Respected Pellettieri Rabstein & Altman Law Firm Offers Full Range of Services, Including Family Law
LEGAL EXPERTISE: “Since 1929, Pellettieri Rabstein & Altman (PR&A) attorneys have worked hard to build a track record of honest, smart, and responsible legal representation. We have earned the respect of family law courts, judges, and other New Jersey family law attorneys. We offer one of the largest family law departments in central New Jersey, and have established a statewide reputation of excellence.” Shown are attorneys in the PR&A family law department. Top row: Managing partner and department chair John A. Hartmann III, partner Lydia Fabbro Keephart, and partner Nicole Huckerby. Bottom row: Associate Jennifer Haythorn and associate Jillian Frost Kalyan.
By Jean Stratton
If the future of a marriage or domestic relationship is in doubt, or clearly headed for disruption, the parties most often seek the help of an attorney.
The lawyers who assist clients in divorce cases are specialists in family law. This is difficult work, but it is also satisfying in a very important way. The cases these attorneys deal with are very human, complex, and often emotionally disturbing. Helping clients navigate these severely stressful experiences and move on to a new future makes a difficult job worthwhile.
Pellettieri Rabstein & Altman (PR&A) has been providing this kind of expert legal representation since 1929. Founded by George Pellettieri, it began as a general law firm in Trenton. In 1934, Pellettieri was joined by attorney Ruth Rabstein, who later became his wife. They were a potent team, and the firm gained a reputation for helping individuals in the community, and not institutions.
Committed to assisting working men and women who might be without means to pay, especially during the Great Depression, PR&A was often reimbursed with chickens, homemade pies, and other goods and services.
The ensuing years brought new cases, new successes, and new lawyers to the firm. With the addition of John A. Hartmann III in 1978, the family law department was born. Richard Altman joined the firm a year later, adding commercial litigation to the array of services, and the partnership of George Pellettieri, Ruth Rabstein, Richard Altman, Ira Miller, and John A. Hartmann III, known as Pellettieri Rabstein & Altman, made its debut.
The firm’s cases included personal injury, workers’ compensation, nursing home negligence, employment and labor law, family law, insurance litigation, and commercial law.
Headquartered at 989 Lenox Drive in Lawrenceville, it also has offices in Cherry Hill, Nutley, and Newtown, Pa.
Family law is the focus of much of the firm’s work. The department has handled thousands of matrimonial matters, and many of these cases include divorce. Family law and divorce attorneys deal with the dissolution of marriages and domestic partnerships, marital settlement and property settlement agreements, prenuptial agreements, palimony agreements, child custody agreements, and domestic violence situations, among other areas.
Family law department chairman and managing partner John A. Hartmann III specializes in complex family law cases that require litigation. Throughout the years of his practice, he has served as the trial attorney and/or the supervising attorney in various landmark family law cases. He has a statewide reputation of excellence for his litigation skills, is the author of numerous articles on family law issues, and has been involved in numerous published decisions.
“Each family law case is unique,” he points out. “Some divorces can be settled without going to court; other couples may require a trial to resolve the dispute. The PR&A family law department aggressively represents the individual needs of each of their clients. It is our job to assist you in defining your goals and objectives and then to formulate a strategy to make them happen. All of our attorneys strive to reach reasonable settlements, but we are always prepared and able to seek judicial intervention from the courts.”
In addition to Hartmann, other members of the family law department include partner Lydia Fabbro Keephart, partner Nicole Huckerby, associate Jennifer Haythorn, and associate Jillian Frost Kalyan.
“Family law spans so many issues,” explains Keephart, who specializes in custody matters for married and unwed individuals; also preparation of pre-nuptial agreements, highly contested matrimonial cases involving multi-million dollar assets, domestic violence issues, and same sex partner disputes. She is a skilled trial attorney, as well as a certified mediator trained at the Harvard Law School Program for Negotiation and Mediation, and at Rutgers.
A Lawrenceville native, and graduate of Notre Dame High School, Keephart attended The College of New Jersey, and also holds a master’s degree in public and business administration from Rider University. Before switching to the law, she taught high school English and biology. In addition, she worked at the Educational Testing Service for several years before entering Seton Hall Law School. Now her skills are directed to family law and the ways in which she can help clients, including examining financial issues, which are an important factor.
“Financial aspects are critical as clients realize that their future lifestyles will likely be impacted,” she points out. “Two households demand two budgets. Equitable distribution is often complex, requiring forensic experts. Parents today generally each have jobs, and share responsibilities with respect to the children. Parenting time and the issue of custody is often disputed, and so custody experts are required. The challenge is to help clients realize what is most important and how best to establish what is in everyone’s best interest. A lawyer’s role is to apply the law to the facts of their situation and explain what they can expect if the case goes to trial, and what it will realistically cost both financially and emotionally.
“While having handled all aspects of family law, I am devoted to preserving the best interests of children in the family, and thus I address many of the custody cases, including international matters. I also handle domestic violence cases. I often say that ‘we have the best people at the worst time in their lives.’ There are no two cases exactly alike, and the complexities are challenging to the mind and the heart. It is our role to maintain dignity and respect.
“I have also handled cases that went up on appeal, and I have argued before the Appellate Court successfully. I have tried several cases to completion, but I am proudest when I help my clients settle their differences. And I also feel humbled by the fact that many of my clients remain friends long after we finish their cases.”
