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WHAT IF MY EX STOPS PAYING CHILD SUPPORT?

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Unfortunately, unpaid child support is a not an uncommon frustration among custodial parents; however, there are a number of options available for enforcement and modification of child support orders in accordance with federal and New Jersey Law.

Financial and emotional support are critical to a child’s well-being and when one parent does not take this responsibility seriously, it should not be overlooked. Child support covers the financial component of a child’s well-being, providing compensation for ongoing expenses associated with basic needs until the child reaches age 18 or is no longer enrolled in high school or secondary education.child support

Under NJ family law, the right to child support belongs to the child and not the parent, which means that its purpose is not to protect either parent but solely to protect the best interest of the child. Parental obligation to pay child support remains the same regardless of the state of the parent-child relationship. While child support requests are commonly made during divorce proceedings, parents who are legally separated or do not live with one another are bound by this legal obligation.

If your child’s parent stops paying child support, the best course of action is to consult an experienced New Jersey family law attorney and seek enforcement of the existing child support order. If the obligor, the parent who owes child support, lives in another state, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) will ensure enforcement and modification can take place with no conflict due to orders issued by courts of different states. While UIFSA enhances the court’s ability to enforce child support orders that were issued in another jurisdiction, it restricts NJ courts from entering or modifying an order established by a court with jurisdiction. It also gives NJ courts jurisdiction over non-resident defendants. Under UIFSA only one support order exists at a given time.

Fortunately, New Jersey has a wide range of child support enforcement methods in accordance with Rule 5:7-5. Some of the most common and effective methods include:

  1. INCOME WITHHOLDING: wage garnishment, in which income is withheld from the obligor’s paycheck, is one of the most effective ways of enforcement. Pursuant to N.J.S. 2A:4-30.97 through N.J.S. 2A:4-30.103, an employer notified of an income withholding order must comply with the order regardless of what state is was registered. Income withholding may also be applied to all incomes used to calculate support including unemployment, workers’ compensation, and certain disability benefits.
  2. NJ CHILD SUPPORT LIEN ACT: a child support judgment establishes an automatic prioritized lien against the net proceeds in excess of $2,000 of any lawsuit judgment or settlement, arbitration award, workers’ compensation award, or inheritance. 
  3. FINANCIAL INSTITUTION DATA MATCH: if child support is three months behind, the obligor’s financial assets will be subject to seizure. The financial institution is required to surrender the assets after proper notice and a 30 day contest period. A separate court order must be established for the probation department to identify and seize the obligor’s financial assets in accordance with N.J.S. 2A:17-56.57.
  4. TAX OFFSET OR INTERCEPT: tax refunds may be used to pay child support arrears that exceed a certain amount. Payments due to the State for public assistance benefits paid as child support are first to be paid with the federal tax refund, while the remaining amount is given to the obligee. Generally, state tax refunds are first used to pay the obligee-parent. To qualify for federal tax offset, the amount of unpaid support must be at least $150 in public assistance cases and $500 in non-public assistance cases. For state tax offset the amount of unpaid support must be equal or greater than one month’s support obligation.
  5. APPOINTMENT OF RECEIVER; ASSET SEIZURE: the court may also appoint a custodial receiver to take possession of the obligor’s property and sell or use it to satisfy amounts due under a support order pursuant to N.J.S. 2A:34-23.

Other than income withholding, the rest of the techniques above are applied after failure to comply with the child support order. Moreover, if the obligor still fails to willfully comply with the support order, more severe enforcement may occur in the form of coercive sanctions, pursuant to R. 5:6-5 (enforcement of orders). This permits the court to proceed by carrying out any combination of the sanctions in R. 5:3-7 which include:

  1. Ordering temporary incarceration or issuing a warrant to be executed upon the obligor’s failure to comply in the future; and
  2. Suspending any state occupational or driver’s license; and
  3. Imposing economic sanctions; and
  4. Requiring the delinquent obligor to participate in an approved community service program; and
  5. Ordering any other equitable remedy deemed to be appropriate.

