Family Law Articles

Planning to move out of state? Your current custody situation matters

According to a recent ruling from a New Jersey family court, your current custody arrangement can make a big difference if you’re thinking of relocating to another state with your child.

The mother in that case had emigrated from Cuba in 1999 and lived in Florida until 2004, when she moved to New Jersey to work in pharmaceuticals. That’s apparently where she met her husband, who she married in 2009 and with whom she had a daughter.

The couple divorced in 2015. The divorce agreement said they’d share joint legal custody and the mother would be considered the “parent of primary residence.” Once the mother vacated the marital home, the father would be the “parent of alternate residence.” The father was to have the daughter on Mondays, Wednesdays and alternate weekends. The agreement didn’t discuss the issue of out-of-state relocation. [Read more…]

Things to think about when your intended has bad credit

Love can blind a person to many things, and bad credit is one of them. But that’s an issue that can come back to bite you later. If your spouse-to-be has bad credit, it can cause huge problems, keeping you from having the kind of married life you’d planned on. It will rear its ugly head when you’re thinking about buying a house, when you’re trying to give your kids the best possible educational, athletic and enrichment opportunities and even when you’re trying to plan the wedding of your dreams. That’s why it’s important to sit down with your intended before getting married and having an honest financial conversation.

One thing you need to talk about is what kind of debt you’re both bringing into the marriage.  For example, do you or your significant other have “good” debt? In other words, long-term debt at a reasonable interest rate, like a student loan, a mortgage or perhaps a business loan? If your fiancé has this kind of debt and a solid job with a promising career trajectory and a good track record of making payments on time, chances are you’re OK.

But what if your intended has a lot of “bad” debt: short-term high-interest debt, like credit cards and car loans that show he’s living beyond his means and which he can’t realistically pay back? This is the kind of situation that could ultimately put a huge crimp in your lifestyle, serve as a source of tension and perhaps imperil your marriage. [Read more…]

Wedding cancelled; Jilted fiancé can get engagement ring back

There was a time when many states allowed a person to sue another person for breach of a promise to marry. This resulted in a lot of colorful lawsuits that provided for sensational trials and plenty of entertaining gossip in otherwise dull towns. The ability to bring such suits resulted in runaway verdicts and abuse, which is why so many states have adopted “heart balm” laws that forbid jilted suitors from bringing such cases.

But that doesn’t mean a heartbroken suitor has no recourse at all. If a recent Virginia case is any indication, a man who’s left at the altar can still sue to recover the engagement ring.

The case involved Ethan, an accountant who proposed to Julia in 2012. But the relationship went bad over the course of the next year and the engagement was called off. [Read more…]

Wife can share in ex-husband’s ‘post-employment compensation’

A divorced man could be ordered to share with his ex-wife a sum of money that he received from his employer after he stopped working, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has decided.

The husband, Richard Beverley “Bev” Corbin III, had started working with a division of megabank Wells Fargo in July 2006. He signed an agreement to work as an at-will employee for two years.  By June 2008, things started to go sour. By September 2008 he and the employer couldn’t come to an agreement about his continued employment, so he took part in Wells Fargo’s dispute resolution process, signed a departure agreement and release of any claims he might have against the company and was given a $175,000 lump sum payment.

Corbin and his wife Anne subsequently decided to divorce. During the divorce proceeding, a family court judge ruled that the $175,000 lump sum payment represented “back wages” that should be considered part of the marital estate and awarded 50 percent of it to Anne. [Read more…]

Prenups can be challenged if terms aren’t fair

Most people who are getting divorced assume that if they agreed to a prenuptial agreement before they got married they’re going to be stuck with its terms.

That’s generally the case, which is why if you’re being asked by your betrothed to sign a prenup, it’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer of your own beforehand and to make sure you speak to a family law attorney instead of a generalist who’s dabbling in divorce law.

Still, contrary to general belief prenups are not necessarily bulletproof. In fact, depending on the circumstances and where you live, a divorce court judge may be willing to toss a prenup aside if the terms are legitimately unfair. [Read more…]

Be sure to protect your privacy in a divorce

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably read stories about celebrity divorces, seen their dirty laundry aired in public and maybe even breathed a sigh of relief that you’re not in that boat. But even if you’re a relative nobody, your privacy can still be compromised during a divorce, causing you both emotional and financial harm.

That’s because a divorce is a legal proceeding, and in most states court documents are a matter of public record.

