Can I Attend a Support Conference Without an Attorney?

It is not recommended. If you and your spouse are W-2 wage earners, the process by which a child support obligation and spousal support obligation is calculated is based on a formula. The Pennsylvania Support Guidelines, calculation of support obligations, formula can be located in the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure 1910.16-4.

The formula itself is not complicated. There are a number of issues you should be aware of before attending a support conference on your own or prior to consulting with an attorney in preparation for a support conference.

  1. Medical Insurance – which parent provides the health, dental, and vision coverage? If you are the parent/spouse providing the insurance coverage, the cost of insurance will be reflected on your pay stub. This figure however does provide the figures for the cost of insurance to the employee only, employee plus children; and employee plus family. This information can generally be obtained from the employer’s Human Resource Department and it will provide a more accurate cost of insurance to the employee/spouse.
  1. Mortgage – If you are married, the spouse remaining in the marital residence may be able to seek a mortgage contribution. For the spouse receiving child support and/or spousal support, you may receive additional support to help pay for the mortgage. If you are the spouse paying support and you reside in the marital residence, you may be able to reduce your support obligation, due to your payment of the mortgage. In order to seek this adjustment in the support obligation, you will need to have documentation evidencing the mortgage, home owners insurance, and real estate taxes. Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-6(e) sets forth the mortgage contribution formula.
  1. Child Care Expenses – Child care expenses are in addition to the guideline child support obligation. Child care expenses are apportioned between the parties based on their net incomes. If there are child care expenses, make sure documentation as to the cost of expenses is brought to the support conference.
  1. Support Credits – Support Order’s are retroactive to the date the support petition was filed. If you are the spouse/parent, who is going to owe support, and you have been paying bills on behalf of the financially dependent spouse/parent, make sure you provide documentation evidencing the bills and expenses you have paid on behalf of the financially dependent spouse/parent and children from the support petition was filed through the date of the support conference. You are entitled to a credit towards your support obligation, however, this credit must be asked for at the conference.

If you plan on attending a support conference without representation, it is recommended you at least consult with an attorney beforehand.

How do I File my Taxes Now That I am Separated or Getting Divorced?

How do I file my taxes now that I am separated or getting divorced? If you separated from your spouse in 2014, you and your spouse should discuss how you are going to file your Federal and State Tax Returns in 2014. Waiting until April 14th, may be too late to sort out the details and will cause each of you additional stress. If you are unsure if it is to your financial benefit to file jointly with your spouse, stop wondering and ask an accountant to draft two separate returns for you, one filing jointly with your spouse and one filing separately. It will be worth your time and money. Entire blog →

Two Sides Clash over NJ Alimony Bill

As reported by the DailyJournal.Com, talks over competing alimony reform bills are becoming as heated as the divorce fights they both aim to regulate.

A group proposing to overhaul New Jersey’s alimony laws says legislation proposed by the New Jersey State Bar Association to do the same thing would hamper actual reform needed in the state.

Representatives with New Jersey Alimony Reform and New Jersey Women for Alimony Reform claim their bill, A3909, which would provide guidelines on awarding alimony based on the length of the marriage, has been stalled since the recent introduction of legislation backed by the bar association.

“It (the bar association’s bill) doesn’t go anywhere near as far as where it needs to go. We believe it was a diversionary tactic on their part to try and stall reform in any meaningful way,” said Michael Turner, a lobbyist representing the two alimony reform groups.

The two organizations, which represent about 2,400 members, hope to get their reform passed before the end of the legislative session. They say the competing bill only benefits the bank accounts of divorce attorneys.

But Brian Schwartz, chairman of the bar association’s family law section, said the bill his group supports would reshape alimony while still being fair to both those who pay it and those who receive it. He said the alimony reform groups just don’t want to pay alimony anymore.

He said the bar association legislation, A4525, was written in part by matrimonial attorneys who represent clients on both ends of alimony, he said.

