• Biography

    Practicing exclusively family law for over 20 years, Rita has helped hundreds of families with divorce, separation, child support, custody, guardianship, post-judgment, and related matters.

    Each one of her clients can expect their matter to be handled in an efficient, compassionate and empathetic manner.  Rita works collaboratively with clients to identify their personal goals while paying attention to their financial, emotional and practical needs.  With Lawrence Law’s deep bench and team approach, Rita has the resources to handle complex and high net-worth family law cases.  In family law, unlike general litigation, cases rarely have a winner and a loser.  Rita defines success for her clients as moving through the family law process to a better place in life.

    Rita’s handles divorce litigation matters throughout the State of New Jersey.  She regularly appears in courts in Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren, Morris, Essex, Union, Bergen, Monmouth, Ocean, and Sussex counties.

    Rita is a trained Collaborative Divorce Attorney and a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. She has both trial experience and alternative dispute resolution training in matrimonial actions.

    Recognized by the New Jersey Superior Court as a Qualified Family Law Mediator, Rita is a Panelist for the Superior Court, Early Settlement Panel in Somerset County and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Somerset County Family Practice Committee. Rita has been trained by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers as a Divorce Arbitrator.

    Rita is the Current Co-Chair of the American Bar Association Section of Litigation’s Family Law Litigation Committee for the current Bar year and has served in that capacity since 2015. She was previously recognized as Outstanding Subcommittee Chair for her 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 terms. Rita has also served as Editor of the American Bar Association Family Law Litigation Subcommittee’s E-Newsletter. She is a member of the ABA’s Diverse Speakers Directory on matrimonial and family law matters.

    Rita is a member of the Family Law Executive Committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association and serves as the Liaison to the American Bar Association for the Executive Committee. She is a member of the Appellate Practice Committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association. She is also a Trustee for the Somerset County Bar Association, with a three-year term commencing in September 2018. She is an author of articles and blogs published by the American Bar Association and the New Jersey State Bar Association’s NJ Family Lawyer.

    She was named to the Board of Editors for the American Bar Association’s Section of Litigation Appellate Practice Journal, commencing with the Spring 2018 edition. Rita is also a Member of the Editorial Board of the New Jersey Lawyer Magazine, which is the legal publication of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

    Rita is a frequent lecturer on legal topics, including the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Institute of Continuing Legal Education, at its Hot Tips and Family Law seminars, as well as the American Bar Association. She is also a member of the District XIII Ethics Committee.

  • Education & Career

    Education

    Western New England College School of Law | J.D., 1997
    Drew University | B.A., 1993, cum laude

    Bar Admissions

    New Jersey

    Accreditations

    Collaborative Practice logo

    Professional Affiliations

    American Bar Association

    • Co-Chair, Section of Litigation, Family Law Litigation Subcommittee
    • Editor, Section of Litigation, Family Law Litigation Subcommittee E-Newsletter
    • Board of Editors, Section of Litigation, Appellate Practice Journal

    New Jersey State Bar Association

    • Family Law Executive Committee
    • Appellate Practice Committee
    • Member, Editorial Board, New Jersey Lawyer Magazine

    Somerset County Bar Association

    • Family Law Practice Committee
    • Trustee, 2018-2020
    • Delegate to NJSBA General Council

    Morris County Bar Association

    New Jersey Collaborative Law Group

    International Academy of Collaborative Professionals

    New Jersey Women Lawyer’s Association

    Association of Family and Conciliation Courts

    New Jersey Association for Justice

    New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators

    • District XIII Member
  • Presentations

    “Hot Tips in Family Law,” NJICLE, New Jersey Law Center, New Brunswick, NJ, November 11, 2019

    “Judge, What do You Want to Hear?” A Primer on How to Present Direct and Cross-Examination of a Financial Expert in a Bench Trial, American Bar Association Section Annual Conference, Marriott Marquis, NY, May 3, 2019

    “Discover Yourself – Navigating the First Years of Litigation Practice,” ABA Regional Panel, Seton Hall Law School, March 29, 2019

