Family Law Services
The Law Office of Donald D. Vanarelli is devoted to handling all family law matters, from the initial interview through appeal, by providing high quality legal services with integrity, professionalism and respect for our clients. We accomplish our mission by listening to client goals and then explaining the applicable New Jersey law. Whether you need a divorce attorney or a domestic violence litigator; whether you seek a child support modification or you are embroiled in a custody dispute, we are prepared to work hard for you. We are committed to pursuing the best legal strategy and achieving optimal results for our clients by combining energy and resolve with competence and sound judgment. Success may be achieved in the courtroom through litigation, or through alternative strategies such as mediation or collaborative practice; however, our focus remains on the economic and practical implications of the decisions made in the case. Together we establish realistic goals and develop the optimal legal strategy with the most effective and efficient use of resources. To help ease the difficulties in resolving family law issues, we offer these services:
- Divorce Litigation and Mediation
- Alimony and Property Division
- Child Support, Child Custody and Visitation
- Grandparent Visitation Issues
- Gay and Lesbian Family Law Issues Adoptions
- Domestic Abuse and Domestic Violence Litigation
- Restraining Orders
- Prenuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements
- Cohabitation Agreements
A Summary of the Divorce Process in New Jersey
From the Filing of the Complaint for Divorce to the Trial
Any New Jersey Divorce action begins with the filing of a Complaint for Divorce. In a contested divorce, after the Complaint is served upon the other spouse and an Answer is filed, the matter is placed on the court calendar as a contested case. A period of discovery is then allowed.
The Discovery Process
During the discovery period, both parties are required to exchange detailed financial disclosure forms, which are called Case Information Statements. The Case Information Statement lists all assets, liabilities, income and expenses of the parties. Additional discovery can then be undertaken, whereby Interrogatories (written questions) are exchanged and written answers are provided, under oath. A Notice to Produce can also be served on the other party, requiring the submission of documents such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card bills and other relevant documents.
Any party may also be required to sit for a deposition to answer oral questions in an informal setting. These answers are used as an additional discovery technique in order to acquire further information and/or to preserve sworn testimony in the event of trial.
The court will schedule a Case Management Conference which will detail the scheduling of the entire case and the dates by which all discovery is to be completed. Provision will also be made for the submission of pension plan information, 401k accounts, annuities and any other retirement accounts. If real estate or businesses need to be evaluated, experts may be hired to determine values and the manner in which these assets are to be distributed.
Uncontested Divorce In New Jersey
In some cases, the parties are able to reach an agreement resolving the issues involved in a divorce, without resort to a trial. This may occur at the inception of the case, or at a later point in the litigation. Any time an agreement is reached, the matter becomes "uncontested" and scheduled for an uncontested hearing before the court. At that point, a Property Settlement Agreement will be prepared by the attorneys which will detail the entire understanding between the parties and spell out the exact terms of the settlement.
The agreement will include the parties' child custody and timesharing schedule; whether alimony (spousal support / maintenance) is to be paid; the duration of the alimony; the amount of the child support to be paid; and how all assets and liabilities are to be distributed. The agreement may also provide for child care expenses, whether life insurance is required, how medical costs will be paid, and the parties' respective responsibilities toward college education of the children.
Contested Divorce In New Jersey
Should the matter continue on a contested basis, the court will schedule the case for an Early Settlement Panel in approximately six to seven months from the filing of the action. The panel consists of two experienced matrimonial attorneys who volunteer to help the court in settling divorce cases. Case profile forms must be submitted prior to the Early Settlement Panel date, detailing each party's respective position with regard to all of the issues in the case.
The parties, with their divorce attorneys, are then required to proceed to non-binding arbitration with the Early Settlement Panel. At this proceeding the case profile forms are reviewed and the panel hears the argument of counsel as well as the opinions of the litigants. After considering all of the oral and written submissions, the panel will confer among themselves and will make a recommendation with regard to the settlement of the case. The vast majority of divorce cases are settled prior to trial, and the Early Settlement Panel can be helpful in presenting an independent, disinterested, third party voice to the litigants as to a possible resolution of the various issues presented.
The Early Settlement Panel will usually not become involved in issues of custody or timesharing. Should the parties be unable to resolve these issues between themselves, they may be required to attend court-ordered custody/visitation mediation. This is a program provided by the county, free of charge, which attempts to resolve all such issues without the necessity of litigation.
