Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thought of the Day

"My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them."

- Richard Branson, billionaire founder of the Virgin companies.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thought of the Day

"Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands - and then eat just one of the pieces." 

- Judith Viorst

Monday, April 26, 2010

Thought of the Day

"Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts."

- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thought of the Day

"Behind every successful woman . . . is a substantial amount of coffee."

- Stephanie Piro

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thought of the Day

"If you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up."

- J. M. Power

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thought of the Day

"Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths."

- Etty Hillesum

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thought of the day

"What lies behind us and
what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, April 12, 2010

Yes - divorced parents sometimes really do fight over anything and everything!

You be the judge:

It is dad's custody weekend of their seven year old daughter.  Dad's family scheduled a big birthday party for him Friday night to celebrate his 35th birthday.

On that same night, Mom is scheduled to be a bridesmaid in a wedding -- and daughter is a junior bridesmaid.  Matching green dresses have already been purchased and altered.  The bride is apparently the little girl's godmother.

Mom claims she told dad all about this special event last fall.

Dad tells mom this week that the child must attend his birthday party and skip the wedding.

Mom takes dad to court on some type of emergency hearing . . .

To find our what the judge decided, click here.

Tax returns equal financial road maps

Often, in my consultations with prospective clients, my need for asking questions about finances can be greatly reduced by a simple review of a person’s tax return. Often, people do not even understand the treasure trove of information their tax return can provide. For example: lines 8 and 9 on the first page of the Form 1040 shows whether or not there are any income producing investments. If there are numbers on those lines, there is usually a Schedule B outlining the source of that investment income. This serves as a road map towards determining an individual’s wealth.

If you or your spouse are saving for retirement, it is often as simple as looking at the W-2 and comparing the number on that form to the number reported on line 7 of your tax return, which reflects income after retirement contributions. If you are self-employed, your yearly retirement contributions are usually deducted on line 28 of the 1040.

Schedule A reflects deductions for various expenses including mortgages and real estate taxes. Additionally, contributions to charities are reported on that form.

If you are not familiar with your own tax return, now that April 15th is approaching, you have a great opportunity to understand exactly what you are reporting to the government and what the tax return says about you and your spouse. If your spouse owns their own business and reports self-employment on Schedule C, you should understand that you are also signing that return stating that the numbers are true and accurate, even if you are not involved in the business. Therefore you should ask questions and be familiar with what you are signing.
The IRS publishes a comprehensive booklet on your individual tax return.  Click here to view a PDF version.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How is your financial health?

If you are going through a separation or divorce, or even contemplating such an action, it is a good idea to take a moment to evaluate your financial health, understand your spending needs and ability to earn income, and make goals for yourself.

As you contemplate these issues, keep in mind the following:

1. Are you currently living beyond your means?

If you spend more than you earn, you are currently living beyond your means. It seems like such an easy thing to understand but with the stress and complexity of daily life – sometimes you can lose track of what you are spending versus what you are earning. If you are living beyond your means, in order to meet your expenses, you are most likely relying on taking on more debt or dipping into savings. Sit down and work out a budget. When people undertake this exercise, they are often surprised to learn where there money goes. Sometimes, a few simple cuts can get you in line. For more severe financial problems, you may need to investigate a mortgage modification, bankruptcy or other significant changes to your monthly expenses.

2. What are your financial goals?

When attempting to plan your financial future, most people have goals in mind. Whether you wish to purchase a home, upgrade their current home, afford a vacation home, live a certain lifestyle, or put their children through college, these life events have price tags attached. Setting out these goals on paper so that you can gear your financial planning towards them will help you make the changes necessary to achieve your benchmarks.

3. Can you pay down high interest debt?
Sometimes debt is often a necessary evil in life. Whether you must obtain a mortgage to purchase a home or a student loan to pay for higher education, sometimes, debt cannot be avoided. However, sometimes debt can grow quickly, such as credit card use to finance every day necessities or tapping into a home equity loan as if it is your own personal cash machine. Look at your total debt and begin a plan to pay down any high interest loans. By saving yourself the payment of interest, you can make your net worth grow. Additionally, by not being beholden to debt, you are freer to make other choices.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Wisdom from Dr. Seuss

"I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind.

