5 Reasons You Should Retain an Attorney for Your Divorce
by Caitlin Holland, Esq.
1. You are not familiar with the divorce process/ you do not know where to start.
Divorce can be a complicated and fairly emotional process. That is especially true since processes and procedures have changed so significantly after COVID, including electronic filings and virtually hearings. Retaining an attorney that aligns with you, your finances, and your expectations can be a great asset to you in your divorce process. Family Law Attorneys are familiar with the rules of Court, procedure, proper documentation necessary in the divorce process and technology necessary for virtual appearances. Their expertise will give you peace of mind by helping you avoid the anxiety of having to represent yourself properly. An attorney can also help you manage your expectations in a divorce which can help you settle your divorce more quickly and avoid future conflict. Even if the divorce is not contentious, you can avoid future conflict or work if you hire an attorney to ensure that the proper procedures have been followed.
2. Your relationship with your spouse is becoming contentious.
When a marriage starts to break down, there is often conflict. While some parties can successfully navigate the conflict and proceed with an amicable divorce, it is not always the case. Often when there are hurt feelings, an adversarial spouse will hurl idle threats at the other spouse (“You’ll never see your child again if you divorce me”) that can fuel a contentious divorce. When that happens it becomes hard to maintain perspective and the process can become more about defending yourself than working toward your future after divorce. By retaining a Family Law Attorney, you can avoid some conflict and bullying, and have someone in your corner guiding you through the chaos. When one or both parties retain attorneys, the parties may even be able to avoid contact with the other by only communicating about the divorce through their attorneys.
3. You and your spouse have complicated finances that will require a lot of documentation.
If the parties have particularly complicated finances, it is prudent to retain an attorney. For example, if the parties own their own business(es), there are numerous assets or debts, a party is requesting alimony or a party is requesting child support, there will likely be disclosures and documents that you would like to review before you agree to any terms of divorce. Navigating discovery can be daunting and confusing when a party is left to make those requests on their own. It is best practice to retain an attorney in order to ensure that you receive all necessary financials and are making the best deal possible and/or advocating for an equitable settlement.
4. You have children.
Having children presents a number of complications in the divorce process. Issues arise like child custody, child support, parenting time, school, health expenses, etc. Often, parties have an idea of the custody and parenting time aspects of the divorce based on the status quo of the marriage. However, there are certain statutory requirements to things like child support that an experienced family law attorney can help you navigate, including ensuring proper income and expenses are included in the Child Support Guidelines. This also tends to be a very emotional portion of the divorce process, an attorney will be able to help you manage your expectations and advocate for you and your child(ren)’s best interests.
5. There are one or more prior orders or agreements between the parties.
Whether the parties negotiated a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, or there is a restraining order with temporary terms, it can be prudent to engage an attorney to help you navigate your divorce under the terms of the prior agreements and/or make petitions to the court to contest or modify terms of those prior agreements, if necessary.
If you are interested in speaking to an attorney about a divorce, go to wwwHunnelLaw.com/contact to schedule an appointment.
By Ryan Westerman
Recently, the Hunnell Law Group has received an influx of cases seeking to sue their home inspector for making one or more major mistakes or omissions during the home inspection phase, costing the property owner several thousands of dollars in necessary repairs post-closing. In a few instances, the mistakes were glaring. I was shocked a licensed inspector could miss items that are so open and obvious.
My first words of advice to these parties are review the Home Inspection Agreement. This is the document that outlines the terms and conditions of the home inspection which both parties sign. More often than not, there is a low ceiling on what can be recovered. It is not uncommon to limit the damages to just the return of the inspection fee, typically between $400.00 - $600.00.
Recently, I saw a liability limit that appeared more reasonable on its face. There was a catch of course. Isn’t there always?
"[LIABILITY] will not be more than the lesser of actual damages or ten times (10x) the inspection fee. Client waives any claim for consequential, exemplary, special, or incidental damages or for the loss of the use of the property."
It doesn’t take much imagination to create the scenario where the actual damages are significantly more than 10x’s the inspection fee. If the inspection overlooked an enormous structural issue that will cost $20,000.00+ to repair, and the inspection cost $500.00, then the aggrieved party is getting $5,000.00, without the ability to sue for other damages.
