Stepparent Adoptions in New Jersey—The Basics

Stepparent Adoptions in New JerseyWhen you are divorced with minor children, and you remarry, you may consider having your new spouse legally adopt your children. There can be a number of tangible benefits to doing this:

  • If the other biological parent is abusive, obstinate or unfit to be a parent, you can legally limit his or her access to the child.
  • Your new spouse will have the legal right to participate in decisions regarding the child’s welfare.
  • The children may be entitled to certain work-related benefits.
  • It can help your new spouse build a strong relationship with your children.

In some instances, completing a stepparent adoption is relatively simple, but it also can be fraught with challenges. Here are some of the fundamental things you need to know about the stepparent adoption process in New Jersey:

  • There are age restrictions. A person must be at least 18 years old to be a stepparent. In addition, the stepparent must be at least 10 years older than the adopted child. You can always petition the court to remove those restrictions if doing so is in the best interests of the minor child.
  • You must obtain a termination of the parental rights of the other parent. The easiest way is for the other biological parent to voluntarily relinquish all parental rights. If the other parent is unwilling to do so, however, you must petition the court to terminate their rights. In New Jersey, parental rights can be terminated only if the parent is deemed unfit. Some of the factors that might form the basis for a ruling of unfitness are neglect and abandonment, substance abuse, or evidence of criminal activity. Failure to pay child support is not sufficient grounds for termination of parental rights.
  • If the child to be adopted is over the age of 10, his or her preference may be considered, but the court will have sole discretion to make a decision in the best interests of the child.

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will take your case only if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Happy Thanksgiving 2019

Happy Thanksgiving 2019

“Give thanks not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day of your life. Appreciate and never take for granted all that you have.” – Catherine Pulsifer

What is Equitable Distribution in a Divorce Proceeding?

And How Does It Apply to the Division of Marital Debts and Assets in New Jersey?

In the aftermath of a marital breakup, one of the most challenging tasks you might face is the division of marital property and allocation of debts incurred during the course of the marriage. There are essentially two approaches: (1) equitable distribution of debts and property or (2) allocation of the marital estate as community property. New Jersey applies the legal principle of equitable distribution.

What is Equitable Distribution?

The key word in equitable distribution is “equitable,” which means “fair.” A court applying the concept of equitable distribution attempts to divide debts and assets in a way that is most fair to both parties. That does not mean the property will be divided equally.

In New Jersey, if the parties to a divorce cannot agree on the distribution of property and obligations, the court will use the following criteria to create a fair settlement:

  • The length of time the parties were married
  • The age of the parties at the time of divorce
  • The mental and physical health of the parties at the time of divorce
  • The income each party brought into the marriage
  • The standard of living to which the parties were accustomed during the marriage
  • The existence of a valid prenuptial/postnuptial agreement or other document providing for the allocation of property upon divorce
  • The economic circumstances of both parties at the time of divorce
  • The contribution each party made to the education, earning power, or training of the other party
  • The current income and earning capacity of both parties
  • The extent to which either party contributed to the creation, preservation, acquisition, or dissipation of the marital estate
  • The debts and liabilities of both parties
  • The extent to which either party deferred his or her career goals to maintain the home
  • Any other factors the court may consider relevant

WHAT PROPERTY IS INCLUDED IN EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION?

  • The key dates in equitable distribution are the date of the marriage and the date the Complaint For Divorce was filed. Almost any property acquired, or debts incurred, between those two dates, are “marital”. Whose name they’re in doesn’t matter, they’re joint and subject to distribution.
  • The exceptions are property acquired by gift or inheritance, or from a personal injury settlement for pain and suffering.
  • Assets and debts acquired before the marriage are generally not subject to distribution – unless acquired or incurred “in contemplation of marriage”, e.g., a house purchased a week before the wedding.
  • Assets and debts acquired after the Complaint For Divorce is filed are not subject to distribution.

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will take your case only if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online, or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday between 9 am and 5 pm.

Happy Veterans Day 2019

Happy Veterans Day 2019

“On this Veterans Day, let us remember the service of our veterans, and let us renew our national promise to fulfill our sacred obligations to our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so that we can live free.” – Dan Lipinski

When Can a Custodial Parent Relocate in New Jersey?

How Does a Court Determine Whether to Grant a Relocation Request?

When Can a Custodial Parent Relocate in New Jersey?Let’s face it—we live in a highly mobile society, where people seldom stay in one place for long. One study found that the average American moves about 12 times in his or her lifetime. It’s one thing to pick up and move your whole family—you may still face additional challenges from minor children. But what if you’re divorced and have custody of minor children? Can you relocate? Are there any conditions on your right to move?

