bullying-400-05696906dMost people would agree that bullying needs to end. How to best accomplish this and protect our children is the question.

After a number of well-publicized suicides by victims of alleged bullying, New Jersey passed what has been referred to as the nation’s toughest anti-bullying legislation. The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights was adopted on Sept. 1, 2011 and replaced much weaker legislation that had been on the State’s books. The Bill attempts to prevent bullying through the education of students and school staff about what constitutes bullying; the creation of teams of school personnel and parents to whom these behaviors can be reported; and the investigation of all reported acts of bullying.

Some may say New Jersey’s law is too rigorous, while others may think it doesn’t go far enough. Consider the case of one Wisconsin town that recently made the news by passing legislation allowing for parents of children found guilty of bullying to be fined. Read “Wisconsin Town Will Fine Parents of Bullies $366” to learn more about this most recent anti-bullying measure.

Stressors leading to divorce - photo of groom placing ring on bride's handMarriage is a lifetime commitment. While most people take that commitment seriously, sometimes things occur leading a couple to the realization they can no longer honor their vows to stay together “till death do us part.” The exact reasons behind any divorce are as unique as the individuals involved, yet there are certain common life events that can add to a couple’s stress and perhaps even influence their decision to part ways.

A recent article on abcnews.go.com explored various life changes and stressors that could negatively affect a marriage according to Elizabeth Ochoa, PhD., Beth Israel Medical Center’s chief psychologist and marriage counselor. Read Amanda MacMillan’s article, “Life Events That Can Lead to Divorce,” to learn more.

Joint Custody -- photo of pen and corner of eyeglasses lying on a Child Custody agreementDivorce may be the answer to a troubled marriage but when children are involved, the relationship between spouses never truly ends. Although divorce negotiations can sometimes be bitter, custody arrangements require cooperation if they are to work.

There are various forms of custody designed to suit the unique circumstances of individual families. However, most people believe that joint custody, if possible, is best for the children. For this, couples need to put aside their differences and focus on the needs of their children. To learn how to do that, read “9 Rules to Make Joint Child Custody Work.”

Child custody -- photo of girl with her back to camera staring out windowWhen it comes to making decisions regarding child custody matters, courts take into account the ‘best interests of the child.’ However, what is actually in the child’s best interest may not always be easy to ascertain. Consider this recent case out of California.

The Page family of Santa Clarita, CA, lost custody of a young girl they had been fostering since 2011 when the Department of Children and Family Services of Los Angeles County took her from their home last month and placed her with extended family in Utah. The reason? The girl has traces of Native American ancestry – 1/64th percent – and as such, the court ruled that her custody is determined by the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. That Act states, in part, that Native American children should be kept with Native American families. For more details about this custody battle, read “6-Year-Old Girl Taken From Longtime California Foster Family for Being 1/64 Native American.”

divorce-and-taxes400-04880363dApril 15, the tax filing deadline, is quickly approaching. You’re newly divorced – or in the process of becoming so – and ready to file your individual tax return. Not so fast. There are a few things to remember about divorce and your tax filing status.

For tax filing purposes, if your divorce was not finalized prior to year-end, you are still considered married for the year in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, even if you and your spouse were living separately. As a result, your filing status for the year is married; you have the possibility of three options for filing your 2015 income taxes: married filing jointly, married filing separately or, possibly, filing as head of household. Read “What to know when filing taxes and getting divorced” for more information.

surrogacy-400-05337127dWhile they were married, actress Sherri Shepherd and her now estranged husband, Lamar Sally, entered into a surrogacy agreement with a Pennsylvania woman when they decided to start a family. Before that baby was born, however, the couple filed for divorce (he in California and she in New Jersey), and Ms. Shepherd was ordered to pay support the child. Ms. Shepherd sought to have the surrogacy agreement voided. A Pennsylvania court denied her request and, more recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld that ruling. See “Actress Sherri Shepherd loses surrogacy case, paying support.”

