We didn’t agree on a lot of things when we were married. We had a lot of feelings clouding our judgement. There was a lot of stress distracting us from prioritizing. After our divorce was finalized and everything was written in ink and signed off on, it all got easier.
It wasn’t quite overnight, but over time we grew closer and more capable of healthy communication when it comes to our kids. We had been on the same page before we got married and now we are back on the same page. We just needed to get rid of some of the other aspects of our relationship to become the parents we were meant to be.
So while some minor details aren’t always agreed on, we seem to always find a good place to land when it comes to the big issues. Like our children’s wellbeing, mental health, and meeting their individual needs.
Our daughter comes with a whole host of needs. Not all of which made sense to us at first. And not all of which came with any sort of “how to” guide. Allowing our child to transition was the simplest and hardest thing to come to terms with. We both knew who she was and who she needed to be allowed to be. We both were terrified of messing this up. We consulted wit ha specialist. We met with other families, some in real life, some virtually. We took it slowly and followed her lead.
Most recently, we signed documents and mailed out a check. We finally gave our girl what she needed in order to be able to live her life. A child shouldn’t have to come with an explanation or a “heads up” before starting a new class. A child shouldn’t always have to enter a new arena by waiting on the outskirts while their parents explained to the adults in charge what to expect. And now, she won’t have to.
I showed up to the play date with one kid. My friend was shocked. Where was my other kid? I guess the concept of having a split day isn’t something people are too familiar with. Many parents take one kid out for a special activity. Many kids go out with their friends or family without necessarily taking their sibling along. But once you start breaking down their schedules into parenting time, people tend to be far more hungry for that time.
Early on in the divorce process I worried about losing time with my kids. I worried about missing out on huge memories and all of their little milestones. I worried about all of it. As the kids got older though, I noticed that there were a lot of things we were all missing out on. A little one on one time started to become something to look forward to.
Our kids are their own people. They have their own hobbies, interests, all of it. And they have an amazing ability to interrupt each other and a strong desire to steer conversations and play in their own direction. It became apparent that they needed one on one time.
The split day was born. It was such a raging success from the very first one that we knew we had to work this into our parenting schedule. It made it so much more clear too that this wasn’t about my days or about my exes days. All of this is about the kids days.
Birthday parties are much easier to navigate without an extra sibling. Bringing a 4 year old on a 4 hour hike is surprisingly doable when it’s one 4 year old instead of 2. A trip to the museum became a truly interactive learning event rather than a push-me pull-me down a spiral of exhaustion. The kids missed each other and were happy to be reunited at the end of the day. They were eager to share their experiences. They were thrilled to have had one of us to themselves. So yeah, split days are a thing. And we like them.
On October 12, 2018, the Appellate Division handed down an unpublished decision in K.D.E. v. J.E., a post-judgment matrimonial matter in Monmouth County.
The parties married in 1988, had two children, and divorced in June 2009. The parties negotiated a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) which was incorporated into their Judgment of Divorce. At the time of the divorce, both parties resided in the marital residence. The MSA allowed for Plaintiff and the children to remain in the marital residence until it sold. It also allowed Defendant to remain in the home until she found alternate housing approved by her GAL.
Defendant moved out of the marital residence approximately one month after the parties signed the MSA. Plaintiff and the children ended up living in the marital residence for six years thereafter. Plaintiff later claimed that he tried to sell the home but that Defendant refused to cooperate; however, Plaintiff did not file a motion in those six years. Finally, the parties agreed to list the home for sale in 2015 and the house sold on November 30, 2015.
The parties were unable to agree on how the sale proceeds should be distributed, so Plaintiff filed a motion seeking certain credits, including a credit for the mortgage principal he had paid down in the six years following the divorce. Defendant opposed Plaintiff’s motion and pointed out that Plaintiff received the benefit of the mortgage deduction on his taxes as well as the benefit of not having to spend more money to buy/rent a new residence. The trial court did not hold a plenary hearing on the matter, but instead, issued a written decision based upon the conflicting certifications filed by the parties. The trial court granted Plaintiff’s request and commented that the parties did not anticipate the lengthy delay in the sale of the home and that Defendant was the sole cause of the delay. The decision did not address Defendant’s arguments that Plaintiff reaped tax benefits and saved money by not moving. Defendant appealed.
