Following our recent law enforcement divorce blog post and law enforcement divorce e-book on the subject of law enforcement divorce, our second podcast also addressed how police officers and other law enforcement officers can protect their interests during a New Jersey Divorce. This podcast takes a deeper dive into the subject matter.
Podcast Transcript: Police Officer Divorce
Hello and welcome to the Carl Taylor Law New Jersey Divorce and Family Law Podcast. This is, as always, attorney Carl Taylor. Today we are going to review an interesting topic, one close to my heart, and that is law enforcement divorce. Over the years I have had the pleasure and the privilege of being able to prosecute for a number of towns and to work closely with law enforcement. I know how hard they work, I know how stressful their jobs are, I know how important their jobs are.
I have also, conversely, represented law enforcement officers and at times their spouses during divorces, and in the United States (as the joke goes) we’re not often asked who we are, we’re asked what we do when we first meet people. Your job, your profession, your employment, will impact what kind of a divorce experience you will confront. As will your spouses. If you are a law enforcement officer married to a stay-at-home spouse then there’s going to be issues of alimony you’ll have to confront. There’s going to be a pension that you’re going to have to divide.
There is going to be specifically the police and firefighter’s pension which has certain issues with survivor benefits, so that the other spouse may not get survivor benefits if you predecease them. Conversely, if you’re a lawyer like me the divorce will be different. You may or may not be a W-2 employee as a lawyer, but as a police officer you will be. As a lawyer you may or may not own your own business.
How do you value that business? And the contacts? And the good will of that business (hopefully the good will of that business). So your profession very much impacts your divorce and what makes law enforcement sort of interesting is that there is a higher divorce rate amongst police and firefighters, and military.
Some studies have shown that the expected rate for a police officer is around 75% versus 50% for the general public. Anyone listening to this who is in law enforcement can probably guess why: you work long hours, you don’t get a lot of time with your family, you work a stressful job meaning sometimes you don’t have as much to give to others as you like when you come home. Your hours are sporadic, your always on call, you work a lot of nights, you work a lot of weekends. And it allows the bond in time to unfortunately, to break.
So those are some of the reasons why law enforcement has a higher divorce rate. There is also a higher exposure as a law enforcement officer. If someone files a false domestic, specifically your spouse files a false domestic violence charge against you, it’s a big deal if you lose your weapon. You’ve worked those details in your job, so you know that the first thing you do if there is a temporary restraining order granted is to go to the person’s house and to take away there weapons.
Weapons for the average person may be used for hunting, but for you it’s part of your job. It’s very difficult to maintain your job if a final restraining order is entered against you as you may not be able to carry a weapon again. And not every department is wiling to work with you in that instance. You may have to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation, there’s all kinds of issues that may be confronted.
So one of the first pieces of advice that I give to law enforcement, that would be different from most other professions is: maybe you leave the house. Normally you don’t want to leave the house during a divorce because it gives the other side control, it allows the other side the ability to sort of dictate terms if you have children and custody, it’s harmful. Many people leave the house voluntarily, and then they come to me and I tell them “that was a bad decision.”
But when it comes to law enforcement, if you’re in a contested matter and you don’t fully trust your spouse, maybe you go out and you get an apartment or you find another place to stay because it’s not worth losing your employment or facing those issues if you think your leaving yourself exposed to a false restraining order.
I’ve had matters where I’ve had spouses of police officers so they want to go ahead and they don’t care if it impacts alimony. So there is an instance where you don’t think your spouse would take such a drastic action, but it happens, it happens to police officers like it happens to anyone else. So one of the first pieces of advice for those confronting a contested divorce when your a police officer perhaps you cede the house and fight the battle on other fronts.
Another thing you have to worry about is your pension. Your pension can be very difficult to negotiate in terms of police and firemen. When you have the police and fireman pension there is issues with survivor benefits meaning you may have to provide life insurance in a higher amount to protect the pension, essentially the law saws if you pass away the pension dies with you. So, if your going through a divorce your spouse or their attorney will be very concerned by that and they may try ways to negotiate to make up for it which may increase life insurance costs for you.
You can do what’s called a QDRO–a Qualified Domestic Relations Order–but then the question becomes how do you address the life insurance. And, if you have a savvy divorce lawyer, they should probably insist in there that if you do provide additional life insurance that you both share in that cost equally, because it’s an added cost for you.
Moving on to alimony, I talked about in my first Podcast which has been listened to….probably…..my wife and I, thus far, I talked about how the tax code has changed as 2019 has began and alimony is no longer a taxable event. So that means when you’re divorced you will have to tax-affect it as alimony will no longer be tax-deductible to you.