Some come from ahead and some come from behind.

But I've bought a big bat. I'm all ready you see.

Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!"

- Dr. Seuss

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Steps to obtaining a divorce in New Jersey: a comprehensive overview

Once you have decided to dissolve your marriage, understanding the divorce process from beginning to end will help you prepare for the time ahead. Just as you would approach a car trip by reading the directions and planning your route, you should approach divorce proceedings with an understanding of what steps you will have to complete. The lawyer that you retain to represent you will be assisting you with every stage of the divorce. However, it is best to know what to expect so that the process can move smoothly and you are prepared for the ebb and flow of divorce procedure.

First of all, be kind to yourself. Divorce can be hell. The ending of a marriage can be traumatic. Take deep breaths. Relax. You will get through this.

What does New Jersey require for a divorce?

First of all, in order to divorce in New Jersey, either you or your spouse, or both of you, must have lived in New Jersey for twelve (12) consecutive months prior to filing the divorce complaint. In order to begin the divorce proceedings, you must have grounds for divorce. That is, you must have a reason to divorce your spouse. New Jersey allows for two types of divorces: 1) no-fault and 2) fault. Your unique situation will determine the best way for you to demonstrate grounds for divorce, however many couples find it easier to aim for no-fault grounds versus trying to establish a fault divorce.

• No-Fault Divorce: There are two options for no-fault divorce with different requirements for each:

1. No-Fault Divorce based on separation:

o You or your spouse must have lived separately for at least 18 consecutive months before the filing of the divorce complaint.

o There cannot be a reasonable prospect of reconciliation.

2. No-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences:

o You or your spouse must have experienced irreconcilable differences for a period of 6 months-and these differences make it clear that the marriage should be dissolved.

o There cannot be a reasonable prospect of reconciliation.

• Fault Divorce: This type of divorce often requires proof and testimony that can be draining on the parties. If you are not certain that you qualify for a fault based divorce you may be better off filing for a no-fault divorce to keep the difficulty of the emotions and hard feelings in check. Some of the grounds for fault based divorce include:

o Desertion

o Extreme Cruelty

o Adultery

Step 1: Gather information and records.

You are going to need certain documents for your lawyer and the court. It is a good idea to start gathering these early as some can be a little more time consuming to obtain than others. Here is a list of information as well as documents that you would need to acquire:

• General Information and Documents:

o Names and addresses of you and your spouse

o The date of your marriage and whether it was a civil or religious ceremony—may need a copy of your marriage certificate.

o Confirmation that you or your spouse have resided in NJ for at least 12 months

o Information for the grounds you are seeking:

o No-Fault Separation: proof that you were living separately for 18 months

o No-Fault Irreconcilable Differences: you have believed for at least six months that your marriage cannot be repaired

o Fault: information on your spouse’s behavior: cruelty, abandonment, etc.

o Children’s names, birthdates, and social security numbers

• Court Orders, if any, between you and your spouse that relate to the marriage. Be sure to get the docket numbers for any court actions. Examples would include:

o Child Support Orders and Custody/Visitation Orders

o Adoption of Children

o Name Change Orders

o Domestic Violence Restraining Orders-you should also gather supporting documents including police or hospital reports.

• Financial Information-These documents are what you need to demonstrate income, investments, assets, property, debts and expenses.

Before beginning to gather these documents it is a good idea to sit down and write a list of any sources of income, accounts, investments, expensive property and expenses. Once your list is completed you can then begin to collect proof of the items of your list. Your attorney will help you with the question of what will be included in the marital estate.

You will want to include items that are in your name, your spouse’s name or both of your names.

