Domestic Partner Challenges Equitable Distribution In PSA
- January 8, 2015
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In R.R. v. R.N., the Plaintiff appealed from a 2013 Court Order which enforced the parties’ property settlement agreement (PSA) and denied the Plaintiff’s Motion regarding equitable distribution for leave to sell real property owned by the parties. The parties in this case began a romantic relationship in 1999 and entered into a domestic partnership in 2005. In 2011, the parties entered into an agreement regarding their property. The agreement provided that the parties’ real property located in Ocean Grove, New Jersey was converted from a joint tenancy to a tenancy in common with two-thirds owned by the Plaintiff and one-third owed by the Defendant. The Defendant possessed the sole right to occupy the property for ten (10) years from the date of the execution of the agreement and was “responsible for all carrying costs” which included utilities, repairs, taxes, and assessments. The agreement provided that the Defendant had the option to purchase the Plaintiff’s share at the end of the ten (10) year term. Further, if the Defendant wished to sell his share before the end of the time period, he would have had to offer the share to the Plaintiff for $100,000 and if the Plaintiff did not purchase the share the property it was to be sold by a realtor and the proceeds split between the parties. Shortly after the agreement was signed, the parties’ relationship deteriorated in early 2011. Following a trial, the court awarded the Plaintiff with a Final Restraining Order against the Defendant for stalking and harassment. In 2012, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint to force the partition of the parties’ real property. In 2013, a Family Court judge denied the Plaintiff’s request to force the sale of the property, holding that the parties had already resolved and agreed upon aspects of the real property in a negotiated agreement. The Plaintiff appealed from this decision arguing that the agreement between the parties was no longer enforceable because of the Defendant’s subsequent acts of domestic violence and the institution of a Final Restraining Order making the joint ownership of the property inequitable. According to the Appellate Court, decisions regarding the granting of equitable remedies are left to the discretion of the trial courts and are not disturbed unless there is a clear showing of abuse or discretion. Feigenbaum v. Guaracini, 402 N.J. Super. 7, 17 (App. Div. 2008). The trial court in this case, found that the parties had carefully crafted and negotiated their agreement and the provisions of the agreement were clear and unambiguous and the Plaintiff had “not shown a basis for abrogating the Agreement and requiring sale of property earlier than required by the Agreement.” The settlement of litigation is important to public policy in the state of New Jersey and domestic settlement agreements are enforceable in equity and contract as long as they are not unconscionable, fraudulent or overreaching. Harrington v. Harrington, 281 N.J. Super. 39, 46 (App. Div. 1995). Therefore the decision of the Family Court was affirmed. The equitable distribution of assets often leaves both parties with great trepidation about their financial futures making it one of the most sensitive aspects of a relationship dissolution. If you are involved in a battle over the division of property, assets, or debts it is extremely important that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about equitable distribution, post-judgment modification, domestic partnership dissolution, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com.This blog is for informational purposes and in no way intended to replace the advice of an attorney.