By Sheryl J. Seiden
Alimony is one of the most difficult financial issues to resolve in our matrimonial cases. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b) sets forth thirteen statutory factors to be considered when determining an alimony claim, including a catchall factor of any other factors which the court deems relevant. In the recent Supreme Court of New Jersey case of Gnall v. Gnall, 222 N.J. 414 (2015) the Court emphasized that no one factor is determinative and that all factors should be given weight in adjudicating alimony. Despite popular belief, there is no official alimony formula to be used to determine the alimony amount.
As practitioners, we need to be well-versed in the case law on the alimony issues that affect our practice, such as the effect of lifestyle on alimony, change in circumstance applications, double dipping issues, early retirement, security for alimony awards, cohabitation, and the effect of trust income on alimony awards. In order to provide some guidance on this complicated topic, below is a summary of some of the top alimony cases adjudicated by the New Jersey courts, together with a practical tip that each case presents.
Supreme Court of New Jersey Cases
1) Crews v. Crews, 164 NJ 11 (2000) (Standard of Living Case.)
Question Presented: What is the significance of the standard of living on the support awarded to a party?
Holding: If the supported spouse cannot maintain the standard of living with an alimony award, and the supporting spouse's financial condition permits, a modification of alimony is appropriate.
Facts: Parties had been married for approximately seventeen years and had two children born of their marriage. The case went to trial – defendant-wife and her counsel did not participate in the trial as court denied her request for a 13th adjournment of trial and pendente lite counsel fee application – and therefore the matter proceeded by default. Court ordered defendant to pay $800 per month in alimony for a three year period. The trial court gave no consideration to standard of living during the marriage. The alimony award was substantially less than the amount husband had been paying pendente lite. Term of alimony was based on Court's belief that wife could be earning $26,000 per year after three years. Despite her efforts to do so, defendant-wife was not able to earn $26,000 per year three years following parties divorce as a result, in part, of decline in health of one of parties' children. When alimony ended, defendant-wife filed an application to extend alimony term and convert it from rehabilitation to permanent (that existed at that time). At that time, plaintiff-husband was doing substantially well – earning over $400,000 from his business without an examination of his business tax returns. This fact was immaterial to the Trial Court and Appellate Court but not Supreme Court of New Jersey. The Trial Court denied defendant-wife's application to modify her alimony on the grounds that she had only been working part time.
On appeal, Supreme Court of New Jersey, inter alia, reviewed the Trial Court's decision denying the defendant-wife's application to modify her support, which decision was upheld by the Appellate Division and reversed and remanded the case. The Court detailed the two step process established in Lepis for determining a changed circumstance application. First, the moving party bears the burden to demonstrate a changed circumstance before discovery of an ex-spouse's financial status is appropriate. Then only after the prima facieburden is met, then the respondent's ability to pay becomes a factor for consideration by a Court. The Court explicitly states that the change of circumstance application is capped by marital lifestyle as the supported spouse is not entitled to the good fortune of the supporting spouse beyond the marital lifestyle.
Practice Tip: When conducting a direct examination of your client in an uncontested hearing, if the alimony is insufficient for the supported spouse to maintain the marital life style, state said fact on record to leave open a basis for a future modification.
2) Gayet v Gayet, 92 N.J. 149 (1983) (Cohabitation required economic dependency under old statute)
Question Presented: Whether cohabitation under old alimony statute required economic dependence in order for alimony to be terminated/modified?
Holding: Economic dependence was needed for cohabitation to be grounds to modify alimony (under old alimony statute).
Facts: Husband was ordered to pay wife support based on a 1978 judgment of divorce. Wife was cohabiting and husband filed a post judgment application seeking to compel the sale of the marital house and terminate alimony on grounds that wife was living with another man as husband and wife. The wife stipulated that she lived with the other man four nights per week for a three and a half month period. The Trial Court then ordered alimony to be reduced retroactively and then terminate in the near future. The trial court held that the wife's cohabitation was changed circumstances warranting a review of the alimony award. The Appellate Division reversed (in an unreported decision) and Supreme Court granted Cert. the Supreme Court noted that two policies of law intersect in resolution of this issue. First, the Legislative has directed that alimony terminate upon remarriage. Second, there is a policy of individual privacy, autonomy and right to develop personal relationships free and government sanctions. Relying on the cohabitation laws of other states, the Court reviewed the economic needs tests to determine whether cohabitation requires modification of an alimony ward as adopted by other states. Court affirmed Appellate Division's decision (which reversed trial Court's decision).
