divorce rates

Divorce Rates And Why Living Together Could Increase Chances Of Ending Up In Family Court

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1, divorce rates in New Jersey are among the lowest nationwide. With the exception of people over the age of 50, who are getting divorced more often than younger couples, divorce rates in New Jersey have continued to drop over the last five years. 2 Overall, statistics reveal that divorce rates have declined over the past 10 years or so, but still almost 40% of all marriages end in divorce.

divorce rates

Why Divorce Rates Are On The Decline

On the surface the declining divorce rates can be deceiving considering the number of young adults who are choosing to live together rather than tying the knot. More and more people are cohabiting (living together in lieu of marrying).3 Cohabitation without getting married and the rate of births between non-married people is on the rise. According to a study by Gallup, only 16% of 18 to 29-year-olds were married. 64% of that age group remained single.4 Studies cite a number of reasons for this including people waiting longer to marry, and a decline in the rate of marriages. According to a recent study on divorce rates by Philip N. Cohen of the University of Maryland, millennials wait longer to get married, and are more established and stable when they do, leading to fewer divorce risks. The following chart illustrates how divorce rates gradually decline for millennial’s who wait longer to get married. 5
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The Pew Research Center reports that the number of cohabiting partners has increased 29% since 2007. The Pew Research Center last year found that one-in-four parents living with a child in the United States today are unmarried (25%), marking a dramatic change from a half-century ago, when fewer than one-in-ten parents living with their children were unmarried (7%).6

Image from Pew Trends

Why More People Are Waiting To Get Married Or Not Marrying At All

While many young adults cite economic reasons for not getting hitched, another reason seems to be a reflection of new and evolving attitudes regarding traditional marriage. Many young people say their hesitation has more to do with holding onto their freedom and a desire to avoid the complications of traditional marriage. They want to keep their options open.

The Unexpected Risks Of Living Together

Those who choose cohabitation versus getting married, because they want to avoid the complications of marriage, may find that the grass isn’t always greener on the “living together” side of the fence.

Family law disputes and divorce are a fact of life and touch virtually every human being in some way. In fact, it can be argued that people who live together are at a greater risk of facing family law litigation.

The University of Maryland study by Philip N. Cohen found that waiting to get married could lead to fewer divorce risks, but what about those who live together before getting married or those who live together and never get married?

Studies have found that “living together” or cohabitation relationships tend to be less stable and more often end a breakup than marriage.7  And that’s really not surprising.

What is surprising is the data which indicates an increased chance of divorce when couples cohabit before getting married.

Research conducted by the Institute For Family Studies indicates that those who do live together prior to getting married are actually at a higher risk of divorce than those who did not cohabit. 8 This is explained by what is referred to as the inertia of cohabitation.

According to Dr. Scott Stanley,

“This idea of inertia is based on the fact that many people increase their constraints for staying in a relationship before they have clarified a mutual dedication to being in the relationship.” 9

The premise is that when people are sharing an address they get caught up in an inertia that makes it harder to break up. This inertia increases the likelihood they will get married to someone they might not have married had they not been living together.

Family Law Complications Faced By Cohabiting Couples Who Break-Up

One of the major problems with “uncoupling” when a couple is not married is the lack of applicable laws in New Jersey to address the various issues which are otherwise applicable to divorcing couples. New Jersey common-law marriage was abolished by statute in 1939. Without common-law marriage in New Jersey, it’s not always clear what rights unmarried couples have when they have been living together for an extended period of time.

Considering the increasing number of people who are cohabiting without getting married, the New Jersey courts do recognize that in certain situations an unmarried person may have the right to financial support from a partner after the relationship has ended.

Palimony is financial support that an unmarried person can request from their partner after separating. For a palimony claim to be enforceable, a cohabitation agreement must exit between the parties. The cohabitation or palimony agreement, must be in writing, must be signed by the party promising to provide financial support, and both parties must have received advice from separate attorneys before entering into the agreement.

Married couples and those who cohabit (live together) face issues like custody, parenting time, support issues, distribution of property, tax issues, insurance issues, and more every day.