The Home Inspection Advisory Committee (N.J.A.C. 13:40-15) does hold inspectors to a certain level of professional performance. N.J.A.C. 13:40-15.20 (“SUSPENSION, REVOCATION, OR REFUSAL TO RENEW LICENSE”) outlines instances where the Committee “may deny, refuse to renew, or temporarily suspend or revoke a license, or issue a civil penalty[.]” An inspector that has engaged in “repeated acts of negligence, malpractice or incompetence” qualifies for punishment from the committee up to and including losing their license.
So, while you may not be made whole financially, you can report the inspector to the committee, in the hopes of preventing another individual from a financial windfall or purchasing a house without a sound structural foundation.
It’s officially been over a year since the New Jersey Courts have transitioned to virtual proceedings. After months of growing pains, court calendars were scheduled again and virtual hearings became common practice. Unfortunately, many court calendars are still backlogged and running much slower than they did before. This can be bad news for divorcing couples as some judges’ calendars are so backlogged that they are scheduling divorce trials months and months in the future.
It’s commonly known that most divorces settle. The reason for this is that parties usually want control over the terms of their divorce, especially when there are children involved. There are a few different ways to settle a divorce through Alternative Dispute Resolution before it ever gets to trial.
There are many benefits to settling a divorce through ADR, especially right now. First, as previously mentioned, the parties maintain varying levels of control over the terms of their divorce. Second, use of one of the above methods of ADR can significantly decrease the cost of your divorce. Divorces are notoriously expensive – there are so many costs associated with trial that you can avoid should you choose to settle. Third, Courts are governed by case law, statute, court rules and the rules of evidence. If you decide to settle your case there are, generally, more creative solutions that are not strictly bound by Rules and evidence. Fourth, divorce litigation can take a very long time, especially amidst the pandemic. If a divorce is particularly contentious or complicated, there can be weeks of trial dates, whenever the Court can fit them into the calendar. Finally, ADR will almost certainly avoid the high level of conflict that comes with a trial. Divorces are emotionally taxing, but if you are willing to come to the table and compromise it can be beneficial to the parties’ relationship moving forward.
Obviously, ADR is not the best choice in every case, but it’s surprising how many contentious divorces can settle if the parties have the right attorneys and are willing to make some compromises. If the parties do not choose to move forward through one of the above-mentioned processes, the court would then schedule trial dates and the parties would move forward with traditional litigation. If the parties are successful in their attempts to settle the case through ADR, they then submit their agreement or the arbitrator’s decision to the Court and appear at an Uncontested Divorce Hearing where the judge signs the Judgment of Divorce.
If you are contemplating divorce and would like to speak to an attorney, visit HunnellLaw.com/contact to determine whether ADR may be applicable to your circumstances.
Author: Caitlin Holland, Esquire
In New Jersey, child support is calculated using a formula established by statute. The Child Support Guidelines take into account the number of children, the age of the children, the income of the parents, the number of overnights the children spend with the parents, etc. The Child Support Guidelines do not apply to all families and in those cases, the Court will establish an appropriate amount of support. Additionally, if the Court finds it appropriate, it may choose to deviate from the Guidelines. Once established, child support remains in place until the child is emancipated, either by circumstance or automatically by age, with few exceptions.
The parent who has the obligation to pay child support pays the full amount to the other parent, usually weekly. Although child support is not paid directly to the child, it is paid for the benefit of the child to ensure that their basic needs are met. The point of child support is to split financial responsibility for raising the child(ren) between both parents.
What expenses are covered by a child support obligation?
A detailed list of the expenses included in child support under the Guidelines can be found in Paragraph 8 of Appendix 9A to the New Jersey Rules of Court.
Under the Guidelines, child support covers fixed costs including shelter. Shelter costs include: rent, mortgage, utilities, etc. of the child’s primary home. It also includes variable costs including transportation and food; as well as controlled costs such as clothing, entertainment, and furnishings for the child. The child support amount also includes predictable recurring expenses like field trips, extra-curricular activities, and school supplies. The first $250 per year in out-of-pocket medical costs is also included in child support.
While work-related child care costs can be included in child support, if used in the calculations, tuition for private, parochial schools, vocational schools or post-secondary education are is not included in child support. However, expenses, that do not include tuition not tuition, incurred while attending college may be included in child support.