So how can you protect yourself? First, many states allow you to withhold certain highly confidential pieces of information from publicly searchable court documents. This includes Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, your mother’s maiden name and other types of information that can be used for identity theft and fraud purposes — or to gain access to other compromising information about you that you want to keep private. It’s a great idea to talk to a family law attorney where you live to see what kind of identifying information you can protect in court papers and how to do so. [Read more…]

Grandparent rights can be complicated, recent cases show

For grandparents fighting for the right to see their grandkids, a couple of cases out of Virginia suggest that it may be easier to hold onto visitation rights that a court has already granted then to go to court and secure them in the first place.

Take the case of Ohio couple Delmar and Susan Lang. Their son died a year after he and their daughter-in-law Melanie got divorced. The Langs’ relationship with Melanie soon fell apart and she tried to keep them from seeing their four grandchildren.

The Langs went to court and a Ohio judge granted them visitation. But Melanie moved to Virginia, where she registered the Ohio order and asked a Virginia court to modify it and strip the Langs of visitation rights. [Read more…]

Too much Pokemon Go? Parents battle over screen time

Divorced parents can battle over a lot of things, including child support, bedtimes, who gets the kids for Thanksgiving or Christmas, educational philosophy, religious observances and stepparents newly arrived on the scene.

Now there’s the issue of screen time. With the increasing pervasiveness of tablets and smart phones, particularly among the younger set, it’s as common to see kids glued to their iPhones or iPads as it is to see adults. But studies show that too much screen time isn’t great for kids. It impacts their attention span and their cognitive abilities, and they can easily become addicted.

So what happens when you want your kids’ screen time limited and your ex is perfectly happy to have them become technology zombies? [Read more…]

Issues to consider before relocating after a divorce

People move for a lot of reasons. Maybe you have an awesome career opportunity in a distant city or you either want to be closer to a new romantic interest or live in an area where you’ve got better odds of finding one. Perhaps you’re a city girl who’s sick of living in the sticks or a country boy who can’t stand the hassles of urban life. Maybe you want to be near the beach or really good skiing.

But whatever your reason for relocating might be, a big move can be a lot more complicated if you’re divorced with kids. If you’re in that boat, it’s important to be aware of certain issues that can arise and talk to a family law attorney about how best to address them.

The biggest issue to consider before relocating is how the move might affect your parenting plan. If you’re like a lot of divorced couples living in the same area you very likely share parenting time. Perhaps it’s joint custody split right down the middle where the kids spend half the week with you and half the week with your ex-spouse, or maybe your ex has the kids one night a week and every other weekend. If you’re moving, say, 250 miles away, your arrangement will no longer be feasible. In that case, your relocation will require modification of your custody agreement. [Read more…]

Do I have to show how I’ve spent my child-support payments?

The popular rap artist T.I. has had his share of run-ins with the law. But he’s also recently gone to court voluntarily to protect his own interests. When his ex-girlfriend, with whom he had two sons, sought to increase his child-support obligations from $2,000 to $3,000 a month, T.I. went to court to challenge this, arguing that she was spending the money on herself rather than on the kids. He demanded an accounting of how she was spending the money.

T.I. isn’t alone. Many non-custodial parents are suspicious about how the other parent is using their child-support payments and would like similar accountings. So are they entitled to it?

In many states, they’re not. But some states do make provisions for such accountings in particular circumstances. [Read more…]

Ex-wife can’t touch husband’s interest in ‘spendthrift trust’

An “irrevocable spendthrift trust” is a popular vehicle for parents to pass along wealth to their kids while protecting the trust’s assets from their kids’ worst instincts.

Here’s how it works. The parent sets up a trust and names the child or children as beneficiaries. The trust document also includes language stating that if one of the beneficiaries owes someone money, that creditor can’t touch the assets in the trust before they’ve been distributed. And the person named as “trustee” is in charge of these distributions.

Once a beneficiary has received a distribution from the trust, creditors can go after that money, but only money in excess of what the beneficiary needs to support him or herself. [Read more…]

Plan ahead for bringing a new spouse home from abroad

Traveling or working abroad can be very exciting. You get to experience new cultures, see new places and meet fascinating new people. In fact, you might just fall in love and decide you want to bring this special someone back to the U.S. and spend the rest of your lives together.

