Divorce & Family Law Insights

One topic new clients ask about is how they can resume a former name at the time they get divorced.  Others were divorced but did not resume a former name at that time and ask is it too late to do so now?  Still others did resume a former name but have questions about what to do next.

In New Jersey, Courts permit a Party to formally resume the use of a former name (or other surname) upon the entry of a judgment of divorce.  If this is something you wish to do, it is best to advise your attorney at the outset of your case.  It can then be included in your first filing with the Court whether that is a Complaint with you as the Plaintiff or in your Counterclaim with you as the Defendant.

If you are unsure as to whether to do so at the start of your case, a request can be made by your attorney at the final divorce hearing to amend/revise your pleading to permit you to do so at that time.

Karolina Dehnard, Managing Director of the International Transaction Group at Lindabury, and President of the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce in the Northeastern USA, was interviewed by Polish publication White Eagle about how the world of business has changed over the past few months and how trade relations between the United States and Poland look today. The interview is available here.

Lindabury Divorce & Family Law attorney and Managing Director of the International Transaction Group, Karolina Dehnhard, was interviewed by 60 Million Kongress, an organization uniting Polish business leaders worldwide as part of their series of influential Global Polish leaders discussing both international divorce and business development in Eastern Europe during the pandemic. You can view the interview here.

As we get deeper into the “shelter in place” requirement imposed by Governor Murphy, stress is more present in our lives every day. Being house-bound is frustrating on so many levels. Couples who are in difficult marriages, or who are going through a divorce (regardless of whether they are separated or living together) face much greater stress on a day-to-day basis while sheltering in place, or while managing things like the exchange of children for parenting time.

I have some basic points of advice for those of you who are contemplating divorce but have not yet taken action, as well as for those of you who have a divorce case which is active. You are both facing the same types of problems which have been aggravated by the onset of the coronavirus crisis.

Here are some practical tips to help you through these challenging times:

The COVID-19 virus has placed the population in a situation the likes of which we have never seen in our lifetime.  It has had an impact on almost every facet of our lives. It has raised, and will continue to raise, the stress levels each of us experience in everyday life.

As a family law attorney, I can confirm that it has had a crippling effect on the legal system and its ability to attend to cases.  Courthouses are closed to the public. For the foreseeable future, Judges and their staff will be working remotely. The time-consuming process of divorce litigation will face extended future delays.

As an alternative to the delays posed by the virus, I am pleased to offer “Virtual Mediation Services.”

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It goes without saying that the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) is presenting an unsettling and challenging time for individuals across the globe. People are grappling with economic consequences due to employment interruptions and working hard to create a schedule that ensures continuity in their children’s lives.

For individuals who are coparenting and following a parenting time schedule whereby their children split their time between two homes, the current set of circumstances may present a unique set of challenges and considerations. Since there has not been a global incident of this magnitude in recent history with which to compare these recent set of circumstances, there is no model of how divorced or separated parents should handle these challenges.

To the best that you are able, you should continue to adhere to the parenting time schedule that you have already been following. This will provide your child or children with a level of structure and consistency especially given the extended absence from their schools, friends and everyday routines. However, it is also important to be flexible and work together as employment interruptions and childcare needs may force alterations to established schedules.  It is understandable that during this time necessary modifications may be in the best interest of your child and children in order to safeguard them or other members of your family from exposure to the virus. Communication is always important as you continue to coparent, and open dialogue is especially crucial during a time like this.

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Karolina Dehnhard joined Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper PC in Westfield as partner in the firm’s divorce and family law practice, and as managing director of the international law group.

In her matrimonial practice, Dehnhard focuses on divorce, prenuptial agreements, child custody, parenting time, alimony, child support, adoption, and domestic violence issues. She assists with complex financial issues, including valuation of businesses both domestically and abroad; international custody rights; the impact of immigration status on divorcing spouses and their children; enforcement of foreign divorce decrees; and the complexities associated with alimony rights and post-judgment cohabitation.

A native of Poland, Dehnhard founded the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce North-East, which focuses on collaboration between Polish and American business networks with an eye toward international development. She’s often tapped to present workshops geared toward educating Polish-based companies on doing business in the U.S.

Since its’ passage in 1991, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act or “PDVA” has afforded protection to New Jersey residents who have been the victim of domestic violence. The PDVA has been amended and interpreted on countless occasions over the years and is one of the most strict and protective laws of its kind in the country.

If an individual alleges that they have been the victim of domestic violence and can demonstrate this to a Judge, an emergent Order of protection will be entered. This temporary restraining order or “TRO” will be issued and served upon the other party who will then be restrained from having any contact with the complaining party. At the same time the matter will be scheduled for a hearing, to occur in approximately ten days, where testimony will be taken under oath to determine whether an act of domestic violence occurred. At the conclusion of the hearing the Court will determine whether an act of domestic violence occurred and, if so, the terms of the temporary restraining order will become final and/or modified as final. If the Court finds that an act or acts of domestic violence occurred, the Court has the authority to impose a variety of restrictions and prohibitions in what will become a Final Restraining Order or “FRO.”

Over the years I have had both plaintiffs and defendants inquire as to how “final“ their Final Restraining Order or FRO actually is. The answer varies from state to state.

Two questions often asked by clients at their initial interview are “Do I need to be separated from my spouse for any length of time before I can file for divorce? and Can I obtain a legal separation from my spouse?” The short answer to both questions is no.

In New Jersey, there is no required term of separation necessary to file for divorce. In fact, spouses are often still residing together at the time one of them chooses to file for divorce, or retain an attorney, and they remain so throughout the process. While a physical separation remains a valid cause of action (reason) to file for divorce, it is not required. The majority of individuals who file for divorce do so with their reason being irreconcilable differences.

In New Jersey, there are nine causes of action or reasons which would entitle an individual to obtain a judgment of divorce from their spouse. Seven of these are fault-based and two are not. They are:

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In all divorce matters where alimony or child support is an issue, the income or earning capacity of the parties needs to be determined. If you and your spouse are employed on a full-time basis your annual income can be easily determined. However, if you or your spouse are unemployed (either recent or long-term), under-employed or at some point during the marriage one of you took a leave of absence from your prior full-time position, the issue of imputation of income to one or both of you would need to be addressed.

New Jersey Courts have the authority to, under appropriate circumstances, impute income or determine the earning capacity of an individual whether or not they are actually earning at that level. When the true earning potential of a spouse is at issue in a divorce setting, the parties can either stipulate to an income for the under-employed or unemployed spouse, or they can reference the “Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates for New Jersey.” This information is calculated with data collected from employers in all industry sectors in New Jersey.

As the employment history or qualifications of a spouse may not fit within the table or if they are specifically unique, the table itself may be of nominal value. When there is continued disagreement as to a spouse’s income potential one or both of the parties may retain an employability/vocational expert to evaluate the earning capacity of the unemployed or underemployed spouse. At the outset of the case, the parties can jointly retain one such expert or each can retain their own. There are dozens of such experts statewide who regularly perform these evaluations, issue reports, and subsequently testify at any hearing or trial.

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