“Our bill is intended to give the reform that’s needed instead of arbitrary guidelines,” Schwartz said.

But the alimony reform groups said the guidelines in their bill are similar to those that are commonplace in other legal situations, such as child support, and help people going through the process know what to expect from the judicial system with a divorce.

Their proposal would provide the spouse with the lower income an economic bridge until that person can live independent of alimony.

Sheila Taylor of Ocean Grove, who is president of NJWAR, compared alimony reform to that of reforms to welfare and unemployment benefits, both of which are cut off after time.

“Why is there a private entitlement system called alimony? You can get it for the rest of your life,” said Taylor, who is ordered to pay her ex-husband $1,250 per month in alimony even though she said he is engaged to and living with another woman.

“There should be some onus on the individual recipient,” Taylor said. “You need to get a job.”

Taylor, whose alimony was based on her former income as a nurse, said she is in arrears because she now is on permanent disability and can’t get a modification despite trying five times. She said legal fees for each attempt range from $5,000 to $7,000, but she’s started representing herself because of the cost.

The alimony reform groups say they have incorporated two parts of the bar association-backed legislation into their proposal:

• The bar association’s bill would give judges better guidance on how to decide when to change alimony if circumstances like a job loss or health issue change for the former spouse who is paying it.

• It sets parameters for changing alimony when the former spouse receiving the payments tries to skirt the law by moving in with, but not actually marrying, a new romantic partner.

But the alimony reform groups disagree with a final provision of the bar association-backed bill, which also would give judges points to consider when the paying spouse wants a reduction in alimony because of retirement.

They said the provision essentially sets up “Divorce Round 2,” causing both sides to once again go into acrimonious proceedings with their former spouse. The presumption, they said, is that alimony should end at retirement.

But Schwartz said that the alimony reform groups’ proposal would “open Pandora’s box” because former spouses could potentially reopen their divorce negotiations to recoup other benefits they waived in exchange for alimony.

“Part of the problem when you have two people who want to fight, they’ll find a way to fight about it,” he said.

Prenuptial Agreements In New Jersey Now More Difficult To Amend

Under recent amendments to the New Jersey Uniform Premarital and Pre-Civil Union Agreement Act, premarital agreements will be more difficult to amend. Therefore, it is imperative that both parties fully understand their rights and obligations before signing on the dotted line.

Essentially, a “prenup” is a written contract executed prior to marriage, which outlines the assets and liabilities of each spouse and determines their rights and obligations, should the couple divorce. To ensure the contract is enforceable, it must be clear and reasonably fair to both parties.

Under the prior law, a spouse could challenge the enforceability of a prenup if terms would result in financial hardship, such as providing a standard of living far below that which was enjoyed before the marriage or leaving one of the spouses without a means of reasonable support. Therefore, if the support payments outlined in the agreement would leave one of the spouses destitute and result in a windfall for the other, a court could deem the contract “unconscionable” and amend its provisions.

However, the revised statute narrows the definition of “unconscionable” to include only situations in which one party:

  • Was not provided full and fair disclosure of the earnings and property and financial obligations of the other party;
  • Did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, any right to disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party beyond the disclosure provided;
  • Did not have, or reasonably could not have had, an adequate knowledge of the property or financial obligations of the other party; or
  • Did not consult with independent legal counsel and did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, the opportunity to consult with independent legal counsel

Thus, financial hardships that occur after the execution of the agreement no longer warrant amendment. Given the recent changes in state law, couples should consult an experienced and knowledgeable New Jersey family law attorney prior to signing any premarital agreement. While no one wants to enter a marriage thinking its not going to work out, it is important to understand how the agreement may impact you later down the road.

At Kardos, Rickles, Hand & Bidlingmaier, our New Jersey family law attorneys can explain the benefits and risks of a prenuptial agreement. We can also help negotiate a contract that protects your best interests and answer any questions you may have. Contact us today at 609.989.7995.