Practice Tip: Under the old alimony statute, cohabitation by itself was not sufficient to modify alimony.
3) Gnall v. Gnall, 222 N.J. 414 (2015) (No one factor is determinative)
Question Presented: Whether the Appellate Division created a bright line rule that a fifteen year marriage required an award of permanent alimony contrary to the need to consider all of the statutory factors (under the old alimony statute).
Holding: When adjudicating alimony, the court must consider all of the statutory factors. No one factor is determinative.
Facts: Parties were married for almost fifteen years when the complaint for divorce was filed. The parties had three minor children and substantial assets. Plaintiff had worked as a computer programmer but left the work force to care for the parties' children. Defendant, the sole wage earner for the family made over $1,000,000 in gross income. When determining alimony, the trial court considered the statutory factors in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b) and made specific findings and based on those factors, the Court held that permanent alimony was appropriate. The Trial Court held that the marriage was not of short term duration but not of long term duration because it was not a marriage of twenty-five to thirty years. The Trial Court therefore awarded Plaintiff limited duration alimony of $18,000 per month for a period of eleven years. Plaintiff appealed claiming that she was entitled to permanent alimony based on the length of the parties' marriage and her diminished employment ability as she has been home caring for the parties' children. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded for an evaluation of an award of permanent alimony stating that a fifteen year marriage "is not short term in duration". The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the Appellate Division erroneously created a bright line rule that a fifteen year marriage requires an award of permanent alimony. The Supreme Court recognized that Trial Court findings are binding on appeal unless they are manifestly unsupported or inconsistent with competent, relevant and reasonable credible evidence such that they offend the interests of justice.
The case reviews the different types of alimony that were available at that time – permanent alimony (now alimony of unlimited duration), limited duration alimony, (alimony for set duration), rehabilitative alimony (short term award for purpose of financially supporting a spouse while he or she prepared to reenter the workforce through training or education – appropriate where one spouse gave up his/her career to care for the family), and Reimbursement alimony (awarded to spouse who has made financial sacrifices resulting in temporary reduction of standard of living in order to allow the other spouse to secure an advance degree or professional license to secure an enhanced standard of living in future).
In reversing the Appellate Division's decision, the Court cautioned that the Trial Court erred in weighing the duration of the marriage over other statutory factors and that the Appellate Division inadvertently created a bright line rule for distinguishing long term and short term marriages.
What is significant to this case is that the Supreme Court of New Jersey acknowledged that the alimony statute was amended September 10, 2014 but held that the amendment was not applicable to this case (which was adjudicated before the effective date of the amendment).
Practical Tip: Cite to Gnall when summarizing the statutory factors for the proportion that no one factor is determinative.
4) Innes v. Innes, 177 N.J. 496 (NJ 1990) (Don't Double Dipping on Pension Income)
Question Presented: Whether payor spouse's pension income which was equitably distributed in parties' divorce could be considered as part of his income when determining his application for a modification of his alimony obligation?
Holding: Pension income already distributed in equitable distribution cannot be considered income for a payor spouse when determining an alimony modification application.
Facts: Parties were married for thirty-one years, and three children were born of marriage. Parties entered into a property settlement agreement whereby plaintiff was required to pay defendant $650 per month in alimony. At age 61, plaintiff was fired from his employer and despite his good faith efforts, he was unable to find alternative employment. Plaintiff filed an application seeking to terminate his alimony obligation. Application was denied by the trial court. Plaintiff appealed. On appeal, issue was presented to Supreme Court of New Jersey as to whether a party's pension income which was equitably distributed can be considered in determining alimony modification application. Court held that it cannot be considered. Court also held that plaintiff's annuity, which was purchased with husband's share of the net sale proceeds from the marital residence, could not be considered in the alimony modification application. The Court considered this issue in light of NJSA 2A:34-23 which at that time had recently been amended.
