Letter: Systemic failure of family courts in New Jersey

    Our 21st-century family courts in the state of New Jersey are systemically dysfunctional and can no longer be trusted to mete out fair and unbiased judgments. I have no confidence in our court system as it is currently operating. The judges use neither statute law nor case law in handing down their judgments. 

    My divorce case went through three judges in Hunterdon County Superior Court and took 4-and-a-half years. The family court system and the family attorneys jointly denuded the marriage financially, and it was complete. The judgment of divorce ordered that I pay all of my gross income to my ex-wife as permanent alimony. The emotional and financial stress is unbearable on the children of the marriage as well as their parents. Clearly something has systemically failed.

    Over $310,000 was paid in combined attorney fees. The N.J. family court ordered that a home equity loan be taken out on the marital home to pay attorney fees and also ordered that funds from my 401(k) account and my son’s 529 account be used to pay my ex-wife’s attorney fees. This represents a systemic failure of the family court system, which should operate in the people’s best interest and not transfer wealth from “we the people,” to the attorneys involved with the case.

    What can we, as a responsible and compassionate people, do about this systemic failure of the family court system upon the dissolution of a marriage? What can we do to prevent the bankruptcy of families involved in the divorce process?

    We can enact new law, which makes “mandatory mediation” a condition of the issuance of a marriage license. The use of a mediation system would decrease the time and the cost to get a divorce and would limit the transfer of wealth to family law attorneys from the divorcing parties.

    The next important step would require passing new law that would incorporate new mandatory alimony guidelines and only include durational alimony which would automatically calculate the duration and the amount of alimony based upon the length of the marriage and the gross income of the parties. These new statutes should mandate that in no case will alimony be paid for more than 10 years and that alimony payment would automatically cease at the federal government’s minimum retirement age of 62.

    The mediation of the dissolution of a marriage would ease the emotional stress on the children of the marriage and help the parties of the marriage to become independent people able to contribute to their own support.

    There will be may hurtles which must be overcome to enact legislation for “mandatory arbitration.” The family court system, as well as the family law section of the Bar Association, will be opposed because they will want to maintain the status quo.

    The legislators appear to be waiting for the Bar Association and the Administrative Office of the Courts to take the lead. Unfortunately they are behind the curve and not relevant. The Bar and the AOC are stonewalling rather than reaching out and listening to the people who are suffering.

    As a compassionate people, we realize and know that it is blatantly unfair that a transfer of wealth should occur upon the dissolution of a marriage. We as a progressive society realize that laws pertaining to marriage dissolution must conform to 21st-century norms and the realities of marriage dynamics. We as independent and intelligent people want to limit the family court’s intrusion into what is a civil matter which needs minimal court oversight.

    If the system is not changed and new laws are not enacted, families will continue to suffer huge emotional and financial losses and a wholly dependent class of people will put further burden on our welfare system. We really do not have a choice. This is and will become a large contributing factor in our country’s financial demise if we do not act.

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