These coercive sanctions are not intended to be used as punishment, but as a way to facilitate enforcement. Typically, an ability to comply hearing is held before the court orders these sanctions to ensure that the obligor has the present ability to pay. Therefore, incarceration is used sparingly in situations when is it likely to lead to compliance with the child support order.

While New Jersey law has numerous ways to protect children and custodial parents in this matter, it can be a tedious and draining process to get payments made regularly if the obligor is unwilling to comply with any order or agreement. At Armour Law, we will help you modify your existing order with the court and ensure that all appropriate enforcement methods are employed.

SAME-SEX DIVORCE MEDIATION IN NEW JERSEY

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The changing political landscape surrounding the rights of same-sex couples has led to difficulty for many simply wishing to commit to a marriage, or for that matter dissolve one. Fortunately, same-sex marriage in New Jersey was legalized in October 2013 allowing many long-term partners and couples already in a civil union to have the same rights as heterosexual married couples.

While this was a joyous victory for many in the state, it also opened up a multitude of legal questions concerning factors such as equitable distribution, alimony, and child custody, should a couple be seeking divorce. While these issues are identical to those seen in heterosexual divorce, tackling them for same-sex couples in New Jersey is more complex due to evolving laws. This can be especially difficult for couples who were in a committed relationship for many years before having the chance to enter a civil union pursuant to N.J.S.A. 37:1-28 to -36, the New Jersey Civil Union act (enacted in 2007) or marriage. Years of accrued assets and property and children of the relationship were not viewed by the law as they would be for married partners.

same-sex divorce mediation

Many same-sex couples who were in long-term committed relationships wanted to marry but were unable to do so until 2013. A majority of assets would have been accrued during the time before the marriage period, but under the law only those gained after the marriage in 2013 would be considered marital assets for equitable distribution. However, this does not mean that the appropriate divorce relief cannot be granted, only that the court process will likely be more challenging as many judges are not yet fully accustomed to handling same-sex divorce. The same applies to couples still in civil unions seeking dissolution.

BENEFITS OF DIVORCE MEDIATION FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES

Due to the complexity and newness of same-sex divorce, alternative approaches like mediation are highly beneficial. Mediation allows couples to work through their issues to reach a fair compromise without the stress of litigated divorce. Hour long sessions are conducted with a New Jersey mediation attorney, and if needed a third party professional such as a financial planner or psychologist. If a couple is able to work together and communicate effectively, the cost of mediation will drop as the amount of sessions needed decreases.

Same-sex divorce mediation allows couples to bypass the uncertainly of evolving laws and set their own terms. It can also be beneficial for children as it usually translates to parents with better communication skills who are more focused on problem solving than finger pointing.

Although same-sex divorce mediation is not right for everyone, for those who are open to working together it can be the least stress producing and most cost effective option.

NAME CHANGE IN NJ

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Deciding whether to keep a married name or re-assume a maiden name is a common dilemma among women going through and after divorce.  The New Jersey Final Judgment of Divorce gives both the husband and wife the chance to legally change his or her name to one used before marriage, or any other last name.  This also applies to same sex couples in which one partner assumed the name of the other in marriage or civil union.  Unlike divorce, a legal separation known as “divorce from bed and board” or “limited divorce” does not satisfy the requirement of the name change statute.

New Jersey Statute 2A:34-21 states that “the court, upon or after granting a divorce from the bonds of matrimony to either spouse or dissolution of a civil union to either partner in a civil union couple, may allow either spouse or partner in a civil union couple to resume any name used by the spouse or partner in a civil union couple before the marriage or civil union, or to assume any surname.”