Practical Tip: When preparing Property Settlement Agreement, make sure to be very specific as to the retirement assets being equitable distributed between parties or if there is an off-set, house for a pension, be sure to specify this in Property Settlement Agreement so that if there is post judgment litigation, the assets that are equitable distributed can be identified easily and not used as an income source for support purposes.
5) Jacobitti v. Jacobitti, 135 N.J. 571 (NJ 1994) (Trust to Secure Alimony)
Question Presented: Whether court was authorized to order husband to establish a trust to secure his alimony obligation in lieu of life insurance given that alimony terminates upon death of payor spouse.
Holding: Court had authority under N.J.S. A. 2A:34-25 to order a party to establish a trust in lieu of life insurance benefits to secure payor's alimony obligation.
Facts: Parties were married for sixteen years. They were divorced in 1991. Husband was a physician and Wife was confined to a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis. Parties had a prenuptial agreement. At time of marriage, Husband had assets in excess of $1,300,000 (back in 1975) and annual income in excess of $100,000. As an aside, husband failed to provide full disclosure of his net worth when prenupt was entered into and therefore prenupt was not enforced. At time of divorce, wife maintained that Husband had assets of between $6,000,000 and $8,000,000 and an income in excess of $300,000 (back in 1991). Court ordered husband to pay $4,200 of alimony and ordered Husband to set up a trust of $500,000 to cover his alimony and upon wife's death, corpus of trust would be distributed to Husband or his estate or designated charity. Court permitted limited invasion into trust for wife's medical expenses. Because husband was nineteen years old than wife, the Court ordered the trust in lieu of life insurance. Husband appealed the court's order requiring him to establish a trust arguing that it required him to pay alimony after his death. Supreme Court of New Jersey granted Cert. Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the trust was appropriate equitable remedy to fulfil husband's obligation to have security for his alimony obligations.
Practical Tip: Use Trust instruments or other assets as a means of securing alimony obligations when life insurance is not a viable option because of high premiums or advanced age of payor spouse.
6) Konzelman v Konzelman, 158 N.J. 185 (1999) (Cohabitation clause in PSAs are enforceable)
Question Presented: Whether a cohabitation provision in a property settlement agreement which provides that alimony would terminate upon wife's cohabitation is enforceable?
Holding: Cohabitation provisions are enforceable.
Facts: Parties were married for 27 years at the time of their divorce. Upon divorce, the parties' judgment of divorce incorporated a Property Settlement Agreement that both parties had entered into with legal representation. Husband's alimony payment to wife was $700 per month. The agreement provided that it would terminate upon wife's cohabitation with unrelated male for a period of four continuous months. Husband thereafter hired a private investigator who confirmed that wife has been cohabiting with a male for a period of 127 days. Husband then terminated alimony payments and wife filed enforcement application. The Trial Court ordered Husband to resume support and scheduled a plenary hearing. After the hearing, the Trial Court concluded that husband had proven cohabitation and reduced support obligations in amount of money that court believed wife was receiving from cohabitant. The husband appealed and Appellate Division reversed holding that cohabitation clause was enforceable. Supreme Court affirmed holding that such provisions are enforceable and focused on the importance of enforcing contractual agreements between parties. The wife's argument that the lack of economic dependence should prevent alimony from being terminated failed because of specific language in her property settlement agreement which did not require economic dependence for termination of alimony.
Practice Tip: Use caution when including cohabitation provisions in property settlement agreements as you may be shaping the agreement different from future laws on this issue.
7) Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980) (Change in Circumstance Case.)
Question Presented: Whether alimony and child support orders are subject to modification based on a change in circumstance?
Holding: Alimony and child support orders define a payor spouse's/parent's current support obligations, which are subject to review and modification based on change of circumstance. In assessing a modification of support application, the moving party has burden of proof to establish prima facie change in circumstance prior to discovery of respondent's financial status.
Facts: Parties were married for approximately thirteen years, and they had three children born of their marriage. The parties entered into a property settlement agreement addressing their agreement of the issue resulting from the dissolution of their marriage. Four years after the Property Settlement Agreement ("PSA") was incorporated into a Judgment of Divorce, the wife filed an application seeking to modify alimony and child support provisions of the PSA claiming that the increase in her own and children's needs and rising cost of supporting growing children require her to need more support from payor ex-spouse. The trial court initially denied this application without requiring husband to even disclose his earnings. The Appellate Division reversed denial of wife's application on grounds that trial court should have considered husband's financial circumstances. The Supreme Court of New Jersey granted Certification to address, inter alia, what constitutes changed circumstances.
