DV in NJ: Re-thinking Permanency of Restraints and Examining Newer Causes of Action

The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) (N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 et seq . ) provides two forms of relief to a victim of domestic violence: (1) civil relief, by obtaining a restraining order; and (2) criminal relief, by which a victim may file a criminal complaint. Here, we take a closer look at the civil side—the Final Restraining Order.

A restraining order is an order issued by the court pursuant to a complaint under the PDVA to protect a victim of domestic violence. Upon a finding at a hearing that an act of domestic violence occurred, the judge will determine whether to issue a Final Restraining Order (FRO) and what types of additional relief will be granted. An FRO is issued upon a showing that the victim was subjected to domestic violence by someone with whom the victim has a domestic relationship as defined by the PDVA. The victim must prove that a predicate act of domestic violence occurred and a restraining order is necessary to protect the victim from immediate danger or future acts of domestic violence. The standard of proof at a FRO hearing (“preponderance of evidence”) is lower than that required in a criminal trial (“beyond a reasonable doubt”), even though the sanctions for violating a FRO are criminal sanctions. MORE

Advertisements

Cohabitation Facts To Consider – Part 2

By Valerie Jules McCarthy, Esq.
vmccarthy@pashmanstein.com

Prior to the enactment of the alimony statute,  N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n), New Jersey Courts relied on the standards set by previous case precedent to determine whether a party was cohabiting and its impact on alimony.  Essentially, the new statute consolidates many of the standards developed in prior case law to simplify the inquiry as to whether a particular romantic relationship amounts to cohabitation.

The New Jersey Legislature defines cohabitation as a “mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or civil union.” To further assist in determining whether a relationship fits the above definition, the new legislation identifies eight factors for Courts to consider in determining whether cohabitation is occurring:

  1. Intermingled finances, such as joint bank accounts and other joint holdings or liabilities;
  2. Shared or joint responsibility for living expenses;
  3. Recognition of the relationship in the couple’s family and social circle;
  4. Living together, the frequency of contact, the duration of the relationship, and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship;
  5. Shared household chores;
  6. Whether the alimony recipient has received an enforceable promise of support from another individual within the meaning of subsection h. of R.S.25:1-5;
  7. The relationship’s length; and
  8. Any additional relevant evidence.

If you are paying alimony, after reviewing these factors, you may come away thinking, “How in the world am I supposed to prove most of these factors?  I have no idea if my ex-spouse shares a bank account or household chores with his or her significant other.”  Don’t fret, because if you believe that your ex-spouse is cohabiting, you only have to provide the Court with evidence that, at first appearance, suggests cohabitation.  This can come in the form of showing that your former spouse is spending most nights at the home of his or her significant other. In the legal field, this is called making a “prima facie” case. Once you have successfully done so, you will be given the opportunity to obtain discovery from your ex-spouse.  This discovery includes obtaining bank records, proof of living expenses, taking depositions of your ex-spouse, and other witnesses to determine the true extent of the relationship. It is in the discovery stage that you will be able to obtain the information to prove the foregoing factors.

If you are in a serious relationship and receive alimony, you should look closely at the eight factors and determine if any of them apply to you.  If you find that any of the above factors are applicable, your romantic relationship may have an impact on your entitlement to alimony.

Whether you are receiving or paying alimony, the issue of cohabitation can be tricky, as it is fact-sensitive and often not clear cut. You should contact an attorney to assist you in determining whether or not your current living arrangement or your spouse’s relationship may have an impact on your entitlement to alimony or your responsibility to pay alimony.

 

Cohabitation Facts To Consider – Part 1

By Valerie Jules McCarthy, Esq.
vmccarthy@pashmanstein.com

It is becoming more and more common for couples to cohabitate; that is, live together, in a relationship without the bond of marriage.  Many couples find this arrangement to be a great way to “test the waters” before jumping into marriage.

If you are divorced, receiving alimony from a former spouse and are thinking about “testing those waters,” you should read this article carefully, because your romantic life may have a significant impact on your financial future.  If you are paying alimony, you should be aware of the changes to the law, as they may impact your obligation to continue to pay alimony.

Most divorcees are aware that if they receive or pay alimony, the obligation will automatically terminate if the recipient remarries (in most cases).  Many divorcees also know that if the recipient of alimony lives with their significant other, it may impact alimony.  The new alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n) enacted on September 10, 2014 provides clarification to help Courts and practitioners to determine if a party is cohabiting.

