that a now-retired judge in our state used to use to punish people who couldn’t work out a division of their property without the judge being involved.)

The bottom line is that the best approach is the one taken by those couples who can act rationally despite their upset, resentment, anger, etc., resulting from how the marriage broke up, and can resolve this issue between themselves without a waste of money on legal fees to fight over the contents of the home.

As has often been said, it’s never the value of the vase, lamp, table, or whatever is holding up a settlement, that prevents the case from settling; it’s the underlying emotional issues that motivate one or both of the spouses to continue the battle regardless of the cost compared to the benefit to be obtained by continuing to fight.

Do yourself a favor and do not pay your attorneys to engage in a battle over your furniture and furnishings.

Equipping Parents To Forge A Way Forward Despite Their Differences

By: ​Bruce P. Matez, Esquire

In a recent case decided by the New York Appellate Court, Weisberger v Weisberger, New York App. Div., July 10, 2018, the court was faced with addressing conflict between parents’ fundamental religious practices and beliefs. At the end of the opinion, the Appellate Court stated the following:

We acknowledge that both parents are sincere in their devotion to the children and, with the exception of occasional lapses in good judgment, neither parent has engaged in conduct that is contrary to the best interests of the children. And yet, the parties’ religious, moral, and ethical beliefs and values with respect to raising their children, while once compatible, have now become incompatible in many important respects. While the arrangement set forth here may not fully satisfy both sides of this dispute, courts do not always have the perfect solution for all of the complexities and contradictions that life may bring—the parties must forge a way forward as parents despite their differences. We are confident that both parties will exercise their best judgment in these matters in a manner that furthers the best interests of their children.

The court system is not perfect and does not have perfect solutions to every day issues that we face such as how to address significant differences in parenting style, religious beliefs, moral and ethical differences of opinion, etc. In reality, our court system is not equipped, nor should it be tasked as such, to deal with those types of parenting disputes as they are truly not legal issues, but personal issues. We see these types of disputes in courtrooms every day. We see these types of disputes in mediations every day. Parents are better equipped to find reasonable and rational solutions to these parenting issues. As the New York Appellate Court stated, parents “must forge a way forward as parents despite their differences.” Mediation and the collaborative divorce process provide parents with a more civilized and goal/interest-based approach to these every-day issues.

Options When Faced With Divorce In New Jersey

by Gary L. Borger

Divorce sometimes comes as a shock and sometimes as a mutual decision. In any event, it is usually a first for most married couples facing this crisis.

Questions will flood your mind.

What do I do next?  To whom should I turn?  Who can I trust?

Meeting with a lawyer is inevitable but which one?

Usually friends, relatives, and co-workers will make suggestions. Sometimes the suggestions are good; sometimes they’re not. Always check the lawyers’ web sites first. Do they seem to concentrate in family law issues such as divorce or do they have a general practice? Those who concentrate in family law will usually have the most knowledge and experience with divorce. Does the web site exude confidence? Is it inviting?

Most attorneys charge a flat fee for the initial divorce consultation. That gives you the freedom to get all of your questions answered without watching the clock as dollars tick by. The initial consultation allows you–and the attorney–to size up and feel out each other. Does this seem like a good fit for me? Does the lawyer seem to care about me or am I “just another case?” Will the lawyer handle my case or shunt it off to a younger, less-experienced associate (not always a bad thing–if your income and assets are limited, you don’t need the most senior and experienced lawyer in the firm)?

What happens next?

The lawyer should tell you your options, basically:

  1. You and your spouse can try to resolve as much as you can on your own, saving legal fees and limiting contention to what is really in dispute;
  2. You and your spouse can work with a mediator to help you resolve things directly with the mediator’s help;
  3. You and your spouse can retain lawyers trained in collaborative divorce and work together as a group, collaboratively, with a divorce coach and a neutral financial expert, if needed, instead of the lawyers working against each other, adversarily;
  4. You can have your lawyer handle all negotiations with your spouse’s attorney, once he or she retains one; or
  5. You can have your lawyer file for divorce and serve the filed divorce complaint and a summons on your spouse, starting the divorce litigation process in court.

