Don’t Pay Your Lawyer For This

By: Alexandra K. Rigden, Esq.

Law is a business. So, this blog is actually against my financial interests because I am here to tell you what you should NOT pay your family law attorney to do:

  1. Referee day-to-day, ordinary parenting disputes: Fighting through lawyers over day-to-day, ordinary parenting disputes, can come with a high price tag, both emotionally and financially. When I say “day-to-day, ordinary parenting disputes”, I’m talking about, for example, mom feeding the kids non-organic instead of organic hot dogs; dad returning the children a few minutes late from parenting time; objections by one parent to other parent getting the child a haircut without prior consent—the list goes on and on. Parents will have to co-parent with each other long after the lawyers are gone. Sending the message during the litigation that day-to-day parenting decisions cannot be navigated without lawyers engenders acrimony and unnecessary fees. To the extent possible, parents should pick up the phone and try to figure it out.
  1. Act as your therapist: In the course of family law representation, I learn a lot about a client’s life. I may learn why their marriage broke up, why their kids are estranged from them, how their new relationship is going, how much they earn, and other personal—sometimes very personal—facts. Naturally, conversations transition from facts to feelings. As much as I do enjoy getting to know clients and understand the very human element to family law, I am a counselor at law, not a counselor at life. Moreover, in comparing hourly rates, most family lawyers are more expensive than therapists.
  1. Fight about ordinary personal property: I’m not talking about a Van Gogh painting or a Cartier watch…those items may well be worth the fight. I’m talking about tables, chairs, bed frames, mattresses, pots, pans…ordinary household items. Once these items were brought home they drastically depreciated in value. Your five-year-old mattress isn’t going to have much, or any, value on the open market. Paying lawyers to fight over ordinary personal property is not a wise use of your money.

4. Advise you about taxes and finances: I am not an accountant nor am I a financial advisor. Tax returns, tax issues, and finances are a daily part of a matrimonial practice. But, simply because a client’s finances are part of the equation, does not mean that a family lawyer is qualified to offer advice on them.

New Jersey Supreme Court Case – Bisbing v. Bisbing

On August 8,2017, the NJ Supreme Court upended 16 years of law regarding the legal standard governing the request of a parent who seek to move out of state with a child or children. In the case of Bisbing v. Bisbing, the NJ Supreme Court held that a child’s best interest must be considered in all relocation applications where the parents share legal custody, regardless of the parenting time arrangements between the parties. Previously, the legal standard was whether the parent presented a good faith reason to move and whether the move would not be inimical (contrary) to the child’s interest. Now, all courts must look at whether the child’s best interest will be served by a parent moving out of state with that child.

Tips for successful co-parenting in New Jersey

Not all marriages in New Jersey and elsewhere stand the test of time. In fact, around 40 to 50 percent of all U.S. couples who marry will ultimately divorce, according to the American Psychological Association. However, the end of a marriage is not necessarily the end of the relationship for moms and dads. It is becoming more common for divorcing parents to share child custody. While it may be in their child’s best interests, co-parenting is often a challenging undertaking. Nonetheless, there are things that parents can do to successfully co-parent their children.

The purpose of shared parenting is to allow children to maintain a relationship with both of their parents. In order to make this type of arrangement effective for their families, people are advised to be supportive of their children’s communications and visits with their other parents. This may help them avoid making their kids feel guilty about talking to and spending time with their other parent. Furthermore, it is suggested that people aim to make the transitions from one household to the other as peaceful as possible for their children.

Ongoing conflict between parents can be upsetting for their children and complicate the co-parenting process. Psychology Today points out that it is important for those with shared parenting arrangements to be respectful to and of each other. Parents should refrain from speaking poorly about their former spouses to or in front of their children. Doing so may make their kids feel as though they have to choose a side, which may be damaging to one or both parent-child relationships.

When co-parenting, communication is key. In order to make this type of arrangement work smoothly, it is important for parents do discuss what is going on in their children’s lives, their schedules and any problems they have had with each other. Additionally, people may keep their exes informed of any significant changes or developments in their own lives so that both parents are prepared to help their children deal with or adjust to them.

How can I establish paternity in New Jersey?

Ascertaining the father of a child has a number of benefits. The New Jersey Department of Human Services notes that in addition to establishing a basis for child support payments, determining paternity can also do the following:

  •        Grant the child rights to Social Security and veteran’s benefits
  •        Possibly provide health insurance for the child
  •        Give the family information regarding medical history

When a couple is married, the husband is automatically presumed to be the father. For an unmarried couple, there are several ways to establish paternity.

As the New Jersey Courts point out, when a man admits to fatherhood, there will be an Order of Filiation issued and paternity will be established. Voluntary acknowledgement of paternity can take place when the baby is born and the man signs a Certificate of Parentage. The COP may also be signed at a local welfare office or at a county or state registrar’s office.

If the alleged father denies paternity, however, there is legal recourse that either the mother or father can take. The court could order the father to take a blood test, or a simple genetic test involving saliva samples can be taken. Either parent may request the genetic testing.

The NJDHS reports that in a saliva test, both parents and the child will have to take the test. When the score comes back at 95 percent or higher, the man will legally be presumed to be the father.

While this information may be useful, it should not be taken as legal advice.

A look at grandparents’ rights in New Jersey

Grandparents in New Jersey who have been involved with their grandchildren may have a good case for getting parenting time. Under the New Jersey Grandparent Visitation Statute, grandparents have the legal right to visit with their grandchildren when the kids’ parents divorce or separate. An amendment has also extended visitation rights and even the possibility of custody in a number of circumstances, including when the nuclear family is still in place.

