PSA Topics, Part 1

February 25th, 2012

These are some of the issues you might see addressed in a property settlement agreement (PSA) in New Jersey:

Visitation
Child Support Payments Under New Jersey Law
Spousal Maintenance Under New Jersey Law
Property Division
Division of Debts

Visitation and child support are issues only relevant if you have children, obviously. Spousal maintenance may be an issue, especially if one spouse is the primary breadwinner (and the other one was at home taking care of children, or if the other spouse could not or did not work). Division of debts can also be important, if the couple has incurred large debts through credit cards, car loans, mortgages, or other debts.

The main issue in any PSA, though, is division of property. As I explained earlier, New Jersey follows an “equitable distribution” rule, which splits property fairly (although not necessarily equally). The Court can make the decision of how to split the property, but oftentimes the parties are much more satisfied (and spend much less on lawyers) if they can make the agreement themselves, and specify it here.

I Love Law & Order, but I Hate Jack McCoy

February 16th, 2012

And the thing is that I really do like him, as a character. Sam Waterston is absolutely brilliant.

The only point I’m trying to make is that Jack McCoy, the lawyer, is everything you DON’T want to do in trial. People watching him (unfortunately, now in reruns) elegantly and succinctly tear down defense attorneys and defendants, summing up each case in two minutes flat and often using some sort of physical gimmick, get the idea that this is how you conduct yourself in court. If a lawyer actually acted like this in court, they’d get fined, laughed at, and thrown out. Not necessarily in that order.

If you think that you have any idea how to conduct yourself in court or in legal proceedings as a result of watching legal shows on TV, you are dangerously deluded. I’m as big a L&O junkie as anybody else, but it’s just entertainment. Please, nothing more.

What is a Divorce “from Bed and board?”

February 9th, 2012

There really is no formal proceeding to have a legal separation in New Jersey. There is an outdated legal proceeding called a “divorce from bed and board” that is similar to a legal separation. Basically, a divorce from bed and board is a legal proceeding that is not really a divorce, but it is more than a legal separation. A divorce from bed and board was very popular in the 50’s and 60’s. Many people believed that getting a divorce was a mortal sin. These kinds of beliefs were especially prevalent for people of the Catholic faith.

To address these concerns the courts developed a legal proceeding called a “divorce from bed and board.” In this type of proceeding, the parties are economically divorced but are still legally married. The parties receive a judgment that equitably distributes the assets, support awards are issued, and debts are apportioned. In these types of cases alimony is usually not awarded.

These proceedings are helpful in limited legal circumstances, such as if one spouse has a health condition and cannot get affordable health insurance. However, the parties are still legally married to one another, and that can cause all sorts of problems, especially if the parties are not civil to one another, and/or if they intend to remarry at some point in the future.

Are the people you meet giving you energy or taking it away?

February 7th, 2012

Matt Homann posted the following tidbit on his blog:

Not sure whether to take that client? Here’s a great test from Milton Glaser he uses to avoid toxic people:

[T]here is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

[end of Matt’s post]

I really wish I would have thought of this, because you can use this well beyond the client-lawyer relations arena.

The full blog post is available here.

Adult Adoption

January 26th, 2012

See, generally N.J.S.A. 2A:22-1 et seq.

In order to do an adult adoption, the adopter must be at least ten years older than the adoptee, and there must be some showing that a parent-child relationship exists, rather than there being some sort of financial or other ulterior motive for the adoption.

One of the happiest cases I have ever handled involved an adult adoption. Most times, people come to lawyers because they are faced with problems, and if they are made happy through the process it is often an accident, or at the expense of someone else. Here, we allowed two people to formalize a “parent-child” relationship they had had for a long time, and it made them both happy to know that not only did they recognize it, but the law now did as well.

Being “Ready” and Being “Prepared”

January 24th, 2012

There’s an old chestnut about lawyers being one or the other, but not both.

Lawyers who have been around the block a few times can be “ready” to make an argument in no time flat. They have done it before, they know the nuances, and they know how to adapt to facts they may not have caught the first time around.

Lawyers who are “prepared” know the facts, but they still need to put together the argument itself. They need to be able to adapt and roll with the punches as their adversary comes up with something unexpected.

The nice thing about a mid-sized firm like Maselli Warren, PC is that we are both. We have the experience to be “ready” at a moment’s notice, and take the time and care to be well “prepared.” Give us a call if you have a question, and let us show you what we mean in person.

Making a Point

January 19th, 2012

This article is especially important given my prior posts on consumer vigilante justice, referenced here and here.

All of us have had situations in our lives where we have been inconvenienced or damaged by some sort of situation due to another’s negligence. A totally understandable first instinct is revenge- and if you’re the litigious sort (or if you’re a lawyer), the court system seems like a natural place to seek redress.

