Appellate Court Upholds Parties’ Agreement Regarding Alimony Waiver
- May 16, 2014
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In a recent Appellate Division case, Degilio v. Degilio, the Plaintiff, Julianne Degilio appealed from a Family Court order arguing that the judge erred by not allowing her to petition for alimony despite a term contained in a property settlement agreement (PSA) between her and the Defendant, James Degilio, in which both parties agreed to forever waive alimony. The parties in this case were married in 1990. In 2005, they were divorced pursuant to a Final Divorce Judgment which included a PSA that specified the equitable distribution of their marital property. One particular term contained in the PSA stated that both parties “now and forever waive any and all claims for alimony and support, past, present and future, that they have or may have against the other party.” Further, the language of the PSA specified that “but for this waiver of rights to request alimony, the Husband would not have agreed to the equitable distribution arrangement set forth herein.” After the parties were divorced, the Defendant failed to make payments to the Plaintiff as he was directed under the terms of the PSA. The Plaintiff submitted a motion to the court to enforce the terms of the agreement. Once again, the parties engaged in negotiations and reached an agreement that modified their existing PSA by consent order. One of the modifications specified that the Defendant was to pay $300,000, in tax-free equitable distribution . . .” on a monthly basis until the obligation was satisfied. In addition, the consent order directed that “the parties specifically preserve all provisions set forth” in the previous PSA. Over time, the Defendant began to default on his obligation again and the Plaintiff filed multiple motions to compel him to pay. In 2011, the Plaintiff filed an unopposed motion to reopen the parties’ Judgment of Divorce seeking an alimony award because the Defendant continued to default on his obligation. The Family Court denied her motion. The Defendant continued to neglect his obligation and the Plaintiff yet again filed a motion to enforce the terms of the agreement and to reopen the Judgment of Divorce seeking alimony. This time, the Family Court found the Defendant in violation of litigant’s rights but did not reopen the Judgment of Divorce. The Plaintiff appealed from this order. In its opinion the Appellate Division first notes that it typically affords substantial deference to the decisions of Family Court judges. Donnelly v. Donnelly, 405 N.J. Super 117, 127 (App. Div. 2009); Larbig v. Larbig, 384 N.J. Super. 17, 21 (App. Div. 2006). Next, in affirming the Family Court’s decision, the Appellate Court holds that with regard to the Plaintiff’s argument that the Family Court judge erred in denying her motion to reopen her Judgment of Divorce – the courts are courts of equity and as such they strive to uphold settlement agreements whenever possible. Massar v. Massar, 279 N.J. Super. 89 (App. Div. 1995). With regard to this case, the Defendant had substantially complied with the terms of the PSA because he had “made payments for a number of years before he got into default,” and therefore the Appellate Court was unwilling to disturb the terms of their PSA as a matter of public policy. Further, with regard to the Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration, the Appellate Court also found that the Plaintiff’s challenge to the initial opinion and order under Rule 1:7-4 was without merit because the judge’s decision adequately set forth the findings and legal grounds for denying her application. If you anticipate that you may want to file an application with the court to modify an existing alimony award or for a modification of your Final Judgment of divorce it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about alimony, divorce, equitable distribution, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and in no way is it intended to replace the advice of an attorney.