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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.