    “Hot Tips in Family Law,” NJSBA Family Law Section in association with the NJICLE, New Jersey Law Center, New Brunswick, NJ, November 12, 2018

    “Post-Obergefell – Part 2: A Look at Case Law and Recent Developments in 2018,” ABA Section of Litigation Family Law Litigation Committee Roundtable, Call-in, May 30, 2018

    “Shades of Grey: Seniors and Divorce,” NJICLE in cooperation with NJSBA Family Law Section, Hyatt Regency, New Brunswick, January 26, 2018

    “Demystifying the Trial: Preparing for and proceeding to trial in matrimonial and domestic violence matters,” Hot Tips in Family Law, NJSBA Family Law Section in association with the NJICLE, New Jersey Law Center, New Brunswick, NJ, November 10, 2017

    “The Next Round of Litigation after Obergefell: Four Key Cases for 2017,” ABA Section of Litigation Family Law Litigation Committee Call-in Seminar Co-sponsored by the LGBT Litigator and Civil Rights Committees, July 26, 2017

    Second Saturday, The Women’s Institute for Financial Education, Florham Park, NJ, July 20, 2017

    “Using Evidence of Civil Restraints to Support the Claim of Harassment”, “Hot Tips in Family Law The Top 40: New Spins on the Oldies but Goodies,” NJICLE & NJSBA, New Brunswick, NJ, November 11, 2016

    “How to Avoid (or at least manage) Secondary Trauma in Family Law Cases,” “Hot Tips in Family Law,” NJICLE & NJSBA, New Brunswick, NJ, November 11, 2015

  • Publications

    “Tips for Family Lawyers to Boost Their Collection Rates,” ABA Section of Litigation, Family Law Litigation Committee, Spring Newsletter 2019

    Where is My Witness? Out of State? Use of De Bene Esse Depositions in Family Law Matters,” Volume 39, No. 1 – April 2019 Edition of New Jersey Family Lawyer, a publication of NJSBA’s Family Law Section

Announcements

Blog
Cohabitation – Don’t Misquote, Misapply or Misuse Landau v. Landau

Landau v. Landau does not address the merits of what is or is not cohabitation. Further, this case does not address whether the facts specific to it establish prima facia evidence of cohabitation. Landau does stand for the proposition that a court must first find a prima facia showing of cohabitation before it can order…

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Private School Costs in New Jersey Divorces

In a New Jersey case where the parties’ agreement calls for them to “equally divide…school costs,” and one party does not contribute to the costs for years, even though not explicitly asked to do so, a court can enforce the agreement and compel contribution. In the unpublished Appellate Division case of Fanelli v. Hnatowski, the…

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New Jersey Intrastate Relocation and A.J. v. R.J.

Here is an interesting case regarding New Jersey intrastate relocation. In the case of A.J. v. R.J., the mother unilaterally moved 62.3 miles away from Elizabeth, New Jersey to Mt. Holly, New Jersey after sending only one text message to the father about the move. The father is an active and involved parent. He enjoyed…

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Grounds for Divorce in New Jersey

A client may want a divorce, but may be unsure on what basis a court would grant them a divorce.  In New Jersey, there are several grounds for divorce.  The legal term for grounds for divorce is “cause of action.”  In every divorce, a party has to allege a specific cause of action that warrants…

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What Records and Documents Should I Gather if I am Considering a Divorce?

If you are considering a divorce in New Jersey, a wise starting point is to inventory your financial records and documents. Here is a list of 14 records you should gather: Social Security Earnings Statement.  This is a snap shot of both parties’ respective income.  The statement shows a clear picture of the earning history…

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Protecting Personal Information in a New Jersey Divorce

  The basic presumption in New Jersey is that Court records are open to the public. This means that anyone can go into a New Jersey courthouse and review a divorce file of a relative, friend, or even a stranger. Before irreconcilable differences became a viable option as a cause of action for divorce, many…

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Do NJ Child Support Guidelines automatically allow for an increase when my kid reaches a certain age?

