Our firm is proud to announce that we are now offering divorce mediation services. New partner Lisa Stein-Browning, Esq., has been building a divorce mediation practice for years along with her collaborative law and divorce and family law litigation practices.
Likewise, firm principle Carl Taylor, Esq., recently completed divorce mediation and is now also accepting matters as a divorce mediator as well as continuing his primary focus of divorce and family law litigation.
With the addition of Ms. Browning, Esq., the firm can now provide dynamic services in just about any type of New Jersey divorce or family law matter, including mediation, collaborative law, standard litigation, or arbitration.
Divorce mediation is a process where both parties (either with or without their attorneys present) meet with a neutral mediator who will attempt to assist them in amicably resolving their case. Under New Jersey rules the mediator cannot represent (or have previously consulted with or represented) either party to the matter. Divorce lawyers such as Ms. Browning, Esq., and Mr. Taylor, Esq., make good mediators as they are familiar with the law and the likely outcomes of a case.
To receive the designation of trained divorce mediator, Mr. Taylor, Esq., recently completed the 44.4 hour course “Family Mediation Training,” through the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education; a course which Ms. Browning, Esq., previously completed.
Although somewhat outside of the traditional legal system, New Jersey Divorce Mediation must be consistent with the Uniform Mediation Act of New Jersey (2004).
We look forward to continuing to work on behalf of clients and we also look forward to helping those in need of settlement with divorce mediation services.
Right now, your child may be young – you may not be thinking about their future wedding. Perhaps in passing you’ll consider putting aside some money, but for the most part it’s not on your mind. That is way off in the future, if it ever happens at all.
Especially right now, when you’re going through your own divorce.
Maybe right now your son(s)/daughter(s) seem like the only good thing about your relationship with their mother (or father). Everything else feels cloudy, or worse.
You know instinctually as you go through your divorce that you will need to protect your children. But from what? Perhaps there is a legitimate reason to protect them from the other parent. Or maybe you’re letting your own emotion cloud the situation. Maybe they are doing the same with you. It’s hard to not want to retaliate…
Right now maybe it seems easy to make dismissive comments about your spouse, sometimes even in the presence of your children. Maybe you think they are too young to understand, but I bet they are listening.
Right now it’s easy to focus on the past and a cloudy present and to lose sight of the future. But be careful. Because someday your child (or children) will grow up. And the way you handle your divorce will have an impact on them. It will impact their own relationships as an adult. It may impact their ability to hold down jobs, to be self-assured, to avoid issues with drugs and alcohol. The statistics show this to be true.
It will also impact you. A high-conflict divorce will take a lot out of you financially and emotionally, you will not be the same person as when you started the journey.
Every time you scream at each other in front of your children you are creating trauma, whether you mean to or not and whether you realize it or not.
Every time you use your children as a pawn in a divorce you are harming them whether you mean to or not and whether you realize it or not. (often times this is subconsciously done).
It’s so easy to be caught up in the moment that we forget such things.
But someday your child will grow up and they will decide what kind of relationship they will have with each of you, if any.
And someday your child will get married (or get a big promotion/or have kids of their own/or graduate from college) and you will likely have to be in the same room as their dad (or their mom).
You want to be in the situation where your ex’s presence does not ruin your enjoyment of that day. You want to be in the situation where old wounds are healed enough that you do not in some way damper your child’s big day.
You want to be working towards your Happily EVEN After, not perseverating on a darkened past.
Next week my first book will be published. It is called Happily Even After: the New Jersey Divorce Guide because it is not just an overview of New Jersey Law, but it is also a sort of treatise on the emotion of divorce. It features guest chapters from trained therapists and marriage counselors as well as my own thoughts having practiced in the area of divorce and family law for nearly a decade. This book is an overview of our firm’s philosophy as well as an analysis of relevant law and procedure.
Having you attend your child’s future wedding some day in the future with happiness, serenity, and peace is an important part of our firm’s core philosophy.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed with negative emotions in a divorce, but by taking the appropriate steps you can move forward in a positive manner, even through difficult and sometimes high conflict divorces. You can find Your Happily EVEN After, and it starts now.
Our firm has recently partnered with the Somerset Patriots to sponsor the first run scored by the Patriots in each home game this season. For each such run the firm has committed to donate $50.00 per home game to Safe Harbor Child Access Centers.