Mother Awarded Attorneys’ Fees Due to Father’s Repeated Custody Filings

In D.C. v. J.S., 151 Montgomery Co. L. Rep. 29 (2013), the court addresses whether an award of counsel fees is appropriate under the custody statute 23 Pa. C.S. § 5593, which awards counsel fees to a party if the court finds the conduct of another party was obdurate, vexatious, repetitive or in bad faith, when there is no existing case law interpreting the statutory definition of the meaning of the elements of the statute.

In this case, which included extended litigation over custody and support, the Master’s Report recommended that judgment be entered in favor of Mother and against Father for an amount of the marital estate and included an award of $5,000.00 of Mother’s attorney’s fees.  Father argued that the court’s imposition of attorney’s fees in favor of Mother was improper as the elements of the statute were not statutorily defined by any existing case law.

Without any existing case law interpreting the statutory definition of the elements of the statute, the trial court looked to the Statutory Construction Act of 1972 which states that “when a word or phrase is not statutorily defined, such words and phrases shall be construed according to the rules of grammar and according to their common and appropriate usage.”

Father had filed seven Petitions to Modify Custody since the entry of the parties’ Agreed Custody Order, all of which were denied.  The trial court used the dictionary definition of repetitive to establish the statutory definition.  As a result, the court determined Father’s filings were repetitive pursuant the statute and that it was “not in the best interest of the child to constantly be placed in the middle of continued custody litigation.”  As a result the award of Mother’s counsel fees was appropriate under the statute.

* Article Authored by Marisa M. Perini, Esq. Ms. Perini is an Associate at Kardos, Rickles, Hand & Bidlingmaier, P.C., and specializes in domestic law. 

Financial Support in Exchange for Sex

Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that a Husband’s refusal to pay for the financial support of the family because the Wife refused to have sex with him amounted to psychological force contemplated by the criminal statute’s definition of rape, Boykai v Young.  This Superior Court reasons that the Husband’s actions constituted sexual intercourse without Wife’s consent, which amounted to sexual assault and constituted a violation from the Protection from Abuse Act.

This is an important decision authored by the Superior Court that further protects, in most instances, the Wife under the Statue.

Kardos, Rickles, Hand & Bidlingmaier, P.C., appears in the PFA Court monthly and has extensive experience both Plaintiffs and Defendants.  If you have a question or a fact pattern concerning a potential PFA, please call for a consultation.

           * Article Authored by Kevin Hand, Esq., partner at Kardos, Rickles, Hand & Bidlingmaier, P.C.

Teen Demands $600 a Week from Parents – Judge Says No Way

As reported by NJ.com, a Superior Court judge today refused to order a Lincoln Park couple to pay private school and college tuition for their 18-year-old daughter who moved out of their house and is suing for financial support.

“Do we want to establish a precedent where parents live in basic fear of establishing rules of the house?” Family Division Judge Peter Bogaard asked.

Rachel Canning, a senior at Morris Catholic High School, went to court to force her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning, to pay her child support, her private school tuition, medical and related bills, college expenses and legal fees. Canning is an honor student and athlete, but her parents have stopped paying her bills because, they say, she would not obey their rules.

Bogaard refused to issue the requested emergency order, which would have awarded the teen more than $600 a week.

The judge said no emergency exists because Morris Catholic has said Canning may continue attending the school despite her tuition not being paid, and because the final deadline of May 1 has not yet arrived for college applications. Morris Catholic’s annual tuition is $12,700; Rachel owes $5,306, court papers say.

Allowing the emergency order “would represent essentially a new law or a new way of interpreting an existing law,” Bogaard said. “A kid could move out and then sue for an XBox, an iPhone or a 60-inch television.”

The judge’s decision followed a more than two-hour hearing in Morristown. The Cannings and their daughter sat on opposite sides of the courtroom, rarely exchanging glances. Both sides appeared tense and sad. Several of Rachel Canning’s friends were seated in the gallery.

