Here are the top 10 most commonly asked questions asked during a divorce consultation.
I like to have these commonly asked questions answered and addressed before the divorce consultation so that the time we spend together will actually be diving into the more important issues. I am hoping these questions will help you accomplish the same thing.
1.) How much will this cost?
That’s a very difficult question to ask. All divorces are going to be different, and the costs are going to vary depending on the complexity of the issues, the relationship of the parties, meaning how reasonable, and how well they get along with one another, and also the court scheduling, both how promptly they schedule your matters, and how quickly they get you in and out of court.
2.) How long is my divorce likely to last?
Any divorce is going to take anywhere from between 4 and 18 months.
3.) How many times will I expect to be in court?
Again that, like most answers I’m going to address today, will vary, but the average amount of appearances you could have will be anywhere between five and 10. You’re going to have probably two case management conferences, which are scheduling conferences where the court determines what needs to be completed with your case, what information needs to be exchanged, and when you return to court, so you’ll have two of those. You’ll have something called an Early Settlement Panel, which is a settlement conference that the court sponsors for you. You’ll have an Intensive Settlement Conference, which is usually held at a private attorney’s office, and you’ll have either a Final Hearing or a trial date. Now, the trial date is likely to be more than one day. Those will be the minimal five that you can expect to have, and maybe several others along the way.
4.) Will I be able to have my spouse pay my legal fees?
Now, there is support in the case law to have a spouse pay legal fees. There are several issues the court looks at. Mainly they’re going to look, or focus on, income disparity between the two parents, or parties.
Now, I generally tell my clients, even though the law does allow for it, don’t expect to actually have it happen. One, it doesn’t happen too often. Two, even if it does, or when it does, it’s better to not expect it so you’re ahead of the game then to go in relying upon it and then be left with less than you expected.
5.) How long will I pay alimony?
That, unfortunately, like most things I’m going to address, there is no bright line rule for that. The law does saw that if your marriage is 20 years or less, the term can not be longer than the length of your marriage. That doesn’t mean that when it’s more than 20, it has to be more, it just says if it’s less than 20, it cannot be more. As a guiding rule, I usually tell clients to expect anywhere from 50-75% of the length of their marriage is about where the most terms will fall, or at least the maximum term will fall. Rarely will it be the exact term, or length of the marriage, but it is possible.
6.) How is child support going to be calculated?
New Jersey calculates child support using a child support guideline. It’s an income-based approach where they take the parents’ incomes and they combine them, and that produces a set child support amount that the non-custodial parent will pay to the custodial parent. The number that is calculated in the guideline is adjusted based on how many overnights the other parent has, who’s paying for medical care, and how much is it in medical insurance.f Are there daycare expenses? That gets added in on a pro rata basis, and it will also be adjusted for any special reoccurring expenses like medical bills, or special needs that may need to be factored in.
7.) What happens if either I lose my job or if my spouse who is paying me support loses his or her job?
That person would need to file a motion to modify support. Generally, the court’s going to require that they wait two or three months before accepting the application, because the loss of employment needs to be considered more than temporary and, of course, generally they don’t consider it more than temporary if you have not been unemployed and seeking comparable employment for at least two or three months.
Once the application is filed the court’s going to have to determine if there is a material and substantial change of circumstances, and whether-or-not there should be a modification of the support based on the new unemployment or the new employment rate that they would find themselves in after losing their last job.
8.) What happens if my spouse doesn’t answer?
The court will give the other party 35 days after they’re personally served with papers. They do not need to sign them, which is a popular misconception with a lot of people, but they do need to be physically handed them in most circumstances. If they don’t file an answer in 35 days, the court will close off their ability to file an answer. You’ll have to file certain papers to preserve that, and certain papers to notify the court of what relief you’re seeking for a final hearing. The court will then schedule a final hearing where you can come in and put your divorce through.
9.) Will I pay temporary support while my divorce is pending?
That also will depend a lot on your circumstances. The courts are generally going to look to preserve the status quo that existed before you filed, so if you are a stay-at-home spouse, or if you were supporting a stay-at-home spouse, you are likely to be continuing to do that during the divorce process. If there are young children, there’s going to be child support. If there are assets or debts, that need to be preserved, and there’s an income discrepancy, the court will also usually order continuing support during the divorce case, which doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be support after the case. It’s really to maintain the status quo, which is a different standard than the alimony that we discussed a moment ago.
10.) What will my case cost if I go to trial?
First, let me say it’s highly unlikely you will actually go to trial. Less than 1% of all divorces in New Jersey do go to trial, but if it does, you can anticipate significant legal fees. Now, I usually tell people expect anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 in legal fees if you’re going to go to trial because that means you have complicated issues and a complete impasse, so that resolution is not possible. Because trial is usually not conducted and concluded on the same day, it’s usually going to be more than one day, so those are the fees you should consider as far as your budget goes. It may also be something that you weigh when you’re deciding whether or not to accept a prior offered settlement, or when you’re about to go to trial, if you want to try to settle using terms.
I hope this information helps you and clears out the main issues that you have. If you have more questions on the divorce process, you can go to our Video Consultation Room, where I have videos with questions and answers. I also have much longer videos in our Webinar Archive, where I dive much deeper into different topics of the law. Watch as many as you want. Forward to anybody, or send them to anybody that you think might benefit from it.