Harmful consequences can often result when people try to represent themselves in their divorce and certainly in a child custody or child support matter. For instance, people have come to me after the fact wanting to undo an Order that has been issued by the court. Or they will ask me to resolve an ongoing parenting time dispute after having spent years filing and defending one post judgment motion after another with little or no relief from the court, yet with lots of frustration. Therefore, you should abandon any preconceived negative beliefs about divorce attorneys and instead decide what you want – keeping in mind your most significant goals for the future. Then, find the attorney who is right for you. Ideally, your attorney should present you with a variety of options that include more than divorce litigation, such as divorce mediation or collaborative divorce. Of course, your divorce attorney must be competent and preferably concentrate in family and matrimonial matters. He or she should also be trustworthy, respect you and your needs, and be a skilled negotiator and advocate. In short, your divorce attorney should work for you, not against you, to achieve what you want and need most from your divorce or other important family matter.

Generally, a party filing a Complaint for Divorce must have lived in the state for at least one year prior to the filing.

The bad news first: the total cost of your attorney’s fees is extremely difficult to predict. The good news, however, is that by doing some planning and legwork, you can reduce the amount of these fees and have more control over the outcome you want. Specifically: Plan for the worst case scenario; Don’t settle for less than the best – be sure to hire a lawyer who practices exclusively in divorce and family matters; Become familiar with your finances; Make agreement with your spouse your goal – the more you and your spouse are able to agree on, the less you will spend on attorneys.

The answer essentially depends on the actions and attitudes of both you and your spouse as well as each of your attorneys. You should first ask yourself how much time, energy and money do you each want to spend fighting over your children and issues such as alimony and the distribution of assets and debts. If you have no children, or if you and your spouse are able to agree on these issues, your divorce could take a matter of months. If you have young children, however, it could take longer to establish a mutually agreeable custody and parenting time schedule, as well as how college and other expenses for the children will be paid.

Mediation is a non-adversarial process that helps a couple to dissolve their marriage once the decision to divorce is made. It is not a substitute for the services of an attorney. It does allow you and your spouse to remain in control of the negotiating process and to make your decisions yourselves.

As a general matter, lawyers are not present during mediation sessions and do not communicate with the mediator. However, to maximize the chances of a successful mediation, attorneys should be available for you to consult with them during the course of the mediation process. In addition, at the end of the mediation process, the mediator will prepare a typically document setting down the agreement that the parties have reached, which is called a Memorandum of Understanding. The parties then consult with attorneys who review the document prepared by the mediator and advise their respective clients as to their rights regarding the agreement they have reached.

Mediation requires the willing participation of both parties on an equal footing. Ideally, both parties should be equally familiar with the marital income, assets, and debts. In addition, each party must be committed to working things out fairly for everyone concerned and must be willing to listen to the other.

Custody can be divided up into two parts, legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody means that the parent has the ability to make the major decisions about the child’s health, education, safety and welfare. Physical custody refers to which parent the child lives with. In primary residential custody, one parent has the child for the majority of the time. In shared residential custody, time spent with each parent may be divided equally.

Generally child support is calculated according to the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines using software that calculates the appropriate child support award taking into consideration both parents’ combined income and additional factors. There are times, however, when application of the Guidelines would not be appropriate in a particular case or where they might need to be supplemented, for instance, where the combined parental income is extremely high.

When a parent fails to pay child support and the money becomes past due, the amount is called an arrearage. An enforcement application can be filed with the court to address the arrears and require the owing parent to pay.

Generally, child support is paid until a child is emancipated, which is typically defined in the divorce agreement.

Alimony is the term that is used for payments that are made by one spouse to the other after a divorce. The goal of a proper alimony award is to entitle each spouse to maintain a similar standard of living as that during the marriage.

One’s entitlement to alimony depends on the unique facts and circumstances of their particular case. New Jersey’s alimony statute sets forth 12 non-exclusive factors for the court to consider in determining an appropriate alimony award. Some of these factors include the need and ability of the parties to pay alimony; the length of the marriage; the age and health of the parties; the standard of living established in the marriage and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living.

Only assets that are “acquired during the marriage” are considered to be part of the marital estate. Any property that was acquired before the marriage is considered to be premarital property, and it is not subject to equitable distribution.

New Jersey is an “equitable distribution state.” This means that in a divorce in New Jersey, any property that is acquired during the marriage must be divided in an equitable manner. Therefore, any marital property must be distributed either by a voluntary agreement of the parties or by an order of the divorce court.

Generally, the marital value of these plans acquired during the marriage is subject to equitable distribution between spouses. If necessary to value the retirement asset, your attorney will assist you in utilizing the services of an actuary to value the assets and prepare any court orders necessary for the plan administrator to transfer the spouse’s interest in the asset.