Simply put, the answer is no. In New Jersey, there are no automatic increases in child support under the NJ Child Support Guidelines. The Case In a recent case, Dunigan v. Wilson, the New Jersey Appellate Division rejected the trial court’s decision to increase child support by 14.6%* because one of the children reached the…

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Blended Family? Think about this

More than half of the families in the United States were formed by remarriages or re-coupling of relationships. Based on current statistics, half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce.  And, the average length of a marriage is seven years. With the ending of marriages, the subsequent remarriages or the forming of…

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Equitable Distribution of Negative Equity

  The factors that must be considered by the court for purposes of determining equitable distribution of assets and debts acquired during marriage are identified in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1. Items included for purposes of equitable distribution are: marital properties vehicles bank accounts stock options retirement accounts mortgages credit card debts automobile loans any other assets and…

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Extreme Higher Earning Parent – No Increase in Support

  Child Support with an Extreme Higher Earning Parent – In a recent New Jersey appellate division case of Ianniello v. Pizzo, the appellate division upheld the trial court’s denial of the custodial parent’s request to increase child support.  The non-custodial parent was paying $10,000 per month.  The custodial parent sought a $65,000 per month…

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A Penalty Provision in the Marital Settlement Agreement

  In New Jersey divorces, marital settlement agreements include language that addresses the ramifications if either person breaches any provision of the agreement.  Often, the agreement includes a penalty provision that requires breaching party to pay the other’s counsel fees if the matter requires court intervention.  More often than not, courts have largely ignored such…

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Legislative Impact on Family Law – A Sneak Peek

I knew I wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember. My father is a retired juvenile detective from New Jersey.  I developed my love for the law through him. Law school proved challenging, requiring round-the-clock studying, but this diligence allowed me to graduate second in my class. Throughout law school and…

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A Modern Family – Third Parties Raising Children

The definitions of  “parenthood” and “family” continue to evolve. Today, it is not uncommon for a child to have a parent-child relationship with someone other than the biological parents. As the needs of children change, and as society changes, so does the law surrounding custody and parenting time. Therefore, a third party who lives in…

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Special Needs Child Support in New Jersey

I often hear attorneys say calculating child support is the easiest part of their job. In New Jersey, we have Child Support Guidelines.  As such, the New Jersey guidelines will be presumably accepted by both the parties and the Court. Child support is based on the parties’ respective combined available net income.  The support is…

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The Role of a Parent Coordinator in Custody Issues

Custody and parenting time issues are highly contentious and hotly contested in many New Jersey divorce cases.  Because of this, a Parent Coordinator can serve divorcing parties well by assisting them in trying to resolve their issues. Often times when either the parties agree or the Court enters an Order regarding same, a Parent Coordinator…

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Blog
Prolonged Separation = Divorce Complications

The New Jersey Appellate Division case of Milcarsky v. Milcarsky, confirmed the trial court’s decisions about thorny issues resulting from prolonged separation. In this case, the parties separated after nine years of marriage.  However, neither filed for divorce until 2015, 11 years later. The court treated this marriage as one of 20 years’ duration. The…

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Blog
What the heck is a QDRO?

Retirement accounts are often a divorcing couple’s largest asset – the home being another.  A QDRO must be entered by the court to divide retirement assets during a divorce in New Jersey. What does QDRO stand for? Unless you are going through, or have gone through a divorce, you have probably never heard of a…

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Is Living With Your Best Friend’s Brother Considered Cohabitation?

In the world of New Jersey family law, cohabitation is a term of art. It involves a mutually supportive, intimate, personal relationship where parties share the duties, responsibilities and privileges typically associated with marriage. Said another way, it is a relationship that has the hallmarks of marriage, but without the marriage ceremony. Evidence is Key…

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Blog
What should you think about if considering a divorce?

