For women, it can be especially hard to tackle the often emotionally-charged and confusing process of divorce. In this podcast, New Jersey family lawyer Bari Zell Weinberger answers questions that are specifically pertinent to any woman considering a divorce in the state of New Jersey, while discussing some of the most common mistakes women make during divorce.
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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.
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Read the Transcript of this Podcast Below.
Mistakes Women Make During Divorce
Diana Shepherd: Anyone can make a mistake in their divorce, but what are some special challenges women can face during the divorce process?
Bari Zell Weinberger: Divorce is one of the most difficult life transitions anyone can face. The truth is, everyone handles divorce in their own way. For some women, it can be that she left her career to stay at home and raise the kids and didn’t really handle too many of the marital finances, and now she’s getting divorced and she’s completely overwhelmed and frightened. How is she going to support herself? Where is she going to live? Will her kids be okay?
On the complete flip side, many women today are the main breadwinners in their family. These women may enter divorce feeling confused by what they are reading about divorce when most of the examples talk about the husband paying alimony to the wife or the husband paying child support. In their situations, these women may need to pay support amounts as the higher-earning spouse. What will this mean for their financial future? How long will these women need to pay for their support? What about child support? What about alimony? And how will child custody be determined when it’s the mom working 60 hours per week?
What missteps should women watch out for as they work out the custody and parenting time plans with their soon-to-be ex?
Some women approach divorce thinking that they will be awarded sole custody of the kids simply because they’re the mom. Unfortunately, these women can be in for a bitter disappointment or could be setting themselves up for a custody battle, because the notion of family court judges always rule that children should spend all, or most of their time with their mothers is a mistaken one.
New Jersey family law is gender neutral. Both parents have the rights to be with their kids. When determining custody arrangements, judges will consider such factors as work schedules and participation in children’s activities. If you travel frequently for your work or work long hours, this may impact your parenting time schedule.
You must understand that your gender does not determine custody, but your ability to actively participate in your child’s life does. As you start to think about custody, a good strategy is to meet with your family law attorney to discuss your family situation and what arrangements can put your children’s best interests first and still protect your relationship.
A great deal of the divorce process relies on information about the couple’s income and their finances. How can a woman get control of the financial issues of their divorce, especially if her spouse looked after the finances during their marriage?
If you didn’t normally handle the bills and account statements in your marriage, a good first step toward getting control is to understand what kinds of finances will be involved in your divorce. On our website, WeinbergerLawGroup.com, we have a printable checklist that goes through all of the many financial documents to start gathering – including tax returns, pay stubs, credit card statements, and bank accounts, mortgages, and retirement account statements.
Your attorney can examine these with you and discuss how this information will be used in your divorce. Part of the divorce process is about planning for your secure financial future. In some cases, women may want to fast-track their financial literacy by meeting with a financial planner. This professional can help you develop a monthly budget, invest money wisely, and plan for a retirement. They can also advise you on other important issues such as whether or not it makes financial sense to own a home or rent.
When deciding what to do with the family home, what should women keep in mind?
The marital home can be extremely important to both spouses, often for deep emotional reasons. Where we live is a big part of our identity. For women with children there can be fears about uprooting children from the home and possibly their school and friends as a result. While it’s certainly easier not to move residences when so much of your life is flux, staying in a home that you can’t afford will make things much harder down the road for you and your kids.
When deciding whether or not to remain in the family home, it’s important to set emotions aside and ask yourself practical questions like, will you be able to sustain payments for the mortgage? Can you pay property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and regular maintenance? Will you have money set aside to cover inevitable pricey emergencies such as a leaky roof or a broken oil furnace? Are you prepared to have some of the money in your divorce settlement go towards buying out your spouse and their share of the home equity?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” or “I hope so,” then selling your home might not be the wisest choice – or it might be. Talk to your attorney about the options.
Alimony rules in New Jersey have changed in recent years. What do women need to know about these changes?