Some of these expenses are not applicable to me. Can my spouse ask for a modification?
No. If one of these included expenses is not applicable to a certain family, that does not constitute a basis to deviate from the guidelines or modify a child support award. Appendix 9A, Para. 8.
My child’s parent will not buy any clothing for our child because he or she says that they pay child support and should not be obligated to pay anything else. Are they correct?
No. The amount of time that the child spend with each parent directly affects the amount of child support awarded. The child support award is therefore, not meant to supplement the needs for the children at both residences. Meaning, if you are the parent who is obligated to pay child support, the spouse receiving child support is not responsible for using those funds to supply food, clothing, entertainment, etc. for use at your residence and during your parenting time. The expenses for raising a child should be shared, meaning both parents must provide for the child and the child support amount paid to the other parent is not a substitute for your contribution to raising the child during your parenting time.
I have a child support order, but my child started playing competitive sports. Can I ask for additional support from my child’s parent?
Maybe. The cost of clothing and gear/equipment associated with extra-curricular activities (except for special footwear such as cleats or skates) is included in child support under the Guidelines. Therefore, the parent paying child support would not be required to pay any additional amount toward extra-curricular activities. However, Parents may anticipate the cost of extra-curricular activities and choose to stipulate a percentage that each parent will contribute to extra-curricular activities in the written agreement that establishes child support.
I recently began a new job and am making a higher income; can my child’s parent ask for a modification of the child support award?
Yes. Child support can be modified based on a permanent change of circumstances. The Court will analyze the facts of your case and determine whether your new employment amounts to a permanent change of circumstances. The reason that child support is able to be modified is that children are always able to share in the standard of living of both parents. For example, if you won the lottery tomorrow, that would amount to a permanent change in circumstances and the Court would ensure that your child received a benefit from your increased income.
I pay child support and I think my child’s parent is using that money for themselves. Can I terminate my child support obligation?
Maybe. The parent who receives child support should not use the child support payments received for their own personal expenses that are unrelated to the child. If you can establish that the child’s basic needs (food, shelter, transportation, clothing) are not being met, you may be able to ask the court to compel the other parent to account for how the child support money is being spent. While child support is paid for the benefit of the child and should be used for them and the expenses listed in Appendix A, Paragraph 8 of the New Jersey Court Rules, the reality is that the custodial parent can spend the money as they like, so long as the child’s needs are being met.
If you have any questions about child support or need assistance in establishing or modifying a child support order, go to www.HunnellLaw.com/contact to schedule a meeting with an attorney.
 New Jersey Court Rule 5:6A
 Appendix 9B
 Appendix 9A
 Appendix 9A
Whether you are contemplating filing for divorce or you have just been served with divorce papers, you should do some preparation before you hire an attorney or file anything with the court. The items listed below may not be all of the documents you need during the divorce process. Additionally, many of the following items may not be applicable to you, but it is important to compile and organize as much as you can. The clearer the picture, the more effective you and/or your attorney will be.
Often, one spouse in the marriage assumes the role of record keeper/accountant. If you do not have access to any of these documents, they may become available through your spouse’s filings or during the divorce process through discovery requests.
Generally, you should gather:
Additionally, you should prepare documents for each major area of divorce litigation. There are four major areas addressed in a typical divorce: (1) Equitable Distribution; (2) Spousal Support; (3) Child Support; and (4) Child Custody.
Equitable distribution is how property is distributed between the parties. Virtually all of the property accumulated during the marriage is subject to equitable distribution, with some exceptions. Therefore, you will need to account for the assets and debts accumulated during the marriage. Assets include real property, retirement accounts, and valuable personal property. Debts include credit card debt, mortgages, student debt, etc.
If you or your spouse own a business, you should compile tax documents from the business.
Again, if you do not have access to any of these documents, don’t worry! They may become available through your spouse’s filings or during the divorce process through discovery requests.
The court’s main goal in establishing spousal support is equity and fairness. Alimony is not appropriate in every marriage. In New Jersey, the court will weigh a number of factors in establishing whether alimony is appropriate and, if so, what amount is proper. Some of the factors include the length of the marriage, the income of the parties, each party’s age and ability to work, etc. In establishing an alimony award, it is essential that the court receive a full picture of the parties’ incomes. That means that tax documents including W-2’s, 1099’s, and documentation showing supplemental income from rental properties or dividend payments are important.
