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Category: Divorce by Profession

Divorcing an Attorney

Divorce is Never Easy. But What if You are Trying to Divorce a Lawyer?

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:

Business Ownership/Valuation

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.

Prenups

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.

Conclusion

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.

Helping Police Officers Through Their New Jersey Divorce

What to do When a Brother or Sister in Blue Is Going Through a Divorce and How to Limit its Potential Impact on Your Department.

*An Article for Police Chiefs and Other High-Ranking Officers to Assist Their Team Members When They Are Facing a Divorce by Attorney Carl Taylor, Esq.

Over the years I have represented many local law enforcement officers of all ranks in their New Jersey divorces. At times I have represented spouses of law enforcement in divorces as well. My experience as a municipal prosecutor has demonstrated to me, although in an admittedly limited way, how stressful a law enforcement job can be. The hardworking men and women I work with often work long hours including nights, are almost always “on call,” deal with a great deal of stressful situations, and are often not compensated or sufficiently thanked for their work and the dangers they face in performing such work.

Perhaps it only makes sense then that law enforcement divorce rates are among the highest of any profession, with some statistics showing a nearly 75% divorce rate for law enforcement officers.  Not only that, but New Jersey Law Enforcement divorces can prove to be difficult matters from a legal perspective. Almost invariably the first question my law enforcement clients ask is whether or not their spouse will be entitled to a share of their pension.

Because of the long hours they work and lack of a set schedule, law enforcement officers often have difficulty obtaining primary custody of their children.  Even if your marriage is blissful, as a police chief or high-ranking officer you will often deal with these issues indirectly as a manager of people.  When things are not going well in a person’s home, they have a tendency to impact them in the office.  This is true whether you are a doctor, a police officer, or an office employee.  As a leader, you will need to be there for your officers during good and bad times while ensuring public safety and that departmental rules and AG guidelines are met. 

The sporadic nature of law enforcement overtime makes it difficult to calculate child support and alimony for those facing a divorce, and on top of that, law enforcement officers are more likely to have stay-at-home spouses than the general population–which can be a real luxury during an intact marriage but a nightmare in a divorce when alimony and custody are being sought by a soon to be former spouse.

Moreover, the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (“PFRS”) law enforcement pension has certain unique traits such as a general lack of survivor benefits that make negotiating a division of pension and life insurance a sometimes complex mathematical exercise. 

Regarding law enforcement alimony, the issue becomes only more complex given the recent changes to the federal tax code whereby effective January 1, 2019 all future alimony will no longer be taxable to the receiver or tax deductible to the payer.  In a majority of instances the law enforcement officer will be paying alimony and a new calculation will have to be determined moving forward to tax-affect this change in the federal tax law.

Tips for Law Enforcement Divorce

Although an initial consultation with this firm or another will be invaluable for determining a law enforcement officer’s rights and responsibilities when confronting a divorce, here are some of my best general tips for any law enforcement officers considering a divorce:  

  • Ok, so technically this is not a tip for those already married, but for those law enforcement officers that are engaged or in a serious relationship, consider obtaining a valid prenuptial agreement before the marriage. Although you won’t be able to negotiate away custody and child support issues, you can address issues of alimony and equitable distribution (such as having your wife waive his or her interest in your pension) provided that the agreement is valid.  As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
  • If a marriage is adrift be particularly sensitive if you or someone you know is nearing the twenty year anniversary, as that is when “open durational alimony” kicks in, which is essentially a fancier term for permanent alimony.
  • Attempt to limit the “locker room” talk from officers to those facing a divorce.  This now only helps from a managerial standpoint but can avoid the hive-mind that can sometimes lead to emotional decisions by those facing a divorce.  Many of my law enforcement officers receive well-meaning but incorrect advice from fellow officers.  This is, in practicality about one step above the advice those in jail receive from fellow “jailhouse lawyers.”  Every divorce is different based upon its own specific facts. Although law enforcement divorces have certain similarities, there are still many specific factors. And to that end…
  • If you give any advice to your team, perhaps attempt to imprint to them that they must realize they will not be as in control as they normally are. Divorce can be a messy ride even with experienced counsel. Law Enforcement officers are used to working within the more clear-cut criminal code and being mostly in control of the legal situation. Family law courts are nebulous and unclear terms such as “best interests of the child” permeate. Divorce should be viewed as dispassionately as possible from a good business mindset.  Insurance companies do not get emotional when they review personal injury lawsuits but perform sophisticated cost-benefit analysis.  All too often this is not how divorces are handled.  By keeping emotions in check during the divorce process law enforcement officers can work to protect their relationships with their children, protect their assets, and limit their exposure. 
  • Note that fault is not that important in New Jersey law enforcement divorces. Again, as far back as the academy you learned to look for mens rea –intent–in your criminal and traffic law matters. However, even if one’s spouse is 100% at fault in a divorce, it generally does not matter for purposes of calculating alimony or awarding alimony or child support. Much of the success of a divorce comes down to mindset. Just as one would train at the gun range one must train their mind to be prepared for the brick-by-brick process of obtaining a fair divorce that will not negatively harm their children.
  • Generally I advise clients to not leave the marital home during the pendency of a divorce. For law enforcement officers up to Chiefs this advice is more nuanced. As you know all too well from your experience with the public, a false domestic violence charge can take away your gun and maybe your career. While one may believe their spouse would not file such charges (knowing you are likely the “golden goose” I’ve seen it happen as all too often emotions rule in a divorce.  Good advice in such circumstances is to document everything, try to not engage in any kind of verbal confrontation, and to let the spouse take the house and limit all interaction if it is believed they are capable of filing a false domestic violence charge. 

There are many other issues that a law enforcement officer confronting a divorce will need to address, but the above are some of my best quick tips to help get through an admittedly difficult situation.   

Carl Taylor Law, LLC  

If you or someone you know is considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact attorney Carl Taylor, Esq., to discuss your options.  You can schedule an initial consultation by calling the Central New Jersey office at 908-237-3096.