This is exciting to us for a number of reasons. Firstly, Safe Harbor Child Access Centers is a hard-working non-profit that assists with providing a place safe for supervised parenting time in disputed custody and related legal matters. An interesting aside, in our firm’s first office we rented space in the same building in Flemington as Safe Harbor. By committing to donate $50.00 per home game we will be able to provide support to this important local non-profit and to further give back to Hunterdon County, which is an important part of our mission statement.
Also, we are proud to commit to an initial two year sponsorship of the Somerset Patriots. As many of you know, the Somerset Patriots provide a kid-friendly place to catch great local baseball. As both a local resident and an avid baseball fan I couldn’t be more excited about this partnership. As the former Deputy County Counsel of Somerset County I know how important the Patriots are to the County of Somerset and its residents.
Divorce Education: the Transcript of Podcast Episode 7
Hello and welcome to the Carl Taylor Law Happily Even After Divorce Podcast. This is Carl Taylor –as always– and it has actually been a little bit of a hiatus from our last podcast. And i now feel as nervous as I did with the first episode. For a while I was feeling less nervous but now I feel as bad as ever—but I’ll try and pull it together here.
A couple of quick updates about our firm–Carl Taylor Law, LLC located here in New Jersey – but a couple of updates we actually have a new attorney in our firm, partner Lisa Stein-Browning, so we’re now a two attorney firm which is great.
Lisa brings about 15 years of experience in divorce and family law locally. So she’s helping bring that experience to our firm and also in branching out in mediation and collaborative law as she is trained in those areas. So it’s been great to begin to offer some alternative dispute resolution. So she’s been a great addition to our firm.
We also will soon have my book published – Happily Even After. It will be out in May. It’s going to be about 230 pages so if you want a copy just call us or order it through our website.
And that’s what I kind of want to talk about in the Podcast today: the idea of educating the public. Some people have asked me why do you give out so much free information—but a big part of why I became a lawyer is because I wanted to help people out. And in a divorce or other practice area you can’t really help your client out if they don’t understand the process then their goals become a bit muddled or murky, they may not know what is realistic. That all leads to increased expense and increased emotional expense. So it’s really important for the public to be aware of their rights and responsibilities and to have a sense of just what is New Jersey Divorce and family law. What rights do they have…and what responsibilities do they have.
Because if people just go on the internet, then they can find anything. But we’re trying to create an experience here–across all mediums—where people can go onto our website, www.mynjdivorcelawyer.com and find good information and accurate so they know exactly where the law is–at least at this moment–where it may be heading, and what you can do to protect your rights. And again, what are your responsibilities.
Because if you’re not willing to engage in your responsibilities then sometimes it’s hard to convince others to provide you with your rights, so to speak. Because divorce negotiations is a bit of a tug of war or it can be a healthy give and take and we’ve tried a couple of cases recently, and only about 2% of cases go to trial but it’s really not the best alternative to most people. It’s very costly, it leaves the results entirely up to the judge so you lose autonomy of making a decision.
So that’s part of the background for why we believe in educating the public at large, and now I’m going to go over how we do so. So on our website www.mynjdivorcelawyer.com we have a regularly updated blog, if you go to our website and you click the button in the upper right hand corner it will say Divorce Tools and it will list the blog, our books, faq’s this podcast, video’s, ecourses and firm newsletter.
So we have at this time close to 200 articles on our website addressing everything in New Jersey divorce law. Discussions of alimony, child support, and really specific discussions: how long will it take to get divorced in New Jersey, what types of alimony are there, how much child support will you have to pay, there’s all those articles.
Also, links to some of our offsite articles. For instance I have been published in state and local magazines and newspapers and a few times in the New Jersey Law Journal. Those articles are usually written for other attorneys so they may be a bit more complex to read but they also provide great information on some more in-depth or cutting edge articles. For instance, in Family Law Magazine I published an article on Bitcoin–how do you divide them, what if your spouse is trying to hide assets in cryptocurrencies. So there are both offsite links and onsite blog posts and articles.
As for books we’ve done a few shorter ebooks and now we’re publishing our book Happily Even After aimed at individuals and non-lawyers and what the process of the divorce procedure is like in New Jersey, how to choose a law firm for you, and all the laws at play. It’s sort of written with–i hope– a sense of humor (not too much because I wrote it) but not so dry, but also could be used as a reference as it’s broken down into chapters. If you don’t have children, for instance, you can skip the portions of the book on child custody.