Before granting a request for name change in NJ during divorce proceedings, the court usually requires that the party state under oath:

(1)   that the request is not intended for any New Jersey Name Changefraudulent purpose;

(2) if he/she was ever convicted of a crime and if so, the nature and sentence imposed; and

(3) whether any criminal charges are pending.

Although these requests are usually granted, an applicant who has a pending bankruptcy action in NJ will generally be denied.

In addition to the use of a previously used name, the statute also grants permission for the spouse to assume any surname, even if never previously used before the marriage or civil union.  If the name was never used, the spouse may be required to comply with the notice provisions of the general name change in NJ statute, 2A:34-21, which requires a detailed sworn affidavit.

The initial divorce pleadings should include the request for name change; however, it is still possible to resume a maiden/previous name after a finalized divorce.  A post-judgment motion will be used for this purpose.

If a spouse is also interested in changing a child’s name, the statute for name change in NJ permits minor children to legally change surnames; however, the process is much more complex than spousal name change.  A formal name change case must be filed in civil court that identifies the other parent, his or her residence, and the parents raising the child. The case will then be transferred to the family court. An experienced NJ family law attorney can guide the parent through this process.

New Jersey Divorce Name Change

The official seal on the judgment of divorce legally authorizes a spouse to change his or her name on all legal documents such as a driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate.  Once these documents are changed, any relevant government agencies, financial institutions, and businesses should be notified.  Some other institutions to be notified include schools, children’s schools, Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Records or Vital Statistics, passport office, post office, Social Security Administration, insurance agencies, and phone and utility companies.  It can be helpful to notify all family, friends, and neighbors of the new name to spread the word. Only the new name should be used by the individual in both work and social settings. Wills or living wills, power of attorney, and all contracts should also be amended to include the new legal name to avoid future confusion.

Whether requesting a name change post-divorce or as part of divorce pleadings, it is crucial to have the services of a competent NJ family law attorney.

HOW TO COMPLETE A CASE INFORMATION STATEMENT

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divorce case information statementThe Case Information Statement (CIS) is a very important document that helps establish a person’s life style for the purpose of determining multiple factors in a divorce, including alimony and child support. Personal and family finances such as income/partner’s income, personal/joint life style expenses, and expenses of children are to be truthfully detailed on the Case Information Statement. Making sure this information is accurate is crucial because it is required to be certified as true, which means any misinformation whether intentional or unintentional will cause significant problems in the divorce process. It must be filed with the court no more than 20 days after the Answer or Appearance is filed.

The Case Information Statement is a very involved document that requires significant time and attention. We walk our clients through this process and ensure that there are no inaccuracies.

To get familiar with what this document entails please review our guide:

HOW TO COMPLETE A CASE INFORMATION STATEMENT

Divorce Mediation and Children

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Divorce Mediation and Children

One of the main concerns of parents going through or contemplating divorce is the affect it will have on their children. While it is commonly thought that this will be solely negative, the impact greatly depends on how the conflict is handled and how well the spouses are able to communicate as parents. Divorce mediation and children may involve custody and or child support mediation are increasingly popular alternatives to litigation because focus is put on open communication and compromise.

Mediation vs. Litigation

A study conducted by Dr. Robert E. Emerydivorce mediation andchildren – whose research focuses on family relationships and children’s mental health – found that divorce mediation had a positive impact on family relations. Couples were randomly assigned with litigation or mediation, making it clear that the outcomes were linked to the method of divorce. Mediation lasted an average of only five hours, was problem focused, and sensitive to emotions.

After 12 years only 9% of the nonresidential parents who litigated saw their children weekly compared to 28% of those who mediated. Telephone contact was also more prevalent among the nonresidential mediation group with 52% of parents speaking to their children weekly compared to 14% of those who used litigated divorce.

In addition, residential parents saw nonresidential parents more positively, giving them better “grades” in all areas of parenting from running errands to discussing problems.