The Appellate Division lamented about the fact that there was no language in the MSA stating that the Plaintiff was supposed to receive credit for reducing the mortgage while remaining in the home, and that the language was ambiguous at best. The Appellate Division ultimately reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for a plenary hearing to be held as to the issues concerning the proper interpretation of the MSA. Further the Appellate Division commented that when courts are determining the meaning of matrimonial agreements, they must “discern and implement the common intention of the parties.” Pacifico v. Pacifico, 190 N.J. 258, 266 (2007) but not use extrinsic evidence to rewrite the MSA. (citing Conway v. 287 Corporate Ctr. Assocs., 187 N.J. 259, 268-70 (2006)). Ultimately, the Appellate Division reversed and remanded the case for the trial court to hold a plenary hearing to parse out the parties’ conflicting stories and their intentions with respect to their MSA.
On October 2, 2018, the Appellate Division handed down an unpublished decision in Rooney Sahai v. Susan Sahai, a post-judgment matrimonial matter on appeal from Bergen County.
The parties divorced in 2012 after 26 years of marriage. Their Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) provided for no parenting time between Susan and the parties’ severely disabled adult daughter, even though both parties cared for the child from the time of her birth through the entry of their divorce. In July 2014, Susan filed a motion to vacate the PSA on the grounds that Rooney coerced her into signing it. The court scheduled a plenary hearing shortly thereafter.
Over the 4 ½ years that followed Susan’s motion; Rooney engaged in what the Appellate Division labeled as “obstructionist litigation.” Rooney failed to comply with 3 separate court orders (including a consent order), entered over the course of 9 months, for Susan to have visitation with the parties’ daughter. Rooney initiated a criminal complaint against Susan with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office (which was administratively dismissed). He also filed civil suits against Susan’s attorney in Superior Court and Federal Court (both of which were also dismissed). During all of this chaos, the trial court imposed $20,000 in sanctions against Rooney for his non-compliance with court orders as well as ordering him to pay over $10,000 in attorney’s fees.
Rooney filed 2 appeals relative to the sanctions and attorney’s fees. Prior to the Appellate Division reviewing the matter, Susan’s attorney informed the court that the plenary hearing was still pending, as the trial court was now awaiting the Appellate Division’s decision.
On appeal, the court noted that Rooney had failed to comply with the financial discovery that was required of him at the trial level. For that reason, he could not now come before the Court and claim an inability to pay. The Appellate Court also supported the trial court’s statements that it did not find Rooney’s testimony about his financial circumstances to be credible, and that it was able to make a “reasonable inference” that he was either attempting to hide money or attempting to mislead the court. The Appellate Court ultimately affirmed the trial court’s award of counsel fees and imposition of sanctions.
On October 3, 2018, the New Jersey Appellate Courts rendered an unreported decision on a case about emancipating a child with disabilities. (S.E. v. B.S.B. (A-0485-17T2))
According to New Jersey statutory law, a parent’s continuing obligation to provide child support presumptively ends when the child turns 19 years old, unless a different date is ordered by the Court. However, even if a different date is ordered, the support cannot continue beyond the child’s 23rd birthday (except under exceptional circumstances).
In S.E. v. B.S.B., the child receiving support was 23 years old, born with cerebral palsy, and diagnosed Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The child’s mother filed a motion with the trial court for an order compelling the child’s father to continue providing support even though the child had reached the statutory maximum age. The child had graduated high school, was working towards earning an Associate’s Degree, and had applied to numerous jobs (without success). The child’s mother advised the Court that she had obtained social security disability benefits for the child and that he was also utilizing services available through social service agencies. The Court noted that the child’s father’s testimony was limited, because he basically never had any meaningful contact with his child.
The trial Court terminated the father’s child support obligation. The trial court opined that the mother did not provide any current medical evidence that indicated that the child’s cerebral palsy was so severe that the child required a parent to provide financial support beyond the age of 23. The trial court also remarked that the child was able to attend physical therapy on his own, was able to work, and could be self-sufficient.
The child’s mother appealed. The Appellate Court agreed with the Trial Court’s findings, summarizing their thoughts by citing 2 governing statutes (N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67(e), and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a)). The Appellate Court stated that when the 2 statutes are read together, they mean that “if an adult child suffers from a disability but is self-sufficient, he is generally considered emancipated beyond the sphere of a parent’s legal, if not moral, obligation.” (citing Kruvant v. Kruvant, 100 N.J. SUPER. 107, 119 (App. Div. 1968). The Appellate Court commented that the record showed that the child was independent in most of his daily living activities. The Appellate Court summed up its decision by stating that the mother in this case bore the burden of rebutting the presumption of her child’s emancipation as a matter of law, and that even though her concerns for her child’s future well-being and financial security were genuine, she had not overcome the presumptive emancipation in accordance with the 2 governing statutes.