For years divorcing couples have heard that New Jersey courts do not consider fault when it comes to determining whether alimony should be awarded. This is true. In most cases marital fault is irrelevant to a determination of alimony. However, as the New Jersey Supreme Court stated in the case of Mani v. Mani, 183 N.J. 70 (2005), in a case where the spouse claiming the right to alimony engages in fault which affects the parties’ economic life, the fault may be considered in the calculation of alimony. As well, where the marital fault is so egregious that it violates societal norms alimony that would otherwise have been awarded may be denied in its entirety.

Facts of the Mani Case

The Mani’s were married in 1973 and over the course of their marriage they enjoyed a high standard of living, financed almost entirely by income from the wife’s father’s business and investments. As the marriage progressed Mr. Mani not only dropped out of full-time work, but when the parties retired he began to have an affair with the couples’ mutual friend. Mrs. Mani soon filed for divorce, and because the parties couldn’t settle their case a trial took place.

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The question often arises whether a stepparent has any responsibility to pay child support for their stepchildren. The general rule is that a stepparent has no duty to pay child support for their stepchildren. However, practically speaking, if your stepchildren do not reside in your home, i.e., if you and your spouse or partner do not have residential custody of your stepchildren, then income that would otherwise be devoted to your household is being paid out to the parent of primary residence. It should be made clear that the income that is being paid out, and upon which child support is being calculated is solely your spouse’s or partner’s income. For example, if you make $75,000 a year and your spouse or partner makes $50,000 a year for child support guideline purposes your household income is $50,000 a year. Continue reading →

The New Jersey courts use different standards to determine initial custody awards versus requests for changes to an established custody order.

Initial Custody Awards

When two parents have not been to court previously to decide who is the parent of primary residence (PPR) and who is the parent of alternate residence (PAR) the court has to make an initial determination of custody. New Jersey Statute section 9:2-4 empowers the court to make that initial decision. In order to make a custody decision the court considers the following factors:

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The answer to this question is “NO” if the custodial parent shares joint legal custody with the non-custodial parent. The case that deals with what the custodial parent has to show the court to be able to move from New Jersey with the children is Baures v. Lewis, 167 N.J. 91 (2001).

Relevant Facts of the Baures Case

In the Baures case the mother, a Wisconsin native, wanted to relocate from New Jersey back to Wisconsin with the parties developmentally disabled child. The father, who was an Iowa native, wanted the child to remain in New Jersey. After a hearing the trial judge denied the mother’s relocation application.

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The question above was answered “YES” in the case of Schulze  v. Morris, 361 N.J. Super 419 (2003).

Relevant Case Facts

The Schulze case involved a dispute between divorced New Jersey parents as to where their child would reside post-divorce. The parties resided in Middlesex County during their marriage, and they had one child. When they divorced in 1998 their settlement agreement provided that they would share joint legal custody of their son, and the child’s mother would be the parent of primary residence. At the time of the divorce the parties were aware that the child’s father would be leaving New Jersey to further his education. They agreed on a parenting plan that covered his parenting time prior to his departure, and during his time out of state. They also agreed that upon his return to New Jersey the father’s parenting time with the child would be renegotiated. Their agreement further provided that if the parties could not amicably resolve the parenting time issue upon the fathers return that either party could apply to the Court to determine the parenting time schedule.

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Unpaid Taxes, Un-filed Taxes, and Outstanding Tax Obligations

One of the ticking time bombs that can explode after a divorce is finalized is the issue of unpaid or unfiled joint or individual taxes. If you and your spouse file joint taxes during the marriage and you have any concern that your spouse may have underreported their income, or that they may have any outstanding tax liabilities you should protect yourself in the settlement agreement with language which indemnifies you from any action brought by a taxing authority against you. This situation arises often times when one spouse owns a small business and their record-keeping, reporting, and payment has been sub-par. It also occurs when one spouse is in the habit of paying taxes on an installment basis during the course of the marriage. A similar situation arises when spouses file jointly and there is a joint tax obligation outstanding. A post-divorce tax audit can also lead to an assessment of penalties and interest. In all of these situations allocation has to be made as to who will pay the taxes (including any penalties and interest) to the taxing authorities.

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While the general rule is that your spouse’s individual debt does not become your debt just because you’re married, in the case of medical bills there are situations where one spouse may be liable for the other spouse’s medical debt. The medical debt exception arises from the common law rule in New Jersey that a husband should be held liable to a third-party who furnishes “necessary” goods or services to his wife. Originally the duty was owed from a husband to a third-party provider. However as women began to attain relative economic parity with men the duty of support became reciprocal. With respect to outstanding medical bills the court does not simply make a wife liable for her husband’s medical debt and vice versa.  In order to successfully seek or obtain payment of one spouse’s medical debt by the other a medical creditor has to demonstrate a particular set of circumstances, which are set out below:

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In a typical New Jersey case a parent cannot be forced by the court, or the other parent, to contribute to the cost of a private school education. However, if the parents combined net incomes are above the child support guidelines cut off contribution to private school costs will usually be ordered.

Parental Incomes Above Child Support Guidelines Cut-Off

The New Jersey child support guidelines only cover situations where the parents combined net incomes are equal to or less than $3600 per week ($187,200 per year). It should be emphasized that the income cut off is a net income cut off, meaning an after-tax, after worksheet deduction, income. If the parents combined net incomes are $3600 per week or less the child support worksheet should be utilized. If the parents combined net incomes are more than $3600 per week the child support guidelines worksheet should be used to calculate the child support at the $3600 per week income number. The court can then fashion other appropriate support, on top of the basic guideline support, for any combined parental income above $3600 per week. It is this other appropriate support on top of the worksheet support that can be used to pay private school expenses. An example may help illustrate the concept. Continue reading →

When a parent consistently violates an established parenting time order there are numerous remedies that a New Jersey court can order to sanction the violator.

New Jersey Court Rule 5:3-7(a) Additional Remedies on Violation of Orders Relating To Parenting Time, Alimony, Support or Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

Rule 5:3-7(a) lists numerous sanctions which the court can impose on a parent who violates a custody or parenting time order. The possible sanctions include: compensatory time with the children; economic sanctions for costs incurred by the non-violator parent due to the other parent’s custody or parenting time violation; modification of the existing transportation (pick up/drop off arrangements) – including changing the exchange location to a public place; ordering counseling for either or both of the parties and/or the children at the expense of the violator; ordering a temporary or permanent modification of the parenting time and custodial arrangement if under the circumstances this relief is in the best interests of the children; ordering the violator to participate in a community service program; incarceration of the violator with or without work-release; issuance of a warrant to be executed if the violator persists in failing to comply with court orders; any other appropriate equitable remedy.

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The marital standard of living is the template for the parties post-divorce lifestyle. Alimony is paid from one party to the other to attempt to maintain this marital standard of living post-divorce. The key document in establishing the marital standard of living is the Family Part Case Information Statement (CIS). The CIS is a nine page financial statement which details the income, assets and liabilities of both parties. The key pages which establish the marital standard of living are pages 5 and 6. Page 5 deals with marital shelter expenses, and transportation expenses. Page 6 deals with personal expenses. All expenses are calculated on a monthly basis. The cumulative sum of the expenses on Pages 5 and 6 of the CIS represents the marital standard of living. The difference between the supported spouse’s income and their post-divorce needs, to maintain the marital standard of living, is the amount that should be made up with alimony. The CIS has two columns. One column reflects the marital standard of living the second column reflects the post marital standard of living. Continue reading →