Issues To Be Resolved: Child Custody
The exact custody arrangement is a central issue in a divorce proceeding. Child custody arrangements vary from one case to another. Typically, the parties are awarded joint legal custody, which requires mutual discussion and consultation with regard to any major decision that affects the welfare of the children, in such areas as academics, medical care, or religious upbringing. One party can then be designated the parent of primary physical or residential custody, which means that the children primarily reside with that parent. The other party typically is entitled to timesharing, and holidays and vacation time must also be resolved.
Some cases may allow for shared physical custody of the children. Difficult cases may require the hiring of an expert, such as a psychologist, to perform evaluations of the parties and, in appropriate cases, of the children as well.
Pendente Lite Motions
If, during the pendency of the litigation, one party needs to make an application to the court for support or other temporary relief, a temporary application can be made at any time (a "pendente lite" motion). For example, one party may ask for a temporary support order as well as the payment of certain household expenses while the case proceeds. The court will attempt to maintain the status quo during the divorce to insure that the parties' expenses are being paid and that the mortgage, utilities, insurance costs and car payments are not being neglected.
Issues To Be Resolved: Child Support
Child support is determined and calculated based upon Child Support Guidelines that have been implemented by the State of New Jersey. Both parties' incomes must be analyzed in order to determine their gross incomes and their net allowable incomes for child support determination purposes. If alimony is to be paid to a spouse, the amount of alimony must be calculated first and inserted into the child support calculation equation. After determining both parties' respective incomes with an amount of alimony to be paid, the appropriate child support calculations are determined.
Issues To Be Resolved: Alimony or Spousal Support
One of the more highly contested issues in any divorce proceeding is the amount and duration of alimony to which the financially dependent spouse may be entitled. Unlike child support calculations, there is no table or set formulation when determining the appropriate level of alimony. Rather, alimony is the result of many different factors to be considered by the court. The factors that can be considered in determining the amount of alimony to be paid are listed in the appropriate statute found at N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b). Those factors are enumerated below:
- The actual need and ability of the parties to pay
- The duration of the marriage
- The age, physical and emotional health of the parties
- Standard of living established during the marriage
- The earning capacities, education levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties
- The length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance
- The parental responsibilities for the children
- The time and expense necessary to require sufficient education or training
- The history of financial or non-financial contributions to the marriage by each party
- The equitable distribution of property ordered and payouts on equitable distribution out of current income
- Any other factors which the court may deem relevant.
Alimony can be classified as permanent alimony, or term (or limited duration) alimony, which is alimony payable for a certain amount of time. Alimony can also be "rehabilitative" alimony, to allow the supported spouse ample time to get back on his or her feet financially, or "reimbursement" alimony, which can be awarded where one spouse made monetary contributions with the expectation that both parties of the marriage would derive an increased income and material benefit.
Issues To Be Resolved: Division of Marital Property
State statutes now provide for the "equitable" distribution of the marital property at the time of the final divorce. "Marital Property" is defined as all jointly owned property and all other property, other than separate property, acquired by either or both of the parties during the marriage and up to the time of the final separation of the parties. "Separate Property" is property owned by one party at the time of the marriage, or inherited property or gifts to one party from a third person that has been maintained as separate property. Where "Marital Property" and "Separate Property" are combined or where "Separate Property" is increased through the active efforts of either party during the marriage, then such property may be classified as "Part Marital" and "Part Separate" property.
In making its equitable distribution award, the court is not only authorized to make monetary awards to one of the parties; it may also divide property; order that property be sold; or transfer jointly owned marital property to one of the parties. The court is not required to divide the marital property equally. Instead, in deciding what an equitable division of marital property should be, the court will consider various factors listed in the equitable distribution statute, including the relative monetary and non-monetary contributions of each of the parties to the well-being of the family.
The Divorce Trial
If the case is still not settled after it proceeds to the Early Settlement Panel, the court can schedule settlement conference dates and ultimately a trial date. If the matter does proceed to trial, the parties and any witnesses will testify in open court, introduce documentary evidence, and present the case in a formal manner to the judge. The court will then make the determination with regard to all issues presented.