Initial Consultation: Eight Good Questions to Ask Your Prospective New Jersey Divorce Attorney

In matters of family and divorce law, initial consultations are often very important.  This is where you will likely meet your Divorce Attorney for the first time.  In advance of the meeting, the attorney or his or her staff likely advised you of some basic documentation to bring, such as your most recent W-2’s and tax returns.  Now the initial consultation day has arrived, and you are ready to discuss your case, have your questions answered, and determine the appropriate next steps to take.  Most attorneys do not offer free consultations for divorce matters, so make sure you ask some or all of the following eight questions to make sure you get the most out of your initial consultation.*

  1. Overall Firm Strategy – What is the overarching firm strategy, philosophy or personality.  Some firms like to be known as aggressive.  Other divorce attorneys pride themselves on their negotiation skills.  Does the attorney suggest mediation or litigation as a first move?  Mediation is the less-aggressive and often times less expensive method.  Many attorneys will suggest trying mediation first, with litigation as a fall-back option.  Likewise, many clients have their own thoughts as to the proper disposition of their case.  As the rapport between a client and their attorney is more important in family law than in most types of practice, the alignment of you and your prospective attorney’s ideals may prove quite important as the case moves on.
  2. Divorce Attorney’s Rate – For most clients, knowing the divorce attorney’s billable hour will also be an important factor when choosing an attorney.
  3. Cost – Likewise, a client may want to review the estimated/anticipated overall cost of the divorce.  One caveat: in divorce cases, the legal costs are largely dependent upon how quickly the parties can reach and finalize an Agreement.  Accordingly, an estimate will often-times be just that–and the actual cost may be significantly lower or higher depending upon a number of factors.
  4. Who Will Be Working on the Case? – In a solo law practice, it’s pretty clear who will be handling your case.  Other times, however, two or more attorneys may be handling your case.   Some clients will see multiple attorneys as a plus and others as a negative.  Others still won’t care either way, provided that the work product is good.   If this is an issue for you, then it’s worth clarifying just who will be handling your case.
  5. Experience of the Attorney – You’ll likely be curious as to the attorney’s experience with your type of matter.  If so, you should feel comfortable discussing this issue with your attorney prior to retaining him or her.
  6. Areas of Practice – Likewise, you’d be well served to ask the attorney his or her basic areas of practice.  Some clients favor retaining attorneys who limit their practice to one or a few areas of law.  Experience goes beyond age and the amount of years in practice, it also relates to how long an individual attorney has been practicing in a specific area of law, and what percentage of their practice is devoted to that type of law.
  7. Retainer Amount and Retainer Agreement – The vast majority of divorce attorneys will require a retainer agreement. The retainer amount will depend on the nature of the matter, the firm’s billing practices, and other additional factors.  This can be a stumbling block for many clients.  If so, it is often-times better to recognize this early on, so the potential client can find another attorney with a retainer agreement more in line with his or her available income/assets.
  8. Range of Outcomes – Just as an estimate of cost is quite preliminary, a discussion of a case’s likely outcome is also somewhat premature at an initial consultation.  That said, many attorneys will discuss a range of likely outcomes.  For instance, the attorney may review a range of alimony or child support amounts, or discuss the likelihood of success should you file a certain type of Motion.

Conclusion 

Your initial consultation is an important meeting, and will often set the tone for the rest of your case.  With these questions in mind, you should be prepared to have a productive initial consultation with your prospective New Jersey divorce attorney.

*These questions form a baseline of the types of questions that should be addressed during a productive initial consultation with a New Jersey divorce attorney.

Contact the Law Office of Carl A. Taylor III

If you are the Plaintiff or Defendant in a domestic violence matter, Carl Taylor Law, LLC stands ready to meet with you, answer any questions you may have, and assist you through the process.

Your New Jersey Divorce Lawyer:

If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options.  You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.

 

Types of Domestic Violence Offenses in New Jersey

Under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which was enacted in 1991, there are fourteen types of Domestic Violence Offenses in New Jersey.  In order to obtain a temporary and/or final restraining order in NJ, one of the fourteen domestic violence offenses must be proven.  They are:

a) Homicide;

b) Assault;

c) Terroristic Threats;

d) Kidnapping;

e) False Imprisonment;

f) Criminal Restraint;

g) Sexual Assault;

h) Criminal Sexual Contact;

i) Lewdness;

j) Burglary;

k) Criminal Mischief;

l) Criminal Trespass;

m) Harassment;

n) Stalking.