This would include:

o tax returns

o pay stubs or other proof of income (Social Security Income, Social Security Disability, welfare, rental assistance, child support, etc)

o list of banks accounts for you and your spouse and bank statements

o stock, bonds, IRAs, and other similar assets

o leases or deeds to real property

o automobile titles

o automobile loans

o debt documentation such as credit card statements and loans

o a list of monthly expenses

o copies of monthly bills

o mortgage documents

o insurance policies (for example health, dental, life, automobile and homeowners)

o pension plans and retirement accounts

o receipts for bills for personal injury or property damage caused by your spouse

Tip: Divorce can be paperwork intensive -- gather your documents and keep them organized.

Step 2: Decide what is most important for you to get from the divorce:

Divorce will almost certainly involve a negotiation between you and your lawyer and your spouse and their lawyer. It is wise to go into the divorce process with a good understanding of what will be most important to you and also what you think would be most important to your spouse. Think about what points you are willing to compromise on and what points are absolutely necessary to you. Some topics that you are likely to encounter during your divorce include:

• Alimony/Spousal Support (do you need or do you think your spouse will ask for continued support?)

• Division of real property (land, homes, etc)

• Division of personal property (are there items that you feel very strongly about keeping?)

• Division of debts

• Taking back your former name or changing your name

• Insurance policies and premiums

• Money damages for personal injury or property damage

• Child Custody and Parental Visitation

• Child Support

Step 3: Creating and filing your complaint:

Your complaint is what is going to notify the court that you are initiating a divorce proceeding. This will also be delivered to your spouse and will alert them to the divorce action, if they are not already aware. At this point you will need to decide what types of relief you are going to request. Keep in mind that the court will look at a variety of factors in rewarding relief and that simply requesting something will not guarantee it will happen.

• File complaint (which includes the basic facts of the parties) with the court along with the following documents:

o Certification of Verification and Non-Collusion: this states that you are filing for divorce in good faith and that you are being truthful

o Certificate of Insurance: this lists all the insurance that you, your spouse or your minor children have

o Certification of Notification of Complementary Dispute Resolution: this states that you have read the required Explanation of Dispute Resolution Alternatives

o Family Part Case Information Statement: this is very a detailed form that is required if there is any dispute as to alimony, custody, support, or division of the property/debt

o Confidential Litigant Information Sheet: this is a confidential document that you must complete if you are requesting alimony or child support

• Serve the complaint with a Summons and Attached Proof of Service to your spouse.

 Your spouse then has 35 days to file an answer and/or counterclaim to your complaint or they can file an appearance if they are not contesting your complaint.

Step 4: Mediation in an attempt to reach a settlement that is agreeable to both parties:

New Jersey strongly encourages mediation and settlement of divorces and you will be expected to take steps towards a settlement outside of court before you will be allowed to go to trial. Settlement outside of court can save the parties time, money and emotions and move the process along more quickly.

• If you will need support during the long process of the divorce you can request Alimony Pendente Lite which is temporary support. Of course, if you have children child support will be an issue.

• Case Management Conference: this is when you will meet with your spouse (and your lawyers) and the judge to discuss what is going to be disputed, discovery between the parties, trial dates, etc. This is a way for the court to make sure the divorce is on track.

• Discovery: this is when both sides will request information from each other. This would include information on income and property.

• Parents Education Program: this is a program for parents where they will be informed of their responsibilities and how the court handles custody and visitation

o You will also be required to file a Custody and Parenting Time/Visitation Program where you will have to explain what custody you are seeking and what schedule you would like to propose for visitation.

• Matrimonial Early Settlement Programs (MESPs): this is a mediation conference where volunteer lawyers help you and your spouse resolve issues with the goal of reaching a settlement. If a settlement cannot be reached you may be sent to another mediation session: Post-MESP or Post-MESP Complementary Dispute Resolution. Another option would be for you and your spouse to be sent to trial.

• If you are unable to reach an agreement through any of the mediation sessions or negotiations you will move to trial.