The traditional litigation method of addressing these divorce and family law issues is expensive, ineffective, outdated, and not healthy for the participants; and sometimes there is not an adequate law to address a particular issue.

The Good News

The good news is that there are viable alternatives such as mediation and collaborative law/divorce available to couples. I have 30 years of experience in divorce and family law and have witnessed the damage the traditional litigation approach has had on families and children. My practice is now focused on using alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation and collaborative law to help clients maintain better relationships in divorce or after a family law dispute, find creative and workable solutions to their issues, and create a more peaceful life for themselves and their children.

Bruce Matez Esq.
Bruce P. Matez, Esq.

Notes

1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/state-divorce-rates-90-95-99-17.pdf
2. https://nypost.com/2016/11/19/new-jersey-has-fourth-lowest-divorce-rate-in-us/
3. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-arent-millennials-getting-married_b_5a075620e4b0ee8ec3694209
4. https://www.popcenter.umd.edu/news/news_1415806591504
5. https://familyinequality.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/top-25-cities-for-millennial-divorce/
7. https://ifstudies.org/blog/is-living-together-all-its-cracked-up-to-be/
8. https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-complex-risks-associated-with-cohabitation
9. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sliding-vs-deciding/201407/the-hidden-risk-cohabitation

“Splitopia”-I have that!

I was recently referred by a mental health professional to read a book called “Splitopia”. While searching for it, I came across a website established by the author, Wendy Paris. While I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, I read her article, Happily Ever, After We Split in the NY Times.

I am lucky that I have an ex-spouse with whom I also have a wonderful ongoing relationship that is filled with mutual caring and support. We raised our son together in divorce from about age 5 and he is now a very well adjusted, independent, successful, thriving 24 year old. There were many bumps and bruises along the way, times of dispute, anger, frustration, hurt, sadness, and so much more, but through it all, we were able to maintain a good relationship.

I consider her my friend and co-parent and I believe she considers me to be the same. She remarried, has a wonderful husband with whom I also have a good relationship, and a step-son whom she raised to be a fine young man, currently serving in the US Marine Corps. We sometimes (not often enough) get together for lunch or coffee and talk by phone once a month or so. My good relationship with my son’s mother has allowed me to have so much peace in my life. And, by the way, we never saw the inside of a courtroom! I wish this for all of my clients!

divorce mistakes

5 Common Mistakes People Make When Divorcing

By:  Bruce P. Matez, Esquire

Spouses who are considering divorce, are beginning the divorce process, or are in the process of divorcing, often begin to plan for the divorce and take actions that quickly derail settlement discussions, negotiations, mediation and the collaborative process. Sometimes they take such actions as a result of advice from counsel. The following are five common mistakes people make when divorcing which most often wreak havoc on the divorce process, cause unnecessary tension and mistrust, and make it very difficult to reach a resolution.

 

  1. Dating and new long-term relationships. When one spouse starts to date before spouses are divorced, especially if he/she begins a long-term relationship, often the other spouse, even if he/she wanted the divorce, is not emotionally prepared for that inevitability. New significant others also often interject their own values and judgments into the divorce, which tends to cause problems between the spouses. There is no law that prohibits a person who is divorcing from dating or engaging in a new long-term relationship, yet it has been my experience that this issue becomes a major road-block. It is also generally not a good idea to introduce a new significant other to children during the divorce. Aside from the emotional and mental impact this has on children, it causes all kinds of problems within the divorce process. From my perspective, it is really quite simple… be patient and just wait a while.

 

  1. Transferring funds out of joint accounts. One divorcing spouse sometimes transfers funds from joint accounts to individual accounts just prior to or after the filing of a complaint for divorce or upon the commencement of divorce negotiations, mediation, etc. While there may be limited situations in which such actions are necessary and appropriate, normally and generally this is not something that is necessary, especially without notice to the other spouse. The result of taking this action almost always creates tension and mistrust that lawyers, mediators and collaborative lawyers spend considerable time trying to resolve. It is extremely hard to undo the damage that is caused by such actions. If you absolutely MUST take such action, I urge you to notify your spouse immediately or in advance, and make sure to be able to show that the funds are safe and protected and will not be utilized without consent.