Congratulations and best wishes for a wonderful future! But remember that this could be a recipe for heartache and disappointment if you don’t follow some necessary steps along the way. That’s because returning to the U.S. with a non-citizen spouse isn’t necessarily as simple as you think and takes advance planning. Otherwise you may arrive in America ready to live as a family, only to have immigration officials block your spouse from coming in.

So what do you have to do? [Read more…]

Undoing your divorce: What happens when you have regrets?

A lot of times after a divorce agreement is finalized spouses may have misgivings. Not necessarily about being divorced, but about the divorce agreement itself. Hindsight is 20/20, and they might feel they got a raw deal and could have walked away with a lot more. So if you’re unhappy with your divorce agreement, can you undo it?

Generally the answer is “No.” In most states, courts won’t revisit judgments lightly.

Still, there are a few situations where a court may decide to give a divorce judgment a second look. [Read more…]

Courts expanding definition of ‘parent’ to recognize ‘de facto’ parenthood

Traditionally who was a parent was pretty clear-cut. If a child was yours biologically or if you adopted him or her, you were considered a parent. That would give you the right to seek custody and visitation if you and the other parent were no longer living in the same home.

But just as traditional notions of “family” have evolved in recent years, so have traditional notions of who a parent is. Two recent court decisions make this clear. Both decisions appear to recognize the idea of a “de facto” parent: a non-adoptive, non-biological caretaker who has earned parental status through the bond he or she has developed with a child and who deserves to be viewed on equal legal footing with the biological parent. And while both decisions involve same-sex couples, the reasoning behind them could extend to any non-adoptive, non-biological “parent.”

The first case is from Maryland and involved Michael Conover, a transgender man (a person who was born biologically female but identifies and lives as a male) who married a woman before undergoing gender transition. Before his transition, he and his wife, Brittany Conover, lived as a same-sex couple. [Read more…]

Moving out? Record your home on your smartphone

If you’re getting divorced and you’ll be moving out while your spouse stays in the house, it’s a good idea to use your smartphone to make a video record of the home at the time you left it.

For one thing, you might not be able to take everything that’s important to you with you at the time you move, especially if you’re going to a smaller place. And once you move out, you’ll have little control over the home’s maintenance and upkeep.

As a result, whether accidentally or on purpose, your spouse might throw out, destroy or sell belongings of yours that have significant monetary or sentimental value. Your spouse might also let the house fall into disrepair, or there might be some damage to the home, which could lower its value. [Read more…]

You’re splitting up – who keeps the engagement ring?

So it wasn’t “until death do us part” after all, but there’s still that dazzling engagement ring. He wants it back; she wants to keep it. Who wins?

As with many things in the law, it depends on the facts, and it also depends on the state.

In some states, such as California, accepting an engagement ring is usually viewed as a promise to marry someone. Once a woman has said “I do,” the promise has been fulfilled and it’s hers to keep, even if the couple later get divorced.

[Read more…]

Live-in partner is awarded partial custody of child

A mother’s live-in romantic partner who developed a strong relationship with her child can get partial custody of the child after their breakup, a Pennsylvania court recently decided.

The mother gave birth to the child in 2007 and quickly separated from the child’s father. She then began a relationship with a woman known as C.B.

C.B. became very involved in the child’s life, participating in his medical appointments, helping select his schools, and communicating with his teachers and doc- tors. The child also had a close relationship with C.B.’s extended family, referring to her father as “Pappy” and her siblings as “aunt” and “uncle.” C.B.’s family members babysat the child, and C.B.’s mother was the child’s emergency contact. [Read more…]

‘Buy-sell’ agreements should be reviewed by a family lawyer

It’s very common for small businesses to have “buy-sell” agreements. These say that if one owner leaves, dies, or gets divorced, the other owners can buy out that owner’s interest. The purpose is to make sure that if something happens to one owner, the other owners can continue to operate the  business without having an ex- spouse, child, or stranger as an unwanted partner.

If you have such an agreement or are thinking of signing one, it’s a very good idea to have it reviewed by a family law attorney. This is true if any of the owners might someday get divorced, even if you personally are unlikely to get divorced or aren’t even married.

Here’s why: Buy-sell agreements typically set a price at which the other owners can buy the owner’s shares, or a method for determining the price, such as book value, a multiple of current annual profits, an independent appraiser’s estimate, or a board valuation made in good faith.

[Read more…]

Modern love clouds end of alimony

Many divorce agreements say that a spouse can stop paying alimony if the other spouse remarries or begins living with a romantic partner. That sounds simple – but in today’s world, romantic relationships can be anything but simple. Sometimes, as on Facebook, the best way to describe a new relationship is “it’s complicated” and whether a spouse can stop paying alimony can be complicated, too.