The intent of the book is, if you did sit down and read it all the way through, at the end you would have a really good of the process in front of you, for a New Jersey Divorce. Or even if you’re in the middle of a divorce. You’d have a sense of the path that you may wish to follow. And in truth it’s not just one path, it’s a bunch and you have to choose one of them. It lays out what those paths are and it will light up the paths for you and you can start to work on your goals.
If you work on your goals and you have a sense of how to work with an attorney then you’ll be able to see where this needs to go in terms of motion practice or negotiation.
So again, this book—and people may wonder “you’re an attorney, you bill by the hour, why would you spend so much time on writing books or providing free information on your website,” and I can sell the book although I doubt it will make me any money, but we also believe it’s important to inform the public and when I sat down and put my years of experience into this book I hope it provides a guide.
It also contains our firm’s philosophy. Which is you want to get a good deal but you also want to one day go to your kid’s wedding and not hate your ex-spouse. To take some of the insanity out of your life and have some peace post-divorce, which is not easy to do. And I know sometimes I get wrapped up in what’s fair or not fair and certainly we all want to be treated fairly but the book is also about the mindset. Treating your divorce like you’re training for a marathon. Because you essentially are training for a marathon. You need to get yourself in the right head space or you may make decisions you later regret, decisions that may also negatively impact your children.
So, look out for our new book and reach out to us for a free copy of the book if you’re a reader of www.mynjdivorcelawyer.com. I’m really proud of my book and I think—should anyone actually read it–that it can do some good.
Also on our website we’re going to start a video series about how to handle simple procedural topics so check in the coming weeks on videos like how to do a simple Case Information Statement, divorce pleadings, etc. We’re going to essentially take the information on the website and put it into video form. Just like this podcast is an attempt to take information and put it into a different format. Maybe you can listen to this on the way to work or while you have some down time. A lot of people, if you read all day or you’re on a computer then the podcast is another tool to provide resources.
We also do a quarterly newsletter with updates on the law and on Hunterdon County and on our firm. In the coming months and years we plan to keep doing this educational component, which is sort of laughable because as my children would tell you I’m sort of horrible at teaching things, but hopefully not so horrible that I can’t get some information across about the law. So, don’t ask me to teach you how to tie your shoes, but, when it comes to the law hopefully I can do that for you.
And to bring it sort of full circle, what I tell clients is this: if you’re informed it helps you take the reigns of the process. It helps both of us if we can speak from a common language on how to proceed in a case. And also, it helps keep costs down because now you’re not asking every single question, or you’re asking better questions, some things you may even be handling on your own, you’ll know to avoid certain missteps, and you’re sort of doing that on your own time because there is only so much time you will have to speak with your attorney as funds are always limited for everyone.
So these resources will help people have some ownership of their divorce and to cut down on costs because the whole system should be more efficient. Rather than me sending an email to each client about how to fill out a Case Information Statement, for instance, I can send each client one link to the video or send them a link to all the videos for the whole divorce and that can assist them. It will cut down on billable hours because we are more efficient.
And I think at the end of the day that most clients want that efficiency. And they want to be informed. And they want to be a part of the process. And if they don’t want those things then we can always take on a larger role, or maybe their just not a great fit for our firm. Because we want to work with people who want to be informed, and to do what’s best for themselves and their children, and like it says on our website, the most important person in your divorce is actually you, in my opinion. It’s not even the attorney you choose.
A lot of people can be their own worst enemies in their divorce because it’s so emotional. And that can really hurt their kids. So we want to work with those who are going to do what it takes to be informed–because we make it easy by providing all of the materials and across so many different mediums—and clients who will take this process very seriously. As we do.
So again, our website is www.mynjdivorcelawyer.com where you can find a great sense of what we’re about and the resources we make available. Thanks for listening and take care.
Our Free Book: Happily EVEN After – The Guide to Divorce in New Jersey
If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action you should first learn about the process. Our 200+ page book is the starting point for how to successfully navigate your New Jersey Divorce. Click here to request a free E-Book version or call 908-237-3096 to request a Free print copy of the book.
