Although this is one of the most frequently asked questions by clients contemplating divorce, it is also one of the most difficult to answer. Once the divorcing parties reach an agreement as to all of the issues in their case, an uncontested divorce hearing can usually be scheduled within a matter of weeks. Of course, it some divorces the parties can reach a settlement in a very short period of time; in other cases, the process can last for months to over a year.How much will a Divorce Cost?
The cost of a divorce will ultimately depend upon the number of hours the attorney must spend representing his client. Representation may take the form of attending Court appearances, drafting legal pleadings, required financial disclosure documents, motions, letters, and telephone calls with both the client and the opposing attorney. It is therefore usually impossible for an attorney to inform the client at the start of the case how much his or her legal fees will ultimately amount to.I am Ready to Start my Divorce Case. How do I Choose my Divorce Lawyer?
It is important to choose an attorney who devotes a significant percentage of his or her practice to divorce and family law work, and not someone who merely dabbles in divorce or handles a few simple uncontested divorces every year. This way, you can be assured that your attorney possesses both a knowledge of the relevant substantive and procedural law as well as a familiarity with the Family Court system itself, including the Judge who may be assigned to hear your matter. Divorce and family law can be a very subjective field, and the result you achieve may ultimately depend not so much upon who your lawyer is, but who your Judge is. If your lawyer can give you some insight into how the Court might rule in your case, you can at least make an informed decision as to a particular course of action.
It is important to choose an attorney you feel comfortable with. I try to present my clients with a realistic assessment of their case and what they may expect. This is not always pleasant or fun for either me or the client. I, like most divorce lawyers, am frequently the bearer of bad news. You will most likely be worse off financially after your divorce and no attorney, no matter how good, can change that. I have been lucky that in nearly twenty years of practice, most clients (and potential clients) do not “blame the messenger” when they hear the bad news.Should I file for Divorce now or I am Better Waiting Until some Point in the Future?
In most instances, this is a very personal decision that a lawyer cannot (and should not) attempt to make for the client. The age of the children may be an important consideration, particularly if the children are older and college is only a short time away. Retirement (and its impact on a potential alimony award) may also be a consideration if one or both of the parties are close to retirement age.
Although this is a very personal decision, some legal guidance should still be provided to the client so that an informed decision can be made. Each party should understand that the longer the length of the marriage, the longer the length of time alimony will usually be paid after the marriage if there is a significant enough earning difference between the parties. This is particularly important once the parties are close to twenty years of marriage, since at that point, open durational alimony is usually appropriate, whereas if the parties are married for less than twenty years, it would be much less likely that open durational alimony would be awarded.
In one case I was involved with, the supporting spouse’s earning capacity increases substantially during the three year delay between when we first met and when a decision was made to proceed with the divorce. As a result of the delay, the client was obligated to pay more alimony for a greater length of time.
It is also important to remind the client that for so long as the client remains married, all assets or liabilities acquired during the marriage (no matter how unhappily one may be married) will still be subject to equitable distribution once a decision to proceed with divorce is actually made.My Spouse is Cheating on me. Will this Help me in my Divorce Case?
This question comes up all the time, but the answer is, in the vast majority of cases, almost always a definite “NO.”
New Jersey has slowly but steadily been moving away from fault-based divorce since the early 1970s, when the State recognized 18 months of continuous separation as a ground for divorce. (Prior to that time, only fault-based grounds for divorce existed.) In 2007, New Jersey added six months of irreconcilable differences as a ground for divorce, which is now the most commonly used “no fault” divorce ground.
In 2005, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided, in a case called Mani v. Mani, that marital fault is irrelevant to alimony except in cases where it affected the parties’ finances negatively and in cases in which the fault is so egregious that it “violates societal norms.” (Mere adultery would not be egregious enough on its own.) These are very high burdens of proof to meet. As a practical matter, in most cases, it would be very difficult and costly to establish that adultery effected the parties’ financial life. Of course, a $10,000 Hawaii vacation with a significant other paid for with marital assets would be an exception to the rule, but most cases do not present such obvious examples of marital fault impacting the parties’ finances.
The attorneys on both sides of the Mani decision candidly acknowledged to the Court that marital fault, in actual practice at the trial court level, had little bearing on alimony or counsel fee awards.What are the Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey?
