Going through a divorce is an emotionally draining experience that can often be confusing and overwhelming for the couple involved. There is more to divorce than signing a piece of paper. Custody, alimony, name changes and medical coverage need to be considered, as well. We talked to Andrew Rochester, partner in Morgenstern & Rochester in Cherry Hill, whose firm has more than 45 combined years of experience in family law, including divorce, custody, equitable distribution, domestic violence, pre-nuptial agreements and more. Rochester received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1991 and his law degree from The Boston University School of Law in 1994. Rochester has been named an Awesome Attorney by South Jersey Magazine. He told us what people should know leading up to a divorce and how they can prepare for a better life post-divorce.
What should a person do if they think they might want a divorce?
The first step is to call an experienced matrimonial attorney. The next step would be to slowly start gathering copies of financial records: tax returns, bank and credit card statements, mortgage information, etc. Copies should be stored out of the house with a trusted friend or family member. I suggest this because, in a divorce, you can never have too much information.
If you have children, maintain a close relationship with their teachers, counselors and physicians. In custody proceedings, their input on a parent’s involvement carries weight. Parents should be involved, know what’s going on in their children’s school, and take them to their activities. In many cases, the involved parent will have the advantage.
What are some assets people don't necessarily think about in a divorce?
Almost all assets legally and beneficially acquired during marriage are subject to equitable distribution regardless of whose name it’s in. For instance, the husband may have a pension but the spouse is entitled to a part of it. When it comes to equitable distribution, people don’t think of a spouse’s pension or 401(k)s. There is also the value they have in their homes. Even valuable collections like stamps or coins collected during the marriage can be subject to equitable distribution. On the other side of the coin, marital debt is also divided without regard to whose name the debt is in. This includes credit cards.
What should people know about health insurance?
Medical coverage is another area one might not think about. During the pendency of a divorce proceeding, the law generally prohibits changes to health insurance policies. Once divorced, you cannot remain on your spouse’s health insurance policy. The individual who does not have their own policy should make arrangements for coverage.
What should parents know about how the court determines custody or visitation rights?
There is no formula for determining custody. The court will look at numerous factors, such as the ability of each of the parties to parent, which parent has been more involved, who has been responsible for their education, and which one has the work schedule more conducive to parenting. Sometimes, psychological testing is done of the parents, and friends and families are interviewed. The court will also look at the ability of the parents to cooperate with each other. Joint decision making is important to the court. If teenage children are involved, their opinion on custody carries weight, as well. It is not decisive, but the judge will consider it. That said, parents should never try to persuade a child. It’s a sure way to ruin your custody case.
What are some potential changes on the horizon regarding alimony?
There is a movement to change New Jersey’s alimony laws, creating a formula for calculating alimony. The current rules are broad. The proposed guidelines have formulas based on length of marriage and incomes. If the law changes, it can also affect alimony orders already in existence, which is controversial.
Why is legal counsel important for life after divorce?
Family law in New Jersey is complicated. There are a lot of ins and outs and you need someone who works for your best long-term outcome. A divorce is more than just ending the marriage. You have to make sure that your first step after the legal proceeding is over is on solid ground. A qualified attorney is going to make sure that you have solid ground under your feet.
Morgenstern & Rochester
1874 Route 70 East, Suite 4
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 9 (November, 2013).
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