Within the next few weeks my book on New Jersey Divorce Law will be published. The book is titled: Happily Even After – the New Jersey Divorce Guide and will provide a comprehensive overview of the procedure, law, and emotion involved in a New Jersey Divorce.
As a “teaser” for the upcoming book, below is the forward by friend and local marriage counselor Glenn Murphy.
If you’re contemplating divorce, you know a lot about pain: raw, emotional, gut-wrenching pain. The person you once stood beside and made promises to is now the one who no longer wants to live another day with you or the one you can no longer abide … or both. When a friend becomes an enemy, when a trusted ally become a betrayer, when love turns to apathy or worse, then your heart will be crushed and your mind may go into the spin cycle: “What should I do? Where do I begin? How will I survive? How will I make it financially? Emotionally? What will become of my home … my life … my future … my children?
No one goes into marriage planning for or preparing for divorce, but when it hits, and it can hit like a hurricane, it can devastate everyone in its path. As a seasoned therapist who has worked extensively with divorced and divorcing men and women and their children, I have had a front row seat to it all. I’ve seen lives and hearts scarred beyond recognition, but I’ve also seen others recover and rebuild their lives, sometimes even better than before.
And while each situation has its own unique set of elements and factors, its own nuances, its own story to be told, everyone, to recover well, will need supportive friends (definitely), a good therapist (probably), and a wise and experienced attorney (absolutely) to guide them along the way.
No one goes into surgery or should go into surgery without being well informed about preoperative care, the surgery itself, and post-operative care. Likewise, no one should go through divorce unprepared and ill informed.
In his book Happily Even After, family law attorney Carl Taylor has provided a comprehensive guide to the questions you want answered and the questions you didn’t even know to ask about divorce in New Jersey. Mr. Taylor provides an invaluable manual to a journey you never intended to walk but has now become (or may become) yours to walk.
The book will equip you with technical and legal information, but what makes it unique is that it also addresses emotions—yours, your children’s, your partners—a topic most attorneys skittishly avoid. Glenn Murphy, LPC New Jersey
Today I get to write about a subject that makes me feel a bit squeamish: divorcing an attorney.
As I’ve written about in past blog entries, divorce can be different based upon the profession(s) of those involved. For instance, in a divorce involving law enforcement there are often heightened legal issues involving pensions, custody, and the impact of any domestic violence claims.
Like law enforcement professionals, lawyers have an elevated divorce rate. This is likely from the long-hours on the job and the fact that the job is somewhat stressful. As a divorce lawyer, I get to see first-hand that having a lawyer as a client is both a blessing and a curse. We like to pride ourselves on logic but there is an emotional component to divorce law. It can be difficult for me to represent lawyers because they often work in other practice areas than divorce law and do not fully comprehend just how bizarre divorce law in New Jersey can be.
So, if you’re married to an attorney and you are considering divorce you may be concerned that your spouse will have special knowledge of the system or its players over you. However, by hiring an experienced local divorce and family law firm you should quickly be up to speed. Below is an outline of some ways that your divorce from an attorney may be different from other divorces:
Many lawyers are self-employed. Any time a party to a divorce is not a W-2 income earner it adds greater complexity to the case—where the case proceeds to litigation or is able to be amicably resolved.
How are a lawyer’s business contacts and good will valued? Should the spouse receive moneys to offset any “equity” in the law firm? What if the law firm has other equity partners, how may that impact the law firm itself? It is difficult to value a law firm because so much of it is dependent upon the personality of an attorney or a group of attorneys. For instance, a solo attorney may have a thriving business but how much is it really worth if the clients of the firm would not work with another attorney buying the practice?
Another complicating factor to divorcing an attorney is that small businesses such as law firms (and statistically most lawyers in New Jersey work in small or solo law practices), may be reinvesting profit back into a business or otherwise offsetting expenses so that their income may appear deflated. How much income should be imputed for alimony or child support in such instances?
Alimony and Child Support
As noted above, there are many complicating factors in valuing a legal business and that may also create issues for imputing income for alimony and child support if you are divorcing a lawyer.
In many firms bonuses may make up a larger part of the compensation structure. In smaller firms there may be a risk that a handshake and a wink exists with partners that no bonuses will be paid until after a partner’s divorce is finalized. There may be the need for discovery on these issues and even the hiring of an expert such as a forensic accountant.