A noteworthy addition to the law regarding cohabitation is the Legislature‘s overt recognition that some couples may be cohabitating without living together full-time. The new statute specifically states that a Judge cannot find the absence of cohabitation based on “grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis.” This language certainly changes the game, as many people may have believed that if a couple was maintaining two separate households, that factor would carry the day in defining whether or not cohabitation was occurring. The moral of the story is that a person may be deemed to be cohabiting even if he/she maintains a separate residence from their significant other.

Holiday Parenting Time: Tips to Survive the Holidays During a Divorce

By Valerie Jules McCarthy, Esq.
vmccarthy@pashmanstein.com

The holiday season brings a mixed bag of emotions.  Some people find it to be a time when they can slow down the normally hectic pace of everyday life, take a vacation, spend time with family, make great memories and enjoy traditions. Others find the holidays to be a time when stress is at its peak, as the holiday season often brings unwelcome guests, an exhausting list of demands; including shopping, parties, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. No matter which camp you may belong to, going through a divorce will probably put a damper on the holiday season.

In New Jersey, when couples with children decide to divorce, one of the first issues which must be addressed is custody of their children, at least on a temporary basis until the divorce is finalized. After the parents agree or the Court makes a determination on custody of the child(ren), parenting time and visitation will also need to be determined. In some cases, parents reach a suitable agreement without having to battle it out in court. However, in other instances, a Judge must determine parenting time.

Among the many obstacles parents must overcome when going through a divorce, one of the more difficult challenges is often figuring out how to share time with their children during the holidays. This is particularly difficult if parents have spent years creating holiday traditions and routines, which have to be abandoned or modified when parents no longer live in the same household.   This challenge often leads people to overlook or ignore the issue until the last minute.  However, doing so can lead to even more stress and costly litigation.

As attorneys who practice family law know, the holiday season can be one of the busiest times in the profession. This surge in litigation is often due to last-minute disputes regarding holiday parenting time with children.  In 2013, I had to participate in a telephonic hearing on Christmas Eve to address Christmas Day parenting time for one of my clients.  This type of nail biting suspense is great at the movies, but created an extremely difficult and unpleasant experience for my client, who had to wait until Christmas Eve to find out if she would be able to spend time with her children on Christmas Day.

Unfortunately, these situations occur every year during the holidays, and make it very difficult for parents to plan activities and enjoy the holiday season with their children.   However, proper planning and communication can alleviate these issues and allow people to enjoy the holidays (as much as possible, given the circumstances). Here are my four tips on surviving, and even possibly enjoying, the holidays with your children during the divorce process:

1- Think Ahead-Discuss & Create A Holiday Time-Sharing Schedule With Your Spouse

People often wait until the last minute to make holiday plans.  We are all guilty of procrastination.  But, if you are going through a divorce, you no longer have this luxury. When parents reside in two different households, they must share time with the children and cannot simply make unilateral plans, as they may have done when the family was intact.

Many divorcing couples make the mistake of addressing their general time sharing arrangement when they commence the divorce process, but ignore the holidays, especially when holidays are relatively remote. I recommend that parents address holiday parenting time early in the divorce process, in conjunction with addressing their general parenting plan.  Failing to do so may result in one party enjoying the bulk of the holidays if there is only one general schedule in place.  This scenario leads to last-minute litigation.

If, after discussing holiday parenting time, the parents are unable to agree on a schedule, at least they will still have plenty of time to address the issue.  Parties can seek the assistance of counsel to negotiate a settlement or the assistance of a mediator to resolve these disputes.  If all else fails, they can file an application with the Court and request that a Judge make a final decision.

2- The Child(ren)’s Needs Come First

It is understandable that parents want to spend every holiday with their children; however, the holidays should not become a battleground.  When deciding how to share holiday parenting time, the children’s needs should be the first consideration.  If a parent has extended family coming to visit or a special event has been planned for the holiday, these scenarios should be taken into consideration when determining the holiday parenting time schedule. Placing the children’s needs above the parents’ desires may simplify the task of preparing a holiday time-sharing schedule.

3- Be Flexible and Don’t Focus on the Day

Which parent celebrates Christmas Day and Thanksgiving with the children seems to cause a lot of problems.  It is often recommended by family law practitioners that parties alternate holidays each year; for example, one parent will have Christmas in odd years and the other in even years.  However, the issue of who celebrates a particular holiday with the children during the first year is always a problem.