Child support in New Jersey is calculated through a formula established by state statute. In order to calculate an appropriate amount of child support, you will need to present information including:
There are two forms of custody: Legal Custody and Physical Custody. Legal custody allows parents to participate in major decisions for the child including school, religion, medical decisions, etc.
Physical custody is where the child physically resides. In many cases, the child resides with one parent for a majority of the time and the other parent is usually afforded parenting time. It is helpful to keep track of the parenting time exercised during separation or during the divorce process in order to establish a parenting time schedule.
When parents cannot agree on parenting time or if there is some reason that custody or parenting time should be limited, you must prepare evidence to prove the limitation is in the best interest of the child. This evidence can include police reports, treatment records, photos, videos, written correspondence between the parties, etc.
Again, if you cannot find or do not have access to any of this information, it may become available during the discovery process during your divorce.
It is important to remember that even the simplest marriage can end in a complicated divorce. Divorce is a give-and-take process that can be difficult and emotional. However, with the right preparation, you can save your self a lot of frustration.
Once you have compiled all of your documentation, it will likely be beneficial to speak to an attorney. If you are contemplating a divorce or have just been served with divorce papers, visit hunnelllaw.com/contact to schedule a strategy session with an attorney at The Hunnell Law Group.
By Caitlin Holland, Esq.
In New Jersey we are quickly approaching the one-year mark of life in the COVID-19 pandemic. I am sure you remember the beginning of the pandemic when we were assured that precautions and “lock-downs” would only last for two-weeks. Then, then two months. Now, a year.
Stress and anxiety seem to rise and fall in line with the confirmed number of positive cases. Despite the promise of distribution of vaccines, news is inundated with vaccine delays, variant strains, new guidance on masks, and the potential for new travel restrictions. Over the last year, many Americans have spent sleepless nights pondering the worst-case scenario. In this time of intense uncertainty, preparing for the worst can save you some peace of mind.
Here are five documents that you should put in place, or update, during the pandemic:
This list constitutes just some of the most essential legal precautions that you should take during the pandemic. Your particular circumstances may dictate further action. For example, if you were recently divorced, you may have to ensure that the title to your car is in the correct name. Or, if you recently inherited property, you may wish to specifically include that property in your will.
Some may find it uncomfortable to prepare these documents, but just remember that it doesn’t hurt anything to be prepared. Think of planning your estate as an insurance policy, you won’t need it until you do.
All five of the documents listed are well worth the small effort that they take to prepare. To ensure their effectiveness and compliance with applicable laws, it is best practice to consult an attorney to prepare or update these documents. Once you have these documents drafted or updated, be sure to keep the documents in a safe place and to inform your beneficiaries and/or agents where to find them.
For assistance in estate planning, please visit hunnelllaw.com/contact to schedule a call with one of our attorneys.
On Monday, February 22, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy signed three bills into law legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey. The laws decriminalize use and possession of limited amounts of marijuana for people twenty-one years of age and older.
On February 22, 2021, Attorney General Gubir S. Grewal published a directive governing dismissals of pending marijuana charges for any marijuana offense that is no longer illegal under state law. AG Grewal also published interim guidance to law enforcement officers regarding decriminalization of marijuana, including a section answering frequently asked questions.
While many are predicting that it will be at least a year before you will be able to legally purchase recreational marijuana, these bills have already made big changes. Use of limited quantities of marijuana is now legal. Additionally, possession of limited amounts of marijuana on your person or in your vehicle is legal. Distribution of limited quantities of “regulated cannabis” is also decriminalized, however, distribution of non-regulated marijuana or hashish remains criminalized under the new state laws. Another impactful change is what constitutes a “reasonable articulable suspicion” to initiate a stop or search. The Interim Guidance on Marijuana Decriminalization states, “the odor of marijuana or hashish, either burnt or raw, by itself no longer establishes ‘reasonable articulable suspicion’ to initiate a stop or search of a person or their vehicle to determine a violation of a possession offense or a fourth-degree distribution offense.”
