Divorce & Family Law Insights

To the owners of family businesses, estate planning can sometimes be an after-thought. Owners are often so involved in building their business and managing its daily operations that they do not have time to devote to the planning that will become important when the owner is ready to hand over management control and ownership to successors. It is often the case with successful family businesses that there has been little or no thought given to the transition of management and ownership, with the result being there is no succession plan in place. Further, available strategies to transfer the ownership of the business to younger generations of the family in a tax-effective manner may not have been utilized.

When a family business is one of the assets, or perhaps the primary asset, a well thought out strategic and financial plan for the business and an estate plan for the family are critically important. The following is a brief and by no means exhaustive outline of some points to consider.

Strategic Planning

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Probate disputes often reflect the worst aspects of family law coupled with issues of undue influence.

At the time of a will probate dispute the court system is seeing the litigants at a trying period in their lives. They have lost a loved one and tensions are running high as to the actual intent of the deceased person. While the parties may be furious with one another, there is always the hope that some degree of familial ties can be preserved. Mediation is uniquely suited to resolve these tensions. The litigants can tell their sides of the story to the mediator, who has the time to listen. In my experience, it is very important for all litigants to feel as if their side of the dispute has been properly told. It is after this emotionally draining experience that they are ready to find common ground and solutions to the problems presented.

Challenges frequently arise when all heirs are not treated equally. One child may feel they had the burden of caring for the aging parent and should be compensated. A variation of this story arises when the elderly parent has given a power of attorney to only one family member. After death disputes arise as to assets that may have been spent by the child with the power of attorney. Rarely have receipts been saved, and frequently large amounts of cash have been paid to home health aide. Expensive litigation and a trial will only serve to reduce the assets. A mediator can help the parties narrow their actual disputes and discuss the cost of proving the righteousness of a position. The insight of a neutral third party is invaluable.

The Honorable Judge Katherine Dupuis, (Retired) and Nicole A. Kobis, partner at Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook, & Cooper, P.C., explain how divorce can be handled virtually

If classroom lessons and workout classes can be conducted virtually, does the same hold true for divorce proceedings?

The short answer to this is yes. Virtual alternative dispute resolution will result in a faster divorce process during times like these when the courts have limited capabilities and a back log of matters to be heard.

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.

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