 

  1. Cut-off access to credit cards and home equity lines of credit. Similar to transferring funds out of joint accounts, spouses often close joint credit card accounts and/or home equity lines of credit so that the other spouse cannot incur significant debt during the divorce process. This is another action which is sometimes necessary and appropriate, but not always.

 

  1. Overspend on credit cards. Don’t start spending money and charging to credit cards. It is ok to keep spending in the same manner that you had been. Be reasonable, be smart, be rational. Don’t overspend!

 

  1. Engage your children (at any age) in the dispute. Children do not need to know “the truth”. Children have the right to be children and not be involved in parental disputes nor exposed to adult issues and discussions. Many adults who experienced divorce in their homes tell me that their parents shared adult information with them that they would have preferred not have been shared with them AND I have heard many times from similar adults that they believe their parents robbed them of their childhood as a result of involving them in their divorce disputes. This is true for adult children a well as young children; just LEAVE THEM OUT OF IT.

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.

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.

Child Support Agreements Not Always Enforceable

By:  Bruce P. Matez, Esquire

In the recent case Cosco v. Cosco the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey determined that an agreement between divorced parents to terminate child support when their child attains the age of 18 is not enforceable if the child in question remains un-emancipated (in that case, the child is attending college full-time). The court relied upon case law which holds that child support is the right of the child and may not be waived or abrogated by the parents. Children who attend college on a full time basis after high school after reaching 18 years of age are entitled to the financial support of both of their parents even if their parents agree otherwise. There are six states, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands which require parents to financially support their children beyond reaching the age of majority and graduation from high school; New Jersey, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Oregon. All others require the termination of child support at age 18 or upon graduation from high school in general, although there are few exceptions and most do not require any support after the age of 19 (in some states 21 in exceptional circumstances). This case clearly and unequivocally denies divorced or never-married parents the ability to negotiate between them how long they will be obligated to financially support their children, whereas married parents can cut-off support of their children at age 18 at their discretion. Currently, the law in New Jersey also requires that divorced or never-married parents contribute to their children’s college education expenses, a requirement that does not currently exist for married parents.

Save Money And Do It Right The First Time With Comprehensive Agreements!

By:  Bruce P. Matez, Esq.

Often clients neglect comprehensive agreements because they are anxious to get their case resolved, sign agreements, minimize their legal fees.  This can be very dangerous and can cause future costly litigation for the parties.  The attorneys at BorgerMatez  recommend that our clients enter into as comprehensive and detailed agreement as possible, leaving very little for the possibility of future litigation whenever possible.  A recent unpublished case in the Appellate Division  Grella v. Rumer reminds us that it is vitally important to spend the extra time and money to be sure to get it right and specify everyone’s rights and obligations in detail in a marital settlement agreement (also called a property settlement agreement).  In this case the parties agreed that husband was to pay wife her interest in the former marital home in the future.  They did not determine the actual value of her interest at the time of the agreement but their agreement said that wife was entitled to “50% of the equity that was obtained over the period of coverture” which is generally defined as the date of marriage through the date of the filing of a complaint for divorce.  Five years later, when he was required to make this equitable distribution payment to his wife, his appraisal determined that there was no equity in the home at the time, and in fact there was negative equity.  The husband argued that the parties mistakenly determined that there was equity in the home when they got divorced, even though they never quantified the equity. The wife argued that he had increased the debt on the home since the mortgage.  The court determined that the proper determination to be made was the equity in the home when the parties entered into their agreement five years prior, not currently. In hindsight, it would have benefited the parties to have had the property appraised at the time of the agreement/divorce and quantified the wife’s interest. This would likely have avoided the post judgment litigation and saved them both money in the long run.  If you do it right the first time, even though it may seem to cost a bit more, you can often avoid the possibility of spending even more in the future.

A Winning Jurisdictional Argument in Family Court!

By:  Bruce P. Matez, Esq.

