Christopher F. Vanette
South Jersey Attorney

Super Lawyers Names Chris Vanette a Rising Star

Super Lawyers publishes an annual list of top attorneys by state. The list includes a category for "Rising Stars," which includes lawyers 40 years old or younger or in practice for 10 years or less. No more than 2.5% of eligible attorneys are named as Rising Stars. Under the family law category, I was listed as one of 2014's Rising Stars. As always, I welcome any recognition from my colleagues and the industry, but the most important feedback and acknowledgement comes from my clients. Client satisfaction is a top priority, as is resolving legal matters in the best way possible.

Chris Vanette Named South Jersey Top Lawyer

Every year, SJ Magazine releases a list of that year's top attorneys for the southern half of New Jersey. Attorneys in the area nominate and vote for fellow lawyers, culminating in this list. For 2013, yours truly has made the ranks of the elite. You can visit the SJ Magazine article about the 2013 Top Attorneys to see my name and those of my fellow honorees.

It has always remained my goal to provide dedicated service to my clients and reach a positive result for them, so it is nice to be recognized for those efforts.



Prenuptial Agreements for 2013 and Beyond

New Jersey family courts are generally considered to have large equitable powers, meaning a Judge can look at the situation of the parties and make a decision that is fair to both parties. Until the summer of 2013, Judges could set aside the terms of a prenuptial agreement if circumstances had changed over the following years which would make enforcement of the contract deeply unfair, or unconscionable, to one side.

Thanks to a change in the law made effective on June 28, 2013, the unconscionability provision has been removed for all new prenuptial agreements (old ones remain unaffected). Thus, the terms of a prenuptial agreement made today will be in full force and effect ten, twenty or fifty years from now. All prenuptial agreements still require complete disclosure and all of the necessary requirements other contracts tend to have. In addition, provisions regarding custody can still be modified. However, most prenuptial agreements tend to deal with money, property and other assets, so this change in the law is considered a victory for proponents of premarriage settlement agreements. The changes apply to civil unions in addition to marriages.

The new language of N.J.S.A. 37:2-38 reads as follows:

The burden of proof to set aside a premarital or pre-civil union agreement shall be upon the party alleging the agreement to be unenforceable.  A premarital or pre-civil union agreement shall not be enforceable if the party seeking to set aside the agreement proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that:

a.     The party executed the agreement involuntarily; or

b.    [deleted]

c. The agreement was unconscionable when it was executed because that party, before execution of the agreement:

  1. Was not provided full and fair disclosure of the earnings, property and financial obligations of the other party;
  2. Did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, any right to disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party beyond the disclosure provided;
  3. Did not have, or reasonably could not have had, an adequate knowledge of the property or financial obligations of the other party; or
  4. Did not consult with independent legal counsel and did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, the opportunity to consult with independent legal counsel.

d.    The issue of unconscionability of a premarital or pre-civil union agreement shall be determined by the court as a matter of law. An agreement shall not be deemed unconscionable unless the circumstances set out in subsection c. of this section are applicable.


Dress for Success in Court

When you appear in Court, the Judge will weigh his or her decision based on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) evidence provided, relevant case law, and the creditibility of the parties. Credibility is how believeable or trustworthy you are. If your story is inconsistent, or you have an unflattering attitude, or if you act like you don't care about the judicial process, this can all affect how the Judge perceives your credibility.

In much the same way baseball fans wore suits and dresses when they went to games 100 years ago, people used to dress very nicely for Court. The problem is, no one expects you to dress up when you go to a sporting event, but it is still expected when you go to Court. Years ago, attorneys would advise clients to wear their "Sunday best," a reference to how people would dress to go to church on Sundays. Of course, many people do not dress well when they go to religious services, let alone Court. Yet, Judges can look at people who are dressed sloppily and take it to mean those people do not respect the Court or the people who work for the Court.

You do not have to wear a suit like an attorney when you go to Court (you can if you like). However, you should always dress in your nice clothing. Business casual is acceptable. For men, that can mean a button down shirt with slacks. For women, that can mean a blouse and a skirt or slacks. You should wear shoes and not sneakers, sandles, flip flops, etc. You can wear a sweater or sport coat if you want.