Here are some examples:

* Steven and Lorraine Robitzski divorced in 2004, and Steven was ordered to pay Lorraine $2,500 a month in alimony, unless she cohabited with someone. Lorraine found a new boyfriend, and Steven went to court claiming that they were living together.

According to Steven, Lorraine and her new beau spent about 100 nights a year together, they held themselves out as a couple at family and social activities and on Facebook, and the couple’s children referred to the boyfriend as “Pap Thom.”

[Read more…]

Survivor’s benefit counts as a marital asset

When Courtney Carr got divorced, he had a right to a large military pension. He and his wife Beth agreed that he would elect a survivor’s benefit. This would give him a smaller pension payout, but if he died first, Beth would begin collecting $2,750/month as his survivor. An expert calculated that the present value of the survivor’s benefit was about $226,000.

The divorce judge decided that the couple’s assets should be split with 60% going to Beth and 40% going to Courtney (to reflect the fact that Courtney had more income potential). However, in splitting the assets 60% – 40%, the judge didn’t count the $226,000 value of the survivor’s benefit as an asset. [Read more…]

Future Social Security couldn’t be divided in divorce

A divorcing spouse’s future Social Security benefits can’t be divided at divorce, says the Illinois Supreme Court.

In this case, the husband was participating in a government pension plan in lieu of Social Security, and a judge divided up his future pension payments so that his wife would get a share. The husband responded by arguing that if the judge could split his future pension benefits, the judge should also split the wife’s future Social Security benefits. [Read more…]

Stepparent ordered to pay child support

In a very unusual case, a stepparent has been ordered to pay child support for two stepchildren.

The mother in this case was a lawyer who gave birth to twin boys in 1998. The biological father wasn’t a part of the boys’ life and never tried to claim custody. The mother married another man in 2005 and moved to Pennsylvania. The mother and the stepfather separated when the twins were 11 years old; they divorced two years later, but they informally shared custody while the divorce was pending. [Read more…]

Father must help pay for daughter’s car insurance

When Tom and Deirdre Fichter divorced, Tom was ordered to pay the amount required by the New Jersey child support guidelines for the couple’s daughter Megan.

Years later, Megan turned 16 and began driving. Deirdre went back to court and asked that Tom start contributing extra to cover the cost of adding Megan to her auto insurance policy.

Tom complained that he was already paying the guidelines amount, and it wasn’t fair to add an additional expense on top of that. [Read more…]

Reconciling with your ex might not undo your divorce

When Robert and Jamie Semulka got divorced, Robert agreed to pay Jamie $40,000 in installments. He also agreed to contribute to their children’s college education.

Two years after the divorce, the couple moved back in together. They stayed together for nearly a year before once again separating.

After the second separation, Robert refused to abide by the divorce agreement. He claimed that the couple’s reconciliation had nullified the divorce proceeding, and that by moving back in with him, Jamie had given up her right to enforce the agreement. [Read more…]

Be careful if you buy a house with someone before you remarry

A growing number of divorced people are buying a house with a new partner to whom they’re not yet married.

In some cases, the couple plan to marry, but as a result of the divorce and other complications, they’re not able to arrange wedding bells as quickly as they would like. In other cases, people get into a new, serious relationship, but they’ve just come from a bad experience and are cautious about re-tying the knot.

Sometimes, a person simply moves into a new partner’s house and becomes a co-owner. [Read more…]

Child support increased by inheritance, wealthy stepparent

The amount of child support a parent has to pay is usually determined by his or her income, but two new cases from Pennsylvania show that other sources of wealth – such as receiving an inheritance or marrying someone rich – can have an effect.

In one case, a police officer who was originally ordered to pay $1,458 a month to support his three small children was later ordered to pay $2,267 a month, after a judge took into account the fact that he had received a $600,000 inheritance.

The man argued that the inheritance wasn’t “income.” The court said this was true, but the money could be invested so as to produce income, and this could be counted in determining how much child support he had to pay. [Read more…]

Same-sex couples should consider prenups

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country, a lot of gay couples who have lived together for many years are getting married. And while every engaged couple should at least give some thought to a prenuptial agreement, it’s even more important for same-sex couples in this situation.