Collaborative and Non-Adversarial

Being that mediation is a collaborative process both parents actively participate in developing a healthy and fair parenting plan. Working together closely during mediation sessions allows parents to come to a mutual agreement on each specific issue. This can include weekly schedules as well as schedules for holidays, birthdays, vacations, and other special occasions.

Mediation helps avoid the adversarial process that comes with litigation and the flexibility in communication makes it easier to include children in decision making. Instead of worrying about parents battling in court, children may feel more open to share their feelings knowing they will be listened to by parents who are committed to problem solving together.

Contested divorce is inevitably full of conflict and easily leads to having children feel as if they are stuck in the middle, even when both parents have the children’s best interests in mind. Mediation gives parties a chance to work through issues without major conflict and learn to separate their personal interests from their children’s interests in the process.

Creating Effective Relationships

divorce mediation and children nj

One of the most beneficial ways divorce mediation affects children is the new relationship it helps parents develop with one another. Because parenting after divorce is a whole new dynamic it requires the development of new types of relationships – with both the ex-spouse and child. Spending energy on blaming one another for the failed marriage takes away from valuable effort that can be spent on nurturing these new relationships.

Mediation is a way to set aside blame and begin learning how to work together to effectively raise children. Mediation teaches parties to communicate effectively and develop new skills to create solutions for the future; these same problem solving and compromising skills are crucial to healthy parenting and stress reduction.

FAMILY COLLABORATIVE LAW NJ

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While alimony reform was the most talked about bill signed into law by Governor Chris Christie on September 10, numerous others were also signed, including the New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act (A1477). The act, which is modeled on a proposal by the NJ Law Revision Commission and the national Uniform Law Commission, allows for family collaborative law NJ, a process similar to mediation to be used to dissolve a marriage without court intervention. New Jersey is the ninth state to allow the process after Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Washington and the District of Columbia.

As stated in the bill, the legislature found that since at least 2005, NJ attorneys have participated in a dispute resolution method known as family collaborative law. This is defined as a process in which an attorney is retained for the purpose of assisting their client with family disputes in a “voluntary, non‐adversarial manner, without court intervention.”

collaborative divorceWhat sets collaborative law apart is that each party begins with the intention of resolving disputes without litigation. A family collaborative law participation agreement must be signed and in record that adheres to the requirements detailed in section 5 of P.L.2014, c.50 (C.2A:23D-5); some of which include: the parties’ intention to resolve a family law dispute through a family collaborative law NJ process, a description of the nature and scope of the family law dispute, identification of the family collaborative lawyers representing each party, the manner by which a family collaborative law NJ process begins and terminates, and the confidentiality of any communication of a party or a non-party participant.

When the parties meet they are accompanied by their respective attorneys and when necessary one or more non-attorney professionals such as certified financial planners, certified public accountants, licensed clinical social workers, psychologists, licensed professional counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, and psychiatrists.

If either party or attorney commences a court proceeding related to the issues being addressed through the collaborative process, other than to seek the incorporation of a settlement agreement into a final judgment, the family collaborative process will be terminated. The process will also end if either party is subject to or obtains a temporary or final restraining order under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, files a motion for emergent relief, fails to provide necessary information to resolve the dispute, or the collaborative lawyer withdraws from the proceedings.

If the collaborative process is unsuccessful for any reason, both lawyers must withdraw from the case and the parties must seek new counsel. The new attorneys are not allowed to be associated with or from either of the collaborative lawyers’ firms, and any communication or information from the collaborative process may not be used in court.

Collaborative law and mediation differ in that a mediator should not be consulted for legal advice by either party. For example, if one spouse offers a lump sum alimony payment of $200,000, the receiving spouse would not ask the mediator for advice regarding the case law and probability of success if litigated before a judge. However, by using the family collaborative law NJ method, the spouse would have their own attorney to consult before accepting these terms.

collaborative divorceThe family collaborative law NJ process can be more cost effective than traditional litigated divorce. By requiring both parties to provide “timely, full and candid disclosure” of relevant information, neither side must resort to discovery. In a divorce, discovery is the process of obtaining important information from sources such as employers or banks. This can include depositions in which sworn statements to be used in court are taken from spouses, witnesses, or other relevant parties. Eliminating these procedures and the time spent at court proceedings – which can last an average of 2 to 4 hours per daily court appearance – will decrease overall attorney fees.

