The Little White Christmas Tree

Biggest brother putting ornaments on the tree at age 5.

The last time I packed our Christmas tree into the box I didn’t know it was the last time.  We split in June that year.  I picked out some ornaments when we separated our things, but for the most part, I said goodbye to the shiny little trinkets I had picked out for our family.

That was a few years ago.  The first Christmas after that was pretty brutal.  I didn’t even take out the ornaments I had brought with me.  I made a fun arts and crafts type of tree for our then 2 year olds to play with, and when they went to her house to celebrate I turned to Lifetime movies and pie.  It was pretty cliche.

The next year I had a tiny 2 foot tree I bought on a whim at Target.  The kids had a blast making tiny ornaments and I didn’t worry about them knocking anything down too much.  I had a less sad Christmas that year.  It’s amazing what effect those colorful little lights have on a room.

Fast forward a bit and the scene unfolds in a way I never expected.

Youngest brother putting ornaments on the same tree at age 5.

This year my ex, her spouse, and I, along with our kids, pulled out that same old tree.  We put on ornaments from all over the place.  We redefined our traditions in our own unique way.  We successfully blended what we had once worked so tediously to separate.

An ornament broke.  The kids stayed up too late.  We made a huge mess.

It was pretty perfect.

Day 12…

Today is day 12 of entirely solo parenting.

Today I am so thankful for my coparents.

When we first split, I took the kids and moved.  I moved far enough away to not bump into each other in the grocery store.  To not worry about who hears and says and sees what.  I moved far enough away to give myself the time and space I needed to be mad and hurt and to process in my own way.

About a year later I moved back closer.   I had had my space.   I had felt my feelings.   I had healed some of what needed to be healed.   And I was SO sick of traffic during visits.

 

Another two years after that we moved even closer together.  My coparent and I, along with the new spouse had worked together to get things where and how they needed to be for the kids.  And quite frankly, for ourselves.

We stopped calling each other exes and started calling each other coparents.  We stopped worrying about parenting time lost and started focusing on how to better spend our time now.  And now we truly are a team.  A team that works so well, that we don’t even realize it sometimes.

So now that they have been away for TWELVE days, I can confidently say that as much as I am a single parent, I am also NOT a single parent.  Nor do I wish to be.  My kids do better when they have all of us.  We do better when we have all of us.  And while everyone survived this adventure, and even had fun, I’m happy that the other two-thirds of my team will be home tonight.

Exceptional circumstances lead to open durational alimony!

On August 31, 2018, the Appellate Division issued an unpublished decision in B.G. v. E.G.  This was a Union County case where after a 23 day trial, the court issued an 83 page letter opinion and Final Judgment of Divorce.  Defendant appealed from several portions of the Final Judgment of Divorce.  Plaintiff cross-appealed.

One of the most contested aspects of the case was the trial court’s decision to order open durational alimony following the parties’ 14 year marriage despite of the statutory alimony changes in 2017 wherein the standard for open durational alimony became 20+ years or “exceptional circumstances.”  In this case, the parties began dating in 1988, began living together between 1992 and 1994, had their first child in 1994, and got married in 2000.  The parties had three more children during the marriage.  Plaintiff filed her Complaint for Divorce on April 1, 2014.

At the time of trial, Plaintiff was a stay-at-home parent, as she had been for the duration of the marriage.  Defendant was unemployed but had a 5 year income average of approximately $132,000.  The parties and their four (4) children and lived a middle-class lifestyle.   Plaintiff sought open durational alimony.

The oldest child was emancipated by the time the trial concluded.  Defendant was designated as PPR (Parent of Primary Residence) of the second child and Plaintiff as PPR of the parties’ third and fourth child.  The court noted that the parties’ third child (who was 11 at the time of trial) had special needs.  The court recognized that the child is on the autism spectrum, has pervasive developmental delays and attends a special school.   The court further recognized that it was expected that this child would require continued care in the future beyond the age of 21.

While the parties had been married for 14 years, the court commented that they were a “monogamous couple” for 20 years.  The court also noted that the parties lived together in an “economically exclusive and supportive relationship” since 1992 and therefore the trial court did not rely solely on the date of marriage to determine the length of the married but considered the parties’ marriage to be “equivalent to a long-term marriage of over 20 years” and in light of this, the court awarded Plaintiff open durational alimony.

