“Family Law” is the broad term for a number of varying procedures associated with Family Law and out-of-wedlock relationships. This area of law often requires the sensitive guidance of an experienced firm to lead you through the many pitfalls associated with the unique aspects of the Family Court experience, from the submission of the initial petition, to responding papers, to the conducting of hearings. Albeit that individuals can represent their own interests in Family Court, being represented by an attorney can often ease the confusion and stress related to the Family Court process. Steven E. Shumer and Heath S. Berger will be happy to discuss your issues with you and assist you in determining whether or not we believe that our representation increases your chances of success in the Family Court in any of the following legal matters:
Custody is often the most sensitive of Family Law subjects. Two parents are at odds over who would better parent their most prized possession, their children. Emotion often takes over thereby barring a compromised settlement and leaving the court to determine what is in the best interests of the Child. In making this decision the court will consider the childrens’ ages, their health, the parents’ respective health, the parents’ availability to the children, the standard of living of the family, and even the opinions of the children (if the court considers them old enough and mature enough to give their opinion). The court can award, or the parties can agree to, joint custody primary residence with one party (when the children primarily reside with one parent, subject to the visitation rights of the other parent with each party being involved in decision making), shared physical custody (when the children resides with each parent approximately half of the time), sole legal custody (when the children not only resides primarily with one parent but that same parent also is empowered to make the sole decisions on major issues such as medical, religion and education), and joint legal custody (where the parties are expected to work together to make major decisions affecting the children, as if they were still married with neither party having a greater say on any given issue). In any case, child custody is an extremely sensitive, complex, important and potentially, life changing issue. Our combined experience of more than 75 years in this area gives us the ability to assist you and represent your interests with knowledge and confidence.
Parenting Time / Visitation
“Visitation” is now also known as “parenting time.” The terminology has changed to reflect the fact that time spent with a child should be quality time between a parent and child to promote the relationship and bond, rather than be deemed just a “visit” by the non-residential parent. Each parent, unless deemed a danger or risk to the safety/well being of a child, has indisputable rights to regular time with his/her child. Through the Family Court, a parent can petition for a specific parenting time schedule, or to enforce his/her rights to parenting time. It is always preferable for the parents to come to an agreement on a parenting time schedule but if they are unable to do so, the court will ultimately impose a schedule that it believes is in the best interests of the child, taking into consideration parent work schedules, children’s school and extra curricular activity schedules, and similar factors. If a settlement on the issue cannot be reached out of court, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney to address the parenting time issue, to secure the absolute right to time with your child.
Child support is a mandatory payment from the non-residential parent to the primary residential parent on behalf of the child. Child support is intended to be a contribution to expenses such as food, clothing and shelter. The proper amount of child support is determined by applying a mathematical calculation based upon the Child Support Standards Act (“CSSA”). Under the CSSA, the non-custodial parent pays a percentage of the parties’ combined gross adjusted income based upon the number of children, running from 17% to 35%. Dependent upon the amount of the parties’ combined incomes, these percentages will be strictly applied with the child support being payable until each child is emancipated (usually at the age of 21 years). There are additional contributions that also may be directed to be made by the court for things such as education, medical insurance, day/child care and unreimbursed medical related expenses which would be over and above the child support payments. Due to the often confusing nature of the CSSA and the additional contributions which can be required, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney to address any child support issues. We are available at Berger, Fischoff, Shumer, Wexler & Goodman, LLP for a free consultation to discuss and address your questions.
Maintenance / Spousal Support
Maintenance/spousal support used to be one of the most subjective issues in Family Law. However, with the sweeping legislative changes that arrived in 2016, the issue is far more straight forward. There now exists a mandatory temporary and final maintenance calculation based upon the length of the parties’ marriage, the income of each party, the presence of the child in the parties’ respective homes, and other factors. Maintenance, as compared to its predecessor, “alimony”, is no longer mandated as a lifetime payment but rather a payment in an amount and for a period of time that the calculations determine will be necessary for the dependent spouse to become self-supporting based upon the statutory guidelines. With so many rules involved in this issue, it is always best to consult with an attorney experienced in the area of Family Law.
Orders Of Protection
In cases of alleged abuse or harassment, an order of protection may be sought in the Family Court. A party may file a petition seeking an order of protection and, if the court believes it justified, can obtain a temporary order of protection on the day of filing. However, as in criminal cases, the court does not presume the allegations to be truthful until either admitted by the accused party or after a full hearing on the petition. Until that time, no permanent order of protection can/will be issued. A temporary or permanent order of protection can either be a “no harass/refrain from” or a “stay away”. In the case of a no harass/refrain from, the court is less concerned about violence and directs the accused party not to harass or interfere with the petitioning party. In the case of a stay away, the court has concerns that the accused party serves as a threat to the safety and/or well-being of the petitioning party and directs that the accused party stay away from the petitioning party. Because issues related to employment and even visitation may be affected by orders of protection, it is imperative that these issues be discussed with an attorney experienced to represent clients in these very specific petitions in the Family Court.
Paternity is a proceeding to establish the biological father of a child. If a party is determined to be the father of the child at issue, he is obligated to take on certain financial responsibilities to the child (such as child support), and will similarly be entitled to visitation/parenting time with the child. Paternity can be acknowledged by the parties or can be determined by a DNA test. Because so many additional issues arise from the results of the paternity process, it is always best to consult with an attorney familiar with these proceedings.
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