While it may be daunting to complete a divorce, there are many steps a couple can take to expedite the process and save time to reduce the stress for both parties involved. This podcast examines many ways to speed up the divorce process with renowned New Jersey family lawyer Bari Zell Weinberger. She answers questions on how to make the process of divorce move along as quickly as possible.
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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.
Is it really possible to cut the time it takes to get a divorce in New Jersey?
Yes, it is. As I like to say, the total time it takes to divorce often depends on how long the least reasonable person involved wants it to take. If you and your former spouse are both ready and willing to settle your differences, the divorce process itself can be surprisingly smooth and speedy.
What is the number one way divorcing people can expedite their divorce?
Waiting for far-off court dates in New Jersey’s overcrowded court system can be frustrating. The amount of time and effort it takes to prepare for court can be overwhelming. If you really want to put your divorce on a faster track, consider whether your divorce truly involves issues that need to be settled by a judge through litigation or whether you and your spouse can settle your own matters out of court using a low-conflict method such as mediation. Two other big bonuses: settling out of court also tends to cost less and be much less stressful compared to court litigation.
I know that you encourage both spouses to make a wish list for the divorce. What does this accomplish?
Wish lists enable you to see which issues in the divorce will be easy to resolve and narrow down items that may be in dispute. For example, maybe both of you are in general agreement about custody, but have disagreements over certain assets. Now you know where to focus your energy. Understanding what your spouse wants can also help you identify possible bargaining chips. For example, if your spouse wants the vacation home but you want a greater percentage of the stock portfolio and don’t really care about having a second home, it paves the way for quickly negotiating an outcome you will both find acceptable.
Be smart and use common sense when brainstorming your divorce goals. Your wish list should be reasonable and equitable to help the both of you work toward a financial settlement. Your spouse’s wish list should also fit this criteria. It’s a good idea to share your goals with your attorney first to get feedback and refine it accordingly.
You also say that making it a priority to collect financial information as soon as possible after deciding to divorce can make a difference in how long it takes to reach a settlement. Can you explain that?
The basis for so many financial calculations in divorce ranging from child support to alimony depends on documented income levels. As soon as you can, exchange and review basic financial documents such as tax returns, W-2 forms, pay stubs, 1099s, even statements regarding stock options, deferred compensations, and commission. When income is determined at the outset of a divorce, it is less likely that there will be a dragged-out dispute regarding support calculations and payment responsibilities for the family. Once support is calculated and agreed upon, both of you can turn your attention to dividing your assets and liabilities.
How can couples cut down on the time it takes to divide assets, including the couple’s home?
Many divorcing spouses find it helpful to streamline asset division into five basic steps.
- Start with a list of your real estate property and document the value as if the property were being sold on the market today. Then deduct any outstanding loans to determine the approximate equity in the home.
- Itemize current balances for checking and savings accounts, money market accounts, CDs, stocks, bonds, IRAs, 401(k)s, deferred compensation plans, and any other accounts you and your spouse maintain. Make a note of any loans taken against these accounts. Large withdrawals, liquidations, or transfers that have taken place also. Find the most recent pension statement to clarify the total benefit amount and the projected monthly payments anticipated at the time of distribution.
- Research the Blue Book value of all the vehicles in their present condition. Most people tend to Edmund or Kelley’s Blue Book to help with this valuation process. Subtract any loans on the vehicles to calculate their approximate equity.
- Make a thorough list of furniture, furnishings, and household items as well as collectibles such as coins, stamps, train, and artwork collections.
- Identify all outstanding debts and obligations, which might include student loans, credit card balances that are not paid off each month, hospital bills, and other personal loans, including those with family or friends.
How can working with a lawyer save you time?
Some may think that representing themselves in their divorce without using an attorney will save them time. Before you make a decision about self-representation or a do-it-yourself divorce, be aware that mistakes and errors made when going this route can result in the exact opposite of what you want.
Your divorce may take much longer and in the end not result in the settlement you had hoped for. For example, making a do-it-yourself divorce mistake when dividing a pension asset may land you back in court four years later and take much longer to try to undo when the mistake is finally uncovered and it may, in fact, be impossible to undo that actual error.
At a minimum sit down with a family law attorney to get a better understanding of your rights and options. For example, if you don’t understand how mediation works, an attorney can fill you in. If you have specific questions about pressing concerns like child custody or spousal support, your attorney can help you formulate the most direct path to reaching a resolution.
A word of advice on choosing a lawyer: watch for any warnings or red flags that the attorney is pushing you toward litigation without having a firm understanding of your case or what you even want. Since litigation will likely tie you up in court, shark attorneys know that they can make more money off your case. If you get the sense, move on. There are so many skilled family lawyers out there who truly have their client’s best interest at heart. Don’t waste your time on one who doesn’t.
If divorce negotiations come to a standstill, what can help jumpstart them again?
If you’re at a standstill over a hot button issue like child custody or alimony, try to reach an agreement on as many smaller issues as you can in order to gain momentum in your negotiations. Your divorce attorney can help you identify issues in your divorce that should be easy to settle.
Reframe the discussion by using language that states a position rather than putting forth a demand. For example, instead of telling your spouse, “I want our child 50% of the time,” try something along the lines of, “Our child loves us both and we both love him. As such, I think 50/50 parenting time gives our child the best option to continue developing loving relationships with both of us.” It’s a better approach.
Check your emotions at the door. The end of a marriage is almost never without emotional fallout. However, make sure to leave the anger, frustration, and jealousy out of the negotiation room. Making decisions based on emotions is a sure-fire way to not get what you want in the long run. Whether it takes seeing a therapist, meditating, or even taking up a kickboxing class, do everything you can to be in a neutral frame of mind when you sit down at the negotiating table.
Spouses may be able to create their own marital settlement agreement to save time, typically, with the assistance of an attorney. What does this entail?
A divorce agreement, also called a “marital settlement agreement,” can be drafted relatively quickly provided that the spouses have disclosed all income, identified all assets and liabilities, and have created a realistic settlement. By entering into a marital settlement agreement and asking a judge to accept it, you’re thereby waiving your right to a trial and essentially your divorce is complete.
Couples with an uncomplicated straightforward settlement may be able to construct a basic marital settlement agreement and then have an attorney review it. Other couples may have help from a family law mediator if they use mediation.
Key items to pay attention to when creating a marital settlement agreement include making sure that all issues of the divorce are fully resolved including details on specific payments such as alimony or child support, plans for distribution of equity in the home, child custody arrangements, and division of accounts and debts.
The agreement should also include easily identifiable dates upon which each party shall make payments and/or transfer of assets to the other shall occur, as well as when accounts should be closed, including credit card accounts.
How can listeners learn more about speeding up their divorce in New Jersey?
I encourage listeners to download our free guide, “Seven Secrets for a Speedy Divorce,” for details on everything that we’ve discussed today plus more tips on cutting extra time off the divorce process. Please find it at www.weinbergerlawgroup.com/forms-documents-downloads.
What special help can your firm offer to those seeking an expeditious divorce?
If you’re seeking a trusted family law attorney with experience helping clients reach positive solutions in their divorce while keeping time and stress to a minimum, please contact us to set up your free 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.