New Year in New Jersey is Almost Here

Christmas fir tree and alarm clock

The end of another year is upon us, and it seems like 2018 came and went. 2018 brought a lot of changes including some new laws, some interesting legislative bills that may become laws, and some hot legal topics. Let’s recap for a moment:

  • In January 2019, New Jersey’s minimum wage will increase to $8.85, a 25-cent increase from this year’s $8.60 hourly rate.
  • A much-anticipated but controversial bill seeking to raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 an hour was introduced on December 6, 2018.
  • In November 2018 state lawmakers advanced a bill that would legalize the possession and personal use of recreational marijuana.
  • On May 2, 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the New Jersey Paid Sick Leave Act, which took effect October 29, 2018. The Act, which applies to nearly all employers and employees in the Garden State, guarantees that almost every person employed in New Jersey will accrue paid sick leave.
  • New legislation signed into law on July 1, 2018, made several changes to the New Jersey Gross Income Tax Act at N.J.S.A. 54A:1-1 et seq. as part of New Jersey’s fiscal year 2019 budget. The changes include increases in the New Jersey Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the property tax deduction, and the addition of a new Child and Dependent Care Credit for resident taxpayers.
  • The state’s controversial estate tax died in 2018. Lawmakers voted to phase out the estate tax in 2016 as part of a deal to raise the tax on gasoline to fund transportation projects in New Jersey. The exemption for estates increased from $675,000 to $2 million at the start of 2017. Now, it’s off the books. Note that the state still has an inheritance tax charged to non-lineal descendants who inherit property or money after someone’s death.
  • Thanks to the tax law passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in late 2017, we have a significant change coming to our law regarding alimony. Prior to the law change, any payment that met the legal guideline of alimony could be deducted by the payor on a pre-tax basis, and the receiver of alimony would have to claim the payment as taxable income. Under the new law, any divorce judgment entered after January 1, 2019, in which alimony is payable, shall no longer be tax deductible to the payor and shall no longer be taxable to the payee.

It is important to understand that the above is only general information. The law is extremely fact and circumstance sensitive. For an individual legal analysis of your specific legal case, you should always consult with an attorney.

We hope that you have enjoyed this post and learned at least one new thing or tip that you may not have known.

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Parenting Time During Holidays

Pictures of Vintage Real Santa Claus carrying gift sack

Holidays often bring to us thoughts of presents, tasty treats, and time with family. For a recently divorced family, however, it can seem hard to partake in the holiday cheer, and instead the holiday season can stir up emotions of anxiety, stress and worry. There are ways, however, to make the most of this holiday season with your newly restructured, post-divorce family.

Stay Flexible

Keep in mind that the holiday dates are more important to adults than children. Don’t get caught up in thinking that only the “actual day” can be celebrated. Celebrating holiday time with your loved ones can be special any day of the week. For children, opening presents on December 23rd or even December 30th is just as exciting as Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. Your children are likely to reflect back your feelings and actions, so if you are excited about spending time with them, whatever the day, your kids are likely to share in that same excitement. You may think that you are losing out by not having your children on the actual Christmas Day/Christmas Eve, but your children are likely to view this new arrangement as being able to have two Christmases instead of just one.

Focus on What You Can Control and Do Not Dwell on Things Beyond Your Control

Whatever your parenting plan, you can always make your holiday time with your kids memorable and magical. Schedule your holiday plans around your parenting plan, particularly when there is the potential for conflict. Sticking to the schedule will provide consistency for the children so they learn what to expect and not be disappointed, and decrease the likelihood of any conflict during the holidays. Choose to focus on enjoying the time you have with your children instead of stressing over the time you will be away from them.

Create New Family Traditions

Sometimes engaging in your old family traditions can trigger feelings of loss. Instead, try something new and create new traditions. Perhaps serving meals to the homeless or driving around to look at all the Christmas lights, or baking cookies to gift to the neighbors can create some new family memories and activities.

If part of your holiday involves the children being with their other parent, then use the time your children are away from you to recharge. If you know you might be feeling sad spending your first holiday season without your children, keep yourself busy. Whatever you do, try to stick with the activities you will look forward to doing.

You do not have to turn into the Grinch, the holidays can still be peaceful and enjoyable for you. Stick to your parenting agreement, enjoy your time with the kids (no matter what day), create your new traditions, and your heart may grow three sizes this season 😊

If you have questions about your parenting agreement or co-parenting over the holidays after divorce, we can help. Contact us to talk with an attorney and set up your initial consultation.

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Family Law and Mediation

Family law mediation or divorce mediation is a low conflict process that you can use to help you reach an amicable agreement without a lengthy court battle.

In divorces, emotions can quickly spiral out of control, complicating matters and causing unnecessary problems. Unlike traditional divorce litigation, the primary goal of mediation is to help minimize hostility between the couple and reach a mutually satisfactory resolution. That is why divorce mediation or mediation for child custody, alimony, division of assets, etc., can be instrumental in helping you avoid the conflict, time and expense of litigation.