So if you talk to people in the department and they tell you “well at least you can deduct the alimony” that will be true for them, because they are grandfathered in, but it will not be true for you. After January 1, 2019 so pretty much anyone that gets divorced now or moving forward, unless the law changes or something happens, you’re going to have to probably figure out a way to pay out a lower percentage of alimony, but the total payment out of your pocket when tax affected will likely be the same as always. But you have to make sure you tax affect it. That’s going to be very important and it’s an area that us divorce attorneys are really going to have to confront in the New Year.
Getting to the emotion of divorce, I just wanted to make a note that as a law enforcement officer your used to being in control most likely. You sort of call the shots on the stop, you use your instincts, to work a tough and sometimes dangerous job, and your well trained. But nobody is well trained for a divorce. Even people who have been married many times over there lives can realistically only get divorced a maximum of 5-6 times. So, I always joke that I’ve been divorced hundreds of times, but that’s only because I’m a divorce lawyer.
So the average person they are not going to go through it all that much. So, try not to pay too much attention to the well meaning but likely uninformed comments from your colleagues and friends in the department. Laws are always changing, how to handle divorce is always changing, there is greater complexity all the time, and when you talk to other people it can be a positive or it can get you overly emotional. And you know from your training that emotion is not always the way to be in terms of making good decisions.
You want to make decisions as dispassionately as possible. Now I know you’re not a robot–I have yet to represent a robot–but you try your best to be robotic almost like an insurance company when it comes to negotiating these types of agreements and how to go brick by brick through the procedure to get you to the divorce. You want to do it in a sophisticated manner, negotiations are often not sophisticated. So, when you talk to other people in the department try your best not to get too worked up or to care what they did with what you are going to do, one way or another.
Some of them got good deals, some of them got bad deals. Some of them got quote unquote “screwed” in their divorce. It doesn’t mean you’re going to.
That’s why you’re going to go to an attorney and choose somebody who is going to help you through the process. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy with every term, but when you understand the general principles and rights of a divorce in New Jersey, which is not a favorable state for those paying alimony–which you will most likely be doing because police officers are statistically the breadwinners in their family…it’s a break by brick experience.
So the more you can look at it dispassionately, keep your legal costs down, and move forward, the better it will be for you, the better it will be for your children if you have them, and the better it will be for your career.
And that’s the final point I want to talk about when people are going through a divorce they are more likely than ever to lose their jobs. You don’t want your divorce to spiral into your job and lead to some kind of IA complaint you have to deal with or some kind of an issue that might impact your employment.
So, it’s the kind of thing where the more you can keep your emotions in check, whether that is talking to your religious figure, your therapist just to get through it, meditating, going for long jogs, talking to your divorce lawyer, whatever it might be to help you get through the process so it doesn’t impact your job, that’s the most important.
And remember, you have a job where you have a lot of overtime so it’s hard to calculate how much income you should be responsible for regarding alimony. Your income this year may not be the same as next year. You might be working without a contract, or entering into a new one, you might have worked the detail for a private entity that lead to a great deal of money over a short period of time, so you’re going to have to negotiate all that and have your attorney negotiate that as part of your New Jersey divorce. Perhaps taking the last three years or the last five years as an average regarding how much alimony.
And of course this is all contingent upon who you are married to. Perhaps you don’t have to pay alimony if you’re married to somebody that’s making more money than you. Statistically that is not the case but that is certainly in a vacuum going to happen plenty of times.
And how are you going to fight for custody when you have long hours and it’s tough to get a parenting schedule that works with your job because you are on call so much. These are all the types of issues you are going to have to confront as part of a law enforcement divorce.
If you have any further questions, you can view my website, www.mynjdivorcelawyer.com, which has a great deal of resources, some of it specific to law enforcement. If you would like to discuss this matter as part of a divorce consult you can call my law office in Central New Jersey, 908-237-3096, again 908-237-3096.
And I hope that this podcast will be helpful to all those listening. It’s our firms policy we do not charge law enforcement for initial consultations. You help keep us safe so we’re not going to charge you for an initial consultation. So we look forward to potentially working with you and thanks for all that you do and I hope that this podcast has been helpful to anyone in law enforcement or anyone you know in law enforcement that may be confronting a divorce matter.
Before I sign off, obviously prenuptial agreements may be more important to law enforcement or police officers, so if you’re not married yet or you know someone that is not married yet and they are a law enforcement officer and they are considering a marriage, then consider a prenup. And have your spouse waive their interest in alimony or your pension. That’s the best way. So if you can do that can really save a lot of headaches in the future. As they say: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’
So anyway, thanks again for listening and have a good holiday season moving into the New Year here, and all the best from us here at Carl Taylor Law, LLC. Thanks so much. Bye for now.