  While each case is different, there are general issues every client must contemplate when considering a divorce in New Jersey. Custody & Parenting Time The first and foremost consideration is if there are any children of the marriage. If so, the issues of custody and parenting time must be addressed. There are two different…

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Tax Issues for Divorced or Separated Individuals

The IRS, Publication 504, outlines a host of tax filing requirements for people who are married or separated when filing their annual tax returns. You are considered divorced for the entire year if you are divorced on any day in a given tax year. This is true even if you got divorced on December 31. …

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Blog
Criminal Charges: Interference with Custody

In New Jersey, people who interfere with custody can face criminal charges.  While rare, however, it can be effective when someone defies a court Order enforcing custody and parenting time. In a recent New Jersey case (State v. Thomas), a mother was convicted of third-degree interference with custody.  She took her daughter to a make-up…

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Divorce for Police Officers in New Jersey

Growing up as the daughter of a police officer in New Jersey, and now as a divorce lawyer, I have always admired and respected the men and women in blue.  Likewise, I saw the pride my father had every day when wearing his uniform, the respect he received from the public and his satisfaction in…

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Blog
Prenuptial Agreements, What’s the Deal?

Planning your wedding can be a lot of fun. There is much to do for the big day — the perfect dress, the matching tuxedo, the ceremony, the reception, the honeymoon and the million other details in between. Let me suggest adding another item to that seemingly never-ending “to-do” list – consider entering into a…

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Does a Child’s Income Impact Child Support?

In a New Jersey divorce, parents have an obligation to support unemancipated children as they are not self-sufficient. Child support is based on ten statutory factors.  But the primary factor in determining child support is the parents’ respective incomes.  In some cases, however, a child may have income or assets of their own. When establishing…

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Collaborative Divorce in New Jersey, say what?

Generally speaking, 97% – 98% of all divorce cases settle. Judges often tell divorcing parties that it is not a matter of “if” a case will settle, it is a matter of “when”.  Some cases settle in days, some weeks and others may linger for years. There are many factors that affect the time in…

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Palimony – Alimony for the Unmarried

New Jersey does not have common law marriages.  However, New Jersey allows unmarried parties to assert a claim for palimony. Often times the parties lived together but never married but have held themselves out as or operated like a married couple.  The expectation of continued support come from promises made during this time. Recently the…

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College Contributions in New Jersey Divorce Law

Divorced parents in New Jersey have an obligation to contribute to their children’s college expenses. On the other hand, married parents in New Jersey do not have the same obligation. The case of Newburgh v. Arrigo provides a list of factors for a court to consider in assessing the obligation of the parents. This case…

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Blog
Burkert Limits the Definition of Harassment

Many domestic violence cases center around allegations of harassment. The definition of harassment is when somebody intends to alarm or seriously annoy another person. To successfully obtain a final restraining order, the alleged victim must prove a predicate act of domestic violence.  Harassment is one example of such an act.  They must also prove that…

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Blog
What is a Marital Settlement Agreement?

  The main goal of every divorce case is to reach an agreement with your spouse. A Marital Settlement Agreement, written and signed by both spouses, is a contract that defines the terms of their divorce. Depending on the issues in your case, the Marital Settlement Agreement must address a variety of issues. First, custody…

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Blog
Child Support Guidelines in New Jersey

  In New Jersey, child support is an issue in cases including children.  The tool used to calculate the child support awards are Child Support Guidelines.  The Guidelines must be used as a rebuttable presumption to establish and modify all child support orders. A rebuttable presumption means that an award pursuant to a guidelines calculation…

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What does imputation of income mean?

  In a New Jersey divorce, it is crucial to know the income of both parties.  It is equally important to know what each is capable of earning. The income of the parties must be known in order to resolve issues like alimony and child support. In many divorces, however, the income-producing spouse suddenly acquires…

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Blog
Same-Sex Marriages & Irreconcilable Differences in NJ

  On October 18, 2013, the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriages in the State of New Jersey. As part of that decision, the Court said, “[S]ame-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today. The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative.”   The rights couples to…

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Custody & Parenting Time Orders – Sanctions for Violating

It is frustrating when the other parent constantly violates a clear Order governing custody and parenting time for my client.  New Jersey court rules and previous cases provide for a host of remedies to enforce a Court Order. For example, a court can award compensatory parenting time in the event an Order is not being…

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Blog
Child as a Witness in a New Jersey Divorce?

