Men are often faced with many questions when they begin the divorce process. In this podcast, New Jersey family lawyer Bari Zell Weinberger discusses how men can pick the right divorce lawyer, cope with the emotions of divorce, while discussing the law surrounding child custody.
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Hosted by: Diana Shepherd, Editorial Director, Divorce Magazine
Guest speaker: Bari Zell Weinberger, Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney
Bari Zell Weinberger is a renowned family law expert and the founder of Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, a family law firm with offices throughout New Jersey. She is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, a certification achieved by only 2% of the attorneys in New Jersey. Bari is also an experienced family law mediator, a published author, and a frequent media contributor on divorce and family law for both local and national audiences. To learn more about Bari and her firm, visit www.weinbergerlawgroup.com.
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Read the Transcript of this Podcast Below.
What special challenges do men face when they decide to divorce?
When a transition is as different as divorce, it’s understandable that some men might want to rip off the band-aid as fast as possible. Rushing the process or making decisions fueled by emotion instead of reason can easily lead to mistakes. A man who feels guilty, just wants out of the relationship, might give in to whatever his former spouse is demanding, even if it’s unreasonable.
Another man might be so angry at his former spouse for leaving that divorce becomes a tool for personal revenge. Other men may simply ignore divorce papers as a way to delay the inevitable. From the outset, understand that making these kinds of emotionally driven mistakes in divorce can yield devastating lifelong consequences for your relationships with your kids, your finances, and your future.
When it comes to kids and child custody, what is the number one mistake you see men make and how can they avoid making this mistake?
Many men go into child custody talks with the preconceived notion that New Jersey family law and the family courts always favor the mother. It can be a surprise for men to find out that family law in New Jersey is written in gender-neutral language. There is nothing in the law that states that a child living with a mother is preferable to the child living with a father.
In any child custody agreement, the best interests of the child must come first. In practice, this means creating child custody orders that make the child’s safety and emotional and physical stability the priority. It can be tempting to put your energy into worrying about whether you will experience prejudice in your custody matter. Instead, start thinking about what is truly best for your child and start working with your attorney to develop positive custody solutions.
You say that it’s a mistake in most cases for men to move out of the family home during the divorce. Why do you say that?
If you have kids, be aware that by moving out, you’re voluntarily relinquishing control of your access to the children to the parent remaining in the home. Without a temporary custody order in place, your time with your kids will be set by the other parent, a parent who may make it very difficult for you to see your children.
Because the court is slightly more likely to grant a custodial parent the home or the right to live in the home for some period of time following divorce, moving out can also impact the chances of receiving the property and equitable distribution. When you leave you may need to finally then support two homes, your current mortgage obligation, plus the cost of your new apartment or residence.
With you gone and still making payments on the home, your spouse now has less incentive to settle the case with you. If it is at all feasible for you to remain in the home, the outcome of your divorce may be all the better for it.
Rules about alimony have changed in New Jersey. What do men need to know about these changes?
The alimony statute changed with the passage of the Alimony Reform Act and the new statute eliminated permanent spousal support awards. Instead, these have been replaced with the option of alimony awards that are of “open duration.” That means that they have no predetermined ending date.
Open duration awards are generally reserved for long-term marriages. In any event, the length of payments now cannot exceed the length of the marriage unless a judge decides that there are what we call “exceptional circumstances.” For example, if you are married for seven years, you are not obligated to pay more than seven years of support.
Also, ex-spouses making payments can now apply in most cases to have payments end or be modified when they reach the federal retirement age of 67, barring extenuating circumstances, of course. It’s also important for men to realize that alimony laws are not written for women or men. They are gender neutral. In today’s changing economic landscape, a man may be the payor or even the recipient of support.
What one key pitfall should men watch out for in order to avoid a bad settlement in their divorce?
While no one wants to prolong the financial or psychological stress of divorce, operating from an “I just want it to be over” mentality will likely cause regrets. Poorly constructed financial settlements can take their toll and unfair custody or support arrangements can be difficult to modify.
Don’t let guilt or fear prevent you from arriving at a positive divorce settlement. For an expedient divorce that doesn’t sacrifice the quality of the settlement, explore divorce mediation where you and your spouse sit down with a neutral third-party mediator to work through the issues of your divorce. It’s faster and often less costly than the typical court-litigated divorce, and you have the benefit of a mediator to provide alternatives and feedback on fair settlement options.
Mediation can be used to settle all the issues of your divorce, including child custody, support, and even asset division. Your attorney can help you understand if mediation is right for you.
How can a father retain a close relationship with his kids if he is not the parent of primary residence?
Make the most of your parenting time by keeping it focused on your kid as much as possible. This doesn’t mean being what we call “Disney Dad,” where time with you is a fun trip or a special event. Helping your kids with homework, taking them to doctor appointments, or even hitting the local playground for a few hours, these are all ways to bond.
When you have your kids with you, don’t badmouth the other parent in front of them. This kind of behavior is confusing and alienating for children and it doesn’t draw you closer. Unless there is a specific provision preventing you from doing so, make it a priority to show up for your kids’ sporting events, school concerts, and parent-teacher conferences.
If you see your ex at these same events, be cordial for your children’s sake. Stay in touch through Skype calls, text messages, and phone calls. Even a quick “Good luck on your test” text can show your child that you care. It might not be for everyone, but if you and your ex can come together peacefully to celebrate your children’s birthdays or the holidays as a family, you may be surprised at how much this benefits everyone’s relationships.
What kind of divorce lawyer should men seek out?
Like anyone getting a divorce, men need a family law attorney who is experienced in the issues that matter most to them, with the proven experience to guide them toward their goals. You want someone who is going to explain your options and help you choose the best path forward.
With that said, as you interview different attorneys and firms, be on the lookout for attorneys who sugar-coat your chances of success by making unreasonable promises. If a lawyer promises you a speedy divorce and full custody before you have given them any substantial documentation or details, consider that a red flag. To avoid this trap, look to retain a divorce lawyer who will candidly review your options and provide a realistic probability of success based only on the unique facts of your case.
Bottom line, watch out for attorneys who seem to be over-promising. They probably are and you may end up paying for this with a divorce settlement that is far from your desired outcome.
How can men cope with the unexpected and sometimes overwhelming feelings that come up through the process?
Make a list of things you enjoy doing and try to work in one or two of those activities a week, such as shooting hoops with friends or working on a hobby or project. Enjoyable tasks will help to ground you in the understanding that there is life after divorce. Don’t engage in unnecessary bickering with your spouse. These fights are almost never worth having. Be the bigger person by not engaging. When communicating with a spouse is necessary for parenting time swaps or other kid-related matters, try sticking to neutral text messages to reduce risk for conflict.
Keep your mind and body healthy by doing your best to get adequate sleep and exercise. Don’t drink and/or drug-induce your way through your issues. You need a clear head and steady emotions. Drinking or drug use can impact certain aspects of divorce, including child custody. Seeing a therapist can teach you valuable emotional coping skills.
Men and everyone need to know that there is no shame in seeking therapeutic support to help deal with this time of transition.
How can men learn more about the issues that you’ve been discussing today?
For more information about the issues men can face in divorce, please download our free guide, “Dangerous Mistakes Men Can Make in Divorce,” at wlg.com/downloads.
What special help does your firm offer to men who are thinking about or going through a divorce?
If you’re seeking a trusted family law attorney committed to securing your future, please contact us to set up your free initial consultation. Get a feel for your options and the best path for moving forward by calling Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group today at 888-888-0919.