For Valentine’s Day… ‘Meh’

By Amanda S. Trigg, Esq.

Look what I found at my local Hallmark card store! These two cards say “I tolerate you” and “Meh.”  They were on display surrounded by dozens of more predictable declarations of love. If these cards were supposed to be a joke, they were not funny to me.  I bet plenty of customers look at them and wish they could tell their partner the truth, in an honest Valentine like one of these. When you are done with the love, every day can be difficult. On Valentine’s Day, everyone and everything in our society pressures you to fake it. Some couples don’t look forward to February 14th, if they think about it at all.

 
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You know who those people are, who could truthfully send the “Meh” card to each other, perhaps breaking the ice on a long overdue discussion about going their separate ways. Whether you have been together for months or years, with or without kids or complicated financial issues, it seems easier to stay put than to make the split. These couples sacrifice personal happiness even if it means making each other miserable. Does this really make sense in the long run? As a divorce lawyer, I see things differently where love and relationships are being merchandised. These cards send a powerful message – that even the best marriages end and that it’s hard to start that conversation with someone you once loved even after that affection is gone.

If someone you know has come to the end of the road in a relationship, and has questions about the legal steps to make a change even the most devoted friends can’t solve the whole problem. If we can help you help someone about whom you care, please let us know.

[And in case you were wondering, the “I tolerate you” and “Meh” cards are blank inside.]

Please follow Amanda on Twitter @AamandaFamilyLaw

 

 

5 Things You Need to Know About the New Child Support Law

By Joseph DiPiazza, Esq.

On January 19, 2016, Governor Christie signed S-1046/A-2721 into law. The law, which took effect on February 1, 2017, made sweeping changes to the administration child support in New Jersey.  The law will apply to all child support orders issued prior to or after its effective date.  Here are 5 things you need to know:

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  1. Termination of Child Support at age 19

Under the new law, child support will automatically terminate when the child reaches age 19 unless:

  • Another age for termination is specified in a court order, which shall not extend beyond the date the child reaches 23 years of age.
  • A written request seeking the continuation of child support is submitted to the court by a custodial parent prior to the child reaching the age of 19.
  • The child receiving support is in an out-of-home placement through the Division of child Protection and Permanency.
  1. Child Support after age 19

If the recipient wishes to continue receiving child support after the child turns 19, the recipient may request a continuation of child support for the following reasons:

  • The child is still in high school.
  • The child is a full time post-secondary education student.
  • The child has a physical or mental disability, as determined by a federal or State government agency, that existed prior to the child reaching the age of 19 and requires continued child support.
  1. Notices of Child Support Termination for child support obligations administered through the Probation Division

The new law requires that both parents receive written notices of a proposed termination of child support. The first notice will be sent 180 days prior to the proposed termination date, and the second at least 90 days prior to the proposed termination date.

Based on information from www.njchildsupport.org:

Families with a child age 22 ¾ or older as of February 1, 2017, will be mailed a Notice of Child Support Obligation Termination on February 1, 2017, with child support ending on May 1, 2017 (and not the child’s 19th birthday) as the new law is phased in. Families with a child between the ages of 22 ½  and 22 ¾ on February 1, 2017, will be mailed a Notice of Child Support Obligation Termination on February 1, 2017, with child support ending on August 1, 2017 (and not the child’s 19th birthday) as the new law is phased in.

Families with a child between the ages of 18 ½ and 22 ½ as of February 1, 2017, will be mailed a Notice of Proposed Child Support Obligation Termination on February 1, 2017, with child support ending on August 1, 2017 (and not necessarily the child’s 19th birthday) as the new law is phased in. This Notice will contain information on how to request a continuation of child support as well as how the amount of child support may change.

If your Judgment of Divorce (JOD) or support order specifies a termination date other than the dependent’s 19th birthday, that date will stand and you will not be permitted to request an administrative continuation of support. However, you still may receive a termination notice and be asked to send in a copy of the JOD or order containing the termination date.

  1. Child Support after age 23

The new law provides that child support ends definitively at age 23. A child beyond 23 years of age may seek a court order requiring the payment of other forms of financial maintenance or reimbursement from a parent as authorized by law; and a parent or child, may also seek, due to exceptional circumstances, including but not limited to, a mental or physical disability, another form of financial maintenance for a child who has reached the age of 23.

  1. Arrears

If back child support is owed when the child support terminates, the non-custodial parent still is responsible for paying that off and the order will still be enforced for the arrears, until the arrears obligation is satisfied in full.

