Recently, while driving into work, I heard a story on the radio. The story discussed a report that the marriage rate is on the rise in New Jersey. It stated that marriage rates in New Jersey have increased by 8% over the last 10 years but that divorce rates have remained the same. New Jersey is rare, as the national marriage rate has decreased by 7.7%.
So what does this tell me as a divorce lawyer?
People in New Jersey welcome marriage. As such, and from a legal perspective, New Jersey residents should know what the contract of marriage means. Prior to marriage, people may want to protect assets, such as property and money, through a pre-nuptial agreement. This agreement will dictate how assets will be distributed in the event of a divorce or death. Pre-nuptial agreements can also include terms of alimony.
Secondly, with or without a pre-nuptial agreement, about half of marriages end in divorce. People should know how the divorce process works. One option for a divorces is litigation. This means the matter goes through the courts and a judge ultimately decides all the issues. Another option for divorce is mediation or arbitration. Divorce mediation can help reach an amicable agreement without a lengthy court battle. The mediator is a neutral third-party. He or she is trained to facilitate negotiations between the parties with the goal of reaching an amicable resolution. Divorce arbitration happens in a private setting before an arbitrator. This setting is called an arbitration hearing and is scheduled at a time and place convenient to all parties. This is often a viable path for high-net worth cases, high-profile individuals, or cases that involve complex financial scenarios.
Lastly, while every divorce is different, there are common issues. There are basically two categories of financial issues. The first category falls under equitable distribution. Assets subject to equitable distribution can include real estate, bank accounts, retirement plans, insurance policies, stocks and other investments, cars, jewelry, artwork, furniture, among others. The second financial category includes items such as alimony, child support, college contributions for children and other expenses related to children. All these issues are included in the marital settlement agreement which is the post marriage contract between the parties.
You may ask yourself; how does one radio story inspire all these thoughts? It comes from decades of experience and my daily reality. I am a big proponent of marriage and am happy that the marriage rate is on the rise in New Jersey. I truly wish marriage to be the best experience for everyone. However, divorce happens, and it happens often. The more education people have about this sensitive topic before going into a marriage, the greater likelihood they will be prepared if their marriage unfortunately does not work out. I know this to be true.