There is so much to think about when you are considering divorce. However, these four things are among the most important:
Custody & Parenting Time
Navigating child custody in New Jersey is usually the most stressful part of a divorce. Working with your lawyer to understand the law when it comes to physical custody will ensure you make the best decisions for your family. Physical custody is just that: actual custody of the child. Traditionally, one parent has primary physical custody of the child (which means that parent has the child for a majority of the time), with the other parent having parenting time with the child (i.e. every other weekend). It is becoming more common, however, for parents to share physical custody, meaning they divide time with the child relatively equally so long as that schedule is in the child’s best interests.
Separation and divorce can impact your relationship with your child. The quantity and quality of time your child spends with each parent is important for a healthy post-separation and post-divorce relationship. It is imperative, no matter the impact of the divorce on the relationship with your spouse, to ensure your child is protected and his or her best interests are met.
Parenting time schedules can be crafted in numerous different ways depending on what a court or the parents consider to be in the best interests of a child. In some cases, a parenting time schedule may allow a parent to have alternate weekend parenting time with the child, while the other parent is the primary physical custodian of the child. In other instances, the same parent who enjoys alternate weekend parenting time may also enjoy weekday evening parenting time one or two times a week. Other schedules may allow for parents to enjoy joint physical custody with one parent having 7 consecutive days and alternating every 7 days with the other parent. Parties are encouraged to be flexible and creative when formulating parenting time schedules that will allow equal access to both parents but is also in the best interests of the child.
Child support is often a major concern for parents when divorcing. The goal is for the children to be properly cared for physically, emotionally and in a healthy manner. It does not matter which parent a child ultimately lives with; both parents, by law, are required to care for and meet the needs of the child.
New Jersey Courts use the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines to calculate the amount of child support one parent will have to pay to the other. However, the Court has discretion in calculating the final amount based upon several factors. Before child support can be calculated, the parties must first have resolved alimony and parenting time for the non-custodial parent as they are relevant in a child support calculation.
Items that are covered by a child support payment:
- Housing expenses
- Unreimbursed health expense up to $250 per child per year
- Miscellaneous items (hair care, shaving, cosmetic items)
Items that could potentially increase a child support payment:
- Work-related childcare expenses
- Predictable and recurring unreimbursed medical expenses (braces)
- Other expenses approved by the court (private school, special needs of gifted or disabled children, horseback riding lessons).
Alimony is the financial support a spouse may pay or receive as part of a divorce. The spouse that receives the alimony payment is typically the individual that was financially dependent on his or her spouse throughout the course of the marriage with a continued need for support post-separation while their spouse has the ability to pay. The benchmark for the support is to allow both parties to maintain a reasonably comparable marital lifestyle.
There is no formula or bright-line rule for determining alimony in New Jersey. Instead, the court must analyze all the statutory factors to determine an appropriate amount under the unique circumstances of each individual case. As such, it is important to know each party’s income which must include all sources. A spouse can limit his or her exposure to alimony by having a prenuptial agreement.
All assets and debts acquired during the marriage must be identified, valued and divided in an equitable way. So, depending on the facts of each case, experts may need to be hired to value assets. These assets may include businesses, real estate or pensions.
The above is a skeletal outline of what you should be considering if you are contemplating a divorce. Each case is fact-sensitive and unique. It is important to protect yourself and your children, as well as your financial stability. Therefore, every issue in your divorce case must be carefully considered and addressed.
Jeralyn Lawrence, founder and Managing Partner of Lawrence Law, devotes her practice to matrimonial, divorce and family law. She is Second Vice President of the New Jersey State Bar Association, slated to be President in 2022 and First Vice President of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Lawrence Law has offices in Watchung and Red Bank, New Jersey.