The hardest types of consults that I have as an attorney are the ones where, having just met this person for the first time either in person or on the phone, I have to tell them how bad their situation is if they end up in front of a judge. Commonly, it’s the hard working spouse who has supported a spouse who just up and decided not to work some time a few years back or maybe never did, and that’s one of the key reasons they are breaking up. However, because they have been married for 10-20 years the hard working spouse now will be obligated to pay alimony and divide all the stuff they worked for, because that is how the law works in New Jersey. This is not to say that spouse won’t be imputed income, but if their earning capacity is not the same as yours, you’ll be paying alimony. Also, no matter what income they could be making or how little they contributed they still are entitled to their share of marital assets (there may be some wiggle room here, but you will definitely not be keeping everything).
There really are few ways out of that situation. No matter how good your lawyer is, they cannot circumvent established case law and statutes to carve out what you may think is fair or even what I might think is fair. The statute that properly protects the spouse who sacrificed to stay home with children or who is disabled and cannot work also protects those who, well, just don’t feel like it and don’t care what anyone has to say about it.
Sometimes you can negotiate your way into a better deal. Sometimes you cannot. But I implore you, if you are hearing news like this from me or another attorney, immediately do the following:
- Digest it. You may think it’s unfair and therefore cannot be real. It is. You will want to consider the fact of that strongly as you make your next move. Do not come back a year later after spending $20,000 with a lawyer who told you what you wanted to hear and be surprised that what the law and statutes say, well, happened.
- Negotiate. Maybe you hate your spouse. Now is the time to speak civilly, make amends, and try to come to an agreement (Caveat: if there is domestic violence in the situation this does not apply, but if you are safe to have conversations then do so). This is not the time to aggravate the situation.
- Figure out the time to pull the plug. If having obtained an attorney’s advice you decide that waiting a little while because something is on the horizon (your spouse talking about getting a job or entering into a relationship where they may cohabitate with someone and obviate the need for spousal support) or moving quickly (to avoid having to increase the marital estate).
- Decide your priorities. Some people just decide to stay married to avoid the issue because their priority is keeping their stuff and they find they can live an acceptable life just in a different room of the house. Some conclude that their peace is worth way more than whatever they have to share. There is no wrong decision except one made without all the facts.
- Do not swim the Denial Nile. I can’t say this enough. Find an attorney and friends who will be real with you and be real with yourself about what you’re dealing with.
- Arm yourself with Facts. Do your budget. Figure out how you could live with a range of options. Think about if you have untapped resources you could use as a buy out. Know what it will cost to live on your own and what you can afford.
If you need some real talk about your situation, call for a free consult at 856-227-7888.