Although there are 9 different grounds for divorce in New Jersey, the most frequently cited grounds for divorce include (1) irreconcilable differences lasting at least six months; (2) 18 months of continuous separation; and (3) extreme cruelty.What Happens if we cannot Reach a Settlement?
If a settlement cannot be reached, the case will ultimately be scheduled for trial before a Superior Court judge. The judge will make determinations as to all unresolved issues including equitable distribution, custody and visitation, and child support and alimony.Is it Better to Settle my Case or go to Trial?
While this depends upon the unique facts and circumstances of your individual case, the vast majority of New Jersey divorce cases are ultimately resolved through settlement rather than trial, and the Family Court system itself is designed to encourage settlement rather than litigation.Will my Spouse still have to Provide me with Health Insurance Coverage after our Divorce?
With the skyrocketing cost of health insurance, this is a very important consideration and should be discussed with your divorce lawyer before a decision to file is even made, but the answer is almost always “No.” Upon the termination of the marriage, your health insurance coverage, if provided through your spouse’s employer, will end. If you need health insurance coverage, your attorney is most likely going to advise that you attempt to obtain employment which offers this coverage if possible.Will I have to pay Alimony or am I Entitled to Receive Alimony?
Like so many divorce related issues, one's entitlement to alimony depends on the unique facts and circumstances of their particular case. New Jersey's alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, sets forth 13 non-exclusive factors for the court to consider in determining an appropriate alimony award. In addition, the Court may consider “any other factor” which the Court may deem relevant in particular case. Some of these factors include the need and ability of the parties to pay alimony; the length of the marriage; the age and health of the parties; the standard of living established in the marriage and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living. As part of the revisions which took place to the alimony statute in September of 2014, the Court can now also consider, when determining alimony, the nature, amount, and length of pendente lite support paid, if any. (Pendente lite support is temporary support which is paid while a divorce case is pending in the Courts but has not been settled or tried yet.)Are there Different Kinds of Alimony?
Yes. New Jersey has four different kinds of alimony- limited duration alimony (LDA), rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony, and open durational alimony. These four different kinds of alimony can be awarded individually or in any combination as warranted by the circumstances of the parties.I Heard Something about Alimony Reform. Does New Jersey still have Permanent Alimony?
As part of an alimony reform law which went into effect in September of 2014 and substantially revised the existing alimony statute, New Jersey ended “permanent alimony” but replaced it with “open durational” alimony. The amended statute provides that for any marriage or civil union less than 20 years in length, the total duration of alimony should not, except in exceptional circumstances, exceed the length of the marriage or civil union. The statute also sets forth a list of non-exclusive factors which might constitute exceptional circumstances, including whether or not a spouse has a chronic illness or unusual health circumstances, and the degree and duration of economic dependency during the marriage.
For example, if the parties have been married for 10 years, the alimony term should not, barring any exceptional circumstances, exceed 10 years. However, this does not mean that one is automatically entitled to a duration of alimony equal to the term of the marriage; the Court must still weigh all of the alimony factors set forth in the statute.I am Ready to Retire. Can I Reduce or Eliminate my Alimony Obligation?
The amended alimony statute contains a number of new provisions relative to what should happen to alimony when retirement takes place or is contemplated. Most significantly, there is now a rebuttable presumption that alimony should terminate upon the obligor spouse (the person paying alimony) reaching full retirement age, or the age at which that person could retire and receive full Social Security benefits. (For most people this would be between ages 66 and 67 depending upon the obligor’s year of birth.) If the obligor intends to retire but has not done so yet, the Court may also set down the conditions under which a modification or termination of alimony would be effective. The statute sets forth a non-exclusive list of factors which the Court could use to justify a finding that the rebuttable presumption has been overcome.
If the obligor is attempting to retire prior to reaching full retirement age, the obligor must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the proposed or actual retirement if reasonable and made in good faith. The statute sets forth a list of factors for the Court to consider in this regard, including the obligor’s field of employment and the generally accepted age of retirement for those in that field, as well as the age and health of the parties at the time of the application, and the ability of the obligor to maintain support payments after retirement.