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About Stutzke Law LLC.

Stutzke Law is a boutique family, employment, estate planning, and commercial litigation practice with dual offices located in Parlin and Freehold, New Jersey.

Here at Stutzke Law, your problems become our problems. It’s not about us - it’s about you. We understand that losing a business, a job or a marriage is quite possibly one of the most devastating and demanding times in a person's life. To that end, we strive to be sensitive to the financial and emotional needs of each and every one of our clients.

We more than prepared to see you through these tough times as not only a counselor but as a close friend and an equal. We are very protective of our clients' rights, and work hard to achieve optimal settlement packages for them. But when necessary, we litigate aggressively to protect our clients' interests.

Contact our office today to arrange a free consultation. (732) 952-2903 – Stutzke Law, LLC has Greek and Spanish translators on site. Please let us know if you require translation services for your free initial consultation!

Family Law

Here at Stutzke Law, we acknowledge that the decision to proceed with a divorce is often difficult and extrordinarily painful.  It often takes clients several months, even years, before finding the courage to leave a spouse or partner, regardless of the reasons involved. Obviously, the decision to terminate a marriage is a major life change necessitating not only a psychological transition from “we” to “I”, but, in most cases, relocation and a complete financial restructuring.

Once a client concludes that a divorce is the best way to proceed, the first step in the process is to file a Summons and Complaint in the appropriate County family Court.  The grounds for divorce in New Jersey include such “fault-based” grounds as extreme mental or physical cruelty, adultery, desertion/constructive desertion, habitual drunkenness or drug habituation, imprisonment, institutionalization, deviant sexual behavior, and the “no-fault” grounds of irreconcilable differences, and separation for a period of eighteen months or more.
Most litigants prefer to file for divorce on the basis of irreconcilable differences, as proving fault may be difficult, expensive, and embarrassing. Moreover, although it may seem counterintuitive, “fault” will usually not have any affect on the financial aspects of the divorce absent egregious conduct other extraordinary circumstances. One major exception to the rule is marital torts, such as personal injury arising from domestic battery, or the negligent infliction of a sexually transmitted disease.  In these special tort actions, monetary damages may be awarded to an injured spouse.

            A Complaint for Divorce might request the following relief:

  • Equitable Distribution of Marital Assets

The term “equitable distribution” refers to the division of marital assets and liabilities.  Generally, the date a divorce complaint is filed constitites the “cut-off” date for determining which assets and liabilities are marital, and which are not.
Everything acquired during a marriage, from the equity in the family home to the living room furniture, is said to be in the marital “pot”, and, hence, subject to division. In certain situations, however, even assets and liabilities acquired during a marriage might be exempt from equitable distibution. For instance, inheritances and gifts from third parties might remain the property of the recipient spouse, provided the assets are not commingled, or mixed together, with marital property.  Certain obligations, such as loans amongst family members, might remain the sole obligation of the debtor spouse, depending on the facts surrounding the loan.  On a related note, one spouse may receive a credit in equitable distribution for the other party’s “dissipation” of marital assets, such as frittering the same away on a paramour or by gambling.
Pre-marital assets are, for the most part, retained by the owner spouse free of division.  There are, however, significant exceptions to the rule, such as assets acquired in contemplation of marriage, or assets enhanced in value by the efforts of the non-owner spouse.  Post-marital assets and liabilities are usually retained by the spouse aqcuiring or incurring the same.  However, there is nothing prohibiting a spouse from using his or her separate assets to “offset” an amount owed to the other as part of the division of the marital property and debts.
Certain assets, such as closely held businesses, pensions, and collectibles may need to be professionally appraised in order to determine their actual worth.  In these cases, expert witnesses with the appropriate credentials may be retained to prepare a formal evaluation, and, if necessary, to testify at trial.

  • Custody/Parenting Time of Minor Children

If there are minor children borne or adopted of the marriage, either party may request legal and/or primary residential custody of a child.  A parent not seeking to exercise primary residential custody of the child or children might simply petition the Court for reasonable and liberal parenting time.  For additional information on custody/parenting time, click here.

  • Child Support

The party seeking primary residential custody of any minor children of the marriage will also request that the Court award adequate support for said children.  For additional information on child support and how it is calculated, click here.

  • Spousal Support

There are four types of spousal support in NJ: limited duration, permanent, rehabilitative, and reimbursement.  Limited duration alimony is alimony awarded only for a specific term, (i.e., limited duration alimony of five years), and is usually awarded in marriages of short duration  where it is likely that the dependent spouse will be able to increase his or her earning capacity during the alimony term. Permanent alimony is typically awarded in long-term marriages where the dependent spouse is of a certain age, has been historically and substantially dependent on the breadwinning spouse, and does not have the skills to become self-supporting.  The purpose of a rehabilitative alimony award is to enable the dependent spouse to become self-supporting through a specified school or training plan. For example, a Court could order a breadwinning spouse to contribute to an undergraduate course of study to enable the other party to obtain a teaching certificate. Finally, reimbursement alimony is a form of support wherein a party is compensated for sacrifices made during a marriage, which sacrifices enabled the other spouse to obtain an advanced education or lucrative degree. This type of alimony recognizes that, but for the termination of the marriage, the sacrificing spouse would have shared in the fruits of the advanced degree. These alimony forms are not exclusive; a Court may, for instance, order a combination of limited duration and rehabilitative alimony.
Permanent and limited duration alimony automatically terminate upon remarriage of the supported spouse. A supported spouse’s cohabitation with a third party might affect an alimony award, depending upon the financial impact of the cohabitation. All types of alimony automatically terminate upon the death of either spouse.
New Jersey does not have any “bright line” rules for determining if alimony should be awarded or for how much or how long.  Rather, spousal support in New Jersey is awarded in accordance with the following statutory factors: (1) the actual need and ability of the parties to pay; (2) the duration of the marriage; (3) the age, physical and emotional health of the parties; (4) the standard of living established during the marriage; (5) the earning capacities, educational levels, and and employability of the parties; (6) the  length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance; (7) the parental responsibilities for the children; (8) the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the dependent spouse to find employment; (9) the history of the financial and non-financial contributions to the marriage; (10) the equitable distribution scheme; (11) the income available to either party through investment of assets; (12) the tax treatment of any alimony award; and (13) any other factors that the Court may deem relevant.
Unless waived as part of a divorce agreement, alimony may be upwardly or downwardly adjusted after the divorce. The touchstone of whether such a modification is warranted is whether there has been a significant “change of circumstance”. However, obtaining an alimony modification is no easy feat. It requires extensive, satisfactory proofs, as well as, in most cases, a plenary hearing. Alimony modification is frequently the subject of post-judgment litigation. For additional information on post-judgment litigation, click here.