If you’re mad about something that happened to you and you want to sue, I understand. You have suffered some sort of damage and/or injury and you want to be compensated for it. That’s one thing.

But don’t file a lawsuit to “make a point.” Some people want to get their money, and to prove something as well. The problem is that people and companies have this annoying tendency not to see your “point” because you’re trying to extract money from them. If you end up being able to make a point (through the media or whatever) after you win, then terrific. However, you need to win (and make yourself some money) first; losing your case would make the wrong kind of point.

If I Die Young, Bury Me In Facebook

January 17th, 2012

Lay me down in a bed of email…

Or maybe not? As this article would indicate, different companies have varying policies as to how accommodating they might be with your loved ones’ email and social media accounts after death. Apps like “If I Die” will continue to flourish as people crave the kind of certainty and security that they have in their “offline” affairs. The current state of online affairs is more of a mixed bag. Facebook will allow you to use a profile as a memorial, whereas Yahoo is not nearly as forgiving. Sometimes, you may even need to go to court in order to force companies to preserve important information.

It used to be even five years ago that such matters were not covered by formal policies, and that there was often little or nothing that a person could rely on if faced with such a problem. I anticipate that as this issue receives more attention, there will be an industry-wide standard for dealing with deceased loved ones’ social media and email accounts, and within the next five years or so there will be almost as much certainty in our online matters as those on paper. Of course, this security can’t come soon enough- many of us conduct the majority of our lives on computers, and there is no justification for the possible loss of that data.

Just remember, even if companies don’t prove to be as progressive as I think they will be, there is a way to avoid every policy they could adopt. Just put your passwords and other important information with your will, with any instructions you need to give your loved ones in the event of your demise.

Consumer Vigilante Justice: Continued

January 13th, 2012

In my last post I suggested that you might have some success by using the court system to get the attention of those big companies that are ignoring you. Here’s how you do it.

In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, corporations often have to retain an attorney to appear in matters involving more than about $5,000. If the dispute is over a few hundred dollars, many times the corporation can send a representative to defend the company. That representative is often a low-level managerial employee who has little or no experience with the court system, because this kind of tactic is not often employed by consumers. You can use their inexperience to your advantage.

Most small claims courts in this area will employ mediation as a tool for disposing of small claims cases. The logic is that both sides are better off making an agreement somewhere in the middle, rather than letting the judge decide a winner for legal reasons that might not be entirely clear to anyone. If you are seeking a refund or some other accommodation from a corporation, all you really wanted in the first place was an opportunity to be heard, and mediation is the perfect forum for that.

The only thing you need to be sure of, besides filling out the forms the court provides you correctly, is that you need to have a real cause of action (a problem, really) to file a case and avoid getting slapped around by the court. If you feel that the company hasn’t lived up to their side of the deal, it can be called a “breach of contract.” If they are not dealing with you fairly you can call it “breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing.” Even once you try to use legal terms of art, explain fully what your problem is and most judges, realizing you’re not an attorney, will do what they can to make your facts fit a legal paradigm.

Most of the time, though, it won’t come to that. A company has much better things to do than to send an employee in to try a case. If you want to get their attention, by the time you sue them you will most certainly have succeeded. At that point, they may be inclined to give you what you’re asking for (within reason) just to make the whole thing go away. It may have cost you some extra time and the court’s filing fees, but at least you got it resolved in your favor.

If you have any questions about how to pursue this strategy, or if you think you might just need a lawyer’s services because a company is treating you badly, feel free to call Carl at 609-452-8411 x117 for a phone consultation.

A Modest Proposal: Consumer Vigilante Justice

January 10th, 2012

I’m not entirely sure that all of our readers will be comfortable with the course of action I am advocating for in this article. But what I do know is that I’ve seen it work, and it might be an effective way for you to get a company’s attention if you’re feeling ignored as a consumer.

Small claims court is a wonderful thing for most people. Little conflicts get ironed out with relative ease when two people sit down, with the help of mandatory NJ mediation, and finally listen to one another.

Listening and communication are the keys to dispute resolution. If a party is not listening, there will be no agreement on anything. You probably already know this on some level, because you have called customer service for some company or talked to a representative of a store, and finished by saying “Am I talking to a wall?” I am here to suggest an alternative: sue companies you’re annoyed with, get them into small claims court, and don’t be surprised if you get the results you’re looking for.

To be clear: you can’t sue a company without a good reason, and an attorney can’t advise you to do so- there are court rules, ethical rules, and just plain common sense principles that prevent that from happening. However, if there is a real cause of action, you might be able to use the court system to your advantage.

I will cover the process by which you might do this in my next post.