In determining what constitutes changed circumstances the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the circumstances do not necessarily have to be unforeseen at the time of application. The party seeking to modify the support award has to establish a prima facie burden of changed circumstance. Once that burden is demonstrated, then the Court should entertain discovery requests to assess both parties' financial statuses. After the initial burden is met, at that time, the issue of the payor's ability to pay becomes an issue. Court directed that in adjudicating a change of circumstance application, while a supported spouse cannot be required to use all of her savings before demonstrating a need for support, she also cannot be entitled to save of her money for herself or her children while claiming an increased need for support.
Practice Tip: When determining change circumstance, the Case Information Statement ("CIS") of spouse seeking modification should demonstrate a substantially lower net worth than the CIS of said spouse at time of divorce.
8) Mani v. Mani, 183 NJ. 70 (NJ 2005) Marital fault is irrelevant in determining alimony absent extreme circumstances
Question Presented: Whether marital fault can be considered when determining alimony?
Holding: Marital Fault is irrelevant to an alimony determination unless the fault negatively affects the economic status of the parties or the fault so violated societal norms that continuing the economic bonds between the parties would be unjust.
Facts: Parties were in a long term marriage. When the parties first met, wife went to work for husband in a seasonal amusement part business in Seaside Heights Boardwalk. Parties had no children. They continued to work together in the business, which was partially owned by Husband. During the parties' marriage, wife received significant gifts of money and investments from her father, which appreciated to approximately $1.7M in value. Husband signed an agreement waiving his right to the gift. At time of the parties' divorce, they had been retired from boardwalk amusement park business for seven years. Wife discovered Husband was having an affair with a woman whom they socialized. At the time of the divorce, Wife's assets were valued at $2.4M and Husband's assets consisted of an IRA valued at $80,000. At trial, the Court awarded the Husband $610 per week in alimony based on an imputation of income to him of $25,000 per year and his economic dependency. Both parties appealed. The Appellate Division relied upon the Husband's marital discord to justify the alimony award. On appeal, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the marital fault was irrelevant to the alimony determination, and counsel fee award. Case was remanded to trial Court.
Practical Tip: Mani has been known as the case that stands for the proposition that marital fault is irrelevant in determining the economics of a matrimonial case. However, Mani left open a very small window of where fault may be considered – if the fault negatively affects the economic status of the parties or fault so violated social norms that continuing the economic bonds between the parties would be unjust.
9) Tannen v. Tannen, 208 N.J. 409 (2011) (and see 416 N.J.Super 248 App. Div. 2010 which was adopted by Supreme Court) (effect of trust income on alimony)
Question Presented: Whether it was appropriate to impute income to a party based on her discretionary support trust when determining alimony?
Holding: When a party is a beneficiary of a trust but has no control over the distribution of the trust assets, income cannot be imputed to the party from the trust as the assets of the trust are not owned by that party and the distributions are not within the party's control.
Facts: Parties were married for nearly eighteen years. There were two children of the parties' marriage, ages 17 and 14. During their marriage, wife's parents had settled an irrevocable discretionary support trust with wife as sole beneficiary and with wife and her parents as co-trustees. The trial judge ordered defendant to name the trust and other family trusts as third party defendants to the litigation. During the marriage, the trusts in which the wife is a beneficiary distributed monies to the wife for her expenses on the marital home and housekeeper's salary. The Trial Court imputed income to the wife from the trust which lowered defendant's alimony obligation. The Appellate Division reversed holding that the discretionary support trust was not an asset held by her for purposes of the alimony statute and therefore no income should have been imputed to her from the trust. When determining whether the trust income could be imputed to the trustee, the Court held that the intention of the settlor of the trust must be determined based on the language of the trust. If the distribution of the trust assets is within the discretion of the trustee, then the beneficiary of the trust cannot access these funds and they therefore cannot be considered assets of the beneficiary in which income could be imputed for purposes of determining support. The Appellate Division held that the Trial Court erred in imputing money to the wife from the trust and for requiring the trust to be named as a party to the litigation as the trusts could not be compelled to make distributions for wife's support.
