During his 40-year legal career, trial attorney Jeffrey P. Weinstein has watched the practice of family law evolve tremendously.
Having represented thousands of clients in cases before the trial and appellate courts of the State of New Jersey, Weinstein has been called upon by other matrimonial attorneys to serve as an expert in almost all aspects of family law.
The former chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Family Law Section, Weinstein was one of two lawyers who assisted the Supreme Court committee of New Jersey in establishing the Family Part in the New Jersey Court system. In addition, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part, appointed Weinstein as a standing master to assist in the resolution of complex matrimonial matters.
Early in his career, Weinstein wanted to become a public defender or prosecutor. But after serving as a law clerk to Morris County Judge Edward F. Broderick, who presided over criminal matters, Weinstein decided to go into family law.
“Judge Broderick was a fantastic mentor. He taught me how to deal with people, because he was such a good people person,” Weinstein says. “He told me that the highest compliment you can receive is when a client comes to you for advice. It’s not only the highest compliment, it also gives you a tremendous amount of responsibility.”
When Weinstein first started practicing family law (known then as divorce law), it was not regarded as highly as it is today. He began working in family law just as equitable distribution (the division of the assets that were acquired during the marriage) became the law. Weinstein became the first attorney in New Jersey and probably the United States to obtain alimony for a man, back in the early 1970s.
“Prior to the equitable distribution statute being enacted, assets were generally given to the person who owned or made the assets, which gave no value to the contributions of the spouse to the success of the businessperson,” Weinstein explains. “Family law practitioners were at the forefront of gender equality in the 1970s.”
“When you and your client begin working together, you really form a partnership with the client.” —Jeffrey P. Weinstein
The sophistication of family law has also increased throughout the years, especially when it comes to dividing assets. Practitioners must first identify the assets by means of discovery, value the assets using business and accounting techniques, and then allocate percentages of each and every asset to the injured party. The litigation of a complex case requires a good knowledge of the rules of evidence and trial techniques, as well as the ability to advocate for a client.
“When you and your client begin working together, you really form a partnership with the client, although you are dissolving another partnership, namely a marriage,” Weinstein says.
Family law also changed in respect to custody issues.
“Way before I started practicing, children were considered to be chattel belonging to the male,” Weinstein says. “Later, children of a tender age would be given to the mother. Today, it’s really about what’s in the best interest of the children.”
In 1977, Weinstein and a client who happened to be a mental health professional coauthored an article, “Joint Custody: A Viable and Ideal Alternative,” which recognized joint custody as a viable alternative to one parent becoming the sole custodial parent.
“Both parents should have an equal say in what is in the best interest of the child and in all matters affecting the child’s health, education, and well-being. In addition, both parents should have a right to be with the children as much as is possible. It is absolutely imperative that each parent be given the right to be as good a mom or dad as possible. These changes happened over time,” says Weinstein, who was serving as chair of the Family Law section when the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 went into effect, which protects a spouse from physical and/or emotional abuse.
Weinstein has been selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America® 2012 and Martindale-Hubbell’s The Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, and he is a member of the Matrimonial Lawyers Alliance, an organization comprising the top matrimonial lawyers in New Jersey.
He is also a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, as well as a member of the Essex County Bar Association, the New Jersey State Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
Yet, perhaps Weinstein’s proudest professional accomplishment is also a personal one. That’s when his son Evan R. Weinstein told his father and mother, Ronnie, that he wanted to become an attorney.
“We didn’t push him in that direction but were very happy to hear his decision,” Weinstein says of his son and now fellow firm partner. “Hopefully my grandson, who is 6 months old, will follow us, too.” Weinstein hastens to add that he is equally proud of his older son, Michael, a teacher at Essex County College.