Note: not every divorce ends up in court. Even if you must go to court, many issues are settled.

How is the court going to determine what I am entitled to and what my spouse is entitled to?

The court tries to be as fair as possible in making decisions on disputed issues in a divorce. There is often a wide variety of factors that are considered and it is difficult to determine exactly how the court will rule. Some issues that are often disputed and how they can be resolved are:

• Alimony: The court will look at a list of factors in determining alimony including parties’ needs, length of marriage, standard of living, earning capabilities, parental responsibilities, etc. Alimony can be permanent, limited duration, rehabilitative or reimbursement:

o Permanent: often for long term marriages this is intended to help the lower income spouse maintain their current lifestyle

o Limited Duration: has an end date

o Rehabilitative: this is short term and gives support until the lower income spouse is able to take steps to secure more income for themselves

o Reimbursement: this is sometimes seen in situations where one spouse supported the other in educational or professional gains above and beyond the support expected in a marriage relationship

• Custody arrangements of children from the marriage: Decisions are to be in the child’s best interest and factors that are considered include the relationship with the parent and child, child’s needs and preference, education, siblings, etc. Custody Arrangements can be in the following forms:

o Joint Physical Custody: shared

o Primary Physical Custody: the child is mostly with one parent often with visitation from the other parent. This also called the parent of primary residence.

o Joint Legal Custody: both parents share important decisions regarding the child

o Primary Legal Custody: one parent makes the important decisions

• Child Support: This is financial support paid from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent and there are detailed rules in NJ on how this will be calculated. You should discuss your specific situation with your lawyer.

• Division of Property:

o First it will be determined what is marital property and what belongs to you, or your spouse, that is not part of the marital estate. The court will need the values of the property.

o Keep in mind this would include things like pension and retirement accounts, health insurance, and personal injury awards.

o Next it will be determined what is marital debt, and what debt belongs to you, or your spouse, individually.

o The court will then (while taking into consideration a variety of factors including length of marriage, income of each spouse, the contribution of one spouse to the education or professional training of another, asset values and debts, etc) try to divide up the property and debts in the fairest way.

What happens if the terms of the settlement or the decisions made by the court are not upheld? What if I am unhappy with the result?

• The court is generally unwilling, after the divorce is complete, to revisit issues of property and debt distribution absent fraud or misconduct.

• The court is generally willing to revisit issues of alimony, custody, and child support if there are changed circumstances.

o If the circumstances and factors that influenced a court’s decision in alimony, custody and/or child support are drastically changed, the court may be willing to alter the terms of its decision. You would have to file a Petition for Modification with the court and be prepared to show a good cause for the change. Some examples:

 the party receiving support has an increase in salary or the party paying support is no longer able to work

 the child custody arrangement is no longer in the best interest of the child

• Unfortunately, all parties do not follow the obligations placed on them by the court. You may have to file a Motion to Enforce Litigants’ Rights in order to force the other party to fulfill their responsibilities.

So, what next?
The complexity, expense and emotional toll of a divorce depends on a variety of factors. If you are contemplating divorce, your first step should be an initial consultation with an attorney so you can learn how the law and procedures apply to your individual situation.

If you are interested in setting up a consultation with my office, please click here.

This blog article was written by Elizabeth Early.  Elizabeth is a second year law student at Temple University Beasley School of Law and is currently gaining experience at my office.  She received her undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University and grew up in the Poconos.  You can email Elizabeth directly at

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Thought for the day


"Positive anything is better than negative nothing."

-Elbert Hubbard

Who gets the kids?

How do the courts decide custody?  The best interests standard - what is best for the children. 

Unfortunately, some custody disputes involve parents who respectively feel that they are what is best for the child --- and the other parent is not.  No exact formula exists.  Rather, courts must consider a variety of factors.  Case law throughout the years has defined and refined the factors.

Any factor that impacts a child's physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual well being must be considered in determining what is best for a child.  The court determines each case individually -- no blanket rule exists -- there is no objective test.

