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A Look into the Legislative Impact on Family Law

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I knew as early as the sixth grade that I wanted to be a lawyer.  My father is a retired juvenile detective, and I developed my love for the law through him.  Law school proved challenging, requiring round-the-clock studying, but this diligence allowed me to graduate second in my class.  Throughout law school and to this day, I have remained intrigued by how the law changes, whether by case decisions written by judges or by statutes enacted through the legislature and then signed by the governor.  Either way, the laws, and the daily lives of my clients, are impacted by every change.

As my only prior experience of the legislative process was the popular childhood cartoon “School House Rock – How a Bill Becomes a Law,” I certainly was not prepared for how significant the influence of the legislative and executive branches can be on the law.

Practitioners of divorce and family law still grapple with the recent legislative changes to the alimony laws.  The legislature saw fit to move a bill instituting changes to alimony, and in 2014, the governor signed the bill into law.  Since then, alimony payers and recipients have been analyzing the law and how it impacts their individual circumstances.  The law deals with the length of time alimony is paid, as well as changes in circumstances that are used to modify alimony.  It is an important statute that is being interpreted and, unfortunately, misinterpreted, daily.

Further legislative action was recently taken concerning child support.  New Jersey receives federal funding based on how many open child support accounts the probation department maintains.  To cut down on unnecessary open accounts, the legislature drafted, and the governor ultimately signed, a bill providing for termination of child support by a set age.  This termination, however, is not the same as emancipation; even in light of this new statute, if a child is not self-sufficient, child support may continue.

When dealing with a divorce or family law matter, it is important to be aware of any changes to the law that result from a judge’s decision, but equally important to understand of the legislative process and bills the governor signs into law and how they impact your individual situation.

If you have any questions or concerns about this post or any other matrimonial or family law matter, please contact me, Jeralyn Lawrence, Chair of the Matrimonial & Family Law Practice Group, at jllawrence@nmmlaw.com.