Custody and Parenting Time
Because lawyers work long hours you may have a stronger claim for custody and/or parenting time versus if you were married to someone in a different profession. If your wife is a lawyer, for instance, she may work 80 hours a week versus your 40, so you may be able to insist upon being named as the parent of primary residence in the divorce.
For these reasons, a divorce from an attorney may be more complicated regarding custody and parenting time than the average divorce.
I mention prenups/premarital agreements because it is likely that more lawyers will have sought a prenup than the general population. If there is a prenup then this is another issue that will impact or potentially impact on your divorce.
Knowledge of the System/The Lawyer Personality
Let’s be honest, lawyers can have difficult personalities. I know this because I myself am a lawyer. It’s difficult to live in my own head let alone for others to interact with me. And as much as I love the legal profession and most of my colleagues, there are certainly many unpleasant characters that I get to interact with on almost any given day.
Lawyers tend to be Type-A personalities and may veer into being “control freaks.” This makes a divorce potentially messy as so much is out of your control. Many clients getting divorced from a lawyer are concerned that their spouse may have special treatment because of their profession (and some cases will be moved out of the county for this reason, particularly if you are married to a municipal court judge, superior court judge, or other “connected” local lawyer).
That said, if you retain the right attorney then you will have your own expert in your corner, somebody that is not emotionally invested in the matter beyond your best interests. Moreover, if your spouse is not a divorce lawyer then they will likely have only a vague idea of how the family law courts work. They may even be more willing to settle because they hear the horror stories of how expensive contested divorce cases can be.
And that is perhaps the key takeaway—most cases ultimately settle outside the court system. Very few divorce cases go all the way to trial. Although motions on specific issues are more common, if a judge feels they cannot make a fair decision then they will be required to recuse themselves for the case.
You should not feel intimidated merely because you are divorcing a lawyer. Nobody is above the law and ultimately divorcing a lawyer will have the same court rules, laws, and statutes as divorcing anyone else. By hiring an experienced divorce lawyer you can help level the playing ground and move forward with your divorce and onto your future.
Divorce for parents of children with autism or other special needs may be a bit more complex as a matter of law. The child support guidelines for instance do not often take into account the additional time and money required to assist children with autism or other special needs. There will be issues such as special needs trusts, future guardianship, and other such matters that must be address in a divorce agreement.
In addition, divorce for parents of children with special needs can be more difficult regarding custody and creating a workable parenting plan. Parents may disagree about the level of care necessary for their child or children. There may be disputes about emancipation language or whether the child will ever be legally emancipated.
Although there is an increasingly greater general awareness of such issues, an attorney representing a parent in such a matter will have to be cognizant of all the added legal issues and educate the court and opposing counsel on how to sensibly address such matters.
Parenting Time & Custody
Children with autism may require additional consistency in their schedule. This may lead to more limited parenting time with the non-custodial parent than in most matters.
Some children with special needs may also reside in residential homes or other alternative living conditions as they get older. A divorcing couple may disagree about the placement of a child in such locations, which can complicate settling a divorce.
There may also be concerns about whether or not to accept IEP’s or out of district placements for a child in a school district with one parent feeling out of the loop or not agreeing with a plan that perhaps the other parent does agree with. Such issues can be difficult even in an intact family but may be exacerbated in a divorce setting.
In addition, although many people reside together in the same house while a divorce is pending, such added tension may not be in a child with special needs’ best interests as, depending upon their diagnosis, they may have greater sensitivity to arguing or other sensory triggers.
Holiday parenting time and vacation parenting time may be more rare in cases involving parents with a child or children who have autism or who are disabled.
Equitable Distribution and Finances
Special needs trusts may need to be discussed. Many children with special needs are still high-functioning and/or have a high IQ so college costs may need to be discussed. The Marital Settlement Agreement should set forth what types of college savings, trusts, or other financial assistance will be enacted and who will be responsible for adding funds into such accounts and ensuring that such funds are not inappropriately depleted.
Child Support and Alimony
Alimony may be impacted if one parent cannot work because of added childcare requirements. Likewise, the party receiving child support will likely have a claim for additional child support and for a longer period of time as there are many additional expenses for most children that have special needs, much of which is not covered by insurance or otherwise subsidized by grants.
As noted above, emancipation may prove to be a big issue in a divorce involving children with special needs.
Every divorce has its own unique facts and areas of complexity. Unfortunately, parents of children with special needs may be at an increased risk of divorce.