Because each person’s situation varies greatly, there is no one method of dissolving a marriage that is superior to another. At Armour Law Firm we recognize the importance of serving these diverse needs and provide collaborative family law NJ, traditional litigated divorce, and mediation services.

SUPREME COURT NJ TO IMPLEMENT NEW FILING FEES NOVEMBER 17

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court fees njOn October 31 the Supreme Court NJ adopted a new order to increase and create new filing fees. The order will go into effect on November 17. Documents that are received in person, electronically, or by mail after 4:30 p.m. on Friday, November 14 will be given a filing date of November 17 and be charged the new fees. The fees are expected to raise at least $42.1 million.  Twenty-two million will be used to implement and administer the pretrial services program, while $10.1 million will go toward creating the judiciary’s electronic filing system, and $10 million will be forwarded to Legal Services. The new rule 1:43 (“Filing and other Fees Established Pursuant to N.J.S.A 2B:1-7 and filing procedures”) provides a list of over 80 fees that have been either increased or newly created. In the area of family, one new fee was implemented, while four others were raised. Filing a divorce complaint will now cost $300 as opposed to $250, and the new post-disposition fee/motion in non-dissolution matters will be $25. Motions in dissolution matters and order to show cause were both increased from $30 to $50, while filing a first responsive pleading in a dissolution matter will be $175 instead of $135. The changes were proposed in September under the terms set by a new law enacted in August authorizing increases to fund a new system for assessing defendants for bail, a digital upgrade for the judiciary, and funding for Legal Services of New Jersey.Court fees were last revised in 2002.

UNDERSTANDING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN MIDDLESEX COUNTY: PREVENTION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT AND FINAL RESTRAINING ORDER

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What is domestic violence?

Abuse can take many forms, whether it is physical, emotional, verbal, or financial. It can be difficult to understand what exactly constitutes domestic violence under NJ law, but it is important to know if you believe you are facing a harmful situation.

Under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) of 1991, there are 14 criminal offenses: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, or stalking.

final restraining order

These are considered to be domestic violence acts when they occur between two or more adults who are currently in or have been in some type of intimate or familial relationship. This includes dating relationships, marriages, household members, or two people who have a child in common.

This act protects individuals regardless of their gender, immigration status, marital status, or any other factor.

What is a restraining order?

Typically, when an act of domestic violence occurs in Middlesex County, a temporary restraining order (TRO) is issued by either the police who respond to the incident or the family court, if the police have not been involved. This usually lasts for a minimum period of about one week, giving both parties time to consult an attorney should they choose. When the TRO is issued, a court date will be provided for a final hearing. The most recent act of domestic violence is examined first, but past history demonstrating the escalation of abuse also plays a role in the court’s decision.

If domestic violence is found to be present, a final restraining order (FRO) is granted. This provides the victim with protection by making it a criminal offense for the abuser to violate. Any contact, even in the form of a phone call, can result in arrest, giving the victim a greater sense of comfort and safety. In New Jersey, a final restraining order is a permanent order that does not have to be renewed after a certain period of time like in many other states; it will also be honored if the victim moves to another state.

Although violating a final restraining order is a criminal offense, simply having one in place does not eliminate the option to negotiate parenting time, and does not effect a person’s employment eligibility or criminal record. Many victims choose not to follow through with a final restraining order fearing these consequences for their partner, spouse, or family member, but unless it is violated, it will serve only as protection and not as a means to “ruin” another’s life.