In the state of New Jersey, if you are a custodial parent of minor children from a divorce, you must obtain the permission of the court for certain moves. There’s a specific statute (a written law) that governs relocations outside the state of New Jersey—the custodial parent must always obtain court approval. While there is no specific statute addressing moves within the state of New Jersey, there’s plenty of “judge-made” law—court decisions—to help determine rights and responsibilities.

While ruling that the statute governing out-of-state relocations does not apply to in-state moves,the court in Schulze v. Morris also held that an in-state move could be construed as a “substantive change in circumstances.” If so, it requires modification of the existing custody and visitation order. If the existing custody and visitation order needs to be revised, the court must then apply the same factors used to determine whether an out-of-state relocation is permissible.

The Factors Considered When Evaluating a Relocation Request

The guiding principle when assessing whether relocation is permissible is the “best interests of the child.” With that as a given, the court will inquire about:

  • The reason for the move—is it for a new job, a better school system or some other reason that can be construed as benefitting the child
  • The reason for the non-custodial parent’s objection to the move
  • The prior relationship between the parents—is there evidence of an ulterior motive?
  • Will the non-custodial parent still be able to maintain a meaningful and regular relationship with the child?
  • Whether the child has special needs or talents, and the extent to which those needs and talents will be met through a relocation
  • The available educational, health and entertainment opportunities for the child in the proposed relocation site
  • The impact on extended family member relationships with the child (such as grandparents)
  • The child’s preference, if the child is deemed to be of sufficient age

As a general rule, the court will not allow a move in a child’s final year of high school, unless the child consents.

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will only take your case if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.

How Do New Jersey Courts Determine the “Best Interests of the Child”?

The Factors that Go Into Custody and Visitation Decisions

How Do New Jersey Courts Determine the When you can’t find a way to make your marriage work and need to file for divorce, it can be especially difficult to resolve disputes over child custody and visitation. Ideally, you and your ex-spouse will be able to come to an agreement that puts the needs of your children first. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.

If you can’t come to an amicable solution regarding custody and visitation, the court will have to make that decision for you. When that becomes a necessity, the court places a priority on “the best interests of the child.” But what does that really mean?

Under New Jersey law, the court may look at a wide range of factors when seeking to establish what will be in “the best interests of the child”:

  • The amount of time (as well as the quality of the interaction) that each parent spent with the child during the marriage
  • The fitness of each parent
  • The age of the child
  • The number of children in the marital home
  • The ability of each parent to work cooperatively in matters pertaining to the child
  • The distance between the parental homes, as well as the proximity of each parental home to the child’s school and other activities
  • Any special needs of the child, and the ability of each parent to meet those needs
  • The stability of each parent’s home environment, including stability of partners or house-mates
  • Any history of domestic violence by either parent
  • The perceived safety of the child in each parental home
  • The work and extra-curricular activities of each parent, as demonstrating the amount of time available for parenting
  • The preference of the child, if the court determines the child is sufficiently mature to participate in the decision-making

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will only take your case if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.

What You Need to Know about Alimony in New Jersey

Understanding Your Rights and Obligations Regarding Spousal Support

What You Need to Know about Alimony in New JerseyThough it’s nowhere near as common as it used to be, alimony (also known as spousal maintenance or spousal support) is still available in New Jersey. Under current law, it’s based strictly on need and is gender neutral. A divorcing husband has just as much right to alimony as a wife. The courts will work hard to ensure that alimony is not used as a weapon, but strive to use it to strike a balance, allowing both parties to be as close as possible to the lifestyle they had during the marriage. The ultimate goal, in most situations, is to provide the necessary support to allow the recipient to take the necessary steps to become self-sufficient.

It’s important right up front to understand that New Jersey law is less than clear on how to address alimony, giving a fair amount of discretion to judges. It is also important to note that the recent tax law changes eliminate the deduction of spousal support payments and no longer require recipients to claim alimony as taxable income. Further complicating matters, New Jersey tax law allows for the deduction of spousal maintenance on state returns and requires recipients to report payments as income.

Unlike child support, where the court simply takes the income of both parties and plugs it into a formula, there is no similar calculation method for alimony. The court may consider a wide range of factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The actual need and ability of the parties to pay
  • The standard of living to which the parties were accustomed during marriage
  • The age, physical and emotional health of the parties
  • The potential earning capacities of both parties
  • Any parental responsibilities of either party
  • The extent to which either party gave up a career to care for children or to further the career of the other party

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will only take your case if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.