What does all of this mean for residents those with prior criminal history for marijuana related offenses? If your offense is now legal under the new state laws, The Attorney General’s Office is directing the Courts as follows:
“For those cases already resolved, pursuant to the new decriminalization laws, the Administrative Office of the Courts will vacate by operation of law any guilty verdict, plea, placement in a diversionary program, or other entry of guilt on a matter where the conduct occurred prior to February 22, 2021. Also vacated will be any conviction, remaining sentence, ongoing supervision, or unpaid court-ordered financial assessment of any person who is or will be serving a sentence of incarceration, probation, parole or other form of community supervision as of February 22, 2021 as a result of the person’s conviction or adjudication of delinquency solely for the above listed charges.”
However, as of today, the Attorney General’s office has not announced any further directives as to the expungement process of marijuana related offenses that are not decriminalized. It is unclear whether there will be a new expungement process, an expedited process, etc.
If you have a marijuana-related offence on your criminal record that is not legal under the new state laws, you may be able to have that criminal history expunged. Expungement is the legal process by which your criminal history is sealed, with few exceptions. Expungement of your criminal record is beneficial for job applications, federal funding such as student loans and grants, housing applications, or any other situation where someone will be conducting a background check.
Do you have a marijuana-related offence on your record? Contact the Hunnell Law Group today to determine whether you are eligible for an expungement.
By: Caitlin Holland, Esq
Valentine’s Day is coming up and you know what that means: engagements! During the global COVID-19 pandemic, many couples have chosen or been forced to postpone their wedding. These couples are now benefitting from added time to contemplate their expectations for marriage. If you are one of those couples, you may want to consider one thing: in the immortal words of Kanye West, “If you ain’t no punk, holla ‘we want prenups!’”
What is a prenup? A prenup, or prenuptial agreement, is a written contract that a couple enters into prior to getting legally married. A prenup allows a couple to control the legal rights they acquire upon marriage and negotiate what happens when the marriage ends, by death or divorce. In order for a prenup to be considered valid there must be full disclosure, fair terms, and the negotiation and execution of the document must be free of duress.
Why should I consider a prenup? A prenup allows a couple to decide how to manage the legal rights and assets they acquire upon marriage and negotiate what happens when the marriage ends. This is especially beneficial to individuals who own their own property, businesses, have children from a prior marriage, inheritance, and assets and/or debts. Prenups are tailored to your exact needs and objectives, however, they are not always right for every marriage and there is no “one size fits all.” Common topics addressed in prenups are: property and assets acquired before the marriage, property and assets acquired during the marriage, spousal support upon divorce, beneficiary designations, social media posts and consent, and pets.
Divorce is expensive. Deciding to get a prenup can save you time and money in a divorce by effectively streamlining aspects of the settlement process. Only, those assets and properties not already settled in the prenup will be addressed during a divorce proceeding.
Beyond the possible streamlining of divorce, prenups also set the couple’s expectations regarding asset management and marital lifestyle. A leading cause of stress and argument in marriages is finances. A prenup forces a couple to actively communicate regarding all aspects of the marriage as a contract. Prenups give couples the ability to lay everything on the table including expectations as to finances and marital lifestyle. Prenups are not bad luck and you should not be offended if your significant other asks for one. Think of a prenup like investing in insurance – you may never need it, but it’s there if you do.
We had children before we were married, or are planning to have children when we are married, can a prenup settle child support and custody matters? No. Courts in New Jersey will not accept any terms related to child custody or child support in a prenuptial agreement.
I’m already married, can I still get a prenup? No. However, New Jersey does recognize postnuptial agreements for couples who are already legally married and are not contemplating divorce.
We have a prenup, but things have changed since we got married, can we change it? Yes! A prenup can be amended by a married couple at any point in the marriage to reflect changed circumstances.
Contact us to discuss whether a prenup is the right choice for you!
By Caitlin Holland, Esquire
New Jersey residents’ vote to legalize recreational marijuana has many wondering what effect legalization will have on expungements in the state. The question remains unanswered, but marijuana offenses are not the only crimes eligible for expungement.
An expungement is “removal and isolation” of your criminal record. Contrary to popular belief, expungements do not clear or erase your record. Rather, they ensure that your record is not generally available or visible to the public.
Mistakes happen. Having a criminal record can hinder your everyday life. Even if you were not charged, your arrest will still be visible on your record.