Practice Tip: When alimony is an issue and one of the parties is the beneficiary of a trust, review the trust agreement to determine whether the distributions are within the party's control.
10) Weishaus v Weishaus, 180 N.J. 131 (2004) (Factual findings as to standard of living need not be made at uncontested hearing – CISes must be maintained)
Question Presented: Whether a trial court needs to make factual finds as to the parties' lifestyle at an uncontested hearing to preserve a benchmark for a future Crews application?
Holding: The parties' marital lifestyle need not be established at the time that they proceed with the uncontested divorce. The marital lifestyle should be established at the time that it is most efficient to do so.
Facts: Parties were married for 15 years, and had three children together. During matrimonial proceedings, plaintiff's Case Information Statement listed her matrimonial lifestyle of $436,140 for herself and parties' three children, and claimed that Defendant's mother and Defendant's business paid for certain other expenses. Defendant's CIS listed a lifestyle of $210,732 for himself and one child. After about a year of litigation, the parties entered into a Property Settlement Agreement which included a three year alimony term and certain amounts for child support. An uncontested hearing proceeded whereby both parties testified that they believed the property settlement agreement to be fair and reasonable. Plaintiff stated during the hearing that she would not be able to maintain the marital lifestyle under the Agreement. At the uncontested hearing, the trial court insisted on determining the marital lifestyle, and then concluded that plaintiff would not experience a shortfall in meeting the marital lifestyle. The Judgment of Divorce was entered and included a term that "plaintiff can maintain a reasonable and comparable lifestyle excluding any contributions from Defendant's mother." Plaintiff appealed claiming court should not insisted on determining marital lifestyle at uncontested hearing. The Appellate Division affirmed in part and reversed in part finding that the trial court inappropriately reduced its marital standard of living calculation to reflect a marital standard that was sustainable solely by Defendant's employment income rather than assessing actual standard of living enjoyed by parties during marriage. Supreme Court granted cert and determined that a finding on marital lifestyle was not needed at the time of the uncontested divorce hearing. The matter was referred to the Family Practice Committee to consider and recommend how to capture marital lifestyle information efficiently.
Practice Tip: Clients must maintain Case Information Statements in order to preserve proof of marital lifestyle.
Appellate Division Cases
11) Deegan v. Deegan, 254 N.J. Super 350 (App. Div. 1992) (Early Retirement Case)
Question Presented: Whether a spouse's voluntary early retirement constituted a change in circumstance warranting a review of his/her support obligations.
Holding: The payor spouse seeking to retire early must have a good faith motive for his/her early retirement and the advantage to the payor spouse must outweigh the disadvantage to the payee spouse which will result from the early retirement.
Facts: Five years after parties' divorce, payor spouse notifies payee spouse that he will be voluntarily retiring from his employment and he does retire just four months prior to his 62nd birthday. In assessing the change in circumstance application, the Court needs to consider the reason for the voluntary retirement. Specifically, whether the payor spouse choose to retire in good faith. The Court must also consider the affect that the retirement will have on the payee spouse. The Court will then be charged with analyzing whether the advantageous to the payor spouse outweighs the disadvantageous to the payee spouse.
Practice Tip: If you have a client that seeks to retire early, he/she should provide as much advance notice to the payee spouse and detail the good faith reason for the retirement to try to avoid post judgment litigation. Consider a lump sum payment to avoid litigation on the issue.
12) Glass v. Glass, 366 N.J. Super. 357 (App. Div. 2004) (Payee Spouse increased income)
Question Presented: Whether the Payee Spouse's increased alimony is grounds to terminate alimony to payee spouse?
Holding: In assessing an application seeking to terminate alimony based on the payee's increased income which permits her/him to maintain marital lifestyle, the increased income is one factor to be considered in review of alimony but it is not determinative.