Unfortunately, there are cases in which a child’s parent may try to prevent a grandparent from seeing the child. When that happens, the grandparent can file an application for a visitation. The law outlines eight factors when determining whether or not the rights will be granted, including the following: 

  • How much time has passed since the child and grandparent last had contact
  • The relationship between the child and the grandparent
  • The relationship between the grandparent and the child’s parents or the person with whom the child is living
  • What effect the visitation rights could have on the child’s relationship with his or her parents or the person with whom he or she is residing
  • The grandparent’s history of neglect or sexual, physical or emotional abuse, if any
  • The parenting arrangement that the child’s divorced parents have, if applicable

The court will also evaluate the grandparent and take any other factors into account as they relate to the best interests of the child.

In a study published in Live Science, researchers determined that grandparents and their adult grandchildren who had a close relationship with each other actually showed fewer symptoms of depression. Advocates for grandparents’ rights emphasize the fact that in many cases, giving children time with their grandparents is beneficial to the kids’ wellbeing. As the report points out, preserving relationships between children and extended family members is important now more than ever.

What types of child custody options are available in New Jersey?

No matter if you and your child’s other parent are in the process of legally separating, divorcing or living separately, it is necessary to make care and custody arrangements for your child. In the event that the New Jersey family law court becomes involved in your case because you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are unable to come to a custody agreement on your own, the presiding judge will take several factors into consideration. There are three primary custody arrangements that are available to parents like you, and they all revolve around the best interests of the child at the heart of the case.

The New Jersey State Bar Foundation discusses child custody arrangements, and explains that it is typically a priority of the court to allow children to have consistent and quality time with both parents during and after divorce proceedings. The court also strives to give parents equal access to their children so that they can uphold their parental rights and obligations. Depending upon the specific circumstances of your case, however, the court may institute particular custody arrangements.

Sole custody may be necessary in cases where your child’s other parent is abusive, incarcerated or otherwise unfit to care for or make decisions on behalf of your child. Being granted sole custody gives you the exclusive authority to make all major decisions concerning the care and upbringing of your child.

Joint legal custody is another option that is increasingly common in New Jersey. With joint legal custody, both you and your child’s other parent have the right to make decisions about your child’s care and upbringing, but your child lives predominantly in one household. For instance, your child may stay with you on the weekends and live with his or her other parent from Monday to Friday. If you are granted joint legal and physical custody, you and your child’s other parent share equal parenting time, along with decision-making responsibilities.

No two child custody cases are exactly the same, though. The information provided above is only intended to be educational in nature and cannot serve as legal counsel.

What does an effective New Jersey parenting plan look like?

When both parents live with their children as one family unit, it can be fairly easy to develop a consistent routine and lifestyle for everyone in the house. In instances involving legal separation or divorce, however, it is not unusual for parents and children alike to experience significant changes to their everyday lives. Fortunately, there are things that you as a parent can do to help ease the transition for your children from living in one household to two.

Parenting plans are utilized in cases where parents share custody of their children, and often play a major role in establishing consistency and reliable routines for families. According to the New Jersey Judiciary Administrative Office of the Courts, a parenting plan can serve as an important resource for you and other parents, as it can be used to outline everything from parenting time to parental responsibilities to child care considerations that are specific to your family. Above all, however, parenting plans for designed around the best interest of the child or children involved. Consequently, no two parenting plans are exactly the same.

When considering the factors that should be included in your family’s parenting plan, it is important to keep several considerations in mind. Given that the parenting plan is intended to account for both you and your child’s other parent’s rights and responsibilities, it should reflect collaboration and compromise on both your parts. The parenting time and visitation plan that you create should account for both of your work schedules, as well as your child’s school schedule. It can also be helpful to detail how unexpected events and changes should be addressed under the terms of the plan.

As you and your child’s other parent negotiate the terms of your parenting plan, it is also worth noting the age and the unique needs of your child. Older children are often more receptive to change, and generally have an easier than transitioning between households than younger children. Therefore, constant communication and collaboration may be required on the part of you and your ex-husband or wife when it comes to developing a new routine for your infant or preschooler.

Study finds shared custody is good for the kids

Many parents worry about how their divorce will impact their children. Child custody arrangements can be stressful and difficult to accept. In many cases, parents want sole custody of their children, or at least have custody of their children for a vast majority of the time. 

There are several reasons parents do not like the idea of sharing custody. One of those reasons is that they believe it will be too hard for their children to move back and forth between two households.  

Despite the concerns over shared custody, a new study found that shared custody is better for children than when one parent has custody of the kids. The debate over what type of custody is most beneficial for children will likely continue. However, this study highlights the benefits of shared custody when it comes to children. 

The researchers reported that children living with both divorced parents in a shared custody arrangement reported fewer problems than children who only lived with one parent. They said that it is beneficial for children of divorce to develop a close relationship with both of their parents. 

Shared custody arrangements and having children live with both parents is important and can actually reduce the stress of only seeing one parent every other weekend. The researchers said that having a close relationship with both parents is good for many reasons, including having two resources, social circles and material goods available. 

Parents getting divorced should be aware of the different types of custody plans and discuss the best options in their case with an attorney. Child custody is an important issue as it can affect the relationship your child has with both parents so be sure to consider all options before making any decisions. 

Source: TIME, “This Divorce Arrangement Stresses Kids Out Most,” Mandy Oaklander, April 27, 2015