For some couples facing fertility issues and other factors that prevent them from beginning a family by traditional means, surrogacy is a viable solution. But it is a very complicated arrangement with many gray areas.  NJ state lawmakers last year grappled with a bill that would have clarified matters for couples entering into “gestational carrier” agreements with persons willing to bear their children for them. See “N.J. Senate approves bill expanding definition of surrogate parenting.” That bill, however, was vetoed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last July, leaving surrogacy arrangements a very tenuous solution.

Tri-parenting custody: photo of man and child walking in water along beachWith the growing acceptance of surrogacy, same-sex marriage and unwed relationships, the definition of family is not so simple these days. There was a time when family meant mother, father and children; today there are not only biological parents, but surrogate mothers, adoptive parents, and even psychological parents. This new definition of family may have opened doors for non-traditional couples looking to create families, but it raises greater questions of who has the right to custody if and when these relationships dissolve.

A New Jersey case recently released for publication concerns a group of three friends – one female and two males – who entered into what has been coined a “tri-parenting arrangement.” According to reports, the friends agreed to conceive a child using the egg of the female and sperm of one of the males, making them the child’s biological parents. The male’s same-sex partner was considered the child’s psychological parent and given an equal role in the child’s upbringing. In the beginning, all went well but everything changed when the female sought to relocate from New Jersey to California and bring the child with her.

The ultimate decision of who had rights to custody of the child was left to a New Jersey family court, which decided the issue based on the best interest of the child. To read more, see “‘Tri-parenting’ in New Jersey family court.”

Cohabitation: Photo of couple embracing with woman looking onThe New Jersey Alimony Reform Act of 2014 was supposed to have clarified certain matters that existed under the State’s previous alimony laws, including how courts define cohabitation, one of the conditions under which alimony can be terminated. One New Jersey man is now testing whether or not this has been accomplished.

A Mendham, NJ man is asking the court to terminate his alimony obligations to his ex-wife claiming she is cohabitating with a new partner. The ex-wife, on the other hand, insists she and her boyfriend maintain separate homes and therefore are not cohabitating. Proving cohabitation under the old law required evidence showing an ex-spouse was sharing the same residence with a new partner. Under the Reform Act, however, a couple does not have to live together full-time in order to be considered cohabitating. Rather, a judge must consider eight conditions to determine cohabitation, including whether or not the couple share finances and responsibilities for household chores.

Will this change make it easier to prove cohabitation or just deter divorced people from dating for fear of losing support payments? To read more on this matter see, “When can ex-husband cut off alimony to former wife who has boyfriend?

grandparents-rights-400-06098211dIn an ideal world, grandparents and grandchildren share nurturing relationships that can prove beneficial for both generations. Sometimes, however, rifts in the relationship between the grandparents and their own children and/or their children’s spouses can adversely affect the relationship between grandparent and grandchild. In extreme cases, the courts may be called upon to determine whether or not the grandparent/grandchild relationship can be saved. In those instances, it may fall to the grandparents to show proof that preserving their relationship with their grandchild would be in the best interest of that child. See the New Jersey law case Major v. Maguire.

snow shoveling bill -- photo of person shoveling snow from walkway of a homeIt isn’t unusual in winter to see teenagers shoveling their neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways in exchange for a little extra spending money. In fact, most people would applaud these teens for their hard work. And if they take the initiative to schedule snow removal jobs in response to a snowy forecast, most people would congratulate them for their entrepreneurial nature; however, this advance scheduling could put them in danger of breaking the law. Some New Jersey lawmakers want to change that.

The State Assembly was expected to vote today on a bill, a version of which gained unanimous approval by the State Senate last May, allowing New Jersey’s teens to solicit snow removal jobs without regulation. This bill was drafted in response to an incident last January in which a couple of Bound Brook teens were stopped by local police from handing out flyers in their neighborhood announcing their snow removal services. According to reports, the teens were warned that their actions were in violation of the municipality’s anti-solicitation laws. To read more on this issue, read “Could your kids be breaking the law when it snows?