Both parents to such a divorce should remember to always act in all of their children’s best interests, to communicate with one another and their attorneys as effectively as possible, and to be fully informed of their rights and their children’s rights when getting divorced, engaging in disputed custody, or otherwise addressing a family law issue involving a child or children that have special needs.
The following is a guest-post from a friend that recently went through a divorce. I asked if they would write up some personal thoughts about the process. They asked that they remain anonymous, which I have honored. The below should be helpful to anyone going through a divorce or considering a divorce to see what another person’s perspective was on the process and the lessons learned.
Divorced: What I learned – A personal experience.
Going through a divorce is not an easy process for
anyone. It not only affects the
participants in the divorce, but it can also have a significant impact on their
family and friends. Couples that have
been married for a long time need to be particularly sensitive to these issues. If there are children at home who are not yet
emancipated, then child custody issues can be difficult waters to
navigate. And of course, there are
always the financial considerations as well, the cost of the divorce, living
arrangements after the divorce, and so on.
Here is my personal experience. Even though I was married for many years and not happily married, I still felt betrayed when I was served with divorce papers. Feelings of anger, resentment and abandonment abound. My first thought was that my spouse wasn’t getting any of my hard- earned money. I soon found out that in equitable distribution states such as NJ, the split is often 50-50, although not always necessarily so. In other words, it was considered our money whether I liked it or not.
The first step in the process was to hire an attorney to defend myself. I Interviewed several divorce lawyers prior to hiring (this is highly recommended). Ask yourself, do you want an attorney who is aggressive and adversarial? Or, do you want an attorney who seems reasonable and will help you settle quickly. I chose option 2, with the hope to settle as quickly and fairly as possible.
Although I made an excellent decision and was very happy with my divorce attorney, I wasn’t so fortunate with the opposing side (my spouse’s attorney). That attorney was unreasonable, buried us with paperwork and appeared as though the desire was to prolong the divorce proceedings for as long as possible. From my perspective, this was not good. The clock keeps ticking, attorney fees are soaring, hostility increases, and although usually upbeat, depression starts to take hold. The worst part of this situation is that you’re stuck. You can’t control the other attorney; all you can do is continue in good faith with efforts to work out a fair and equitable settlement.
In my case, things ended well. Why? My spouse (of his own free will) fired the attorney. Fortunately, my spouse could see that the attorney my spouse hired wasn’t acting in good faith to settle nor, was this attorney communicating effectively with my spouse.
After that it was a matter of sitting down with my spouse
and working out what we as a divorcing couple would consider fair and equitable
to each of us. This took less than
one-half hour. The information was
forwarded to my divorce attorney who incorporated it into a Marital Settlement
Agreement, which was then signed and notarized by both parties. Proceedings went quickly thereafter, as we
appeared in court for an “uncontested” divorce.
If you are going through this process, what I encourage you to do is to sit down with your spouse and work out what you feel would be a fair and equitable arrangement. You may want to use a mediator to accomplish this.
Try to look at the big picture, your home (or homes), automobiles, pensions, savings, child custody arrangements (if applicable), medical insurance. Don’t get bogged down with insignificant stuff. And concede on certain conditions, if some of your more important terms are met. Remember the settlement agreement will probably not be perfect but should be as equitable as can be given the facts of the marriage. And If you can’t settle then others will do it for you. Do you really want strangers or one judge sitting on a bench splitting up your assets and deciding your future? I know I didn’t.
I have found that one of the most difficult parts of a New Jersey Divorce for my clients is the concern that their “dirty laundry will be aired.” There is nothing more personal than a marriage and our spouses usually know more about us than anyone else in the world. So it only makes sense that some of that information may be used as ammunition in a high-conflict divorce. That is one of the reasons that many jurisdictions originally created evidentiary exemptions such as “spousal immunity.”
Although New Jersey is now a “no-fault” divorce state–meaning causes of action such as adultery are no longer utilized in the pleadings (the more general “irreconcilable differences” is by far the most popular divorce count), there still exists a certain percentage of cases where even the initial pleadings contain very private information, such as allegations of spousal abuse, adultery, and so on.
