Amicable Divorce

“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.

Our firm has experience in pursuing efficient and practical amicable divorce remedies for our clients in Hunterdon County, Somerset County, and throughout Central New Jersey. Call 908-237-3096 to schedule an initial consult today or click here to self-schedule your own divorce consult right now.

New Jersey Divorce Without a Lawyer?

NJ Divorce Lawyer, Carl Taylor

Sometimes prospective clients will ask me if they really need a lawyer. Hiring a divorce lawyer in New Jersey is expensive and in the age of Google I understand the desire for DIY. In this blog post I’m going to address some of my feelings on the “Rise of the Pro Se” litigant. These are just my opinions.

First, the simple truth is this: I would not do my job if I did not believe I was helping people. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t believe my job had a purpose and that we provide value to our clients.

That does not mean I am the right lawyer for everybody or that our team is the right fit for all potential clients. It also doesn’t mean that everybody contemplating a New Jersey Divorce requires their own independent counsel.

I personally believe, however, that getting the right lawyer for you is very important. Part of the reason why our firm’s divorce consults are so long is that both sides need to get to know one another and if they would be a good fit working together. Many divorces can be very emotional and there is a lot of teamwork between attorney and client.

Even though I am a lawyer, I have used other lawyers for relatively simple matters such as having my will drawn up and buying my home. I paid money to make sure I used the right professional, someone who was familiar with that area of the law–an area that I am not familiar with as I generally limit my practice to divorce and family law. In other words, I thought it a good investment even though I am a lawyer and could have likely muddled through that work without incident.

I know some people do so even without a law degree. There is no requirement that you hire a divorce lawyer in New Jersey. And even if you do there are no guaranteed results. But I know that like many things, unless you do this work you do not know what you do not know. What do I mean by that?

Well, for one thing, without discovery you can never be completely sure you are aware of all the assets of your marriage. That doesn’t mean the other party is intentionally hiding anything either. For instance: this morning I realized I had $90.00 in a checking account I thought I had long ago closed. I’m usually very on top of my finances but this one slipped past me until tax return time. Now imagine the same thing but it’s a $90,000 account. Not everybody is incredibly organized and over decades of life even large assets may go missing or unaccounted for. Without divorce something may be accidentally (or intentionally) slipped past you.

But it also means this: you may not know that you’re entitled to a portion of your spouse’s pension. That means that by hiring a divorce lawyer you may get thousands of dollars extra per month in retirement that you would have otherwise not thought about. Although sometimes hiring lawyers can seem to “complicate things,” the thoroughness of a “divorce audit” and being fully informed of your rights and responsibilities can lead to more money in your pocket.

And here’s another thing: if you retain a lawyer to draft your Marital Settlement Agreement then it will hopefully be clearly written and will contain all of the important terms needed to live out your post-marriage life. This could lead to less chance of litigation or issues in the future (post-divorce) that may need to be re-litigated. There is no guarantee these issues will not arise even with a lawyer (as divorce agreements can be tricky given that they must hold up for years or even decades), but the training and experience should minimize such issues.

Also, if one side has an attorney and the other doesn’t (or neither side has an attorney) it’s not only possible that you’ll misapply the law, it’s also likely that one of you will feel like you got taken advantage of. This may lead to an additional emotional cost for one or both parties in the years to come. Going through the divorce process can sometimes be painful (or even downright ugly), but sometimes it is necessary to move forward.

So, I guess it’s not surprising that I—a divorce lawyer–believe that divorce/family law lawyers are important. I am admittedly biased. But I have also seen too many bad agreements brought about by those operating without counsel.

I also know many people are struggling financially and that they don’t want to spend money on a lawyer. That’s definitely a societal problem and there may be services such as Legal Services available for those that are truly at or below the poverty line. For everyone else you may need to call around to find a lawyer that you can work with financially. It’s in a sense an investment you’ll need to consider or risk losing more money in the long run. If you spend $10,000 to receive an extra $100,000 in a divorce, for instance, was your lawyer really “a waste of money?”

And one more thing—-the procedural requirements of a New Jersey Divorce can be quite vigorous and time-consuming. Hiring a lawyer will help take some of this off your shoulders and provide you with extra time to focus on other important elements of your life. Court Rules are generally not relaxed just because someone does not have a lawyer.

If you’d like to see if our firm may be the right fit for your divorce and/or family law needs, then call us today at 908-237-3096 or use our website to self-schedule a divorce consult.

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.