Bogaard scheduled another hearing for April 22. The case may be headed for trial on the key issue of whether Rachel Canning was “emancipated” from her parents when she defied their order to stop seeing her boyfriend and instead moved out of their house on Oct. 30, two days before she turned 18.

Rachel Canning said in court papers that she has been living for the past four months at the home of her best friend, the daughter of Morris County attorney who has “advanced” her legal fees.

Her parents countered that she voluntarily left home because she didn’t want to abide by house rules, such as being respectful, keeping a curfew, doing a few chores and ending a relationship with a boyfriend they said was a bad influence.

Rachel remains “unemancipated,” or dependent on her parents, because she needs their support to complete her education at Morris Catholic and to pay for her college education, her attorney said.

Rachel’s attorney further alleged that the Cannings treated their daughter in an “abnormal” way that made it “untenable” for her to stay in the house. For instance, the attorney claimed that Sean Canning would not allow Rachel to have a boyfriend while a senior in high school. Rachel Canning also claims her parents are abusive, contributed to an eating disorder she developed and pushed her to get a basketball scholarship.

The parents’ attorney countered that Rachel could easily have stayed at the house, which she said had “a loving, nurturing environment.

“She voluntarily decided to leave because she didn’t like the rules they were imposing, and that makes her “emancipated.”

Bogaard cited a vulgar voice mail left by Rachel for her mother. “Have you ever seen a child show such gross disrespect for a parent?” he asked. “Is there a point at which a parent can say they don’t have to pay for college?”

The judge also cited certifications submitted by the Sean and Elizabeth Canning about their daughter’s alleged history of staying out and drinking during the week. Once, he said, she was driven home by her boyfriend’s parents at 3 a.m.

“What kind of parents would the Cannings be if they did not discipline her?” he asked. “The Cannings had the right to set up rules.”

Despite the apparently wide gap between Rachel and her parents, Bogaard held out hope for a possible reconciliation.

He read a letter Rachel sent to her parents in October, the month that she left the house.

“Hey guys, I want to apologize for my actions,” Rachel said. “I really need to realize there are consequences for the things that I do. I am trying to change. I do miss you guys. I am trying to turn over a new leaf.”

Then, the judge said, “This family is well worth the effort to salvage. It does appear more energy has been utilized to tear up this family than to figure out how it can be brought back together.”

Proposed Bill Would Eliminate No-Fault Divorce in Kansas

As reported by The Wichita Eagle, a bill recently introduced in the Kansas State Legislature would do away with no-fault divorces. Like New Jersey, Kansas is currently a no-fault divorce state, meaning that couple’s could seek divorce based solely on irreconcilable differences, as opposed to a fault ground, such as abandonment or adultery.

Kansas Rep. Keith Esau, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill, but he did not author it. He said he submitted it on behalf of a legislator who is not on the committee. Esau said he has not been given permission to disclose the name of that legislator.

But he said he supports the bill’s intent.

“No-fault divorce gives people an easy out instead of working at it,” Esau said. “It would be my hope that they could work out their incompatibilities and learn to work together on things.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, another Judiciary member, opposes the bill.

“We really should let people decide when to end relationships,” he said.

Esau denied that bill was an example of government overreach. He said the state gives benefits to married couples, such as tax breaks, so couples should not enter into the institution of marriage lightly.

“Don’t think this is something that you can do temporarily and get out of,” Esau said.

The bill would require Kansans seeking a divorce to prove their spouses’ fault, a requirement which was common throughout the United States 60 years ago.

Ward, a practicing attorney who has handled divorce cases, said this would be foolish.

“That’s really not a healthy way to deal with families that are changing,” Ward said.

He said that making divorces less contentious helps couples with children maintain respectful relationships because they will need to continue to parent together.

Esau said that the state has a vested interest in supporting “strong families” and that divorce undermines that.

“I think we’ve made divorce way too easy in this country,” he said. “If we really want to respect marriage it needs to be a commitment that people work at and don’t find arbitrary reasons to give up.”