If a custody case includes an issue as to one of the parents relocating, then the analysis of the child's best interest must also include the consideration of the following three factors (first outlined in the 1990 case of Gruber v. Gruber, 583 A2d 434 (Pa.Super. 1990)):

(1) the potential advantages of the proposed move and the likelihood that the move would substantially improve the quality of life for the custodial parent and the chidlren and is not the result of a momentary whim on the part of the custodial parent;

(2) the integrity of the motives of both the custodial and noncustodial parent in either seeking the move or seeking to prevent it;

(3) the availability of realistic, substitute visitation arrangements which will adequately foster an ongoing relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent.

The above captioned Gruber factors have been mentioned and explained in a variety of subsequent cases. 

Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed a case involving both the best interests standard, and the Gruber relocation factors.  The court awarded custody to Father, and affirmed that award on appeal, despite Mother's objection.  The case is also notable for Mother's failure to follow the procedural rules regarding appeals.  The opinion provides an outline of both the best interests standard and the Gruber factors as well as the procedural rules.  Read JP v. SP, 2010 Pa SUper 37 (March 16, 2010), here.

Monday, April 05, 2010

When does child support end?

In Pennsylvania, child support terminates when a child reaches the age of eighteen (18) or graduates from high school, whichever is later.  So -- if your child turns eighteen during his or her senior year of high school -- child support will terminate upon graduation.  If your child turns eighteen after graduating from high school -- child support will terminate on the eighteenth birthday.  As with any rule, exceptions and deviations exist.  By way of example, a child who cannot care for themselves due to a severe disability may have child support extended.  On the other end of the scale, if an eighteen year old has not completed high school -- but is not pursuing a high school diploma, the child support will most likely terminate.

In Pennsylvania, absent agreement of the parties, there is no child support during the college years and no court compelled payment of college tuition.  (New Jersey's rules do provide for post high school support).

For a family that separates prior to children completing college, these harsh rules can be devastatingly burdensome ot the custodial parent as college age is probably the time when children become most expensive.  However, because children are considered adults at this age in Pennsylvania, the court will not order child support or college tuition payments.  While difficult for the custodial parent, this type of law also protects the non-custodial/support paying parent, from being directed by the court as to his or her  financial participation in an adult child's life.

The mechanics of actually terminating the support depend on the situation.  If the support order covers more than one child, then the amount must be recalculted when the child reaches the age of eighteen.  Some people mistakenly believe that if a suport order covers two chidlren and one child becomes emancipated, then the support number will be reduced by 50%.  However, that is not the case.  The entire order must be recalculated.  By way of example, someone earning $5,000 net per month may have a monthly child support order for two children in the approximate amount of $1,253.  (This assumes that the other parent has no income or earning capacity).  For one child, that monthly amount reduces to $933.

If you are paying or receiving child support, be prepared for the termination date of any child on the order.  Reach out to the other parent and attempt to negotiate a new amount to beceom effective (or complete termination if it only covers one child).  If the other parent does not agree, file a petition with the court prior to the emancipation date.

Recently, the Superior Court affirmed a trial court's decision to terminate child support on a child's graduation date.  Initially, the support had terminated when the child turned eighteen (during her senior high school year). The Domestic Relations section had sent several notice to Mother, asking for the child's high school status.  However, Mother failed to respond and the order was terminated -- even though graduation was five months away.  Mother then petitioned the court for the support to be reinstated, saying she had never rexceived the notices.  The court agreed with Mother.  Father felt that because Mother had not responded to the notices, the support should have been terminated, and not reinstated.  Both the trial court and the Superior Court agreed with Mother.  You can read the entire opinion, Castaldi v. Castaldi-Veloric, here.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A wrench in the divorce process

Business Week recently included an article regarding the havoc that the changes in compensation, bonus structures and restricted stock/deferred income can have on the divorce process.  Read the article here.