It may be helpful to view holidays as a season, rather than a particular day.  If there is a dispute over who enjoys Christmas with the children, think about celebrating Christmas (or any holiday) on a different day with your children. Family and traditions make Christmas special, not December 25th.  Once you are divorced, it is likely you will not spend every holiday with your child(ren) every year anyway; therefore, it is beneficial for you to plan ahead and develop alternate ways to celebrate the traditional holidays on different days.  Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas holidays often coincide with school recess, so there is ample opportunity to celebrate each holiday on a different day with your children.

4- Memorialize a Holiday Time-Sharing Schedule

Once a holiday time-sharing schedule has been agreed upon, it is important to memorialize it in a written agreement or consent order.  If the divorce is mutual and unhostile, it may seem tempting to ignore this tip, but I highly recommend that you do not do so.  Placing the schedule in writing will avoid misunderstandings and will prevent one parent from reneging on the previously agreed-upon schedule out of spite or animus later in the litigation, not to mention saving both parties counsel fees and costs incurred to re-address parenting time in the absence of a written agreement.

Holidays can be a stressful time for “intact” families.  For families going through a divorce or custody dispute, holiday stress can become intolerable.  Consulting a family law attorney to discuss the specifics of a situation can avoid adding additional stress to the holidays. We hope to hear from you so that we may help alleviate your anxiety during the divorce process and assist you in ensuring that you and your children enjoy the holidays.

If you have any further questions on this topic, please email Valerie at vmccarthy@pashmanstein.com.

.

 

The End of Palimony?

Palimony
Palimony

Palimony is financial support paid from one unmarried cohabitant to another. It was first recognized as a cause of action in New Jersey in 1979, when our  state Supreme Court decided the seminal case of Kozlowski v. Kazlowski, 80 N.J. 378 (1979). In that case, and until recently, the courts have interpreted palimony to include a wide variety of cohabitation agreements to provide future support and division of property as valid and enforceable contracts. The courts have also been willing to find enforceable agreements whether oral or memorialized in writing.

The development of palimony in New Jersey following Kozlowski further broadened the scope of such agreements. In 2002, the court decided In the Matter of the Estate of Roccamonte, 174 N.J. 381 (2002). In that case, the court found that, “marital type relationships between unmarried persons” may reasonably include an enforceable “promise by one to support another.” The court noted that such a promise would sustain a valid claim for palimony, whether express or implied, because “parties entering this type of relationship usually do not record their understanding in specific legalese.” Continue reading “The End of Palimony?”

Isn’t Cohabitation Hard to Prove?

Cohabitation with a paramour may be a basis for modifying or even terminating alimony.  So it stands to reason that the spouse receiving alimony may try to hide from the spouse paying alimony that s/he is cohabitating with an unrelated adult.  Post office boxes and false addresses may even be used to thwart discovery of the truth, which can make it very difficult for the payor spouse to piece the proofs needed to prove cohabitation. 

Luckily for the payor spouse, s/he does not have to provide all cohabitation proofs right away.  Initially, the payor spouse needs to present to the Court only sufficient information to convince the Court that more in-depth discovery is warranted.  Then, the paying spouse will be granted the ability to use the force of the Court to compel production of the information necessary to prove or disprove cohabitation by the former spouse.  At the end, a modification or even a termination of support may be warranted.

Assets Purchased By One Party During Cohabitation Prior to Marriage

Often during a divorce, assets purchased by one party during cohabitation prior to marriage are considered marital assets.  But this is not always the case.  Courts need to review the facts surrounding the parties’ relationship.  Questions must be asked, such as: Was the asset purchased as part of a shared enterprise leading to the marriage?  Was the asset purchased as a regular part of the purchaser’s lifestyle and had nothing to do with the plans for a shared life (ie., adding to a comic book collection)?  Did the non-purchaser then act in reliance of an expectation that [s]he would have an interest in that asset?

Additional factors also come into play.  For instance, at the time of divorce, did the non- Continue reading “Assets Purchased By One Party During Cohabitation Prior to Marriage”

Living Together Before the Marriage

The length of the marriage, beginning with the date of the marriage,  is one of the key factors a court looks at when it decides the length of alimony  (in terms of years).  However, the period of cohabitation prior to the marriage can be added as a factor for the court to consider when deciding alimony.   The above may occur if the spouse seeking alimony was financially dependent upon the other  during that period of cohabitation.  McGee v. McGee, 277 N.J. Super. 1, 14 App.Div.1994)