That said, a New Jersey Divorce is generally carried out in a very public setting—the Courtroom. If the parties are not able to work out an agreement and file a formal divorce complaint, then they will appear (generally) in open court, file documents that will (generally) be public record, and engage in a public process. This blog post will primarily address the issue of are New Jersey divorce records public? It will also discuss methods to be utilized to minimize the public nature of divorce proceedings.
Are New Jersey Divorce Records Public?
The basic rule addressing the privacy of court records is found in New Jersey Court Rule 1:38, which states that such records are generally “open for public inspection and copying except as otherwise provided in this rule…” This means that the standard course of business is for such records to not be confidential but there may be instances and exceptions. It further states that: “Exceptions..shall be narrowly construed in order to implement the policy of open access to records of the judiciary.” This of course means that the law truly does favor transparency for its records and proceedings. In other words, you must have a compelling reason to seal records or otherwise render them confidential.
Subsection 2 of Rule 1:38 provides a very broad reading as to what constitutes a “record,” including “any information maintained by a court in any form in connection with a case or judicial proceeding, including but not limited to pleadings, motions, briefs and attachments, exhibits, and so on. This is one of the reasons why another Court Rule requires that any personal identifiers such as social security numbers be redacted from many filings with the Court. This subsection goes on to state that any order is open to the public and that any transcript or recording of a court session, trial, or hearing is open to the public. So again, for those favoring privacy this Court Rule is not giving you much to go on.
Subsection 3 of Rule 1:38 provides the exceptions, which include the broad: “records required to be kept confidential by statute, rule or prior case law unless otherwise ordered,” internal records of the court such as draft opinions, certain criminal records, expunged records in criminal proceedings, records relating to child victims of abuse or assault, names and addresses of victims or alleged victims of domestic violence, and then a specific sub-section (12(d)) relating to family courts:
Family Court Specific Exceptions
Rule 1:38-3(d) states that the following records may be exempt/private:
Family Case Information Statements;
Marital Settlement Agreements and other Settlements not signed by a Judge;
Confidential Litigant Information Sheet Forms;
Juvenile Delinquency Hearings and Expunged Juvenile Records;
Medical, Psychiatric and Drug Reports and evaluations for custody;
Certain Domestic Violence Records;
Certain DCPP Records;
Child Custody Evaluations;
and Child Welfare Check Records.
Privacy in the Court Room
There are certain restrictions on use of cameras and video recording in the courtroom. That said, family courts including trials are often open to the public. Certain juvenile hearings are in closed session, but generally everything must be open to the public.
One exception may be what is called in camera review, which is a mechanism by which a judge may take testimony in chambers. This mechanism is often used when a child has to testify. Although courts generally do not accept the testimony of children, at a certain age they may use such in camera review. If it’s part of a trial then the other party/their attorney are entitled to be present so as to satisfy “due process” constitutional laws. Click here to read our article on in camera testimony of children in family court disputes.
As the general court rule is that all hearings must be done in public, it should be noted that there are certain exemptions, including ones specific to divorce and family law. Rule 5:3-2 states that private hearings in family court actions may always be discretionary by a court but limited to the welfare or status of a child. DCPP actions to remove custody of parents are also generally held in closed court and the records sealed.
Rule 1:2-1 addresses the sealing of records and notes that there is a requirement of a “showing of good cause.” Likewise, many domestic violence hearing records may be sealed consistent with N.J.S.A. 2C:25-33(a).
It should also be noted that although there are limited circumstances whereby a party can file a lawsuit anonymously or by utilizing their initials, they are exceedingly rare in family court cases for divorce. Rule 1:4-1 requires full names of all parties to a New Jersey action and such limitations only exist in rare situations such as involving children or victims of abuse.
How to Maximize Privacy in a New Jersey Divorce
The confidentiality of records is something I use to deal with very often when I previously served as Deputy County Counsel of Somerset County. The County operated a jail, a sheriff’s office, a mental health center, had over 1,500 employees and an HR Department, and much more. We received hundreds of OPRA requests each year and many of them found their way to my desk for legal input.
The Open Public Records Act favors transparency, but at times HIPAA information would be requested, or criminal records would be requested, and so on. This is all a long-winded way of saying that the privacy of records is always complex and with competing interests. Personal rights of privacy versus general rights of the public to have information compete in interesting ways. Like the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”), the above laws provide a framework favoring transparency. But I would imagine for a lot of people reading this blog post and facing a divorce that’s not very reassuring. So what can be done, if anything, to maximize privacy in a New Jersey Divorce?
