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FAMILY LAW. . . . .
DIVORCE, CUSTODY, SUPPORT, ALIMONY, CIVIL UNIONS, COHABITATION, PRE-NUPTIAL AGREEMENTS and DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIPS
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Kristine Holt represents both plaintiffs and defendants in divorce actions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and civil union dissolutions in New Jersey. Her experience in this field ranges from uncontested no-fault divorces to successfully defending unusual divorces, such as an action filed by step-children on behalf of a severely incapacitated party. She will handle all aspects of the divorce process, be it mediating and preparing a property settlement agreement in an uncontested divorce, or litigating for a favorable distribution of property in contested matters.
Attorney Holt also represents clients going through divorce come to terms with child support, custody and spousal support issues, and in addition, represents the interests of parties seeking to modify child and spousal support obligations in the event of unemployment, emancipation, or remarriage of an ex-spouse. In New Jersey, she also represents same-sex couples going through the divorce process and related issues, be it a dissolution of a civil union or out-of-state same-sex marriage.
In preparation for marriage, or in lieu of marriage, many people desire a pre-nuptial agreement or a cohabitation agreement. Ms. Holt offers such couples legally-binding, low-cost agreements that clearly outline the parties' expectations and duties, uniquely based on the couple's expressed desires. For those same-sex couples in Pennsylvania seeking to entering into a legal relationship, Attorney Holt also offers a unique package of documents intended to approximate the rights and protections of marriage for unmarried couples. See below for more information.Many of the services are offered at a flat rate, while other matters are billed on an hourly basis.
▫ Divorce -- Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania allow for divorce based on either fault or no-fault grounds. No-fault divorce in both states can be based either on mutual consent (irretrievably broken/irreconcilable differences) or long term separation (18 months in NJ, 2 years in PA). It is necessary for at least one party to have resided in the state for at least one year prior to filing in NJ, and for six months in PA. In PA, a no-fault divorce can be filed and completed without a court appearance; in NJ, at least the party filing the divorce must appear in court for a hearing. Agreements as to property settlement, child custody, support and alimony are encouraged, and the courts of both states will incorporate such written "post-nuptial agreements" into a divorce decree. As a rule, divorce actions that become long, drawn out and hostile usually do so because of disagreement over property, children and alimony.
In addition, New Jersey permits Civil Unions for same-sex couples, and the process of dissolving such civil unions is identical to divorce, with one exception -- no-fault dissolution is restricted to 18 months separation; mutual consent is not yet available.
▫ Child custody, support and alimony -- New Jersey and Pennsylvania rely on the "best interests of the child" standard for awarding legal, primary physical and partial custody of children to their respective parents. Legal custody involves the right of the parent to make decisions regarding the child's education, medical care, religious instruction, etc., and is usually granted jointly between the parties. For physical custody, the factors to consider vary, but generally, the courts look at who has been the child's primary caretaker; the mental and emotional stability of the parties; the parties' ability and/or willingness to cooperate with each other; issues relating to violence, physical abuse or substance abuse; etc. The children's wishes are usually only considered after they reach their teen years. Financial resources are also given little weight, as support is available to provide the financial resources needed to ensure the child's well-being.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey also both calculate child support based on the relative incomes of the parties, according to set guidelines, and allow variance from the guidelines based on special circumstances, such as unusual medical or educational needs, child care expenses, etc. Child custody and child support awards can be modified by the courts upon motion of either party alleging changed circumstances.
Spousal support and alimony pendente lite (APL --
"alimony pending litigation") also tends to be awarded based on
guideline formulas, but such support is not always automatically
given. Unlike child support, spousal support may be withheld
based on issues such as spousal misconduct, desertion, etc.
Alimony may also be awarded after the divorce is final, based
again on issues related to APL awards, and may be permanent,
rehabilitative, or term.
Similarly, a cohabitation agreement works well to establish the legal and property rights of individuals considering living together without marriage. in the event the parties break up and there is significant property shared between them, their respective rights are not automatically assured. Because divorce laws are inapplicable, their property rights are usually determine on an equitable or contract basis, i.e., what the parties originally agreed to and who may have breached the agreement. The difficulty arises when each party has a different idea of what was agreed to, and who did what to end the relationship. In this instance, a cohabitation agreement serves much the same function as a pre-nuptial agreement. It is an agreement, enforceable as a contract, that clearly spells out what each party's responsibilities, obligations and rights are, what happens when one party breaches the agreement, and how property is to be divided in the event the parties break up. The cohabitation agreement can also be useful in establishing a Domestic Partnership between same-sex couple, which is particularly useful in Pennsylvania, where civil unions are not offered or recognized.
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