When the New Jersey Alimony Reform Act was passed, one of the biggest reforms was the elimination of permanent alimony. It was replaced with the option of ordering alimony awards that are what we call “open duration.” This means that there’s no predetermined ending date. To receive an open durational alimony award, in most cases your marriage must be considered a long-term duration.
Either way, there’s a restriction to alimony awards with durations that are no longer than the duration of your marriage. For example, if you were married for 15 years, your alimony award could be for a maximum of 15 years, depending upon certain factors. If a woman in a marriage of 10, 12, 15-years or more who left her career to stay home and raise her kids goes into divorce thinking that alimony will be available for the rest of her life, she’s going to be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Alimony reform was intended to make alimony more responsive and flexible to fit different family needs. You can work with your attorney on the best alimony award for you. For example, spousal support could be rehabilitative, meaning that it can go toward education or career re-training to help you re-enter the workforce.
Also realize that alimony laws in New Jersey are gender neutral. If you’re the higher-earning spouse and your spouse the lower earner, you may be in the position of becoming the obligor spouse who’s required to pay spousal support.
Are women better off having their divorce decided by a judge or via some other kind of dispute-resolution process?
Some women may enter the divorce process thinking that litigation in court with a judge deciding their marriage will somehow be beneficial to them. Before committing to litigation, it’s a good idea to first consider all options and whether litigation is truly even necessary. If you’re considering mediation as an out-of-court option, but are worried about being overpowered at the negotiation table, I can tell you that a good mediator pays close attention to the power balance between the spouses and uses specific techniques to address any imbalance.
If one spouse persists in dominating behavior, the mediator will call a stop to the mediation rather than allowing it to continue. Your attorney can also be present to bring further balance to the preceding. With that said, there can be circumstances where going before a judge is preferred. Most notably, if there’s a history of abuse or violence in the relationship. This is the reason why disclosure of this kind of information to your attorney is so important.
Your attorney can help you decide which form will be most productive for you to reach a positive settlement that protects your best interests.
What should a woman look for in a divorce lawyer?
For women who are feeling very fearful about their future, it can be tempting to hire the stereotypical shark or a pitbull attorney who promises to take their ex to the cleaners in court. The sad truth is that the shark attorney knows that they can prey on this sphere to their advantage, usually by insisting on costly litigation even when an out-of-court settlement would be appropriate and deliver more positive solutions for the client.
Your lawyer is your advocate and is hired to represent you zealously to the best of their ability – not to start fights in court so that they can enrich themselves at your experience. The right lawyer for a woman – and really, for anyone – is someone who will fight hard for you, but who will not provoke or extend a fight that is not in your best interests.
For some women, the emotional aspects of divorce are more difficult to deal with than the legal process. How can women get help for the emotional side of the divorce?
Not everyone who goes through a divorce needs to go into therapy. However, for many women it can be helpful to discuss their emotions with a therapist to learn coping tools for working through rough patches that they have hit during this time of transition. Children, too frequently, benefit from both family and individual counseling.
Friends and family can be wonderful and vital forms of emotional support. Watch funny movies together, go for a run or walk with some friends on the weekends to lift your mood, and think about taking them up on their offer to watch the kids while you go for a massage, for instance.
Just be cautious of leaning on them, those friends and family, for legal guidance, that is. Your divorced friends and family can tell you all about what they went through, but you need to remember that no two divorces are alike and family law is constantly changing. Their advice may be well intentioned, but it also may be outdated, misguided, or candidly, just flat out wrong.
The last thing you need is confusing advice. The bottom line is to take full advantage of emotional support from your inner circle but leave the legal guidance to your attorney.
How can our listeners learn more about the issues that we’ve been discussing today?
For more information about the issues women can face in divorce, please read my blog post, “6 Perilous Mistakes Women Make in Divorce.”
What special help does your firm offer to women thinking about or going through a divorce?
If you’re seeking a trusted family law attorney who truly understands the issues at stake in your divorce, please contact us to set up your consultation.