One of the most difficult issues a family law attorney faces is when a child is a witness to, or has important information about, an issue in his or her parent’s divorce case. I have never had a child provide a certification to the court.  I also never called a child as a witness.  Even…

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Blog
Divorce Litigation v. Divorce Collaboration

In reality, the vast majority of divorce cases settle. It is a rare case that is tried to conclusion. The damage done to the parties and, more importantly, the children after a divorce trial is severe and pervasive. I would say it is probably so traumatic that one never truly recovers from the wreckage of…

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Is technology making it hard to find money in NJ divorces?

In some New Jersey divorce cases, one party may use technology to hide or move money.  The good news is that there will almost always be a trail that can be traced. Cyrptocurrency The use of cryptocurrency to conceal assets is a concerning trend. According to Wikipedia, “A cryptocurrency (or crypto currency) is a digital…

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Custody and Parenting Time in New Jersey

Often in a divorce, the main area in dispute is custody and parenting time of a child. Litigants can spend months of their lives and thousands of dollars fighting over their child. Types of Custody and Parenting Time There are two different types of custody – legal custody and residential custody. With regard to legal…

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In a New Jersey Divorce, Who Gets the Pets?

In New Jersey, there is limited case law addressing who keeps the family pets after a divorce. Just because there is limited case law, does not mean there are not disputes and issues when it comes to Poochie. As of now, New Jersey courts view and treat pets as personal property and not a custodial…

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Taking my divorce case to trial in New Jersey, now what?

I author many articles that deal with the settlement of a divorce or family law case. While it is true that most cases settle, there are a small percentage of New Jersey cases (1%-2%) that do not settle.  A Judge decides the fate of the litigants when there is no settlement. While I strongly urge…

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Key Terms in a New Jersey Divorce

Divorce is a scary time for anyone thinking about it or going through it.  Divorce is also something that people do not understand until they are in the process.  Therefore, I have created a list of key terms that are helpful to those new to divorce. Property Settlement Agreement/Marital Settlement Agreement – A written contract…

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Blog
Why do I need to hire a divorce lawyer?

Going through a divorce is a life changing event. It is an uncertain and scary time. During the divorce, you will make very important decisions that will affect the rest of your life. The assets you have acquired during the marriage need to be identified, valued and distributed. Your marital lifestyle will need to be…

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Blog
Grandparent Visitation in New Jersey

Recently, a judge I appeared before summed up the status of grandparent visitation in New Jersey. He said if a grandparent wants visitation and the parent says “jump,” the grandparents’ response should be “how high?” Sad, but true, this is the current sentiment of grandparent rights in New Jersey. A fit parent has a fundamental…

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Alimony Basics in New Jersey

Generally speaking, alimony is often the hardest part of my job. Unlike child support, there are no alimony guidelines. Alimony is based on statutory factors and case law interpreting these factors. 12 New Jersey statutory factors: The actual need and ability of the parties to pay. The duration of the marriage. The parties’ age, physical…

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Alimony Duration & Exceptional Circumstances

In 2014, the New Jersey statute governing alimony was amended to modify certain provisions.  One of the changes was the alimony duration.  The statute, absent exceptional circumstances, alimony duration may not be longer than the length of the marriage. In the recent Appellate Division case of B.G. v. E.G, the court found exceptional circumstances, and…

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Blog
Unvested Stock Rewards in New Jersey Divorce

In a recent case, M.G. v S.M., the New Jersey Appellate Division decided in favor of the plaintiff husband.  The issue was whether or not a restricted stock award from the husband’s employer, which vested after the filing of a Complaint for Divorce, was subject to equitable distribution.  The trial court found that the wife was…

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Blog
What are you passionate about? Make time for it!

