Appellate Court Reversed Post-Judgment Modification to Divorce
- March 25, 2014
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In Antonoff v. Antonoff, the Appellate Court ruled on a post-judgment modification case where the Plaintiff appealed from an amended Final Divorce Judgment involving alimony, child support, and equitable distribution, and a court order sanctioning him and denying his motion for reconsideration. The parties in this case were married in 1987 and there were three children born of the marriage. For the majority of their marriage, the Plaintiff, Roy Antonoff, owned and operated a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning installation company. The Defendant, Sandra Antonoff, was a stay at home mother who returned to work as a medical biller in 2008 because the Plaintiff’s business lost its book of business. During the years of 2009 and 2010, the Plaintiff secured work at his brother’s air-conditioning company earning substantially less than he had when he was operating his own business. In 2012, the Family Court judge entered a Final Judgment of Divorce, imputed the Plaintiff’s income under Rule 5:6A of the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines to $67,910, and awarded the Defendant: $788 a month in alimony, $4,200 from the sale of the parties’ car, and $6,587.45 in attorney’s fees. Subsequently, the judge denied the Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration of the divorce judgment and one year later amended the judgment to reduce his child support obligation from $192 to $168 to be paid bi-weekly. The Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the Family Court judge failed to consider his pro-se post-trial summation, erred in denying his motion for reconsideration, abused her discretion by awarding the Defendant counsel fees as a sanction against him, wrongly imputed his income, miscalculated his alimony amount, and inequitably distributed the parties’ cars. The New Jersey Appellate Court reversed and remanded the lower court’s decision. First, the Appellate Court found that the Family Court judge erred by failing to consider the Plaintiff’s written summation and ordered that the lower court do so on remand. Next, the court found that the Family Court correctly determined that the Plaintiff was voluntarily unemployed and subsequently had to impute the Plaintiff’s income. In its holding, the Appellate Court stated that “family courts are presumed to possess special expertise in matters such as the calculation of support obligations” and therefore their determinations are entitled to a high degree of deference. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998); Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). Further, the court found that the Family Court judge incorrectly imputed the Plaintiff’s income because she did not “realistically appraise plaintiff’s ability to earn income by considering plaintiff’s job opportunities and his experience. . . .” In addition, the Appellate Division held that certain changes needed to be made to the way the lower court equitably distributed the parties vehicles. According to the court, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1, the trial court must consider factors such as the duration of the marriage, the income or property the parties brought to the marriage, and their economic circumstances at the time of the division and that the Family Court judge made findings that were unsupported by adequate evidence in the record. Finally, the Appellate court vacated the order sanctioning the Plaintiff and set aside the award of counsel fees without prejudice. If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your divorce judgment, alimony award, or child support obligation it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about post-judgment modifications, divorce, alimony, child support, equitable distribution or other family law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.