Taking action

While this process can be undertaken alone, it is commonly a very emotional and confusing time for the victim or plaintiff, making the presence of an attorney very beneficial.

It is important to remember that even though one of the 14 acts of domestic violence may not be occurring directly, abuse can still be present and should be addressed. Domestic violence includes subtle factors that cannot always be seen by those who are not directly involved in the relationship. Many abusers exercise power and control in various ways to isolate, intimidate, and coerce their victims, making it more difficult for them to seek help. When children are involved, battling domestic violence with a knowledgeable attorney becomes even more crucial, as remaining in an unhealthy situation can have a severely negative impact.

At Armour Law Firm we have the experience and sensitivity to deal with domestic violence and understand how it can affect other legal matters such as divorce, mediation, child custody, and child support.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NJ’S NEW ALIMONY LAW

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New Jersey’s alimony law recently received some major modifications after two years of negotiations.

Signed by Governor Christie on September 10, the bill (A845/971/1649) has become known mainly for its substitution of permanent alimony with open durational alimony; however, there are a number of other significant changes worth noting.

New Jersey Alimony Law Durational Limits

Under the new law, for any marriage or civil union lasting less than 20 years, the duration of alimony cannot exceed the length of the marriage or civil union. For example, an alimony recipient from a marriage lasting 10 years would be entitled to a maximum payment period of 10 years. Certain exceptions apply, but are granted based on a set of considerations.

Some of these include: the age of both parties at the time of the marriage or civil union, the degree of dependency of one party on another, a spouse or partner who has a chronic illness or unusual health circumstance, whether a spouse or partner has given up a career or supported the career of the other, the impact of the marriage or civil union on either party’s ability to become self-supporting (including either’s responsibility as primary caretaker of a child), and any other factors or circumstances deemed relevant by the court.

Retirement

Whereas the previous law dictated that permanent alimony should continue even after retirement, it will now terminate or be modified when the obligor reaches his or her prospective or actual retirement age. In this case, “full retirement age” is defined as the age at which a person is eligible for full benefits under the Social Security Act. If a person wishes to retire before this age, they must first demonstrate that they are doing so reasonably and in “good faith.”

Although the bill in its entirety applies mostly to future divorces, those who began paying permanent alimony before its enactment will be able to terminate payments upon reaching the full retirement age.

Loss of Income

Under the new law it is much easier for those paying alimony to reduce the amount of their payments should they become unemployed. An application to modify payments can be made if after 90 days the party remains involuntarily unemployed or has not found employment at his or her prior income level.

When considering an application by someone who is not self-employed, the court will take into account numerous factors, some of which include the reason for the loss of income, the effort made to obtain employment in any field or at any level, any severance compensation or award, the impact of the health of both parties on employment, and any other factors deemed relevant.

Any self-employed person’s application should include an analysis detailing the economic and non-economic benefits received from the business as compared to those received at the time of the initial alimony order.

Cohabitation

Also of great significance is the court’s ability to suspend or terminate alimony if the recipient begins cohabitating with another person. Cohabitating in this sense is described in the bill as involving a “mutually supportive, intimate relationship,” and does not only apply to those couples who maintain a single common household.  Although the previous law did order that payments stop when the payee begins cohabitating, the changes provide much stricter guidelines.

In addition to living together, factors such as intertwined finances (joint bank accounts, holdings or liabilities) and shared responsibility of living expenses are considered; however, less tangible factors will also be considered including the recognition of the relationship among family and friends, frequency of contact, duration of the relationship, sharing household chores, and other evidence relevant to establishing the presence of a marriage-like relationship.

Also to be taken into consideration is if the recipient has received “palimony,” which is defined as any enforceable promise of support from a partner.

The Future for  New Jersey Alimony

Already ordered Alimony will not be disturbed.  Alimony reform advocates would like to see more changes including retroactive modification of alimony orders.  As for new orders, each case is fact sensitive and requires an analysis of the law and how it applies to the case.