Enforcing a Divorce Judgment in New Jersey

How to Take Steps to Ensure that Your Ex Complies with the Court Order

Enforcing a Divorce Judgment In the aftermath of a divorce proceeding, when the judge has signed your divorce decree, you hope and expect that both parties will honor the terms of the order, so that you can get on with your lives. Unfortunately, though, the relationship challenges that led to the divorce often don’t end just because the marriage has ended. Your former spouse may choose not to comply with court order, failing to pay child support as required or denying you access to your children at times of scheduled visitation. What can you do if your ex violates the terms of the divorce judgment?

File a Motion for Contempt of Court

Under the law, whenever a party to a court order fails to comply with the terms of that order—and a divorce decree is a court order—that’s “contempt of court,” which can result in some pretty serious actions by the court. As a general rule, though, the court won’t know that a court order has been violated unless someone puts the court on notice. Accordingly, if your ex refuses to honor the provisions of the divorce decree and you have tried, unsuccessfully, to get him or her to comply, you will have to put the court on notice. To do that, you must file a motion, asking the court to find your former spouse in contempt.

It is critical, though, before you file your motion, to attempt to resolve the dispute without the intervention of the court. In fact, New Jersey law mandates that you accompany your motion for contempt with a “certification,” stating that you or your legal counsel made a good faith attempt to work out the disagreement.

Your motion must include a list of the specific provisions of the court order that your ex has failed to honor, a request that your ex comply with the requirements of the divorce decree (a copy of the original divorce judgment should be attached), and a request that your ex pay your attorney fees.

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will only take your case if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.

Paying the Costs of College after Divorce in New Jersey

divorceTraditionally, divorce settlements in New Jersey did not mandate any type of payment by the non-custodial parent for the costs of a child’s college education. Parents could voluntarily contribute or even include some type of payment arrangements in a divorce settlement, but it was totally discretionary. To a significant degree, that has changed.

Under the current approach, courts will look at the financial resources of a non-custodial parent to determine whether contributions to a child’s college tuition and other costs should be mandatory. Though the courts tend to view college education now as a necessity, such a requirement will typically only be included in a divorce decree after an analysis of the following factors:

  • Whether the family values and goals create a reasonable expectation by the non-custodial parent that the child will attend college
  • The amount required by the child to pay for higher education, as compared to the non-custodial parent’s ability to pay
  • The financial resources of the custodial parent
  • The availability of financial aid
  • Any financial resources the child may have
  • The child’s ability to earn income during the academic year
  • The level of commitment of the child to the course of study
  • The intellectual capacity or aptitude of the child
  • Any financial resources the child may have
  • The child’s ability to earn income during the academic year
  • The extent to which the curriculum sought relates to any prior training or long-range goals of the child

To protect yourself, either as a custodial or a non-custodial parent, you want to make certain that your property settlement agreement clearly states the obligations of each parent with respect to payment of the costs of a college education. In addition, you want to know whether your child support obligation terminates on the child’s 18th birthday…it does not do so automatically.

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will only take your case if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.

Stepparent Adoption in NJ

Stepparent Adoption in New Jersey

If you’ve remarried after divorce and you have children from your prior marriage, you may want to consider having your new spouse legally adopt your children. Some of the benefits include:

  • The legal right to make decisions about medical care, education, religious training and other life concerns for your stepchild
  • A potentially greater bond with your stepchild
  • A greater sense of security for the stepchild, particularly if the biological parent is absent
  • It will ensure that your stepchild has access to health insurance and other benefits through your employer

As a general rule, stepparent adoptions are simpler than other types of adoptions. In many states, including New Jersey, there’s no requirement that you complete a home study. Nonetheless, the process can take a few months.

Often, the biggest challenge with a stepparent adoption is obtaining a termination of the parental rights of the non-custodial parent. The easiest way to do that is to convince the non-custodial parent to voluntarily relinquish parental rights. Because the termination of parental rights also terminates the obligation to pay child support, that can be an attractive option for some non-custodial parents. However, it also extinguishes the right to visitation with the child.

If you cannot get the non-custodial parent to voluntarily give up parental rights, you can ask the court to terminate those rights. A judge will typically not allow a termination without sufficient cause, such as abandonment, documented domestic abuse or unfitness to be a parent. Among the factors that contribute to a finding of unfitness are history of substance abuse, incarceration or neglect.

You can also terminate the rights of a non-custodial father if you can provide evidence that he’s not the biological parent. DNA evidence is customarily sufficient.

Contact Attorney David M. Lipshutz

We will only take your case if we know we can help. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-627-1990. We are available to meet with you Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.