Appellate Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Award of Limited Duration Alimony
- April 6, 2015
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In the case of Lopez v. Lopez, the Defendant appealed from a 2013 Family Court Order that denied her Motion to modify the terms of a divorce arbitration award that granted her limited duration alimony rather than permanent alimony. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the lower court. This disposition in this case comes down to the scope of review vested in the Appellate Court. The Appellate Court determined that its review of the Family Court’s Order was limited. In fact, the court acknowledged that it owed substantial deference to the Family Court’s findings of fact. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998). Accordingly, a “reviewing court should uphold the factual findings undergirding the trial court’s decision if they are supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence on the record.” MacKinnon v MacKinnon, 191 N.J. 240, 253-54 (2007) (quoting N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. M.M., 189 N.J. 261, 279 (2007). Although the Appellate Court does not owe any special deference to the Family Court’s legal conclusions, it “should not disturb the factual findings and legal conclusions of the trial judges unless . . . convinced that they are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice . . . . ” Parish v. Parish, 412 N.J. Super. 39, 47 (App. Div. 2010). During their divorce, the parties were able to work through all issues including equitable distribution, child custody, and parenting time, but could not agree on amount and duration of alimony. The parties agreed to submit the question of alimony to binding arbitration. In a very detailed written award, the arbitrator reviewed all of the pertinent factors for determining alimony as set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b). In the end, the arbitrator awarded the Defendant $200 per week in limited duration alimony for two (2) years. The Defendant filed a Motion to modify the arbitrator’s award because she believed that because the parties were married for 29 years, permanent alimony should have been awarded. Following oral argument the Family Court judge denied the Defendant’s Motion holding that a trial court may modify an arbitration award if “the rights of the party applying for the modification were prejudiced by the umpire erroneously applying [the] law to the issues and facts presented for alternative resolution.” N.J.S.A. 2A:23A-13(e)(4), citing Borough of East Rutherford v. East Rutherford P.B.A. Local 275, 213 N.J. 190, 194 (2013). The Defendant Appealed. The Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the Family Court and in light of the record found that the Defendant’s arguments were without merit as it determined that the Family Court properly determined to maintain the arbitrator’s award of two (2) years of limited duration alimony. Recently, the state statute that governs alimony has recently been modified, it is very important that you seek out the advice of an attorney to protect your rights an entitlements. If you think that it may be beneficial for you to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your alimony obligation it is imperative that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about alimony, spousal support, equitable distribution, child support, post-judgment modification, 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.