Are you preparing for divorce in the near future? No matter where you find yourself in the process, be it contemplating filing for divorce, or facing a full-blown divorce trial, it is critical to ask yourself, what is most important to you? Hopefully, the issues that you and your spouse have are few and that, most importantly, you two are ready, willing and able to negotiate in order to come to the most reasonable decision possible.
Crafting your own agreement and coming up with your own parameters to settle your divorce matter leads to greater freedom for your entire family now and into the future. But, how do you know what is really most important to you? What can you not live without? What is negotiable? Take some time to sit down and consider what is truly worth fighting for in your divorce.
If you and your spouse have children, without a doubt they are your first concern during this process. Divorce can be hard on children, especially if their parents are constantly at odds. Your first step should be ensuring that they are made to feel as comfortable and secure in this new situation as possible and that they know that no matter where anyone in the family lives, their love will remain unchanged.
Consider child custody arrangements carefully. What is your perfect scenario? Do you foresee yourself staying in the marital home with the children while their other parent has regular parenting time with them? Or, would you like to share residential custody of your kids on a 50/50 basis? Whatever your utmost desire, honestly assess the feasibility of your wishes. Remember, if a judge has to make a decision in your case, he or she will do so only with the best interests of your children in mind. If you strongly want shared residential custody of your children, but you work out of the home 80 hours per week, is that reasonable or in your children’s best interests? What if you are currently living in a studio apartment in Manhattan, and have four children? Be realistic when coming up with your expectations regarding custody.
If you are thinking about parenting time, what would your ideal schedule look like? Would you like to have your children with you every weekend, or would it be more practical to have them every other weekend but every Wednesday into Thursday? The same goes for holidays and vacations with the kids. Think about what holidays are most important to you and your family. Can you and your spouse alternate holidays? Can you spend two weeks travelling with your kids in the summer? Are you willing to have your children travel internationally with their other parent?
Regardless of what you may want, strongly consider getting some advice from a family law attorney about what is reasonable in your situation. And, always keep the best interests of your kids at heart.
Marital Property and Debt
Again, what is your dream settlement? Can you simply not live without the new BMW? Do you adamantly disagree with being responsible for your spouse’s credit card bills? Do you want the house? It is a wise decision to talk to an attorney about asset and debt division. First, you must determine what is actually marital property (or marital debt) that is even subject to distribution. If the house you live in was inherited by your spouse prior to your marriage, you may not even be entitled to keep it for yourself. If you cannot afford the BMW, it may not be wise to retain it, especially if you will shoulder the monthly payment and insurance. If your spouse’s credit card bills were used for the marriage, such as for the purchase of groceries or home furnishings, you may be on the hook. But, if they used it solely to build an extensive shoe collection, then they may be solely responsible for that debt. Can you live with selling the marital house and splitting any proceeds that you both may get? Consider what you truly can and cannot live with or without.
If you have children, then there will be child support, in all likelihood. For most couples, the amount is calculated by a computer program called the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines which is used by every court in the state. Factors such as your incomes, expenses and number of overnights spent with the children are taken into account in the guidelines. The figure that is calculated is your child support amount. Unless you have extremely high salaries, then the guidelines figure is the one that would be used by the court. If you can, have your attorney run the guidelines to see what the obligation would be. If you earn more money that is allowed by the guidelines, then the court would look at keeping the children at a reasonably similar standard of living. Again, get some guidance from your attorney.
Regardless if you have children, you may be entitled to spousal support, or you may be obligated to pay it. Spousal support, formally known as alimony, is intended to keep both spouses as close to the marital standard of living as possible. It also cannot be permanent in New Jersey, after the most recent changes to the law. Generally speaking, if you have a very short term marriage and if you are financially self-sufficient, no matter how strongly you want alimony, you simply may not be entitled to receive it. Digging your heels in and refusing to compromise on this issue will only serve to harm you in the long run because refusing to budge will increase court time, stress and legal fees. Find out what factors apply to you from your divorce attorney. He or she will advise you whether or not you are entitled to receive or obligated to provide spousal support.
Any Other Issues
Is there a retirement account? How about a constructive trust? Did you have a premarital or post nuptial agreement? Would you be considered high net worth? As mentioned earlier, all divorces are different. All couples are different. Perhaps there is some issue not mentioned here that you simply must have addressed in your divorce procedure. A consult with an experienced divorce and family law attorney will educate you on what you may or may not be considering in your proposed settlement agreement. If you cannot come to terms with your soon-to-be ex, consider enlisting the services of a trained mediator who is experienced in assisting couples similar to you in crafting amicable settlement agreements. The mediator can guide both of you while educating you on your rights. If mediation fails, be sure to enlist the services of a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney so that you are ready if your divorce proceeds to court.
If you are ready, we welcome you to please contact us to schedule an initial consultation with one of our qualified and compassionate divorce or family law mediators.