What you wear to Court should also be a little bit reserved. Remember, you're not going to a club, so stilleto heels, mini-skirts, bright suits, too much jewelry, and other similar fashion options should be avoided at Court. Avoid wearing anything too gaudy or potentially offensive. Bathe in water, not cologne or perfume.

If for some reason you simply do not have a nice shirt or other clothing, then you should wear your nicest outfit. Your footwear should be as clean as possible. No stains on your shirt. No outrageous t-shirts. No holes in your jeans. Don't chew gum or wear sunglasses. It's basic common sense. If you want people to take you seriously, then dress like you're serious.

Many people have to go to Court in their business outfits, like a jumpsuit, because they have to go to work before or after their hearing. These things happen. When you get before the Judge, you can make a simple comment apologizing for your appearance and explaining why you had to appear in Court that way (or if you have one, ask your attorney to do so for you). No Judge is going to have a problem with people who need to work. If you acknowledge it, the Judge will understand. Of course, if you have the time to go home and shower and put something nice on, you should do so. If you are in the military and have the option to wear something besides fatigues, that is great. Otherwise, it is always better to go to Court than not show up at all. 

How you dress is not the biggest issue in your Court case. However, if you show up looking your best and your opponent arrives in sweat pants and crocs, you have already started off on the better foot.

Alimony in New Jersey

Many people getting divorced are concerned about alimony (also referred to as spousal support). They're not sure if they have to pay, and if so, how much and for how long. Perhaps more than anything else, alimony sticks the most in litigants' craws. When folks get divorced, most of the time they want to be done with their former spouse. A weekly or monthly alimony payment is a reminder they don't want.

So, the question remains, how is alimony calculated? There is a specific statute (N.J.S.A.2A:34-23), which lists the following factors that go into an alimony determination:

(1) The actual need and ability of the parties to pay;
(2) The duration of the marriage or civil union;
(3) The age, physical and emotional health of the parties;
(4) The standard of living established in the marriage or civil union and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living;
(5) The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties;
(6) The length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance; (7) The parental responsibilities for the children;
(8) The time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, the availability of the training and employment, and the opportunity for future acquisitions of capital assets and income;
(9) The history of the financial or non-financial contributions to the marriage or civil union by each party including contributions to the care and education of the children and interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities;
(10) The equitable distribution of property ordered and any payouts on equitable distribution, directly or indirectly, out of current income, to the extent this consideration is reasonable, just and fair;
(11) The income available to either party through investment of any assets held by that party;
(12) The tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award, including the designation of all or a portion of the payment as a non-taxable payment; and
(13) Any other factors which the court may deem relevant."

To make it easier to understand, I summarize the statute as follows as if I was explaining it to a husband looking at paying his wife (alimony can be paid from wife to husband, and this information is also relevant to spouses looking at whether they might receive support):

1) Does she need the money and can you pay it?
2) How long were you married?
3) Is she a healthy young woman at the peak of her health?
4) Can she live a lifestyle close enough to which she became used to without the benefit of your money?
5) Does she currently work and can she continue to work at (or better than) what she is doing now?
6) Is there a gap in her employment history (let's say she became a stay at home parent)?
7) Does she watch your kids?
8) Does she need to go back to school or get certified in something so she can get a job?
9) How much did each of you contribute to the bills (everything from the cable bill to vacations)?
10) Is she getting any other money from you (such as money from a retirement account, child support or a business)?
11) Can you liquidate assets (such as sell stock) to pay her?
12) Will too much alimony bump her into a higher tax bracket?
13) Whatever else the Court wants to look at.

Of course, there are many Court cases (going all the way up to our state Supreme Court) which interprets the above and lays out other information to consider. Nevertheless, the above will give you some guidance. If you were married for 12 years and earned $80,000 while she stayed at home to raise your two kids, chances are you will be paying some support for a few years. If you were married for five years and you both earned roughly the same amount of money, chances are you will not be entitled to receive any money.

Every case is different and fact sensitive, in other words, the circumstances of your specific situation will dictate the outcome. To understand your possible rights and responsibilities, you should contact an attorney.

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