Expungements are extremely beneficial to obtain before you submit any application where the reviewer will conduct a background check. These applications include: job applications, professional licenses, college applications, financial aid, and private and public housing. Once expunged, employers, landlords, creditors, etc. will not be able to view your criminal history. Your report will simply state that there is no record. If you are applying to a Federal or law enforcement position, your criminal record will still be visible due to the nature of the employment.
Your eligibility to have your criminal record expunged depends on a number of factors, including: the nature of the crime committed; whether an arrest resulted in a conviction; the time passed since the disposition of the offense; and whether any fines have been paid in full. Effective June 2020, you may apply for a “clean slate” expungement 10 years after your most recent conviction, payment of fine, satisfactory completion of probation or parole, or release from prison. There are crimes that cannot be expunged such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, robbery, sexual assault, perjury, etc. If you have any convictions for offenses that cannot be expunged, you will not be eligible for a “clean slate” expungement.
During the pandemic, the complete expungement process can take anywhere from three months to nine months due to delays in state offices. If you are planning on submitting any applications in the near future, you should consider petitioning for an expungement soon.
If you have a marijuana conviction and you are waiting to see what happens with the legalization of recreational marijuana in NJ, you may be waiting a long time. On January 1, 2021, recreation marijuana was slated to be legalized in the State of New Jersey. However, the state legislature is effectively at a standstill with negotiations crumbling in Trenton.  At this point, recreational marijuana is still illegal in New Jersey and the Attorney General’s adjournment of marijuana convictions expires on January 25, 2021. With no updates from the Attorney General since November 25, 2020, legalization is in limbo and its effect on expungements is still unclear.
Don’t wait to apply for an expungement. Schedule a meeting with us today to determine your eligibility!
By Caitlin Holland, Esquire
The fact that the real estate market thrived during 2020 while the global economy crumbled is well-documented. Analytics compiled by New Jersey Realtors® show the real estate market outperformed the 2019 year, despite a slump in activity in the spring presumably due to New Jersey lockdown restrictions. The data also shows a reduction in listings, meaning the supply of available property was less this year than last.
Many real estate professionals were caught off guard with the sudden influx of activity. News headlines showed record breaking numbers of Americans filing for unemployment. Businesses were forced to close. Some temporarily. Some for good. Many businesses could, and are still, only operating at partial capacity to ensure patron and employee safety, and to allow proper compliance with CDC cleaning protocols.
How did the real estate industry manage to emerge from the global economic downturn unscathed? It all started with immediate action from Congress. Shocking, I know!
Eviction moratoriums were put in place in the early spring when the pandemic was finally recognized as a threat by the United States. The CDC enacted similar protections. Congress also enacted a temporary freeze on foreclosures and mortgage forbearance.
Then, the Federal Reserve lowered rates to 0% to 0.25%, an attempt to protect the home buying market. This resulted in a decrease in mortgage rates. Fixed mortgage rates dropped below 3% causing a rush of home buying and refinancing and making it the lowest mortgage rate on record.
The realties of lockdown also fueled real estate market trends. Many people became remote workers, operating out of make-shift home offices. Forced with the realization they will be spending more time at home (with their spouses and children) than ever before, many left small apartments in big cities for larger properties in the suburbs. Properties that often come with outdoor space. Purchasers requested properties with home offices, gym, and other “flex rooms”. It’s not difficult to make the logical conclusion these requests are in direct response to the new normal of pandemic life.
Metropolitan areas around the country are experiencing a quite different reality. New York City is enduring an unprecedented fall in residential real estate. Between the month of March through November, rents in Manhattan dropped 12.7%, exceeding the biggest price drop during the Great Recession.
But what is going to happen when the multitude of state and federal eviction and foreclosure protections are eventually lifted?
I believe the market’s low inventory is related in part to these protections. Landlords voiced opposition to the moratoriums, labeling them as an “unlawful taking” in court, sometimes successfully circumventing eviction protections. When the protections expire, these vacant properties will immediately hit a market with hungry buyers starving for supply, and there will be an influx in bargain-basement real estate purchasing, for those who can afford it.
Stephanie Hunnell, Esq. , Ryan Westerman, Esq. and Caitlin Holland, Esq.