All posts by Shelly Ruiz

I Want To Adopt: What Should I Know About Federal Laws?

Adoption is a tricky process even during the easiest cases, but it can be a true nightmare if would-be parents haven’t done their homework. The good news is that everyone wants those kids to have good homes, and if you present yourself as a responsible, loving and caring parent, then you will be approved for adoption. Here are a few things you should know about the process and the federal laws that govern it.

  1. First, some laws will help you out. The Multiethnic Placement Act was conceived as a way to reduce the time children spend with foster parents in an effort to see them adopted faster. This is good for everyone. It also prevents discrimination toward foster parents and adoptive parents. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 guarantees your adoptive children the same rights to health insurance coverage as any children you conceive naturally. If your child has special needs, a state must provide financial assistance because of the Adoption Assistance Act.
  2. There are a number of forms you must complete in order to be eligible for adoptive parenting. It’s not a bad idea to get a family law attorney in order to ensure all the appropriate steps are followed to the letter. This is not the kind of process you want to make mistakes with.
  3. To adopt without restrictions you must be at least 21 years old and a resident of the U.S. This restriction applies whether you are single or married, so long as you prove yourself to be a responsible, financially secure adult capable of caring for a child.
  4. If the child lives outside of the country, then you must ensure that the Central Authority of that country has made the child eligible for adoption.
  5. The child’s biological parents may have signed a consent to adoption, but this is only valid if the parents are unable to provide the child with appropriate care.
  6. Some criminal charges will prohibit an adoption from moving forward. The agency handling your adoption will conduct a thorough background check to ensure the household is safe. In addition anyone in the household who is 18 or older will undergo an evaluation for child abuse.
  7. Some psychiatric illnesses will eliminate your chance of adopting.

Three Ways To End A Marriage: Divorce, Annulment, and Separation

Deciding to end a marriage can be a very emotional decision. There are several decisions that need to be made including child custody, visitation, and support, spousal support, property, and asset division. Another thing that needs to be determined is how you will proceed to become legally unmarried.

The most popular legal way to dissolve a marriage is through divorce. There are two are two different types of divorce. The first is a no-fault divorce and the second is a fault-based divorce. A no-fault divorce is when both couples amicably agree to divorce. Common grounds include irreconcilable differences, irremediable breakdown or loss of affection. A fault-based divorce is when one spouse files for divorce regardless if the other spouse agrees. Common grounds include medical malpractice, adultery, abandonment, domestic violence and/or drug and alcohol abuse.

Another way to legally end your marriage is through an annulment. While divorce ends a valid marriage, an annulment erases the marriage which means that the marriage never happened. In order to obtain an annulment some of the following conditions need to be met:

  • The marriage was incestuous or bigamous
  • The marriage was the result of force, fraud, physical incapacity, mental incapacity or under the influence of drugs and alcohol
  • The marriage took place when one or both spouses was under the legal age
  • The marriage took place when one or both spouses were already married

A legal separation may physically end a marriage, however, legally the spouses are still married. Neither spouse can become married or enter a domestic partnership. In some states, it is required to become legally separate before filing for a divorce. Many courts use the date of legal separation as a way to determine the division of marital assets.

If you are looking to legally dissolve your marriage, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our family law attorneys.

The Child Support Calculator: How It Works

Divorce and custody battles can be complicated, emotionally and mentally exhausting and very expensive financially – especially when both parents want to be the primary parent for the child(ren).

When there is a divorce and you hire a lawyer, you generally know what it will cost to take the case out to completion. But when it comes to children, sometimes it is hard to anticipate how much child support will impact your financial life – and that is often one thing that we all want to know ahead of time so we can plan our budget in order to accommodate.

Often, however, child support can seem to be arbitrary from a judge – it could be more or less than your attorney may advise. Fortunately, if you live in New Jersey, you can at least use an online calculator to at least get a ballpark figure of what your child support award or order will be.
A judge’s discretion will change the final number, but you can plug into the calculator several factors that can have a numerical value to them to help create the framework for the custody award.

The factors that would be plugged into the calculator include:

  • Who is the custodial parent and who is the non-custodial parent?
  • Will there be shared parenting? In other words, will the non-custodial parent be with the child for at least 104 overnights in a year? A yes or no answer will impact the number potentially significantly.
  • What is the gross income of both parents?
  • What are the actual or anticipated expenses of the parents (i.e. who stays in the house and pays the bills, and who gets a different place and pays different bills)?

The online child-support calculator is, again, just a guideline and rough estimate based on court precedent and general factorial considerations the courts usually determine. The actual amount will likely differ, but plugging in the information as completely and accurately as possible will help you at least get a read of what to expect when the case is resolved.

