Family Law

Slavitt & Cowen, A Professional Corporation practices family law, which involves the legal aspects of the relationships between husbands and wives, as well as other family relationships, including domestic partnerships. The interrelationship and complexity of family life and its legal aspects brings to bear other areas of law such as constitutional law, contract law, and property law, within the practice of family law. Slavitt & Cowen, A Professional Corporation represents clients in a variety of family law issues, including divorce, separation, and annulment; child custody; child and spousal support; visitation and issues relating to parenting time; paternity; and marital property rights.

When most people think of family law, the first thing that comes to mind is divorce. However, individuals with sizable incomes or assets may require a wide range of family law services, including pre- and post-nuptial agreements. We also offer services relating to domestic violence matters, adoption, custody and support issues relating to parental relocations, and juvenile dependency and delinquency.

When appropriate and with the goal of reducing the stress associated with family law matters, the attorneys at Slavitt & Cowen, A Professional Corporation will seek to resolve issues through mediation, in order to facilitate a successful outcome reached through consensus and resolution. However, recognizing that negotiations can stall, thereby making mediation no longer an option, Slavitt & Cowen, A Professional Corporation's experienced litigators offer zealous, respectful advocacy on behalf of the client for an optimal settlement or trial outcome, if necessary.

If you have questions about a divorce matter, including child custody or support obligations, or with any other issue arising from a family relationship, please contact Slavitt & Cowen, A Professional Corporation at 973-622-6418 for a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What are the grounds for divorce in New Jersey?

New Jersey recognizes "fault-based" divorce, in which a specific reason must be offered for obtaining a dissolution of the marriage. Among the grounds specified by law are: irreconcilable  differences, extreme cruelty, adultery, desertion, addiction, institutionalization, imprisonment, and deviant sexual conduct.

New Jersey also provides for no-fault divorce. In order to qualify for a divorce based on no-fault separation, the parties have to live separately in different residences for at least 18 months without a reasonable expectation of reconciliation.

In order to file for divorce, one of the parties must be a resident of the state for at least one year prior to filing the marriage dissolution petition. An exception to the one-year requirement exists for divorce sought on the grounds of adultery, in which the residency requirement is that either spouse must be a resident of New Jersey.

What is the difference between an annulment and a divorce proceeding?

An annulment proceeding is instituted for the purpose of obtaining by a judicial ruling that a valid marriage never took place due to some defect that existed at the time the parties were married. By contrast, a divorce proceeding is instituted in order to terminate a valid marriage for reasons that occurred after the marriage was entered into.

What is alimony?

Alimony is defined as monetary support paid by one spouse to the other. In New Jersey, four types of alimony awards are possible: (1) permanent alimony; (2) rehabilitative alimony; (3) limited duration alimony; and (4) reimbursement alimony. In determining the amount of alimony to be awarded, courts consider several factors, including:

  • the parties' ability to pay;
  • the actual need of the party for whom alimony is being awarded;
  • the marriage's duration;
  • the parties' age, physical and emotional health of the parties;
  • the parties' earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability;
  • the parties' parental responsibilities for their children;
  • any income available to either party from investments;
  • the history of financial and non-financial contributions to the marriage by each party (including interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities);
  • the tax consequences to both parties; and
  • any other fact that may be relevant to the court's alimony determination.

What is child support?

In New Jersey, each parent has an obligation to support his or her minor children. The amount of support to be awarded is determined pursuant to child support guidelines (which apply to families with one to six children), which in turn are based on the parents' combined net income. When the parents have high income, state law provides for a series of factors to be considered by the court in awarding child support, including:

  • the child's needs;
  • each parent's standard of living and economic circumstances;
  • all sources of income and assets available to each parent;
  • each parent's earning ability and experience;
  • the child's need and capacity for higher education;
  • the age and health of the child and each parent;
  • the child's income, assets and earning ability;
  • each parent's debts and liabilities; and
  • any other factor deemed relevant by the court.

What is equitable distribution?

Equitable distribution is the process by which courts in New Jersey distribute a divorcing couple's marital property. In order to distribute the property, courts first identify what constitutes the couple's marital property and what constitutes each spouse's separate property. Marital property is generally considered to be property and debt obtained during the marriage. Then, the value of the marital property is determined and the items are distributed in a fair and just manner. In arriving at an equitable distribution of the marital property, courts look at several factors, including but not limited to:

  • the duration of the marriage;
  • the parties' respective ages and physical/emotional health;
  • each party's contribution to the education, training, or earning party of the other;
  • the tax consequences of the proposed distribution to each party;
  • the parties' respective debts and liabilities; and
  • any other factor deemed relevant by the court.

How does "mediation" work in the divorce context?

The mediation family law process empowers spouses to dissolve their marriage with dignity and allows parties to protect their children from the strains of litigation, which can impose a personal responsibility in resolving conflict. Parties to divorce, their lawyers, and any other professional involved agree to make a good faith attempt to reach an amicable settlement without going to court; collaborative practice is intended to minimize difference while working toward that resolution. In the mediation process, each spouse is responsible for gathering necessary information.

The mediation family law process is a problem-solving method, which encourages mutual respect, provides for open communication, and prepares individuals for new lives.

When can a child support award be modified?

Child support awards may be modified by the court upon a showing of "changed circumstances." For example, if one of the parties has lost his/her job or has substantially increased his/her income, a modification in the amount awarded may be ordered. Modifications in child support may reflect either an increase or decrease in the amount awarded.

When can an award of alimony be modified?

A party may obtain a modification of an alimony award upon proof that there has been a substantial change in financial circumstances, such as a reduction/increase in salary, an involuntary job loss, a change in the party's health condition, or retirement. The modification of the alimony award may either be an increase or decrease, depending on the facts of the case.

Are prenuptial agreements enforceable in New Jersey?

A prenuptial agreement (also known as a premarital agreement) is a legal document that can be used by a couple to set forth, prior to their marriage, their respective obligations and rights if the parties subsequently divorce including issues relating to child support, custody, or parenting time. However, prenuptial agreements cannot adversely impact a child's "right to support."

For a prenuptial agreement to be enforceable in New Jersey, it must be voluntarily entered to, be in writing, and have a (statement of assets attached to it). Additionally, if it can be shown that a party did not have an opportunity to have the agreement reviewed by counsel of his or her choice or that there was not a full disclosure of the parties' respective assets, debts, and income, the court will determine whether the agreement was enforceable was unconscionable at the time it was made.

What are the grounds for obtaining an annulment in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, an annulment may be obtained upon proof that: (a) one of the parties could not consent due to mental incapacity, misrepresentation, duress, or fraud; (b) one of the spouses is impotent; (c) one of the parties was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage; (d) one of the parties was underage at the time of the marriage; (e) one of the parties was already married at the time of the marriage; or (f) the parties were within the degree of relationship (i.e., close relatives) prohibited by law.

If I do not have custody of my child, am I entitled to visitation rights?

In New Jersey, non-custodial parents have the right to visitation, so long as the visitation is in the "best interests" of the child. State courts have noted that, absent proof of wrongdoing or unfitness, a non-custodial parent has a compelling interest in having visitation rights with his or her child. Supervised visitation may be ordered when the circumstances of the case make it potentially dangerous for the child to visit with the non-custodial parent without the presence of supervision. Supervised visitation may also be ordered when there is an unusually poor relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child and the presence of the custodial parent during the visitation could be counter-productive.