Here’s why: When a couple gets divorced, and a judge divides their property, the judge will usually take into account the length of the marriage. A judge is more likely to divvy up assets that were acquired during the marriage than assets that a spouse owned before the wedding. [Read more…]

Wife doesn’t refinance home; husband forces her to sell

It’s common for one spouse in a divorce to keep the couple’s home and assume the mortgage. Typically, the spouse keeping the home will refinance the mortgage in order to remove the other spouse’s name, so the other spouse isn’t jointly responsible for the debt.

But what happens if the spouse fails to refinance?

This happened in a recent case in New Jersey. An ex-wife was awarded the couple’s home with the understanding that she would refinance it within nine months. She failed to do so – and then made several late mortgage payments. [Read more…]

Husband could renege on promise to pay grown kids’ rent

A divorcing couple in New York signed an agreement saying that the husband would pay their two adult children $1,900 apiece each month to help cover their rent, until they turned 30 or began living with a significant other. The parents made this agreement because they thought it would help keep them on good terms with each other and make their divorce less contentious.

Later, the husband broke his promise – he gave each child a $10,000 lump sum and told them they had nothing else coming. The wife then went to court to enforce the deal. [Read more…]

Mother can’t stop child from calling stepmother ‘Mom’

It’s natural for parents to be concerned about a child’s relationship with a stepparent. Of course, parents most often worry that a stepparent will have a negative influence on a child’s life. But some parents worry that a stepparent will have too positive a relationship with a child, and as a result, will undermine their own relationship and authority.

This happened recently in New Jersey, where a child named Daniel developed a positive relationship with a woman named Lori after his father moved in with Lori and her three children. Lori, who had experience as a tutor, helped Daniel with his homework and generally looked after him while his father was away. Eventually, Daniel started calling her “Mom,” which is what Lori’s own children called her. The father began consulting with Lori on any important child-rearing issues. [Read more…]

More spouses are living together while they’re divorcing – is this wise?

The first step in a divorce is usually for one member of the couple to “walk out.” But increasingly, divorcing spouses aren’t walking out at all – they’re staying put. In fact, it’s been estimated that as many as one-half of all separating couples today live together in the midst of their divorce proceedings. And some couples even live together temporarily after they’re officially divorced.

Here’s a look at some of the reasons for this trend, as well as the potential drawbacks.

The biggest reason for living together during divorce is economic – these are tough times for many people, and it can be difficult to suddenly have to afford two separate households, with separate payments for rent, mortgage, utilities, groceries, and other household expenses. Many couples decide to keep living together for a while so they’ll have time to save up for when they have to start financially separate lives. [Read more…]

Living rent-free didn’t increase child support payments

Even though a woman was living with her mother and got free room and board, the value of what she received wasn’t “income” in deciding how much child support she had to pay, the Virginia Court of Appeals recently decided.

The husband had primary custody of the couple’s children, while the wife paid support. The husband argued that the wife was effectively saving $1,200 a month by living with her mother, based on what she was paying in living expenses before she moved in with her. He argued that this $1,200 should be added to her “income” in calculating her child support bill.

But the court said that the wife’s rent-free living arrangement wasn’t “income” unless she was receiving it in exchange for providing services to the mother, which apparently wasn’t the case. [Read more…]

Couple weren’t ‘separated’ if they still lived together

A wife decided that her marriage was over in 2006, but she didn’t actually move out of the house she shared with her husband until 2011. So does she have to share the assets she acquired between 2006 and 2011 with her husband?

Yes, according to the California Supreme Court.

This is an important issue, because many couples continue to live together for some time after their marriage is effectively over. They may do this to minimize the impact of a separation on the children, or because they’re not ready to announce to the world that their marriage has ended. Often, the reason is economic – one spouse simply can’t afford to move out. [Read more…]

Facebook page becomes weapon in custody battle

Social media sites are among the latest weapons that spouses are using to gain leverage in divorce and custody battles. A recent case from New York illustrates how.

A father who was fighting for custody of a four-year-old boy went to court with details from his wife’s Facebook page. The page was full of photos and status updates showing her sightseeing in Italy and eating seafood in Boston, which the father used to claim that she was frequently traveling out-of-state while he was busy raising their son.

The mother objected, arguing that the court shouldn’t be able to look at the profile because she kept it private and because she had “unfriended” her husband before they separated. [Read more…]

Child stays in daycare, not with family members

Some people might assume that it’s always better for a small child to be raised by family members, such as grandparents, rather than being in daycare. But a Pennsylvania appeals court recently awarded custody to a father, even though it meant the child would spend a lot of time in daycare instead of with the mother’s parents.