I am passionate about the practice of family and and am very active in the New Jersey State Bar Association (currently Treasurer). I recently participated in the NJSBA’s Women’s Leadership in the Law Forum at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. A bonus from the event is the compilation of the insights and…

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An Emotionally Healthy Divorce in New Jersey

One of my hardest jobs as a divorce lawyer is managing an angry and bitter client. It always troubles me when a client demands that I get them justice or retribution through the divorce process. It is generally a difficult conversation and contrary to every stereotype believed by the client.  Justice is not always, and…

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Blog
Does Valentine’s Day cause divorce?

I recently came across this article Day after Valentine’s kicks off divorce season on CNN’s website. It discusses the increase in people seeking divorce, and in one study, this increase was about 40% during this particular season of love. According to the article, some believe Valentine’s Day triggers spouses to make a move in their marriage. It also mentions several other factors, such…

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Blog
Myths & Facts in New Jersey Divorce Law

  Clients are often misguided as to their rights and obligations in a divorce and, because of this, their expectations are often unrealistic. Often, clients will tell me what they believe the law to be; only for me to have to tell them otherwise. Below are 6 of the the most common misperceptions that I…

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Blog
Super Bowl Sunday – Dangerous Day for Men and Women?

This Sunday, America will be celebrating our non-official national holiday  – The Super Bowl. As a divorce lawyer, I sometimes get asked, “Is it true that there are more domestic violence incidents on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day?” The Myth During my 21 years of practicing divorce law, I have not seen an…

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How does New Jersey treat victims of domestic violence?

Wife beating had been a fact of life for centuries. Marital abuse was traditionally acceptable and early common law recognized a husband’s right to beat his wife. Domestic violence was considered proper discipline. An old English proverb “A woman, a horse, a hickory tree, the more you beat ‘em the better they be” was the…

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Blog
What is an uncontested divorce hearing in New Jersey?

Statistically speaking, 97%-98% of all divorce cases settle before trial. Of the remaining 2%-3%, half of those cases settle during trial. If you are going through a divorce, it is safe to say that your case will settle. I tell my clients that generally it is not a matter of “if,” but a matter of…

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Parenting Time – Who is Responsible for Driving the Kids?

Often in custody disputes, there are disagreements over who is responsible for transporting the children to and from parenting time. In the Appellate Division case of Devorak v. Devorak, the court held that the parties were to share equally in the driving responsibilities. When the parties’ divorced, both lived in Woodbridge, New Jersey. They agreed…

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College expenses: can a parent get out of paying post-divorce?

In the recent Appellate Division case of M.F.W. v. G.O., the court upheld the lower court’s order requiring the father to contribute to his daughter’s college costs. The court, on motion, allocated the daughter’s college expenses 70/30 and declined to hold a hearing on the issue, finding that there were no issues of material facts…

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Is it worth it to get a prenup if you don’t have money like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos?

There are headlines all over the Internet about how Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos are getting divorced and do not have a pre-nuptial agreement.  Granted, there was no way they could have imagined that their fortune would be at valued at approximately $137 Billion.  I guess this is good news for MacKenzie as she can make…

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Blog
Things Clients Should Never Say to Their Children

After fifteen years of exclusively practicing matrimonial and family law, there are things I know for sure about divorce.  If you are already divorced, going through a divorce or contemplating a divorce, please read the following list.  Commit yourself to living by it.   It truly will be the best gift you can give your children. Here…

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Spying via i-Devices May Be Stalking in New Jersey

In this case, the court found the husband to have stalked his wife, adding that his intention in doing so was to gain evidence against her to use in their pending divorce proceeding.

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The Law on Removing a Child from New Jersey

Relocation/removal cases are some of the most difficult and heart-wrenching of all. This change in the law is welcome, and will hopefully reduce the strife and stress in children’s lives.

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Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: How Does it Impact Divorce?

  The recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law on December 22, 2017, by President Donald J. Trump.  The Act leaves family lawyers eager to understand its implications in preparation for an overwhelming number of questions from clients. The Act repeals the deduction for the alimony payments and their inclusion as income to…

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