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Photos via Unsplash. Please follow our firm on Twitter @lmllawyers

Let’s Talk About… Becoming An American Citizen

By Diana Villalobos

On the cold and brisk morning of January 5, 2017, in a ceremony that took place on the 15th floor of a Federal Building in Newark, New Jersey, I had the privilege of becoming an American Citizen.  It was a day that I had been waiting on for a very long time— more than a decade.

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Having a blue passport for me is not just about being able to travel the world without requesting a visa (which happens to be a requirement under my former Colombian passport for some countries on my bucket list); it is not just about not being deported— it’s about the privileges, the rights, the responsibilities and the blessings that come with being an American citizen.

To write about my journey is not an easy subject for me. The journey towards citizenship and naturalization is so widely misconstrued and misunderstood by natural born American Citizens that I start off by saying that asking someone how they became a Naturalized American Citizen is as personal a question as asking why they’re getting a divorce— just a simple etiquette suggestion for future reference when talking out the topic with an immigrant.

Even though there are immigration laws that apply in general to most, each person’s immigration status cannot and should not be compared to another person’s situation, and their path towards legalization.  Every case, every petition, every process, everyone’s journey towards legalization is different.

We are fortunate to live in a country that has comprehensive immigration laws. However, there are currently 12 million undocumented workers (this should always be the correct designation— not illegal immigrants) who are urgently calling for immigration reform and new immigration policies that could grant them the right to legally work, study and live in the U.S. A great majority of these undocumented workers have embraced the culture, have learned the language, pay taxes, and have conducted themselves in high standards of the law. Unfortunately, like anything else in life, there have been some exceptions to the rule.  Those exceptions have made it increasingly difficult to get an immigration reform plan pass in Congress and become law.  It did not happen under the Bush Administration, and it did not happen under the Obama Administration. With the latter it got very close, but it did not happen.

Before I share some of my story with you, I’d like to address four of the myths that I’ve heard throughout the years from people who don’t know much about immigration policy. Please note I am not an immigration attorney nor an immigration paralegal; I am speaking based only on my experience. Anyone who has doubts regarding a possible immigration law or rule that might protect or prove detrimental to their case should contact an immigration attorney.

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  • Seniority and longevity in the U.S. grant you the right to apply for Citizenship. This is false. Citizenship is not obtained or granted to individuals just because they have been living here undocumented 10, 14, 20 or 30 years. A proper application, case by case and depending on the individual, should be submitted. The rules apply differently to people who entered the country legally v. illegally.
  • People who have children born in the U.S. automatically become U.S. Citizens. False. If an undocumented parent has a biologically born child in U.S. territory, they are not entitled to immediate Citizenship. A petition from that U.S. born child could be made in the future when that child becomes legally an adult (18 years old). They will have to prove that they have good standing moral character, have no criminal record, are in good standing with the IRS, and can financially sponsor their parents until they themselves become naturalized U.S. Citizens.
  • Undocumented Workers do not pay taxes because they don’t have Social Security Numbers. Also false. Although an undocumented worker does not have a 9-digit Social Security number, there is a number that undocumented workers are able to apply for: ITIN, which stands for Individual Tax Identification Number. This number does not grant permission to work within the U.S., nor does it serve the purposes of a work permit. However, it does allow for undocumented workers to pay taxes to the IRS. Also, they do not get State or Federal refunds.
  • Undocumented Workers are not entitled to sue. Another falsehood. Whether there might be a potential claim for unpaid wages, race discrimination, domestic violence, child support, a motor vehicle accident or a personal injury matter, Undocumented Workers have legal recourse and are protected by the laws of this state or country.

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I entered the country legally in the year 2000. Just a year before that horrible tragedy that impacted all of our lives and changed forever the course of not just immigration policy, but all policy and all branches of government. I grew up in Colombia, raised by my grandparents who compensated for my heartache and longing for my parents with a healthy dose of love, and weekly meetings at the local church, and a love for God.

In my opinion this was the best thing my grandmother could have done for me. It set a foundation for years to come. Although today I might not be as good a Catholic as I was when I was younger, I take pride in knowing the difference between ‘praying’ and ‘saying my prayers.’