In this case, the wife’s parents lived in the couple’s home. When the couple had a child, the wife’s mother became the primary caretaker.

Conflict soon broke out over the wife’s parents’ alleged attempt to keep the husband from bonding with his new child. As a result, the couple agreed that the grandparents would move out, and they did. [Read more…]

Spendthrift trust is divided at divorce

A “spendthrift trust” is a trust that is set up to provide children or others with income while protecting them from potentially poor spending decisions. The donor who creates the trust gives a trustee – often a family member, lawyer or financial advisor – authority to decide how often to distribute the trust assets, usually with some guidelines from the donor as to acceptable uses of the money.

Spendthrift trusts protect the beneficiaries from impulsively wasting the assets. They can also protect beneficiaries by making it harder for creditors to collect the assets if a beneficiary has a business failure, lawsuit, or divorce.

But while a spendthrift trust can often protect assets in a divorce, it isn’t always foolproof, as a recent Massachusetts case shows. [Read more…]

School bus must go to both parents’ homes

A school bus must pick up and drop off children at both of their divorced parents’ homes, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently decided.

In this case, the father and mother shared legal custody of their daughter, alternating on a weekly basis.

Until 2010, the school district had provided bus transportation to both homes. But that year, in order to cut costs, the district announced that it would only bus students to one location. As a result, the school would only bus the girl to and from her mother’s home, since her mother’s address was listed on the school paperwork. [Read more…]

More grandparents seek visitation

It’s natural for grandparents to want to be a part of their grandchildren’s lives. But in some families, hard feelings can develop, and one or both parents may decide to exclude grandparents from seeing the children. Do grandparents have a right to go to court and demand “visitation”?

That’s a very difficult question, and the answer depends a great deal on the state where everyone lives and particularly on the specific family circumstances. But it’s a question that’s coming up more and more often, as grandparents – and in some cases, other family members – try to use the court system to gain visiting rights.

This issue frequently arises where there has been a divorce, and the parent who gets custody wants to limit the children’s exposure to the other parent’s family. The issue can also come up when one parent passes away, and the surviving parent doesn’t get along with his or her in-laws. [Read more…]

Husband’s increased pension may end alimony

When Michael and Kathleen Krupinski divorced back in 1990, a court awarded Kathleen one-third of Michael’s eventual pension benefits as a public school teacher, once he retired and began receiving the payments. Michael was also ordered to pay Kathleen $100 a week in alimony.

Michael continued his education after the divorce, and ultimately became a school administrator, which significantly upped his salary and the value of his pension. By the time he retired in 2010, he was making almost three times the salary he’d been making as a teacher at the time of the divorce, and he started receiving much higher pension payments than he otherwise would have.

Because of this, Michael went back to court and asked to have his alimony obligation terminated, in light of the fact that the increase in his wife’s one-third share of his pension more than made up for it. [Read more…]

Shared custody more important than short trip to school

When a Pennsylvania couple divorced, they were given shared custody of their son. Sometime later, the father moved to a new community 11 miles away. As a result, when the son was staying with the father, he had a longer trip to school. (The couple disagreed about how much longer the commute was, but it was arguably up to 40 minutes.)

The mother went to court and argued that she should be given primary custody because the longer commute was disruptive, and prevented the child from developing stable roots and routines. A judge agreed with her. But the father appealed. [Read more…]

College tuition conditioned on family counseling

A father who has an estranged relationship with his teenage son can refuse to contribute to the son’s college expenses unless the son agrees to participate in family counseling, according to a New Jersey court.

The father and mother had divorced years earlier, and the divorce agreement said that both parents would contribute to the children’s college expenses based on their ability to pay at the time the children were ready for college.

After the divorce, the father’s relationship with the oldest child soured. The father wanted to make things better, but the son refused to speak to him. [Read more…]

Be careful with personal injury claims at divorce

If you’ve been injured recently, and have filed (or are thinking of filing) a personal injury lawsuit – but you have also filed (or are thinking of filing) for divorce – it’s extremely important to coordinate the two types of claims.

That’s because the way the personal injury lawsuit is handled could have a big effect on how much of the proceeds you’ll have to share with your spouse in the divorce proceedings.