Facts: Parties married young and were together during frugal times. They lived a very conservative lifestyle. Payee spouse was not employed during the parties' marriage and became employed after the parties' divorce. At the time that the parties entered into a property settlement agreement, payee spouse waived interest in husband's law license, practice or business endeavors and payor spouse agreed to pay payee alimony and child support. Payor Spouse filed an application seeking to terminate his alimony obligations to payee spouse on the grounds that payor spouse's income was sufficient for her to maintain the marital standard of living. Payor spouse did not assert an inability to pay argument. His argument was limited to the narrow issue presented. The trial court held a hearing and concluded that payee spouse could maintain marital standard of living on her income and thereafter terminated payor spouse's alimony obligation. On appeal, Appellate Division, reversed holding that payee spouse's ability to maintain marital lifestyle using her income was a factor to be considered in light of all other factors in determining whether alimony should be terminated. It is not determinative.
Practice Tip: If you represent payee spouse, and his/her income increased post-divorce, must be able to justify the need for alimony despite increase in income.
13) Morris v. Morris, 263 N.J.Super.237 (App. Div. 1993) (Non modifiable alimony is not modifiable.)
Question Presented: Whether an anti-Lepis provision is enforceable?
Holding: Anti-Lepis provisions are generally enforceable as the parties have the ability to make their own standards, which under the circumstances were not unwarranted. However, in extreme cases where an anti-Lepis clause was not reasonable, then they may not be enforced.
Facts: Parties entered into a Property Settlement Agreement at the time of their divorce they were both represented by counsel at the time of the hearing. The parties' children were emancipated at that time. The Property Settlement Agreement provided for wife to receive alimony. The alimony was not taxable to wife or deductible to husband. It was also payable irrespective of wife's remarriage. Agreement further stated that payments were not modifiable except for husband's disability. Agreement included a specific anti-Lepisprovision. Wife waived rights to an 8,500 square foot home that parties owned. Payments appeared to be equitable distribution payments, not alimony, despite their label. The wife was concerned that the payments would be discharged in a future bankruptcy proceeding of husband which is why they were labeled as alimony. At time of agreement, husband was having financial issues and had a negative net worth. Husband filed an application to modify his alimony obligations given his dire financial circumstances. The Appellate Division denied his application on the grounds that the support was not modifiable. However, the Appellate Division addressed the enforcement issues as husband had already been jailed nine times for failing to pay support. The court in this case examined whether an anti-Lepis provision is enforceable. In this case, the Appellate Division reviewed two conflicting Chancery Division cases addressing the anti-Lepis provision. In Smith v. Smith, 261 N.J. Super. 198 (Ch. Div. 1992), the trial court determined that the anti-Lepis clause sought to preclude the exercise of the court's equitable responsibility to review and modify support obligations contrary to public policy whereas the trial Court in Finckin v. Finckin, 240 N.J. Super. 204 (Ch. Div. 1990) held that public policy did not prohibit the use of anti-Lepis clauses. The Appellate Division ruled that parties can bargain away anti-Lepis provisions except in extreme cases where the parties' standards are unreasonable.
Practicable Tip: Anti-Lepis provisions are generally enforceable if not unreasonable so in your agreements, clearly articulate the reasonableness of provisions.
14) Spangenberg v. Kolakowski, 442 N.J. Super 529 (App. Div. 2015) (effective date of new cohab statute).
Question Presented: Whether the new alimony/cohab statute applies to an order entered prior to the effective date of the statute.
Holding: Court held that new alimony statute did not apply to this case as the order became final before the statutory amendment's effective date.
Facts: Parties were marriage for twenty years. Parties resolved issues resulting from their divorce pursuant to a Marital Settlement Agreement ("MSA"). Defendant was required to pay $2,200 per month based on imputed income to Plaintiff of $45,000 and Defendant of $125,000. Parties agreed to review the support in June 2014 based on the presumption that income would increase. MSA provided that Plaintiff would inform Defendant if she were cohabiting so that alimony could be reviewed based on the Gayet case. Defendant moved to modify his alimony post judgment on the grounds that plaintiff was cohabiting. The Trial Court found plaintiff was receiving an economic benefit from cohabitation. Court reduced alimony based on cohabitation and increase in Plaintiff's income and decrease in Defendant's income.
Practice Tip: Reference this case when seeking to not apply new alimony statute to post judgment applications.
 Sheryl J. Seiden is an attorney admitted to practice law in the States of New Jersey and New York. She is the founding partner of Seiden Family Law, LLC in Cranford, NJ. She is an officer of the Family Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association and a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers – New Jersey Chapter. She is a frequent lecturer on topics affecting the practice of family law.