Eatontown, NJ asked in Family Law, Civil Litigation and Domestic Violence for New Jersey

Q: How does the judicial system accommodate for, and assist spouses to move forward in resolving marital financial abuse?

What legal recommendations is there for a 34 yr marriage where the wife has worked PT while raising the children and being a homemaker, who is ready to retire, as children have moved out of the house. The husband has been angry and given the wife the silent treatment for 6 yrs. He pays rent, taxes, insurance, but, has financial statements come to only his email for the last 6 yrs. He will not share retirement account information, making the future an unknown, causing insecurity and anxiety.

Can a legal letter, contract, conflict resolution or counseling be written, or ordered ,or, is divorce the recommended path, when previous mediation has failed? Is divorce handled the same way for someone like this, who feels like they are being held as an emotional and financial hostage, with no realistic options avail, fearful of the consequences which might result, when action is taken to improve one's situation. Is a situation like this, treated the same way as irreconcilable consequences?

2 Lawyer Answers
Andrew M Shaw
Andrew M Shaw
Answered
  • Domestic Violence Lawyer
  • Somerville, NJ
  • Licensed in New Jersey

A: Thank you for posting this question. Marital financial abuse is a very serious issue, but the Courts do provide methods by which it can be addressed. While the Court cannot compel marital counseling, it can certainly grant a Judgment of Divorce that respects and acknowledges your rights (and your husband's obligations) in relation to the marriage. Indeed, for many spouses in New Jersey, the divorce process provides their first real look at the marital finances and first taste of control in that regard. There are a few things for you to consider:

First, despite your husband's refusal to provide you with reasonable access to financial information, you absolutely will obtain that information during the divorce process. The law requires him to cooperate. If he refuses, the Court has the authority to impose severe sanctions (up to and including incarceration in jail), and you have the ability to obtain records without his participation using discovery tools like subpoenas, depositions, and expert investigations.

Second, the Court will permit you with sufficient access to marital assets so that you can litigate, in good faith, on equal footing with your husband. It does not matter whether marital income and accounts are in your name or his name. The law treats them as belonging to the both of you. This is described as an "advance" or "award" of counsel fees. Essentially, the purpose of an award of counsel fees in family actions is twofold. It may permit parties with unequal financial positions to litigate, in good faith, on equal footing. Further, fees may be awarded to to prevent a maliciously motivated party from inflicting economic damage on an opposing party by forcing expenditures for counsel fees. In this case, both purposes may be invoked.

Third, you likely have claims for both alimony and equitable distribution. In marriages over twenty years in length, alimony is presumptively "open durational," or permanent. The amount of alimony awarded by the Court is highly discretionary, but an informal guideline often applied in negotiations tends to set that amount between 20% to 25% of the difference between the parties' gross incomes. That payment is not tax deductible to the paying spouse, and it is tax free to the recipient. In equitable distribution (which is a legal term for division of marital property), you are presumptively entitled to one-half of all property, with few exceptions, acquired between the date of the wedding ceremony and the date on which a Complaint for Divorce is filed.

Of course, this is just a brief overview of general principles. There are many complex issues that might impact your case particular case. I strongly recommend retaining a qualified attorney to represent you. Strategic and aggressive counsel will help to maximize your odds of success. Please contact one of the lawyers here on Justia. Many of us would be happy to sit down with you free of charge to explore the facts, explain the law, and address the likely timeline, costs, and range of possible outcomes.

Whether you reach out to me or to another attorney, I wish you the best of luck.

Richard Diamond
Richard Diamond
Answered
  • Domestic Violence Lawyer
  • Millburn, NJ
  • Licensed in New Jersey

A: It doesn't sound like you want to be divorced, but are fearful that your husband will retire and you will be left with little or no understanding of how you will support yourself at a later date. I gather also that all efforts at counseling have failed and your husband simply does not want to talk with you. If you feel that the only viable option is divorce, then as part of the divorce process, your lawyer will get copies of all bank, brokerage and retirement account statements for each account in your name, his name and in joint name for the last 3-5 years and a complete listing of all other assets so that you know what is being divided and your share of those assets. Presumably, his income setting is also significantly greater than your income setting and therefore you will also discuss with the lawyer your entitlement to alimony - amount and duration. If you would like to schedule a consultation with one of the partners in Diamond & Diamond to discuss the divorce option, please call Angela at 973-379-9292 to arrange it.

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