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Property division when unmarried couples split

It is not unusual for New Jersey couples to live together for some time. Some choose to marry later, but others might continue to cohabitate. Like married couples, they accumulate assets during this time, and they might even have children together. However, what happens when the relationship ends? How does the law treat property division for unmarried couples?

Cohabitating couples do not receive the same protection as married couples in divorce. The best way to avoid costly legal battles to protect each party's property rights is to enter into an agreement at the start of the cohabitation arrangements. Such an agreement can include the unique needs of each partner in the event of the death of one or the end of the relationship, and it is best to draft one before problems arise.

Divorce is final -- work to make the best of it

Anyone in New Jersey who experiences marital problems might consider ending the marriage. However, divorce is final, and it might be wise to avoid rushing into such a drastic step. Sometimes, a marriage can be saved by dealing with underlying issues that could repair relationships. However, if both parties agree that divorce is the only option, they might as well work together to make the best of a process that is known to be traumatic.

The stressors could be limited if both parties maintain mutual respect. If they can remain civil toward each other, they could minimize unnecessary trauma to themselves and the children. Sharing a common vision or goal when it comes to property division and child-related issues could go a long way to keep divorce proceedings without contention. Couples are also advised not to rush into a litigated divorce that will allow a judge to make decisions that could have avoidable financial and mental consequences.

Dealing with yours, mine and ours in same-sex divorce

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2015, same-sex marriages are constitutionally protected nationwide, including New Jersey. Just like many heterosexual marriages, many married partners of the same sex will end up seeking a divorce. However, same-sex divorce laws are still evolving, and many gray areas leave divorcing couples seeking answers.

Baby boomers might have been in same-sex relationships for many years before DOMA was declared unconstitutional. Some were in domestic partnerships, converting the status when same-sex marriages became lawful. Challenges arise when such a couple decides to divorce because their accumulation of assets as a couple might have started long before the date of their marriage.

Child custody: How is the child's best interest determined?

Child-related decisions in family courts nationwide, including New Jersey are based on the best interests of the child. Judges look at various factors when they consider child custody arrangements. The first consideration will be the mental and physical health of the parent seeking custody, along with his or her ability to meet the child's emotional and physical needs. Included are shelter, food, clothing, education and medical care -- to be provided with loving care, support and parental guidance.

Courts will also consider the age of the child and the existing bond between the child and the parent. Younger children typically require more hands-on and dedicated care than those who are older, and in some cases, the judge might consider older children's wishes. Changes in routines and surroundings are usually carefully examined to limit the negative impact they could have on the child.

Child custody: The benefits of grandparents seeking guardianship

Statistics show that grandparents in New Jersey and other states take care of as many as one in every ten children. This could be a significant challenge to grandparents who have not taken steps to formalize their statuses as care providers. Several legal options are available, including adoption and petitioning the court for child custody or guardianship. The latter is said to give the grandparents the legal rights they need to care for the child without going through the adoption process.

Guardianship is only awarded when it is in the best interests of the child, and although it does not typically terminate parental rights, court-ordered guardianship can prevent the parents from taking back the child without going to court. Depending on the circumstances, the court might award parental visitation rights, and, in many cases, the court holds parents responsible for financial support to be paid to the grandparents who are the appointed guardians. However, if the parents are incarcerated or if a child was removed due to substance abuse, the parents might not have the means to pay child support.

Postnuptial agreement might ease division of assets and property

Some couples in New Jersey choose not to sign prenuptial agreements because both parties have limited assets at the start of their marriage. However, once one or both spouses acquire assets during the marriage, they might need a way to secure the ownership of their respective holdings if their marriage should end in divorce. The solution comes in the form of a postnuptial agreement that will protect each spouse's interests during the division of assets and property.

The difference between a prenuptial and postnuptial agreement is that the one is signed before the marriage and the other is a contract established after the wedding date. Although state laws may vary, legal requirements for valid postnups include the rule that the agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties. The court will require it to be fair to both spouses and a voluntary agreement by both. Furthermore, all the relevant information must have been fully disclosed by both parties at the time of establishing the contract.

Does a single mother automatically have sole child custody?

More and more people nationwide, including in New Jersey, choose not to marry. A significant percentage of children are born out of wedlock, and while many couples parent those children in the same way that married parents would do, there are cases in which there are absent fathers. If a child is born and the birth certificate indicates no father, the mother might have questions about her legal child custody rights.

Does the fact that there is no father indicated give the mother sole custody of the child? Does she have to apply for legal custody rights as the single parent? What will happen if the father chooses to claim custody rights in the future? While the child custody laws vary from state to state, all the courts base their decisions about these matters on the best interests of the child.

Do I need a prenuptial agreement?

The conversation around prenuptial agreements is changing, thanks in part to the younger generation. What used to be a sometimes-hurtful subject and one people would avoid talking about is becoming more commonplace in conversation.

Also known as a prenup, a prenuptial agreement is a legal document to outline how an engaged couple would split their assets in the event of a divorce.

Establishing paternity is not only about child support

Sometimes, single mothers prefer to keep their pregnancies secret. Regardless of the reason for such a decision, it can prevent a mother and her child from gaining certain legal benefits. If not for child support, why would a single mother in New Jersey want to establish paternity formally?

Establishing paternity puts the burden of a monthly child support payment on the father until the child reaches the age of majority. It also opens the avenues for the father to be a part of the child's life. Furthermore, a child has legal rights to Social Security, veteran's benefits or any other death benefits in the event of the biological father's death. There might even be an inheritance for the child.

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