Parties participate in mediation for many reasons. Sometimes, the mediation is court-ordered. Sometimes, parties believe that mediation will allow them to save time and money. Whether the mediation is mandatory or voluntary, the parties coming to the mediator’s table must want to settle their differences for this process to be successful.

After the conclusion of negotiations, if the mediation is successful and parties reach an agreement, the mediator or the attorney for one of the parties, outlines the terms of the agreement, either verbally or in writing. Either way, the verbal communication of the terms reached in the mediator’s office or the written outline should contain a basic understanding of the parties’ agreement, which is to be incorporated into a settlement agreement or other form of consent order.

But what if one of the parties changes their mind and opposing counsel threatens to file a motion for a Harrington hearing? Is there a binding agreement or not?

There is case-law in New Jersey that dictates how post-mediation issues are to be resolved. For example, the name for the Harrington hearing comes from the 1955 case Harrington v. Harrington in which the court enforced a purported settlement reached during a court-ordered mediation session after a plenary hearing. Since then law has evolved, but it is still in your best interest to take the terms of your settlement agreement seriously or you may end up in court to see how that case-law applies to your situation.

That is why, always confirm your understanding of an agreement, as well as your adversary’s, prior to leaving mediation. If the agreement requires further consideration, speak up. If there are contingencies or conditions that must be met, take the time to address the unresolved issues. Set a follow-up date by which the parties may accept or reject the agreement or set a follow-up mediation date to resolve any other issues.

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Friendsgiving and Estate Planning

Carving the Christmas Turkey

Friendsgiving is the celebration of Thanksgiving dinner with your friends. This “holiday” usually takes place on the Wednesday before or the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, since Thanksgiving is usually reserved for family gatherings.

In the past few years or so, hosting a Friendsgiving among friends has become a standard part of the celebration for many young adults. Some are celebrating Friendsgiving because they are far away from family on Thanksgiving, but near friends. Others treat it as an additional celebration, but one that is just for friends.  

Friendships are important, and as families themselves have changed, and nonrelatives have assumed family-like roles in people’s lives, more and more people think about their friends while considering their estate planning. Estate planning is not just about distributing your things after you are dead, but it is about recognizing the relationships you have created while living – by stating what you wish to leave and to whom, whether to a family member, friend, your beloved charity or even your pet. To do that you need to know how to control the distribution of your assets according to your wishes.

Since the law dictates how property must be distributed in the absence of other instructions, such as when there is no Last Will and Testament; there are mechanisms that allow you to ensure that people who you choose, receive things you leave for them. So, would you rather wish to pass your belongings to the people most likely to enjoy or need them, or just leave everything to your genetic family, even if you do not know/like them? 

Inheritance laws do not recognize automatic distributions of your assets to anyone other than your direct family. The law will ensure that your spouse and children are provided for first, followed by parents, grandkids, and then other relatives. Even if you have no living relatives, your belongings will not go to your friends; they will go to the government. So, if you want someone other than your family or the government to take anything from your estate after death, you have to make that wish known.

You can leave items to people in your will or via a living trust, or you can give them away while you are still alive, but whatever you do – you must plan now while you are still alive and of “sound mind.” 

If you think your family might fight the transfer of your property to your friends, they may have a legal right to do so. A gift given during your life, when you are sane and able to make your own decisions, is much less likely to be subject to any challenge, than any gift you try to make after death. That is why your Will needs to be very specific and your distributions cannot contradict the law. 

In many states, you can make a separate list of items with information about and who you want to inherit them, then refer to that list in your Will. You will not be able to distribute money or other intangible property this way, but actual items of sentimental value can go to whom you deem most worth it. 

As laws pertaining to estate planning and inheritance rights vary between jurisdictions, for the best advice on estate planning and inheritance law, you should contact an attorney in your area.

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What NOT to do when going to court

Weight scale in courtroom. Legal system.When appearing in court you are expected to follow certain rules. One of the most important things to keep in mind is to make sure you do not miss your court date. Failing to appear for court can result in serious consequences such as having a default judgment entered against you or having a bench warrant issued out for your arrest. Unless your absence has been excused by the court, it is in your best interest to show up when expected.

Another thing that a lot of people forget is that the court room is a professional and serious place. As such, dressing appropriately is expected. Although there are no written rules on how you should dress, certain clothing is just not acceptable. Be sure that whatever you plan on wearing is clean and on the conservative side. Lawyers are required to wear suits, but you don’t have to dress quite this formal. Use your common sense, and don’t wear anything that can draw negative attention to yourself.

During your hearing, be sure to approach the judge and anyone else of higher authority with respect. You must stand and address the judge as “Your Honor” and refrain from speaking over them. If you are asked a question, do not just nod, answer verbally. Speak clearly and loud enough for the courtroom to hear you and get to the point. Avoid using profanity or any other remarks that may be inappropriate. Do not speak with gum in your mouth. Many people find it very disrespectful when they are spoken to by someone who is chewing gum while talking.

Be prepared. Know your case. This way the judge will know that you are taking the case seriously and that way, he or she will take you seriously. Have all of your paperwork organized and accessible and be ready to provide anything that your lawyer or judge might need.

