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Marlton Family Law Blog

How New Jersey's support guidelines treat high income

Like other states, New Jersey has child support guidelines which help judges in this state make fair and consistent decisions about how much child support a parent should pay.

Most New Jersey parents going through a divorce or, for that matter, a paternity case, will have a combined income that fall somewhere within the child support guidelines. In these cases, child support gets determined according to a set formula, although what raw numbers go in to that formula is always up for dispute.

Why try divorce mediation in New Jersey?

Previous posts here have discussed various issues that New Jersey residents may encounter when going through the divorce process. From child support and alimony, to the reasons one can plead in the state's courts to request the marriage be dissolved, many of these have been discussed in the context of divorce litigation. While being prepared for discovery and going to court is important, in many cases individuals going through a divorce may want to consider alternative methods of resolving their issues.

One popular alternative method is that of divorce mediation. In mediation, the parties and their representatives speak to each other in the presence of a neutral party who is certified in helping people come to agreements on issues that might be contentious. Because the things that are usually involved in a divorce are those that are often most important to people, such as their children and their property, it is sometimes an emotional period in people's lives, and having a neutral party who can bring perspective to the process can be helpful.

The grounds for a divorce in New Jersey

Many married couples throughout New Jersey experience bumps and challenges in their relationships that can test the commitment of the partners to their shared martial experience. While in most cases partners can work through their differences and emerge from their conflicts with strong martial bonds, in some cases the bases of their disputes are so egregious that divorce becomes a necessary part of their relationship conversations. In fact, under New Jersey law, certain grounds of fault may be used to end marriages through divorce when martial partners cannot continue their legal relationships.

For example, adultery may be used as a basis for bringing a marriage to its end. Similarly, a marital partner may file for divorce from their spouse based on that individual's desertion of the filing party. To use desertion as a basis for divorce, the desertion must be ongoing and must last for at least 12 months.

Divorcing after a short marriage

New Jersey is actually home to one of the lowest divorce rates in the United States. Roughly 9 percent of adults in the state divorce, and one component of this seems to be that people in New Jersey tend to marry at an older age. 

Every divorce is different, which means the division of assets will end differently. However, there are factors most courts take into consideration every time. One such factor is the length of the marriage. A judge may see things differently with a couple that was together for two years compared to one that was together for 20. 

What are extraordinary expenses in New Jersey child support?

Most parents in New Jersey understand that if they end up getting a divorce there is a likelihood that one of them may end up paying some form of child support if the other parent is given the right to be the primary residential parent. However, that doesn't necessarily make it easier to come to an agreement on how much that support should be. For this reason, New Jersey has set up a child support guidelines process that is supposed to calculate a minimum amount of support a child living in the state will need, depending on the child's age, the incomes of the child's parents and some other factors.

These guidelines, however, are only meant to take into consideration so-called ordinary expenses for the children. Ordinary expenses include basics like food, clothing and shelter, as well as entertainment, health insurance and some portions of unreimbursed healthcare expenses. However, as any parent knows, there are many more expenses involved in raising a child. What about special soccer camp, or band lessons or birthday presents? These are called extraordinary expenses in the family law community.

Can there be "permanent alimony" in a New Jersey divorce?

Lawyers will carefully choose the words they use in making arguments before courts in hopes of getting a better outcome. Legislatures also change the wording of the laws being argued about, in order to create a desired public reaction.

One of these latter changes occurred in New Jersey in 2014, when the state legislature amended the laws regarding alimony. One main reason for this was the ongoing discussion that has been occurring for the last decade about the fairness and propriety of what is often termed "permanent alimony." There are those who believe that such open-ended awards of payments from one ex-spouse to another is bad policy, as it can be confusing and demoralizing for a paying spouse who does not have any idea when his or her obligation may end. In an effort to address these concerns, New Jersey altered the way such alimony was titled, and how it is administered.

Wealth is sometimes hidden in high-asset divorces

When it comes to divorce in New Jersey, the laws are supposed to apply to everyone equally. The individual who rents a small apartment and works in a factory has to equitably divide his or her assets with the divorcing spouse, just as the Chief Executive Officer who lives in a million-dollar house does. This does not mean, however, that all divorces are the same, as a practical matter. It is simply a fact that people who have more assets, and a more complicated relationship with wealth, will have different problems to face when dividing marital property.

One problem that someone in a high-asset divorce may encounter is the use of off-shore entities or accounts to hide assets from a New Jersey court. As recent news events, like the revelation of the "Panama Papers" earlier this year show, unscrupulous individuals can create entities such as trusts, shell corporations and foundations to which they can transfer, or with which to gather, assets that may not be obvious or easy to identify as marital property. Unlike other divorces, where one is only dealing with the car, the domestic home and maybe a checking account, high-asset divorces can involve securities, annuities and other intangible assets, as well as works of art and multiple pieces of real estate located around the world.

Alimony is not automatic

One of the most stressful consequences of a divorce is losing the financial support of your spouse. Individuals who make less than their spouse, cannot work because of injury or stay at home with children can be in a tight spot when it comes to establishing financial independence after a marriage is dissolved. While this pursuit and idea feels liberating on one level, taking steps to be financially independent may be a challenge.

In fact, it might not even be feasible. Finding a job is difficult and time consuming. For some, it is impossible. Thankfully, this is where alimony comes in. It is financial support like this that allows a spouse to get on his or her feet and become financially independent.

Separate assets can become distributable marital assets

Equitable distribution in New Jersey typically applies to the assets that either spouse obtained during the time of the marriage. It also applies to jointly obtained assets. The time range excludes the period after one spouse has filed a divorce complaint that remains pending. The time frame for marital assets typically covers the day the couple got married until the date of the filing of a divorce complaint.

As such, property that either spouse owned before the wedding and never gave or shared over to the other spouse during the marriage is generally not subject to equitable distribution at the time of the divorce.

How does divorce mediation work?

Just because a New Jersey couple has decided to divorce, does not mean that they necessarily want to "get back" at each other. However, one way to lessen the emotional stress of divorce is to try to engage in divorce mediation.

Through divorce mediation, the couple and the mediator will have several meetings. The mediator is a neutral third party, whose purpose is to facilitate conversations between the spouses as they make decisions regarding property division, child custody, spousal support and other divorce legal issues.

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