Last week, a Superior Court judge agreed with me in dismissing an application filed in an FD (Custody/parenting time and child support matters) in New Jersey seeking enforcement of an order from 1997 based upon lack of jurisdiction.  In 1997, in response to a complaint seeking custody and visitation of the parties then 11 year old son, and in order to protect her son, my client agreed in a consent order not to discuss allegations that her former husband had sexually abused their son other than with her immediate family or therapists treating her or them. In exchange for such language in the consent order, the father withdrew his complaint for custody and parenting time. He had minimal contact with his son since then and did not financially support him. Last year, the father was charged with multiple counts of possession and intent to distribute child pornography in another state.  The son, who is now 29 years old, began speaking out publicly about the sexual abuse inflicted upon him by his father, and my client also began speaking out. The father having found that my client had posted some things online and given interviews about him, mostly relating to her being the victim of domestic violence while married to him, recently filed an application seeking enforcement of the 1997 order, sanctions, and other relief.  After reviewing briefs submitted on behalf of the parties, a Superior Court judge dismissed the father’s application finding that the Family Part of the Superior Court of New Jersey no longer has subject matter jurisdiction over the matter.

Twins from different fathers!

By:  Bruce P. Matez, Esq.

The wonders of nature never cease to amaze me.  In a case of first impression in New Jersey, a father was recently ordered to pay child support for only one of twins after DNA testing confirmed that he is, in fact, the father of only one!  The mother acknowledged that she had sexual intercourse with two different men in the same week during her menstrual cycle. The twins were conceived as a result of two different eggs being fertilized by two different men.  The result… twins with different fathers.  Sadly, I have to wonder how much litigation these twins and their parents are going to be involved in over the next 18 years or so, and there may be a very good likelihood of the twins being separated quite often as each spends time with his/her father, away from each other and their mother.  There are a lot of competing interests and probably a lot of competing studies about this.  Nevertheless, another new and interesting twist on the age old concept of parentage!

Lessons I didn’t learn in law school.

By:  Bruce P. Matez, Esq.

Check out this great article written by Jeena Cho. https://lawyerist.com/80492/10-lessons-werent-taught-law-school/

Jeena’s 10 lessons are very interesting and true.  These are all lessons I did not learn in law school and which I have had to learn in practice, many of which took a long time to truly understand, and many of which I continue to work on as a practitioner.  Two of these have particular relevance to the area of divorce and family law.

Having difficult and uncomfortable conversations with clients and other attorneys (opposing counsel in a case) is often one of the most challenging aspects of being a divorce and family law attorney. It is an art form that takes time, effort, patience and practice.

Handling conflict well is probably the most important attribute of being a good divorce and family law attorney and, even more important, being an effective divorce and family law mediator.  As a litigator, lawyers have long standing relationships with their adversaries.  Often clients do not understand this dynamic.  We have to cultivate and nurture those relationships in each of our cases and remember that when one particular difficult, high conflict, perhaps excessively antagonistic and arduous case is over, we will likely have another case with that attorney.  As a result, we often have to balance our ethical obligations relating to the representation of our clients with the need to maintain a healthy relationship with our legal colleagues.  That is incredibly challenging.  I believe that the BEST divorce and family attorneys are those who strike that balance well.  As a mediator, I have to balance the needs and emotions of my clients, and get a feel for how to manage the conflict.  Each couple present very different challenges related to their particular level of conflict.

One of my favorite stories is about the couple whom I met with just before they were scheduled for trial.  They had been in litigation for over a year. They agreed on nothing and had been ordered into mediation by the court to attempt to resolve their financial issues. I asked them at the beginning of the mediation when was the last time they had spoken to each other about the issues in their divorce.  They told me they had been communicating only through their attorneys for over a year and a half.  They had been married for over 25 years and had older children.  As the mediation started they began arguing, getting louder and louder.  I sat back and let them argue for over an hour.  They screamed at each other and both cried at times.  My staff actually knocked on the door several times to assure that everything was ok in the room. After about an hour, at a lull in their arguing, i quietly asked them “are you done and do you want to continue with the mediation?”  They both said they wanted to continue and both acknowledged that they were done arguing and tired.  45 minutes later, they came to an agreement on all of their disputed issues and resolved their divorce.