  • Counsel Fees

Where there is an income differential between the parties, it is not uncommon for the dependent spouse to seek counsel fee reimbursement or even an advance for counsel fees. The purpose of this is to “even the playing field” between the spouses of disparate incomes. The determination whether to award counsel fees rests in the sound discretion of the Court, subject to a variety of factors.  However, no counsel fee will be awarded unless the attorney has submitted a conforming “Affidavit of Services” attesting to the fees paid and outstanding.

  • Enforcement of a Pre-Nuptial Agreement

Where the parties’ previously negotiated and duly executed a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement purporting to delineate the terms of their separation, a party may request that the same be enforced as part of a divorce.
After the filing of the Complaint for divorce, the matter will proceed through the judicial system as an ordinary contested divorce.  For a description of the entire divorce process, please see the following article, Outline of a Contested Matrimonial Matter in New Jersey (link to my article).  However, if the parties are able to reach an amicable resolution at any time after the filing of the Complaint, they will be granted a final judgment of divorce within a relatively short time frame.

There are other types of actions that may be filed in Family Court pertaining to the dissolution of a relationship, such as divorce from “bed and board”, annulment, and a palimony action.  A “divorce from bed and board” is a limited divorce; in essence, the parties’ are legally will permit a spouse to remain on the other spouse’s health insurance policy up until such time a “full” divorce is granted.  Others choose a bed and board divorce for personal or religious purposes.  In certain narrowly prescribed circumstances, a marriage might be annulled, which is essentially a judgment voiding a marriage as if it never existed. Finally, a palimony action is essentially a contract claim based upon an implied or express promise of lifetime support. For example, a couple may have lived together for twenty years without legally marrying, during which time the dependent spouse gave up a career to raise the couple’s children. Given that alimony may only be awarded amongst couples formerly married, the palimony claim is the appropriate remedy.

1A       Uncontested Divorce

 The term “uncontested divorce”, while subject to various meanings, generally refers to a situation wherein the parties have already come to a verbal or written agreement detailing the terms of their separation.

The agreement may be the product of mediation, represented negotiation, or even direct dealings between the parties.  In most cases, agreements are reached through a hybrid of mediation and represented negotiation, wherein the mediator serves as the neutral facilitator, but subject to the approval of the attorney advocate. The attorneys may or may not be physically present for mediation sessions, but are nonetheless substantially involved in the process.  The mediation sessions might begin prior to the filing of the divorce complaint, or sometime thereafter. In NJ, most divorce cases are referred to mandatory economic mediation if a case remains unresolved past a certain point in the litigation process. Many divorce cases are resolved at that juncture.

When a couple attends mediation on their own accord, prior to retaining attorneys, or hammer out an agreement on their own, it is absolutely imperative that each party consult with their own counsel to ensure that they are getting a fair deal.  With the abundance of unverified information on the internet and cookie cutter “do it yourself” kits, many people wind up misinformed about their rights. In far too many cases, they find themselves regretful, broke, and emotionally defeated, with little to no chance of legally challenging the outcome of the divorce. As the saying goes, it is better to be pound wise and penny foolish.

When an agreement has been signed by the parties and properly reviewed by counsel, a proceeding known as an “uncontested hearing” will be scheduled before the assigned Judge.  It is critical to be aware that the Judge makes no findings as to the fairness or adequacy of an agreement at an uncontested hearing. Rather, the Judge’s main concern is whether the parties understand their divorce agreement and are entering into the same knowingly and voluntarily. The Judge will also question the Plaintiff as to the allegations posed in the Complaint. If there is a Counterclaim, the Defendant will be similarly questioned.

As can be suspected, where child or spousal support is involved, the entry of a final judgment of divorce is rarely the end of the parties’ dealings. The ties that bind are continuing, leading to the possibility of additional litigation down the road.  To that end, it is of the utmost importance that your divorce agreement be carefully and thoughtfully drafted so as to minimize the chance that you will be sitting in the same Courtroom only a few years, or even months, after the initial divorce.

Whether you have been married for five years or thirty-five, your matrimonial matter deserves the undivided attention of a qualified attorney certified to practice in the State of New Jersey.  Please contact us today.

 

The Stutzke Law philosophy is that trust is the bedrock of all successful attorney-client relationships. At The offices of Stutzke Law your problems become our problems. We understand that losing a business, job or a marriage is quite possibly one of the most devastating and demanding times in a person's life. To that end, we strive to be sensitive to the financial and emotional needs of each and every one of our clients. We are more than prepared to see you through these tough times as not only a counselor but as a close friend. Working from a framework of mutual trust, communication, and cooperation, it is our prerogative to handle your case in a responsive, thorough and dedicated manner from start to finish.
Amy Stutzke
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