When I graduated high school back in 1999 (yes, a very long time ago!), I took the Colombian version of the SAT’s, followed by interviews at a couple of Universities.  I was accepted at a very reputable university for studying Law in the country. Even at 17 years old I knew I wanted to pursue a career in Law. No one in my family is an attorney nor did my decision come from a place of peer pressure; I just always disliked injustices, and felt the need and urge to aide and advocate for those fragile beings—like myself at the time— who needed a voice or someone to speak up for them. I always thank life for allowing me the opportunity to graduate from high school in Colombia, as I feel that I could have been bullied if I had gone to school here. My co-workers laugh when I tell them this but I feel there’s a very high chance, as I wore eyeglasses ever since I was four-years-old, never really did fit in with the popular crowd, and always ended up befriending those controversial people while in high school. I guess subconsciously it was my way of standing up for the underdogs, as I was one of them too. Not extremely pretty, not a lot of knowledge about makeup or boys— but I knew I was a good kid.  Always respected authority and respected those who guided me.

After I graduated, it was time to give my grandparents a break from raising me and start a life here— that’s what my Dad said.  I was not thrilled with the idea, to be honest, but I had no choice.  I was a minor and I had no money to pay for law school on my own, so I agreed.

I will not get into the legalities of what went on with my case. What I am able to share is that I had to do a lot of those undesirable jobs and for many years— those jobs they tell you immigrants are taking away from you. Call me crazy, but I don’t think most people are dying to become housekeepers, or eager to work in the food industry for about a month, Sunday to Sunday, 10 to 12 hours per day, to receive a check for $350 dollars—for the entire month and of course, off the books! That was the experience of my first job.

I was angry, and I was resentful towards my parents, who were now divorced. I indirectly blamed the country and the work routine for breaking my parents apart. I didn’t know how to exteriorize my discontent, so I isolated myself. I went to college for my Associate’s Degree, and as a huge disservice to myself I made no friends my first year.  An Associate’s Degree typically takes two years to finish, but mine took five years to complete. I had to take pauses in between semesters to work and save money. I was not a candidate for scholarships, federal aid and/or student loans, because of my lack of legal status. So, my Associate’s Degree and my Bachelor’s Degree were all registered as double tuition/or out of state tuition, which means I paid more or double than the average person. I guess in retrospect this was a huge advantage for me because I have zero student loans, everything was paid through my savings, and the joint collaboration and effort of my mother and father.

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Contrary to my experience in getting my Associate’s Degree, I made many friends while completing my Bachelor’s Degree.  I was part of the Pre-Law Club, and I took classes I enjoyed. I had intellectual and stimulating conversations with students and teachers. I even applied for an Internship with the New York State Assembly. After being officially accepted by them I was told it was not going to be a possibility for me because I was going to be put on the New York State payroll— again, I had no Social Security number, not to mention status. I lost countless amounts of job and educational opportunities. Not for lack of motivation, but for lack of status.

I drove for a while with a driver’s license, but when time came to renew, I was not able to do so, due to a lack of a Social Security number. Like any Long Islander, I commuted and drove everywhere; I had no choice.  For a very long time I had fears of police cars and state troopers, however my fear was never of being deported. I was never a criminal, was never arrested, never paid a ticket late, never had any issues at all with the IRS or any other branch of the government. And in good conscience I was only doing what someone my age should do: working, and getting an education. My only issue was wanting to go to Law School, and feeling limited because of my lack of legal status.

When Facebook became popular I was able to witness my high school friends graduating from their careers, going on to their Master’s Degrees, Doctorate programs, traveling the world, getting married and having babies.  I fell into the trap of comparing myself to them and invariably feeling depressed.

I would torture myself by doing the math and calculate that if I had stayed in Colombia, I would have graduated from Law school in 2006. Yes, more than a decade ago. I had to psychologically come to terms with my limitations, aspirations and dreams—something that people who oppose the Dream Act do not fully understand.  Having no legal status in this country takes a financial, psychological, and social toll on you.

When things finally started panning out for me I was able to get a Social Security number, to have a Driver’s License, to start building up my credit, and to apply for jobs. I was able to go see my family— the family that raised me in Colombia after 11 years without seeing them. I’ve been able to travel the world and visit countries I use to see in movies. I found a great job where I learned more about the legal field and rekindled my dormant romance with and passion for the law. The road to Citizenship has not been an easy one, though— I’ve lost people, friendships, opportunities (and sleep) along the way.