Defendant appealed several provisions of the Final Judgment of Divorce, including the portion regarding open durational alimony.  Defendant argued that N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(c) limits the duration of alimony to the length of the marriage unless there are “exceptional circumstances”

While the Appellate Court did not agree that the prenuptial circumstances were independently the basis for “exceptional circumstances”, they found that there was other substantial credible evidence in the record to support a finding of “exceptional circumstances” that, when combined with the prenuptial circumstances, warranted open durational alimony for a marriage of 14 years.  The Appellate Court specifically outlined the fact that Plaintiff did not maintain career readiness as she was caring for the children and the parties’ home; highlighted the extensive responsibilities Plaintiff has had and will continue to have relative to being the primary caretaker for the parties’ child with special needs and reasoned how those responsibilities limit Plaintiff’s job availability.

The lesson to be learned from B.G. is that here is that “exceptional circumstances” may create an opportunity in the law that, at first glance, you might not have thought existed.

 

 

 

 

Two Sides Of The Story

Storm is on it’s way.  I’m going nuts at the office trying to prep for the storm and get home to the babysitter to take over care of my three kids.

9 simple words via text made me breathe a sigh of relief.  My twins’ coparent (my ex), is on her way to the grocery store after work.  She texts my spouse and me and simply asks “do you guys need anything from the grocery store?”

Milk, bread, eggs.

3 essential items.

0 extra minutes of her time at the store.

$11 sent from me via venmo.

Result = priceless.

Respect, thoughtfulness, what goes around comes around…

I’ve been in the car for an hour and a half.  I JUST want to get to my kids and get them home and snuggle.  Another snow storm is coming and everyone is driving like the world is coming to an end.  The grocery store is going to be a nightmare but I better stop before I get the kids and not make them go out in this twice if there’s no need.  And it’s SO MUCH easier to run in and run out without having to drag them around after they’ve already spent their whole day at school and with the babysitter.

“Do you guys need anything from the grocery store?”

I send a quick text letting them know I’ll be a little bit late. 

It only makes sense to grab anything they need too instead of having them stay with the kids while I shop and then they’d go out once I’ve picked the kids up. 

They only need a couple of items, it’s not like it’s going to make this run any more difficult.  Plus, then they actually get to spend a little bit of time with the kids before we all get snowed in.  Sometimes a few minutes is all it takes, and everyone feels good and happy and doesn’t miss each other so much.  

The groceries may not be for the kids, but the people who help take care of them are pretty important players too.  Taking care of each other has made all the difference in the world.

 

At Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, we don’t only litigate or collaborate in an attorney capacity, we also serve as mediators and parent coordinators to help mend or bridge the gap in the working relationship between coparents.  Contact our office today to see how we can help your family.

Social Security Benefits and Child Support

There are a number of different situations in which Social Security benefits impact child support orders. The extent of this impact depends, at least in part, on the type and amount of the Social Security benefits that the parent is receiving. These circumstances tend to be very fact-specific, but a parent’s receipt of Social Security benefits, in whatever form they may be, significantly affects the outcome of a child support order.

A parent can receive Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability (SSD), or a combination of both. SSI is a means-tested government benefit for disabled individuals with very low incomes and a lack of a substantial work history that would qualify them for SSD. On the other hand, SSD is a government benefit that is not based on income. Rather, working individuals pay into Social Security through payroll deductions; later in life, if they become disabled and unable to work, they can receive SSD benefits in order to replace their employment income. Both of these types of Social Security benefits only are available for disabled individuals.

A parent’s SSI benefits are not considered income for the purposes of calculating child support obligations. Burns v. Edwards, 367 N.J. Super. 29 (App. Div. 2004). Therefore, a parent whose only income is SSI may not be ordered to pay child support. The only exception is if the parent also is able to earn or is earning income beyond what he or she receives in SSI. In that case, the additional income would be considered as income for that parent in setting a child support order.

SSD benefits, however, are counted as income for the purposes of calculating a parent’s child support obligation. Furthermore, when a parent receives SSD, the child also may be eligible for a direct benefit from the Social Security Administration (SSA). If the child receives this kind of benefit, it is subtracted from the disabled parent’s child support obligation. Herd v. Herd, 307 N.J. Super. 501 (App. Div. 1998). In some cases, the child will receive a substantial lump sum retroactive benefit. That sum is deducted from the parent’s child support obligation, but only for the period of time during which he or she was responsible for paying child support, and only for that amount of child support. Diehl v. Diehl, 389 N.J. Super 443 (App. Div. 2006).

The intersection of social security benefits and child support is a complex and non-routine matter that is likely to have a significant effect on both parents’ financial situations. We know how difficult and complicated child support cases can be, but we have the experience necessary to guide you through your case. Contact Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, today and we will show you how we can help with your New Jersey child support case. Our attorneys focus their practice primarily on family law and all legal issues related to children, so we are sure to have the skills that you need for proper representation in your family law case. We are here to answer your questions, settle your concerns, and assist you through the often difficult process of contested family law cases.