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Ask the Expert: Advice to the Prospective Divorce Client

If you are considering filing for divorce, make sure you have all these documents at the ready.



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PHOTO PROVIDED BY NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN & MARCUS, P.A. 

Previously: 
10 Things the Client Should Never Say to Children 
Dispelling Divorce Law Myths

If you think you may want a divorce, consider the following things to do and documents to obtain:

• Social Security Earnings Statements:  These are a wonderful snapshot of parties’ respective incomes and show a clear and concise picture of the earning history of each party.

• Last five years of tax returns and all W-2s, 1099s and K1s.

• Each party’s last three paystubs. 

• Current copies of all bank, brokerage, and stock account statements.

• Employer’s Benefit Manual:  These handouts often provide a detailed list of every benefit provided by an employer to an employee (i.e., health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, 401(k), ESOPP, ESPP, pension information, and the like).

• If a pension is involved, documents from the plan administrator detailing the nature and benefits of the pension, the specifications, and a form Domestic Relations Order the plan administrator requires to divide the pension.

• Copies of any other defined benefit and defined contribution retirement account statements (i.e., IRAs, 401(k), 403(b)). 

PHOTO PROVIDED BY NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN & MARCUS, P.A.

• Copies of all the children’s savings accounts, 529 Plans, savings bonds, etc.

• Documentation to prove the existence of any other asset.

• Copies of credit card statements to show debt and charges.  Year-end summaries are extremely helpful.

• Inventory of any safe or safe deposit box, make videos of and photograph all items, and safeguard any item you cannot bear to have disappear. 

• Inventory artwork, wine collections, furniture, furnishings, jewelry, sentimental property, and other valuable collections.  Again, make videos of and photograph all items.

• If you are under your spouse’s health insurance policy, this will no longer be an option post-divorce.  Explore obtaining and maintaining your own health insurance.

• Obtain current mortgage statements.  If there is an open line of credit, see if you can have the bank require dual signatures before anyone can access the line.  If you are concerned that the other party will loot the line of credit and dissipate the money, it may be prudent to close or suspend the line of credit.

• If you are claiming something is premarital or inherited and therefore not subject to equitable distribution, it is your burden of proof.  You will need to compile all documents necessary to show its immune status.

 

I always ask clients to provide me with a wish list and a statement as to where they want to be in a year post-divorce.  Knowing these things helps me develop a strategy with them and determine how to best achieve their goal, if possible.

As I review their list, the documents I need or require may change.   The client and the attorney must work together to identify, assert, and prove all claims to successfully get what the client is entitled to in the divorce.


Ask the Expert: 10 Things The Client Should Never Say to Their Children


PHOTO PROVIDED BY NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN & MARCUS, P.A. 

After 20 years of exclusively practicing matrimonial and family law, there are things I know for sure about divorce.  I know for sure and without a doubt that the following things should never be said to children.

If you are already divorced, going through a divorce, or contemplating a divorce, please read the following advice.  Commit yourself to living by it.  It truly will be the best gift you can give your children.

1. Mom and Dad are breaking up and it’s all your fault.

Be sure that you consistently and repeatedly assure the children that the break-up has absolutely nothing to do with them and that both Mom and Dad love them very much and will always love them very much.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN & MARCUS, P.A.

2. Mom and Dad are breaking up and you will never see your Dad again.  

Be sure to tell the children that both Dad and Mom will remain in their lives.  Explain that things will be different with everyone not living together, but Dad and Mom love them and will always be there for them.  Explain to them that they are not getting divorced from their parents.

3(a).  Mom and Dad are breaking up and your Dad took all my money, stole from me, etc. 

Do not involve the children in the divorce. Ever. Children do not want to know and do not need to know the details. Do not show them or read them the letters from your lawyers. Nothing. Leave the children out of it! Treat children like children. Do not involve them in adult issues.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN & MARCUS, P.A.

3(b).  Your Dad is a jerk, cheater, miser and other colorful adjectives I cannot put in print.  

Be sure not to badmouth the other parent. This alienation is very painful to the child. The child loves both parents and when one parent badmouths the other it hurts the child. Make the child aware that it is perfectly acceptable to show love for the other parent. Encourage it. It will come back to you two-fold. Give your child the permission and freedom to love the other parent. 

3(c).  Your Dad left me, cheated on me, destroyed me, hurt me, etc.

Again, this is very destructive to a child. Angry feelings conveyed to a child can cause the child serious problems such as depression. Do not involve the child in the divorce.

3(d).  Your Dad’s brothers, sisters, parents are jerks too and were mean to me when I was married to your Dad.

Let children love the other parent and their extended family. Do not put pressure on the children to choose sides. Allow and encourage them to love and be loved.

4. Mom and Dad are breaking up and Dad moved out while you were at school.

Be sure to talk to the children in advance of the separation and both parties together should communicate this to the children. Tell the children Mom and Dad will work together to meet their best interests. This discussion may also take place in therapy with a therapist’s assistance and guidance. 

5. Give this check or note to your Dad or tell your Dad this or that or call your Dad and tell him we are arriving late. 

Stop. Do not use the children as messengers.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN & MARCUS, P.A.

6. Do not even ask me to buy your Father a Father’s Day card or a Christmas gift.

Do just the opposite. Encourage it. Buy it for your children to give to the other parent. Recognize these important days and teach your children they are important to the other parent, just as they are important to you.  

