This article is intended to give general information only. It is not intended to give legal advice to any person on a specific case or controversy, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you are facing a family law problem, you should consult an experienced family law attorney.
THE NEW JERSEY FAMILY LAW LAWYER
Serving Atlantic and Cape May Counties
Surprisingly, I am often asked “what is a family law lawyer?” Most people assume family law lawyers only handle divorce cases. But, we actually do much more than that. This article is intended to give a brief overview of the services provided by a family law lawyer.
DIVORCE CASES: The most obvious service provided by a family law lawyer is divorce representation. But, the complexity of a divorce can vary widely from the most routine uncontested case (got married in Las Vegas and divorced 6 months later) to “high conflict” divorces involving custody disputes, parenting time issues, high income earners, business valuations, real property claims, college expenses, relocation of the children to another state, domestic abuse issues, drug and alcohol problems, and various other issues. In a separate article, I will discuss some of the more complicated issues that can arise in a divorce case.
CIVIL UNION DIVORCES: New Jersey recognizes civil unions between same sex couples. Civil unions have all of the same attributes as a marriage and are subject to the same divorce procedures as a marriage between opposite sex couples. As of October 18, 2013, the New Jersey Supreme Court has determined that the state must recognize marriages between same sex couples. Presently, it is not yet clear whether same sex couples who previously entered into a civil union will be recognized as married, or whether these couples will need to apply for a marriage license and go through a marriage ceremony performed by a minister or authorized public official. In any event, a civil union may be terminated by way of divorce in New Jersey.
NON-DISSOLUTION CASES: The term “non-dissolution case” applies to any family-law type dispute between non-married couples. The most frequent non-dissolution issues involve child custody, parenting time, and child support. But, a non-dissolution case may also involve the partition of jointly owned property between un-married cohabitants. The courts have expressed a preference that any disputes between cohabitants be resolved in the family court and not in the general equity court. Rule 5:1-2 of the New Jersey Rules of Court provides that “All civil actions in which the principal claim is unique to and arises out of a family or family-type relationship shall be brought in the Family Part.”
PRE-NUPTIAL AGREEMENTS: A pre-nuptial agreement is an agreement between parties who intend to marry. The purpose of a pre-nuptial agreement is to define the parties’ rights in the event the marriage fails. Parties can negotiate issues of alimony, property rights, counsel fees, and other marital rights. Parties CANNOT negotiate issues of custody, parenting time, or child support, as the family courts are under an obligation to act in the best interests of the children. In order for a pre-nuptial agreement to be enforceable in New Jersey, the agreement must meet very specific requirements as defined by New Jersey statute. If you are interested in a pre-nuptial agreement, it is strongly recommended that you consult with an experienced New Jersey family law attorney; otherwise, your agreement may not meet the requirements of the New Jersey statute and your agreement will be deemed unenforceable.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROCEEDINGS: If you are the victim of domestic violence in New Jersey, you may seek the protection of a domestic violence restraining order pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17. A domestic violence restraining order is an important tool in protecting a person who has been or is at risk of becoming a victim of domestic violence. If you are the victim of domestic violence, you should immediately contact your local police department or your county family court. The family court and/or local municipal court are authorized to issue a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) to provide you with immediate protection. A final hearing on your application for a domestic violence restraining order will probably occur within one to two weeks after issuance of the TRO. For purposes of the final hearing, you should retain competent legal counsel. If a final restraining order is issued, the court may order your abuser to reimburse you for your counsel fees and costs. If you are the subject of a domestic violence complaint or TRO, you should also obtain competent legal counsel as the grant of a final restraining order may have serious consequences on your ability to live in your own home and to have contact with your children. In a separate article, I will discuss domestic violence proceedings in more detail.
ADOPTIONS: The adoption process in New Jersey is very complicated. If you are seeking to adopt a child in New Jersey, you will need an experienced family law attorney to assist you. An adoption may be one of the most important decisions in your life. You should not attempt to navigate the legal process on your own.
NAME CHANGES: Most people are familiar with the process to change one’s name upon marriage; but, there is also a legal process for changing your name for other reasons. One of my former clients was an immigrant to this country and his given name was a homonym for a vulgar term in the English language. Some people simply do not like their given names. The name change process is relatively straight forward and most people could probably handle it on their own. But, if you want to make sure the process is handled correctly, an experienced family law attorney may be able to help you through the process for a very reasonable fee.
ESTATE PLANNING: At the conclusion of a divorce, most litigants should update their estate planning documents, including their wills, life insurance policies, and beneficiary designations on their retirement/investment accounts. Most family law attorneys do NOT provide estate planning services; and most estate planning attorneys do NOT provide family law services. But, here at the Law Firm of Ford, Flower, Hasbrouck & King, we strive to provide comprehensive legal services to meet all of our clients’ legal needs. We have experienced estate planning attorneys on staff to assist our post-divorce clients to update their estate planning documents.
Before making your choice of attorney, you should give this matter careful thought. The selection of an attorney is an important decision.