First, utilizing mediation, arbitration, or working out an agreement outside the court system will help to maintain the privacy of your proceedings. Each of your attorneys have attorney-client confidentiality and work-product requirements that will help keep your negotiations, your discovery, and your ultimate settlement quite confidential provided you avoid court (or at least minimize your exposure to court).
The filing of Motions, public trials, and the like will only help to make your matter known to the public.
One example of this may be a case where one or both parties known they have been working under the table or otherwise engaging in a form of potential tax fraud. The Judge may be required to turn you over to the IRS if the matter proceeds to a trial. This is a somewhat boring and innocuous example of why parties may wish to pursue arbitration, mediation, or any other method they can to avoid the court system. Mutually assured destruction is usually not fun and most married couples file taxes jointly and sign-off, meaning it is often a joint problem.
Other things you can do is to, when appropriate, seek a transfer to another venue if you are a celebrity or local celebrity to gain less exposure, to have your attorney consider seeking to seal records, have certain matters heard in closed court, or to otherwise have confidentiality applied to your pleadings (but as noted above all of these things are difficult to obtain and not often allowed by the court rules).
Confidentiality and Privacy are important to all humans. We want to feel that our business is our business, so to speak. When you enter into Court you may lose some of your privacy rights. You enter into something larger than yourself—and you become a part of the court system–which is sometimes unforgiving and rigid in its view.
By working with your attorney you can discuss any and all privacy concerns and work on a plan that can minimize such concerns.
“A Strange Game. The only winning move is not to play.” (Computer in the 1983 Move ‘War Games’ Talking About Nuclear War).
Not every divorce is high-conflict. In fact, many divorces can be handled in a relatively civil and amicable manner. Some cases start out high-conflict and become more amicable as they proceed. Unfortunately, other cases have the potential to be amicable, or start off as amicable, and then later become more emotional and more high-conflict in nature.
There is one thing you should be aware of: high conflict often means high cost. It takes a lot of time and money to “fight” a divorce. Sometimes aggressive tacts may lead to better results, but in my experience they more often lead to wars of attrition, stalemates, and increased expenses on the parts of the litigants.
And the cost isn’t just the actual dollars and cents to hire lawyers, experts, and the like—it’s the emotional cost of having a very personal and very contentious matter hanging over your head and in a public forum.
Many parties confronting a divorce engage in a zero-sum game. As the above quote from the movie War Games notes, in some games there are no “winners,” and the only way to “win” is to not play at all.
But what is an amicable divorce? I find a lot of prospective clients seem to think there is either an “Amicable divorce” or a “contested divorce.” Or only an “uncontested divorce” or a “contested divorce.” There are often no such absolutes. Indeed, there is a continuum for each case that, like a Richter Magnitude Scale for earthquakes may rise and file based upon the day.
A completely amicable divorce (let’s arbitrarily assign it a score of 1 on a 1-10 scale of aggression) would be one where the parties have no disagreements on any issue. They agree on everything from the amount of child support to the exact breakdown of all holiday parenting time and so on with no disagreements at all. In fact, in this hypothetical this couple communicates so well and is so in agreement that one may reasonably wonder why they are getting divorced in the first place.
On the other end of the spectrum, scoring a 10 out of 10 may be very high conflict cases including but not necessarily including domestic violence issues, severe mental health issues, and a complete and utter contempt for one another (and in time, eventually the opposing side’s lawyers and perhaps their own lawyer as well).
But in practice the extreme examples hypothesized above are rare. Most “uncontested cases” may score a 1-4 and contested cases a 6-8. Accordingly, an amicable divorce does not mean that there has to be complete agreement.
It simply means that the parties are willing to engage in communication (either personally and/or through their attorneys), to attempt to be reasonable, to pursue settlement based upon fair terms, and to be reasonable about sharing financial documents or the like to speed up the process. These types of cases can address all issues, reach a compromise, and lead to the savings of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars and many, many hours and even years of high-conflict divorce litigation.
Of course, in a divorce both sides need to be reasonable or it is difficult to work out a deal. This is about pragmatism, not about being taken advantage of. Some cases simply require more aggressive techniques. But for the vast majority of middle class or upper middle class litigants, they may be very well served by pursuing an amicable divorce.