 

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“Sheridan Issues”

Sheridan v. Sheridan, 247 N.J. Super. 552 (Ch. Div. 1990) is a New Jersey case that requires trial judges to report evidence of any illegal activity to the proper authorities. In most matrimonial cases, this comes up in the context of dealing with unreported or under reported income. Such cases are known as “Sheridan cases.”

When a couple is arguing over alimony and/or child support, which are mainly calculated based on parties’ earnings; tax returns are often offered as proof of income. However, when those tax returns indicate that the tax filers have taken too many liberties with deductions, credits, or simply have under-reported or failed to report their income, judges may then report them to both the New Jersey and Federal Taxing Authorities, who in turn may then decide to conduct investigation into these tax filings.

If the tax return was filed jointly, both parties may be at risk here, and both may be reported by the judge. It is not family judge’s job to make determination which spouse is guilty and which spouse may be innocent of tax fraud.

The IRS Criminal Investigation Division is a serious matter with grave consequences for those who are found to have “cheated” on their taxes. There are hundreds of convictions of people who attempted to evade paying taxes. As such, anyone who is aware that his or her taxes are questionable, should think twice before offering them into evidence in family court.

Individuals and business owners often have more than one way to complete a taxable transaction. Most try to conduct business and personal transactions in such a way as to reduce or eliminate tax liability. Although they sound similar “tax avoidance” and “tax evasion” are drastically different. Tax avoidance lowers your tax bill by structuring your transactions so that you reap the largest tax benefits. Tax avoidance is legal. Tax evasion, on the other hand, is an attempt to reduce your tax liability by deceit or concealment. Tax evasion is a crime.

But how can you tell when tax planning goes too far and becomes tax evasion? The distinction usually turns upon whether actions were taken with fraudulent intent.

Business owners often find themselves subject to more scrutiny than wage-earners with a similar level of income, because a business owner has more options to avoid tax, both legal and illegal. Here are some of the most common criminal activities in violations of the tax law:

  • Deliberately under-reporting or omitting income. Simply put – concealing income is fraudulent. Examples include a business owner’s failure to report a portion of the day’s receipts or a landlord failing to report rent payments.
  • Keeping two sets of books and making false entries in books and records. Engaging in accounting irregularities, such as a business’s failure to keep adequate records, or a discrepancy between amounts reported on a corporation’s return and amounts reported on its financial statements, generally demonstrates fraudulent intent.
  • Claiming false or overstated deductions on a return. These range from claiming unsubstantiated charitable deductions to overstating travel expenses. It can also include paying your children or spouse for work that they did not perform. The IRS is always vigilant when it comes to inflated deductions from pass-through entities.
  • Claiming personal expenses as business expenses. This is an easy trap to fall into because often assets, such as a car or a computer, will have both business and personal use. Proper record-keeping will go a long way in preventing a finding of tax fraud.
  • Hiding or transferring assets or income. This type of fraud can take a variety of forms, from simple concealment of funds in a bank account to improper allocations between taxpayers. For example, improperly allocating income to a related taxpayer who is in a lower tax bracket, such as where a corporation makes distributions to the controlling shareholder’s children, is likely to be considered tax fraud.
  • Engaging in a “sham transaction.” You can’t reduce or avoid income tax liability simply by labeling a transaction as something else. For example, if payments by a corporation to its stockholders are in fact dividends, calling them “interest” or otherwise attempting to disguise the payments as interest will not entitle the corporation to an interest deduction.

New Jersey judges who have found underreported income can and have reported such returns to the authorities for further investigation. That is why litigants who are willing to go to court knowing that they have potential tax issues, do so at their own risk. These individuals should give serious consideration to settling their matter out of court and/or hiring a reputable tax specialist to help them.

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Rescheduling Biometrics Appointment

Once an application for the immigration benefit is filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the receipt notice(s) are mailed out, the next step is biometrics. A biometrics services appointment will be scheduled at a local Application Support Center (ASC) as USCIS conducts checks on every applicant to make sure he or she is eligible and truthful on his or her application.

USCIS will use the biometrics to confirm the identity of the applicant and to conduct the necessary background check.

The Notice of Action will list a date, time and location for the appointment. Applicants need to make sure they do not miss their biometrics appointment. But, if you cannot make your biometrics appointment, there is no need to despair, as USCIS allows applicants to reschedule their appointments to a later date, if they are unable to appear for the scheduled appointment. Applicants can find information on rescheduling  on their appointment notice.

To request a later date, you need to fill in information in the space provided below “Request for Rescheduling” and send it to the USCIS. remember to retain a copy of the notice for your records. Rescheduling request needs to be mailed out before your scheduled appointment.

Alternatively, you might be able to just go to the ASC before your scheduled appointment, but then you may have to wait as the ASC will process walk-ins only after the scheduled applicants have been serviced. You will still need a government-issued identification document and your  biometrics appointment notice. Without the biometrics appointment notice, ASC will not capture your biometrics.

If you fail to appear for your scheduled appointment and also fail to reschedule your appointment, USCIS may deny your application or at the very least the processing of your application will be delayed.

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