If you want to conserve your money spent on legal fees, if you want to have a respectful and civil relationship with your spouse after you are divorced (especially where children are involved), I strongly urge you to consider #1-3 above.

Due to high emotions such as anger, resentment, feelings of betrayal, etc., #1 often is not a viable option.

If your spouse is not likely to be honest about finances and has a greater knowledge than you of income, assets, debts, and living expenses, #1 & 2 may not work and even #3 may not be successful.

If #1-3 are not viable for you, understand that less than 2% of all divorces filed in court actually go to trial; the other 98+% settle at some point prior to a trial commencing. In such case, your attorney will serve as your surrogate, to do his or her best to negotiate settlement terms with your spouse’s attorney. Whether settlement efforts are successful depends on many factors, the most significant being how you and your spouse are reacting to efforts at settlement and who you and who your spouse each has chosen for an attorney (as some attorneys are more settlement-oriented and others more litigious for many reasons).

Just remember:  Try not to allow your emotions to waste your resources by fighting with your spouse where fighting can be avoided and keep your eye on the goal of reaching a long-term, viable and durable settlement that meets your most important needs and keeps as civil a relationship with your spouse as you can maintain or recreate so your children don’t suffer, worrying about how each of you will act when you’re together at their school events, bar or bat mitzvot, graduations, weddings, baptisms, and at and after the birth of grandchildren.

Social Media And Divorce

by:  Deena L. Betze, Esq.

With the recent media storm surrounding the hacking of cheating website, Ashley Madison, and the release of thousands of e-mail addresses and information on users of that site, our attention is once again focused on the internet and how social media affects divorcing couples. Like it or not, social networking has become a daily part of our society. It seems we cannot go anywhere without someone tagging us in a post, tweeting about it, or “checking us in” on FaceBook or Instagram.

I am old-school enough to still be shocked and somewhat appalled when someone tries to post my location while I’m out to dinner.

As attorneys, we have become painfully aware of the fact that once something is posted on a social network such as Facebook or Twitter, it cannot be permanently erased, even if deleted.

Communications between attorney and client are confidential and should not be shared.

Should a client reveal a confidential communication from their attorney on a social network, e-mail or other form of communication, that privilege would be lost.

It has become commonplace to post or tweet about every event, thought, feeling or mood change and it can be difficult to break those habits and walk away from the warm feeling of connectivity, even when failing to do so could be detrimental. Social media, in many cases, has replaced actual social interaction. Emotions run strong in divorce and family disputes. That is a time when people reach out to their social circle for support when they need it most. But doing so on line can have harmful results.

While it is tempting to vent about one’s feelings, or post snarky memes or sayings about the opposite sex or relationships, I caution my clients never to do so.

The same goes for posting pictures and updates about their new relationships.

This may sound like simple, common sense advice, but we are all probably guilty of sometimes posting updates without giving it a second thought. Not only are such posts permanently available for any crafty investigator or angry ex spouse/partner to dig up and use in court proceedings, but children, spouses/partners or others who may be hurt or misconstrue the posting can view them as well.

For years I have been warning my clients not to hit the “send” button on that late night text or e-mail to their former spouse or partner. Now I caution my clients to close down their FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter accounts during family court proceedings. Few actually follow this advice, and often it is just too tempting to post something related to their dispute or litigation that ultimately will be used against them.

Divorced or separated parties should be cautious never to post comments about their divorce, their spouse, a new partner, or any aspect of the proceedings on social networks, as those comments cannot be kept private and could ultimately be used against them in the litigation. Lawyers need to take the same advice and refrain from posting about specific cases, parties or adversaries on line, as that can be a serious breach of ethics. I recommend that parties simply not utilize social networks or even e-mail to share any details of their marital situation or divorce proceedings, especially those details that they would not want a judge, their ex, or their children, to see.