Finally, however, I am thrilled to be able to vote. The Political Science student in me is eager to be able to participate in our democratic process, and to continue to travel the world and educate myself. Although I might be just one person, I am the voice and the face of many other young adults and younger undocumented immigrants who are here doing the same thing I did for many years. They are obeying the law, paying taxes, staying out of trouble— neither free-riding nor taking advantage of the government and their services—. There were times, of course, when because of my lack of status I was unemployed, but I never saw the benefit in claiming unemployment or claiming welfare.  I thank God, as he gave me good health, hands, feet and a good head on my shoulders so as long as I was able to physically work, I never saw the need to lean or take advantage of the system. I paid my way, slowly but surely, through higher education without help from the government, scholarships or private loans, like many other young undocumented immigrants out there in need of immigration reform.

The sooner we embrace other people’s challenges and limitations, and all our differences, the faster we can incorporate them into the community and the country at large. The amount of revenue that undocumented immigrants bring to the table is not only beneficial to any State’s economy, but to the Country at large.

My message for those who have had Citizenship since birth is: treasure it, respect it, embrace it, and, more importantly, don’t take it for granted. Value the freedoms that come with it.  If you don’t like the way an issue is being handled by your government: participate! Write to your Senators, your Representatives, your local newspaper; join a civic group. Voting in primary elections is not enough. As I mentioned on a recent post on my Facebook page, 9/11 motivated a lot of people to join the military to defend our country.  I hope that the recent turn of events in our political system motivates people to join the ranks of government, public policy and public service. I too, like former President Obama, have high hopes that this generation will know better than to simply fight over the Internet when we are here to serve a purpose for the country, and to proudly state: I am an American.

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Please follow the firm on Twitter @lmllawyersPhotos courtesy of Diana Villalobos and Unsplash

 

The Joy of Being Wrong

By Amanda S. Trigg, Esq.

The joy of being wrong.

Everyone knows the great feeling of being right about a fact, an expectation or the best way to accomplish a task.  We learn from our achievements happily.  Learning from our mistakes can be just as valuable and therefore, joyful – on some level.  I learned this in a fun way over the holidays.  I gloomily predicted traffic and long delays on my family’s Christmas road trip.  When we hit almost none, I realized that I am rarely so happy to be so wrong.

Shift this idea to thinking about your divorce.  If you are certain that every possible settlement leads to mutual financial ruin, wouldn’t it be great to be wrong? If your answer is a resounding “yes! I want to be wrong” then ask yourself these next questions:

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  1. Why is your money currently invested the way that it is?
  2. On a monthly basis, what savings are you creating in retirement and non-retirement funds?
  3. How much equity is held in your home?
  4. What are you doing to preserve or improve the net value of your home?
  5. How are you going to pay for your children’s education and is your co-parent agreeing with you now about that?
  6. Is your disability insurance benefit enough to cover your typical monthly expenses?
  7. If you were to unexpectedly die, do you have enough life insurance to house, feed, educate and protect your children until adulthood?
  8. Are you and your spouse maximizing your earning potential?
  9. What tax advice have you gotten to help you understand your options for dividing assets, arranging alimony and child support?
  10. Who is giving you advice about how to adapt your retirement plans based upon the upcoming change in your asset base and income available for savings?

Give yourself one point for each question that you can answer without saying “I have no idea.”

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Then grade yourself:

1-3 points:   You can do better than this but you need the right team of advisors to help you raise your score.

4-7 points:   Nice work so far.  Be sure to keep asking these questions and updating your answers until you get the deal done. Consult with new advisors to up your score as soon as possible.

8-10 points:   Your financial savvy will help you during the economic transition of a divorce.  Now is a good time to follow up with your advisors and to update your personal financial knowledge.

Divorce creates new financial challenges.  The right lawyer works with a team of financial advisors to prove to you that if you are only expecting the worst possible outcome, you might soon be – happily – completely wrong.

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Photos via Unsplash. Please follow Amanda on Twitter: @AmandaFamilyLaw

 

Let’s Talk… Chrismukkah

By Corrie E. Sirkin, Esq.

This year, 2016, the first night of Hanukkah/Chanukah coincides with Christmas Eve, both falling on December 24th. Since Hanukkah and Christmas typically fall in December, they often overlap to the point that people have proposed the term “Chrismukkah.” On the other hand, Christmas Day and the first night of Chanukah have only coincided four times in the past 100 years, with the last time being 2005.

