What are some new issues pending in current divorce cases?
By Noreen Bratton, NJCP
We have all heard the popular saying: “This is not your grandmother’s . . . [fill in the blank].” This saying is meant to convey that the traditional thoughts of yesterday are emerging and transforming into new ideas. We are living in a constantly changing world with new technology, novel concepts, and yes, new issues in modern-day divorce. So, seeking a divorce in today’s time is “not your grandmother’s divorce.” The following are just a few examples of recent issues that have arisen in divorce cases that most likely were not in existence just a few short years ago:
Many people, including new inexperienced investors, are tapping into the world of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Zcash, Litecoin, Cardano, Polkadot, Stellar, and Dogecoin are just a few of the more popular types of cryptocurrency. How does one divide or transfer a cryptocurrency account in a divorce action? Can you value a cryptocurrency account to buy out your spouse?
It seems most people are currently exchanging payments between friends, family members and even purchase items online through the use of virtual or digital wallets. A few popular examples are: PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, Apple Pay, and/or Google Pay. Cash payments are becoming an antiquated concept. Virtual/Digital Wallets can build a credit balance. How does one divide or transfer a virtual/digital wallet balance in a divorce action? What happens to the credit balance in a divorce?
Credit Card Rewards Programs:
There are so many credit card companies and credit card options available to us at this time. Many of these companies offer incentives and reward programs to entice you to select their company over their competitor such as travel rewards, dining rewards, online shopping rewards, etc. Often times in a marriage, the parties share joint credit card accounts. What happens to the reward points that have accumulated during the marriage in a divorce action? Do these rewards hold monetary value? Can the reward points be divided or transferred in a divorce?
Electronic Book/Music Downloads:
Most families share an Amazon Prime membership within their household so that all family members can receive the most of their membership from paying one single membership fee. This makes sense, correct? Spouses can both use the Amazon Prime membership to download books or music that they can share while sharing the membership account. However, what happens to these downloads in a divorce? Can you divide or transfer digital downloads from such an account? Do these downloads hold value to keep the account intact with one spouse buying out the other spouse’s interest?
Stock Options/Restricted Stock Units:
Some employees are awarded stock options, restricted stock units or other forms of deferred compensation from their employer during their marriage that are subject to equitable distribution in a divorce. In many instances, the stock options or restricted stock units cannot be exercised for a particular period of time as they are not considered vested. The implementation of a Callahan Trust can resolve this issue. What is a Callahan Trust? When does the non-employee spouse receive their share of non-vested assets?
While this is a highly controversial issue in the religious and political realms, the issue of what happens to the frozen embryos in a divorce action is also highly contested at times. Are the frozen embryos destroyed? Does one party take custody of the frozen embryos to do with what he or she chooses? Who pays for the storage fees of the frozen embryos pending determination and post-determination?
Health Savings Accounts:
Many employers offer particular benefits to their employees that offer a tax savings. One example is contributing to an employer-provided Health Savings Account (HSA) that they can later receive reimbursement for qualified health/medical expenses for the whole family. Does the HSA hold a value that can be divided in a divorce action? How is the HSA treated in a divorce action when it is typically established for both spouses and their children during the marriage?
While this issue has been popping up in divorce cases for several years now, creative solutions continue to expand on this issue over time. How is a family pet treated in a divorce action? Is the pet considered a marital asset? Do the same rules apply to the family pet that apply to the parties’ children?
This is probably the first time many of us have ever lived through a pandemic. The pandemic caused a lot of new issues in family law matters such as: What happens when the parents do not agree to the vaccine for their child? What happens when the parents do not agree to the method in which the children will attend school during the pandemic? At the beginning of the pandemic, parties disputed children crossing state lines for parenting time and the issue of a COVID quarantine . . . and the list goes on.
As our world continues to evolve, new issues in divorce actions will continue to arise that need to be reviewed and addressed. In the interim, if any of the aforementioned issues piqued your interest or you have an issue that needs review and/or discussion, please feel free to contact any of our Family Law attorneys for a consultation.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.
Noreen Bratton is a New Jersey Certified Paralegal (NJCP) in Obermayer’s Mt. Laurel office.