Although the above fourteen types of domestic violence offenses have been enacted under the statute, in common practice, most domestic violence complaints allege assault and/or harassment.  In fact, some of the domestic violence offenses in New Jersey have never or rarely been alleged in a Court of law.  Harassment in particular is a common charge, as it is one of the easier allegations to successfully try.

Statutes also define the specific elements that must be proven to successfully allege each of the above New Jersey domestic violence offenses.

In a future blog post, I will review the basic statutory elements of harassment and assault.

It should also be noted that the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act only applies to certain classes of victims and certain relationships.  For instance, under the Act, a “victim” generally must be 18 years of age, or have a child in common/be married/have a dating relationship with the alleged abuser.  Statutes define “victim” under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.

Conclusion

Although the fourteen (14) types of domestic violence offenses in New Jersey appear pretty cut and dry, there actually is a lot of gray area as to what exactly rises to the level of domestic violence.

Your New Jersey Divorce Lawyer:

If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options.  You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.

New Jersey Child Custody

Child Custody Law in New Jersey: Overview 

It perhaps goes without saying that custody disputes can be both expensive and emotionally draining.  In 1992, the Appellate Division Court even hinted at the judiciary feeling somewhat uncomfortable with deciding custody disputes.  Specifically, in Tahan v. Duquette, 259 N.J. Super 328, 336 (App. Div. 1992), the Court wrote the following regularly cited opinion:

We urge the parties to understand that courts in any jurisdiction are poor places to resolve such fundamental relational problems as child custody. Rules of law and procedural strictures are no substitute for personal choices in so intensely personal an issue. Parents who have divorced are frequently unable to communicate constructively on issues of importance; so they look to the legal system to resolve their problems. But no stranger in a judicial robe, however able and well motivated he or she may be, is equipped to make a decision as valid as the parents working together might make.

But be that as it may, there are few if any elements of a divorce that are more important than protecting the best interests of the parties’ children.

Best Interest’s of the Children Standard

The analysis of most child custody disputes in New Jersey starts and ends with a simple but hard to define standard: “The Best Interests of the Children.”

The best interests of the parties’ children standard may involve some of the following arguments:

  • Where will the child receive the best education?
  • Where will the child be safest?
  • Which party can provide the “better” living conditions?
  • Which party is more nurturing?
  • Where will the child have the best chance to excel?
New Jersey child custody decisions should be made with the “best interests of the parties’ children” in mind.  But let’s backtrack for just a second.  By now you may be wondering, how is custody defined in New Jersey, anyway?
Custody Types
Under New Jersey Law, there are two basic types of child custody:
1) Legal Custody; and
2) Physical Custody.

New Jersey law favors joint “legal custody”, whereas joint “physical custody” is exceedingly rare.   See: Pascale v. Pascale, 140 N.J. 583  (1995).

Legal custody includes the right to make important decisions regarding the child, such as those decisions involving health and education.

As its name implies, physical custody assigns which parent will have the child the majority of the time.

Often times, however, the non-custodial party will still be granted a significant amount of parenting time.   The amount of overnight parenting time also plays a role in determining New Jersey child support awards.

Gender and Custody

New Jersey has largely become gender blind when determining custody (except perhaps when a child is very young).  That said, for a variety of reasons, women are still granted physical custody of the children the majority of the time.  It should be noted, however, that the amount of father’s being granted primary physical custody of their children appears to be increasing.

Modification 

New Jersey Child Custody Decisions are Always Subject to Review and Modification, in the best interests of the child (if a change in circumstances is first demonstrated).*

Often times, custody decisions are consented to by the parties as part of the divorce or as a separate Custody Agreement in conjunction with their divorce proceedings.  Until a child is an adult, however, custody issues may persist and/or be revisited upon either party’s request.

Litigation 

If the parties cannot resolve their custody issues, then the issue will likely have to be litigated.  As part of a child support litigation, there will likely be outside experts called in to assist the Court in determining which living arrangements are in the best interest of the parties’ children.  Issues of parental fitness will play a larger role than the preference of the child, particularly if the child is younger.

As the block quote above about the “stranger in the black robe” demonstrates, the Court will likely push parties’ toward mediation.  New Jersey Child Custody cases are very fact sensitive.  In most instances, our firm will recommend mediation efforts to our clients, while viewing litigation as a last resort should mediation or other attempts at an amicable resolution fail.

Conclusion 

In future posts, I will explore New Jersey Child Custody disputes in even greater detail.

 

*This analysis is not the same if a Judge finds a “De Facto” Change in Custody.

Your New Jersey Divorce Lawyer:

If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options.  You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.

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