At a minimum, you should be sure to tell your personal injury lawyer all about the divorce, and tell your divorce lawyer all about the personal injury claim. [Read more…]

Redo your beneficiary designations if you remarry

We’ve often reminded people that it’s important to update all your beneficiary designations after you get divorced – including wills, life insurance policies, bank and brokerage accounts, retirement plans, and so on.

One thing that gets less attention, but is also very important, is to change your beneficiary designations again if you remarry. Failing to do so can create problems if something should happen to you unexpectedly.

For instance, a New Jersey man named Michael Fox bought a $100,000 life insurance policy in 1992 and named his wife as the beneficiary. After he got divorced, he changed the beneficiary designation, naming his sister instead. [Read more…]

Remarrying? Always consider a prenup

People who are remarrying after a death or divorce should almost always strongly consider having a prenuptial agreement.

When prenup agreements first became popular a generation ago, most people thought of them as a way for wealthy people to protect themselves in case they were marrying a gold digger. Today, however, prenups don’t have the same connotation. They’re often used as a straightforward financial and estate planning tool, especially by mature couples who are entering into a second marriage.

The number one reason that people enter into prenups when they begin a second marriage is that they have children from their first marriage, and they want to make sure the children will be well provided for in case they get divorced or in case they die before their new spouse. [Read more…]

Woman who lived with male tenant wasn’t ‘cohabiting’

Many divorce agreements say that a spouse can stop paying alimony if the other spouse begins “cohabiting” with someone of the opposite sex who financially supports them.

A colorful case in Florida involved a divorced woman who owned a two-bedroom townhouse. To help make ends meet, she took on a male tenant who paid her $400/month in rent. [Read more…]

Which spouse should get the house?

Aside from child custody, the most emotionally charged issue in a divorce is often who gets to keep the house. For most couples, a house is their most valuable asset, and it has an enormous symbolic value as well.

Sometimes the best plan is to try to keep the house. But not always. For many divorcing spouses, it’s smarter overall to allow the other spouse to keep the home (and the mortgage), and receive other assets instead. And some couples are better off if they jointly sell their home.

Here are some things to consider: [Read more…]

Alimony must be based on spouse’s ability to pay

Even though an ex-husband was earning far more money than his wife and the wife needed more money to get by, a divorce judge couldn’t order alimony if the ex-husband couldn’t reasonably afford it.

That’s the word from the Florida Court of Appeals.

In this case, Matthew Mills and his wife Tracey – who had one child – ran up significant debt during their marriage. When they decided to divorce, they were each in difficult financial straits and had debts greater than their incomes.

In addition to determining custody of the child, the divorce judge ordered Matthew to pay alimony, based on the fact that he had a much higher income than Tracey and that she had a need for it. [Read more…]

‘Legal’ marijuana could still hurt your custody case

Colorado, Washington and a few other states have now legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and many others have decriminalized it or approved it for medical purposes.

But just because someone is possessing, smoking or growing pot in a place where it won’t cause them to go to jail doesn’t mean there aren’t other legal consequences. Marijuana use can still be a big issue in a child custody case.

Regardless of whether marijuana smoking is a crime, judges still consider what’s in the best interests of a child when deciding on custody and visitation. [Read more…]

Parents often fight over children’s last names

Couples who are separating sometimes fight over what their children’s last names should be. As a general rule, the answer is whatever is in the children’s best interests. But deciding what those interests are isn’t always easy.

For instance, when New Jersey dad Paul Emma looked through his children’s school records, he was surprised to discover that his ex-wife, Jessica Evans – who had primary custody – had changed their last name from “Emma” to “Evans-Emma.”

He took the case to court, trying to undo the name change. Evans retaliated by asking a judge to change the children’s last name again, this time to simply “Evans.”

The judge ruled that since Jessica had primary custody, it should be assumed that whatever name she chose was in the children’s best interests. [Read more…]

States crack down on ‘re-homing’ of adopted children

A number of states are now cracking down on the practice whereby parents who have adopted children and then are unable to take care of them place them privately with another family.

No one knows how common this is, because there are no statistics. But it’s been known to happen, especially in cases where the child is from a difficult background in another country or has been mistreated by birth parents or at an orphanage. Such children may develop attachment issues and may act out, become violent, or have serious health or emotional problems. In desperation, parents sometimes try to find the child a different home.

The problem is that such private “re-homing” is unregulated, and the new parents are not subject to background checks or other safeguards. People who accept re-homed children may be pedophiles or may be unsuitable in other ways. [Read more…]