There is no doubt that child support is not just about the money, but it is more about responsibility. Checking out a child-support calculator can be a responsible step you can take with your finances to ensure that your child, the most important remaining asset of your dissolved marriage, s still as cared for as would be needed or expected. Your child’s life need not to be disrupted, and neither parent should feel a financial hardship in providing for the child.

It is about fairness and preparation – two virtues that we all should impart on our children as they grow up, and are a sign of adults in the room who are watching out for the children.

Divorce Planning Under The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Due to the passing of the Tax Cuts and Job Act (TCJA) of 2017, traditional divorce planning is proving to be more difficult. Divorcing couples that have large net-worth are under pressure to settle their divorce as quickly as possible, before December 2018 when certain tax benefits will no longer be available. Starting in 2019, alimony payments will be considered the same as child support payments, meaning that it is not deductible.

Currently, the alimony payor could deduct the amount of alimony from their income and not have to pay taxes on it, and the recipient would pay a lower tax rate. This benefitted all parties involved as the payor would be more likely to make higher payments so they would have to pay fewer taxes at the end of the year. However, with the new law in effect in 2019, the payor might not be so inclined to make larger payments, therefore, the recipient might not get as much money. This can be devastating for those who rely on alimony as their main source of income after a divorce.

It’s now more imperative than ever when going through a divorce to find an attorney who is knowledgeable in high asset divorces as well as in the new tax law so you can strategically plan how to protect your assets and maximize tax benefits. Ideally, both parties will be amicable to ensure a smooth transition financially otherwise a contentious divorce can be financially draining on both sides in the short and long term.

 

Why Would I Ever Need A Postnuptial Agreement?

While prenuptial agreements are more common, a postnuptial agreement is a contract that couples enter after they are married to help ensure a smooth division of assets in the event of a separation such as a divorce, or after a spouse’s death.

Especially for couples who are on their second marriage or simply couples who are getting married later in life, there is a lot of assets that were earned prior to the marriage. A postnuptial agreement can be used to show that there’s a mutual respect amongst partners stating that anything acquired prior the marriage and during the marriage. It also makes the divorce processor quicker in the event the relationship turns south.

Usually, the partners have separate lawyers representing them understanding the mutual goals of the postnuptial agreement. Each partner will have to take inventory of their assets. The postnuptial agreement will also address issues such as spousal support and property in the event of a death. However, if there are children – child support and custody cannot be determined in the postnuptial agreement.

In order for the agreement to be enforceable the following conditions must be met:

  1. It must be in writing
  2. It must be done voluntarily
  3. It must be done with full disclosure
  4. It must be done in good faith (not lopsided)
  5. It must be signed by both spouses

If you would like to inquire about drafting a prenuptial agreement, please contact one of our family law attorneys in South Jersey.

 

Understanding Child Custody: Physical vs Legal

In New Jersey, there are two different types of custody: physical custody and legal custody.

The residence of the parent in which the child lives, that parent has what is known as physical custody (sometimes referred to as residential custody).

A parent who has legal custody has the power to make decisions affecting various aspects of the child’s life such as health, education, safety, and welfare. Day to day activities are usually at the discretion of the parent who has physical custody but any major decision that involved religion, medical treatment and education will be made by the parent who has legal custody.

Shared Physical Custody

Shared physical custody refers to any child that spends around 2 overnights per week with each parent. One parent will have primary residence while the other parent has alternative residence. This is important when determining things like child support.

This is different than visitation time which is when a child has a parent that has sole physical custody and the other parent has “parenting time” or visitation with the child.

Joint Legal Custody

Joint legal custody means that both parents have the legal right to make decisions on the child’s behalf. Even if the child has one parent that has sole physical custody, both parents can have joint legal custody.

During the divorce process, deciding who has custody, whether it’s legal or physical custody, is always one of the most contentious parts. To make sure you get an agreement that is beneficial to you, hire an experienced child custody lawyer.

Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce?

When you are going through a divorce, it is difficult for everyone involved. It can be difficult for the extended family, the kids, and even the pets. Animals can feel the emotion of the room.  The emotional toll of divorce will weigh in on your pets. It is important to not forget about them and their needs as well.

The laws regarding a pet in divorce are dependent on the state the divorce is being processed in. Since there aren’t any pet custody laws, pets are generally treated like property. This means they are an asset, like cars or furniture, and will be awarded as so.

Although, a case can be made that the bond between a pet and a child is important. If your divorce attorney is able to make this argument, the court may rule that the pet is awarded to the parent that as main custody.

When you are going through a divorce, things between your ex and you can get a little heated. It is important to keep others in mind during these rough times.