Children And New Partners- The Court Weighs In

by:  Deena L. Betze, Esquire

The issue of when or how divorced parents may introduce new, significant others to the children and what input the other parent may have in that decision is a thorny one. Until recently, the only decision on point was the 1976 case of DeVita v. DeVita, 145 N.J. Super. 120 (App. Div. 1976), which upheld a restriction banning a father from having his female companion spend the night during his parenting time. The phrase, “DeVita restriction” was coined to describe the ability for family courts to limit or restrict the amount of exposure or contact children can have with the significant other of their divorced parents that resulted.

In Mantle v. Mantle, 20-4-7530, the Hon. Lawrence Jones, J.S.C. of Ocean County Superior Court recently addressed this issue in the context of our more modern society. In Mantle, the court found that the DeVita decision does not specifically mean that exposure to a parent’s new dating partner is per se inappropriate or harmful to the child’s welfare, but rather, that such matters must be looked at on a case by case basis. Absent any evidence of inappropriate conduct by a dating partner toward the child, an indefinite “no-contact” provision would not be held enforceable. In that particular case, the court established a one-year transitional schedule for the gradual introduction of the significant other to the child.

In holding indefinite “DeVita restrictions” unenforceable without evidence of harmful conduct toward the child, Judge Jones pondered the social viability of such open-ended restrictions in today’s society. The court did not rule out short-term restrictions designed to protect the child, but rather, placed the focus on the best interests of the child in terms of gradually introducing them to a parent’s new partner. Judge Jones noted that in 1976, societal values were very different than they are in 2015 and it was a commonly held belief that exposure to such visits could harm the “moral welfare” of a child. But, such views are not necessarily shared by a majority of the community today. According to the court, “Sociologically speaking, 1976 was a million years ago. Given the overwhelming number of couples from all walks of life who presently live together full-time without the benefit of marriage, the landscape has changed drastically since the long gone days of the bicentennial.”

To balance the need to protect the emotional welfare of children and also realistically approach today’s societal norms, the court set forth factors to be considered when a “DeVita restraint” is sought, including how long the parties have been separated (living apart), the age of the child in question, how long the parent and new partner have been dating, whether that partner is already known to the child, and whether the child has an existing psychological or emotional issue that might require special consideration. In the event a dating partner presents a threat to a child through inappropriate actions, a blanket restriction against contact may still be appropriate. In any case, the focus should always remain on what is in the best interests of the child.

NJ Supreme Court on Awarding Alimony in NJ-Nothing New!

By:  Bruce P. Matez, Esquire

The New Jersey Supreme Court has done nothing more than reiterate that the length of a marriage is only ONE of 13 factors which the court must consider in awarding alimony in NJ.  In Gnall v. Gnall, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Appellate Division, which had reversed the decision of the trial court.  The trial court awarded Ms. Gnall alimony for 11 years after a 15 year marriage. She appealed.  The Appellate Division reversed and found that the judge abused his discretion by not granting permanent alimony (pursuant to the prior law), that a 15 year marriage was considered “long term.” That decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.  Justice Fernandez-Vina, writing for a unanimous court, stated that the length of a marriage cannot be the only determining factor and should not weigh more heavily in the court’s determination than the other 12 statutory factors.  “Therefore, we find that the trial court improperly weighed duration over the other statutorily defined factors in determining a long-term marriage must be 25 years or more.”  The case was remanded to the trial court for a more thorough analysis of the statutory factors.  The new alimony law which was passed in September 2015 more specifically sets time frames for limited duration and open durational alimony as well as eliminated “permanent” alimony as an option.  However, the new law does not define the appropriate duration of limited duration alimony other than to say it cannot exceed the length of the marriage for a marriage of 20 years or less. That duration is still left to the discretion of the court.  Therefore, the court will still have to analyze the statutory factors in determining the duration of  limited duration alimony awards under the new law.