Morgan O’Hara Gering, a family law attorney in Wichita, questioned whether the bill would actually deter many people from seeking divorces.

“From my experience I can’t see that it’s going to stop people from getting divorced,” she said.

Instead O’Hara Gering thinks the bill would just make divorces nastier by requiring people to prove their spouse’s fault in court.

“It could create a lot more litigation and a lot more headaches … just to fight about who’s to blame,” she said.

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2014/02/07/3273731/kansas-bill-would-eliminate-no.html#storylink=cpy

DIVORCE – Proposed Bill would set Guidelines for New Jersey Alimony Payments

As reported by Philly.com, A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D., Hudson) would set guidelines for alimony, with formulas determining the length of an award based on the length of a marriage. Modeled after a Massachusetts law passed in 2011, the bill includes a provision that would end alimony payments with the payer’s retirement, though a judge could require the payments to be extended under certain circumstances.

New Jersey does not have a formula for deciding the length of alimony, which is not awarded in all divorce cases. Payers now have to petition the court to end awards based on retirement or changed financial circumstances.

Defenders of the state’s current approach, including some family law attorneys and groups representing the interests of women, say judges shouldn’t be bound by formulas to decide individual cases.

The New Jersey Bar Association family law section and state chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers back a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D., Camden) and Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D., Passaic) that would make some changes in alimony, including a provision that would specify alimony could be terminated or modified upon the payer’s retirement.

The bill also would change the term permanent alimony to indefinite.

“We shouldn’t make law over one or two exceptions or quirks,” said Brian Schwartz, a family law lawyer in Summit who is chair of the bar’s family law section.

State court statistics show alimony is awarded in 20 percent to 30 percent of divorce cases, Schwartz said. Anecdotally, he said, permanent alimony awards are “rare” – and the number of people jailed for not paying alimony is “infinitesimal.” He petitions courts regularly to get people jailed, “and it never happens,” he said.

Schwartz said that even if New Jersey set alimony guidelines that still allowed judges to exercise discretion, judges would rarely deviate from them, given how infrequently they deviate from child-support guidelines. He also said guidelines could lead women in abusive relationships to stay in marriages longer.

Proponents of Mainor’s bill – who packed a large hearing room for last week’s four-hour hearing before the Assembly Judiciary Committee – say the changes proposed by the bar association in the Giblin and Lampitt bill wouldn’t provide enough certainty for alimony payers.

“Every person should be able to walk out of court knowing that there is an ending point,” Mainor told the committee. He asked lawmakers to “be a part of not allowing New Jersey to be the state where many people that had a divorce are saying, ‘It’s cheaper to keep her.’ ”

Mainor introduced the bill after lobbying by New Jersey Alimony Reform, a group formed in 2011 by Rutgers University biology professor Tom Leustek, who was frustrated by the terms of the alimony he pays.

Leustek said a court agreement after his 2008 divorce required him to pay $2,000 a month in permanent alimony to his former wife, who has a doctorate in psychology but who wasn’t earning much shortly before the divorce, when she started a private practice. The award was based on a snapshot of their income from before the divorce, not the entirety of their 24-year marriage, Leustek said.

“I agreed to it. I settled. But I see it more like coercion,” Leustek said in a phone interview. “If someone comes up to you in an alleyway with a gun and says, ‘Give up your pocketbook,’ would anyone say you agreed to give up your pocketbook? That’s what divorce is like for the person with exposure to lifetime alimony.”

It is not unusual for states to allow indefinite alimony, said Sally Goldfarb, a Rutgers University law professor and expert in family law.

It’s also not unusual to leave the terms of alimony to a judge’s discretion, she said.

“Traditionally, alimony awards have not been subject to a mathematical formula, in New Jersey or anywhere else,” Goldfarb said.