Near and Dear
Nicole Huckerby agrees with the importance of custody issues and the child’s well-being, and she also points out the wide scope of cases that can arise. “Family law is definitely challenging because you are dealing with issues that people hold very near and dear. If custody is an issue, there is really nothing more important to a parent than his or her child and the child’s care and custody. People are often very emotional at these times and are frequently anxious as well.
“It is always best if the parties can work together to determine the best interests of the children. Parents will need to work together, often for years, in a cooperative way for the benefit of their children, and I always encourage them to do so.”
“Aside from issues with children, clients are also very concerned about their financial well-being and about the fairness of the division of marital assets,” she continues. “Often, while there is enough money for the parties to meet their expenses while they reside together, when you are
dividing into two separate households, there may not be enough money to meet all needs, and the parties may have to reduce their lifestyles. This is not easy.”
The range of issues family law attorneys face are not only challenging but also compelling, she adds. “Family law is always interesting because there are so many different areas of law that it touches upon. In resolving a divorce, we deal with financial issues, such as business valuations, real estate valuations, and forensic accountings to address lifestyle. The work we do is varied, and each case is very fact sensitive.”
Huckerby also points out lifestyle changes that have taken place over the years. “When I started practicing, alimony cases were almost exclusively husbands paying wives. Now, spouses often earn similar incomes, and alimony is not an issue. And I frequently have cases where wives are paying husbands alimony because the wife is the breadwinner for the family.”
She is very aware of the significance of helping people at a very distressing time in their lives, and she has witnessed a myriad of difficult situations. As she reports, “After practicing family law for 25 years, there is very little that is surprising. I have divorced people who have been married for a very short time, just a matter of a few years, and I have divorced people who were married for 50 years.”
One Last Kiss
“When I was a young lawyer, I represented an elderly gentleman who was a grandfather, and while I was putting the amicable divorce on the record, his soon-to-be-ex-wife asked to resume her maiden name,’ continues Huckerby. “He broke down in tears. As we left the court room, he asked me to ask his wife’s attorney if he could have one last kiss good-bye. She refused. I was a young woman at the time, and this was definitely one of the saddest matters I handled, as the litigants were my grandparents’ ages.”
Helping clients to understand the process and to have realistic expectations is important, explains Jennifer Haythorn, whose initial career goal was to join the foreign service and serve as a diplomat. She decided to go to law school in order, as she points out, “to think like a lawyer — to learn how to identify issues, think critically, and problem-solve.” And then ultimately to put those skills to use in the State Department.
After law school, however, an opportunity in family law presented itself, and she saw the contribution she could make in helping guide people through a divorce, where she no doubt is able to use her skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and diplomacy.
As she says, “Managing clients’ expectations is one of the biggest challenges. Individuals going through a divorce are experiencing the most difficult time in their lives, and expect immediate responses and quick turnaround times. They often misunderstand the process and the law. It is important as a family law practitioner to maintain realistic expectations, explain the process and the law, and attempt to resolve cases fairly, in accordance with the prevailing law, and with as little financial, emotional, and mental damage to the parties and their children as possible.”
While there are similarities in family law cases, they can also vary considerably, depending on the individuals and the issues at hand, points out Haythorn.
“All cases are different, so it depends on the specific facts. Each party prioritizes the issues differently, and we have to adjust depending on our clients. We really have seen it all. It is surprising when people divorce after decades together, but many times it happens after children move out of the house. When I have divorced older couples, say, in their 60s or 70s, it is both sad, but also wonderful, that they have decided to separate and try to find new happiness.”
Associate Jillian Frost Kalyan is a hometown girl, born in Princeton, where she grew up, attended St. Paul’s School and later, Notre Dame. As a teen, she worked at McCarter Theatre (where she met her husband). She agrees that the challenges in family law are very real. “The stakes are really high. The work we do is serious and has real consequences for people’s families, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
She explains that many factors often come together to cause a marriage to fail, and COVID-19 has not only created new problems, but exacerbated existing difficulties. Financial issues, especially if one or both of the spouses are out of work, or perhaps trying to balance their own jobs and helping children with online school work all at the same time; spending more time at home together for lengthy periods — all of these can contribute to a stressful situation.
“All of this can be part of the problem,” she emphasizes. “The pandemic has made things more difficult for everyone in almost every way. Of course, people get divorced because they are unhappy, and that can be at any age, after any length of a relationship. We always try to resolve the case with the least cost and best outcome in the most efficient manner, and always with the best interest of the client uppermost.”
Trust is important, adds Kalyan. “Clients need to feel comfortable with their attorney as they go through such a difficult situation. It is very satisfying to be an advocate for someone who has difficulty being an advocate for him or herself.”
Most of the client-attorney meetings are currently virtual because of the virus. So far, via Zoom and other remote means, it has been working well. Of course, everyone looks forward to the time when in person meetings can resume.
Primarily, the Pellettieri Rabstein & Altman attorneys want to ease the burden as people go through a difficult time, and assist them in moving on to a new chapter in their lives. They are experienced and skilled advocates for their clients, guiding them to the best outcome.
As Lydia Keephart notes, “I am so very proud to be part of such a strong legal team. We are a family, and the lawyers in our department are dedicated to PR&A. Also, we are all happily married, and that is an accomplishment for divorce attorneys!”
For further information, call (609) 520-0900, or consult the website at pralaw.com.