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Interfaith families often must make difficult decisions regarding where to spend the holidays and how to celebrate the holidays. Moreover, the number of interfaith Jewish marriages are growing with 44% of the population and over 300,000 children according to the 2013 Pew Research Center Survey. These parents and children will be navigating many questions: Will you have a Christmas tree and/or a Menorah? Will they be placed together, or will you have a Christmas nook and a Hanukkah nook? Do you light the Menorah at sundown, and then attend midnight Mass?

For divorced families, decisions regarding where and when to spend the holiday may be even more difficult. What happens if your Agreement states that the Christian parent gets Christmas Eve and Christmas Day while the Jewish parent gets the first and second nights of Chanukah?

Both days and evenings are extremely important to both religious traditions and both parents should try to be fair to their children and the other parent.  If both parents can compromise and split or alternate the days; then, usually it would be best for all involved. If you cannot come to an agreement; then, it may be necessary to go to mediation or file a motion.

Each interfaith family is unique and must balance their religious and secular traditions. It is better to prepare in advance for the holidays and conflicts rather than run into problems during the holidays.

At Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich & Trigg, LLC, we know how difficult it can be to navigate these very delicate decisions with consideration and empathy. Please contact us if you need assistance in negotiating parenting time during the holidays. To all families, we wish you a Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa and a Merry Christmas!

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Please follow Corrie on Twitter @CorrieSirkinEsq

Let’s Talk About… Divorce Rates

By Christine C. Fitzgerald, Esq.

According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the rate of divorce has decreased for a third year in 2015.  This marks the lowest divorce rate in 40 years with approximately 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women over the age of 15 for a total of 1,110,579 divorces in the United States. This is a significant divorce rates hit a high mark of 22.8 in 1980.  New Jersey was below the national rate with only 12.9 divorces for every 1,000 married women and ranking 47 out of 50 states. Also, it is interesting to note that marriage rates grew in 2015 with 13.2 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried women over 15 years old.

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Although the study does not address the reasons for the decrease in divorce rates, there are a number of factors that could contribute to the decline. In “Divorce Rate in U.S. Drops to Nearly 40-Year Low,” author Abigail Abrams states that pre-marital co-habitation becoming less stigmatized and couples are seeking to “shore up” their relationships as often as possible factors. I would also include that couples are waiting longer to get married and are marrying later in life. There also have been studies that show that education, or the lack of education, is a factor that contributes to divorce. Finally, Ms. Abrams also points out that, even though the divorce rate has declined, researchers still conclude that a typical marriage has about a 50% change of lasting.

Whether you are getting married, married already, or contemplating divorce, contact us at Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich & Trigg, LLC to talk about how you can protect yourself in marriage and divorce.

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Please follow Christine on Twitter @cfitz0717. Photos via Unsplash

Let’s Talk About… Vaccines

By Joseph DiPiazza, Esq.

… and joint legal custody.

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Generally, joint legal custody is defined as the parents’ shared right to determine how to raise a child, with specific consideration to day-to-day activities. Parents are expected to make decisions together, without the interference of a court. Those decisions include making educational and medical decisions, such as deciding whether to pursue a particular medical treatment or procedure.

Parents who disagree on whether or not to vaccinate their children face a challenging situation.  While vaccinations undoubtedly carry some benefits, there are those who believe that there are also risks associated with routine vaccinations that can lead to disability and even death.  One of the biggest parental concerns over the administration of vaccinations stems from the theory that vaccinations play a role in the development of autism.  The focus on possible side effects to vaccinations has led to many parents’ refusal to vaccinate their children.

While no federal laws exist that mandate vaccinations, the laws in many states require that children entering the public school system be vaccinated against many childhood diseases.  In New Jersey, N.J.A.C. 8:57-4 requires children attending Child Care/Preschool and K-12 to present documentation of immunizations in order for the child to attend school.  Nevertheless, a child can attend public and most private schools with select or no vaccines if the parent or guardian provides a valid medical or religious exemption letter to the school administrator. Private and religiously affiliated schools may or may not accept religious vaccine exemptions. New Jersey does not recognize personal exemptions.

While vaccinations are administered to prevent disease and possible life-threatening complications, courts face a dilemma in deciding whether or not the potential for a deadly disease constitutes imminent danger to the child.  In addition, the courts must deem whether the parents’ rights to decide against vaccinations put other children at risk of contracting a life threatening condition.

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Please follow our firm on Twitter @lmllawyers.com. Photos via Pixabay. 

The Blog of the Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich & Trigg, LLC Family Law Department