7. Do not telephone your Dad when you are with me. This is my parenting time.

Come on. Do not be ridiculous. Encourage reasonable, non-intrusive yet frequent telephone contact with the other parent during your parenting time.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN & MARCUS, P.A.

8. I would like you to meet my new girlfriend/boyfriend.

Be a good role model for your child. Use good judgment when introducing your child to a new person in your life. The child is still dealing with your divorce. Be patient. Put the child’s best interest above yours.

9(a).  Whatever you do, do not tell Dad.

Do not put your children in the middle and certainly do not tell them secrets and then tell them they cannot tell the other parent. All you are doing here is teaching your children to be liars and to practice deception.

9(b).  Tell me what Dad said about me or did this weekend.

Do not pump your children for information about the other parent.

10. You are acting just like your Dad.

Do not compare your child to your ex-spouse. Your child is an individual. You may like or dislike certain qualities about your ex-spouse that you see in your child, but such comparison can be harmful and painful to the child.

Bonus:         

I promise to buy you a house, build a swimming pool, or vacation in Hawaii so long as you come and live with me/come and see me.

Do not make promises you cannot keep.  Do not manipulate your children.

Do you want to live with me?  You can come and live with me.

Do not ask a child this question. It is too much pressure for a child and too great a burden for a child to bear.

The above list is certainly not all-inclusive or exhaustive. It is a start, however, to what parents should never say to their children. Commit yourself to never saying these things to your children. They will be the better for it.


Dispelling Divorce Law Myths - An Attorney Shares the Facts

photo provided by Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A.
 

When going through a divorce, clients are often confused about their rights and obligations and, because of this, their expectations are often unrealistic.  Frequently clients will tell me what they believe the law to be, only for me to have to educate them otherwise. Here are some of the most common misconceptions I hear:

MYTH: My spouse left me and I need to file immediately for a legal separation.

TRUTH: In New Jersey, there is no such thing. We do have a cause of action (grounds for divorce) based on 18 consecutive months of separation.  This is a basis for a divorce – not a basis for a legal separation.  While some parties may have the financial means to live separate and apart during their divorce process, the marriage remains intact as do the obligations of the parties as a married couple.  Further, since we have irreconcilable differences as grounds for divorce, nearly 99.9 percent of the divorces I handle are put through on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, and the 18-month separation cause of action is not so often used.  

PHOTO PROVIDED BY NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN & MARCUS, P.A.

MYTH: My spouse abandoned me.  I want consequences for this abandonment.

TRUTH: There are really no legal consequences for such “abandonment.”  Where this does become important is if custody and parenting time are at issue. If a parent abandoned his/her spouse and child(ren), this will have implications in a custody and parenting time determination.  I often counsel my clients that they are not to leave the marital residence unless and until custody and parenting time issues are resolved. 

MYTH: It does not matter who my spouse hires as an attorney; we want an amicable divorce.

TRUTH: Unfortunately, it does matter.  Some attorneys are resolution-oriented; some are not.  If you and your spouse seek resolution, you need a resolution-oriented attorney.  Of course that doesn’t mean one who can’t protect you and advocate for you.  It means one who respects your desire for an amicable resolution while advising you of your rights.

The fact is that clients can get divorced as soon as an agreement has been reached between them.  They are in sole control of their fate and hold the time of the resolution of all of their issues in their own hands. 

PHOTO PROVIDED BY NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN & MARCUS, P.A.

MYTH:  My spouse is at fault and, therefore, must pay extra. 

TRUTH: Unfortunately, for the most part, fault does not matter.  In some extremely egregious situations, it may, but these situations are certainly a rare, if ever, exception to the rule.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY NORRIS MCLAUGHLIN & MARCUS, P.A.

MYTH: My child has turned 18, so now I don’t have to pay child support anymore.

TRUTH: Emancipation does not automatically occur at 18.  It may or it may not.  The analysis in deciding if a child is emancipated is whether or not the child is outside the “sphere of influence” of his or her parents, or if they are self-sufficient.  For example, children attending college full-time are not emancipated.  Special needs children may never become emancipated.  When a child becomes emancipated is a fact-sensitive determination.

MYTH: Common law marriages exist in New Jersey.

TRUTH: They do not. Clients often think that if they are living together for an extended period of time, they become common law husband and wife.  They do not.  There may be a palimony issue arising out of contractual obligations and promises, but there is no marriage.

Jeralyn L. Lawrence, a Member of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus and Chair of its Matrimonial & Family Law Group, devotes her practice to matrimonial, divorce, and family law. Lawrence is Secretary of the New Jersey State Bar Association and a former Chair of its Family Law Section.  She is also Treasurer of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, NJ Chapter. She has been widely recognized for her contributions to her profession and she is a three-time recipient of the New Jersey State Bar Association Distinguished Legislative Service Award, the highest recognition of a member's noteworthy legislative service. She has also been named as one of New Jersey's Top 50 Women in Business by NJBIZ and was recognized by her peers as one of the Ten Under Forty, New Jersey's top 10 matrimonial lawyers under the age of 40; and New Jersey Law Journal's 40 Under 40, 40 accomplished and promising attorneys in the State of New Jersey under the age of 40.

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