In recent years, however, several states have moved toward formula-based alimony guidelines – spurred by groups like Leustek’s.Family law attorneys are split on alimony guidelines, said Maria Cognetti, a lawyer in central Pennsylvania who is president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

“When you don’t have guidelines, you are kind of at the mercy of who is your judge and what is their personal take on alimony,” Cognetti said in a phone interview.

Proponents of alimony reform say current laws reflect an era when women had fewer opportunities.

“When these laws were originally passed, people were dying in their 60s. Now they’re living until their 90s,” said Steve Hitner, who led the effort that prompted Massachusetts to rewrite its alimony laws in 2011.

Hitner said he was ordered to pay his wife of 23 years alimony indefinitely after they divorced in 1999. When sales at his printing business declined, he petitioned the court to reduce the payments. He was unsuccessful, fell into debt, and filed for bankruptcy, he said.

“The same person you couldn’t live with financially while you were married – you’re tied to that person for life,” Hitner said.

Kathleen Savage, 48, a dental hygienist from Sewell, said she knew she would have to pay alimony to her ex-husband, who receives disability for a back injury and who hadn’t worked for 12 years before their divorce in 2010.

She didn’t expect the alimony would be “for the rest of my life or his life, whoever goes first,” Savage said in a phone interview.

Leustek, whose group has several thousand members, said he’d heard “legions of horror stories” from people whose requests to reduce alimony payments have been routinely denied by judges.

He’s not trying to end alimony, he said; “we’re just looking to make it fair.”

But for every alimony payer who believes he or she is paying too much, “you can find a person that says they’re receiving too little,” Goldfarb said.

“Unquestionably, the force behind these changes comes from people paying alimony who would like to pay little or no alimony,” she said. “We are not sufficiently hearing the voices of people on the other side of the debate.”

Contact Kardos, Rickles, Hand & Bidlingmaier to assist with your New Jersey Divorce needs at (609) 989-7995 or mderose@krhblaw.com.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey?

Divorce in New Jersey can be a complex matter because the state has strict requirements for what constitutes the legal grounds for ending a marriage. If your spouse does not agree to the divorce, or does not agree about the causes for the divorce, you may find you need to make a case in court. An experienced family law attorney in Trenton can help you define or contest the reasons for ending the marriage.

Legal grounds for a New Jersey divorce

You must be a resident of New Jersey for at least one year prior to filing for divorce. At that point, if you and your spouse have been separated for at least 18 months, you will be granted a no-fault divorce. If not, you will need to establish grounds for the divorce — grounds that your spouse may well contest. According to New Jersey law, grounds for divorce are as follows:

  • Irreconcilable differences. This is in some senses the simplest of the grounds for divorce — if you and your spouse go through six months of irreconcilable differences, with no hope for reconciliation, this is sufficient grounds for a divorce.
  • Abandonment, institutionalization, or imprisonment. If one spouse abandons the other for a period of 12 months, or is institutionalized for mental illness for 24 months, or incarcerated for 18 months, this is sufficient grounds for divorce.
  • Cruelty or abuse. It is grounds for divorce if one spouse physically or mentally abuses the other, or abuses drugs and/or alcohol for at least 12 months, or sexually abuses the other spouse (including rape).
  • Adultery. Adultery is a special case in New Jersey divorce law because it is the one ground for divorce that changes the residency requirement. Where ordinarily one year of residency in the state is required prior to filing for divorce, in cases of adultery it is only necessary that one spouse be a New Jersey resident for some amount of time, and not necessarily as long as a year. Adultery can be difficult to prove, and is a case where the assistance of a divorce attorney is essential.

Consult an experienced lawyer to file your New Jersey divorce petition

New Jersey divorces are complicated because of the number of different grounds on which a divorce can be filed. These grounds are often hotly contested, since they can be the basis of compensation and custody decisions. If you are filing for divorce in New Jersey, or have had divorce papers served, you need to consult the experienced and compassionate family lawyers of Kardos, Rickles, Hand & Bidlingmaier. Contact us today for a consultation.