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Equitable Distribution By Property Settlement Agreement Not Modified By Court

Equitable Distribution By Property Settlement Agreement Not Modified By Court

Kurbel v. Kurbel, is a New Jersey Appellate Division case coming out of Sussex County, in which the Defendant appealed from 2013 Family Court Order that modified the parties’ property settlement agreement (PSA) in a post-judgment action following their divorce regarding provisions that concerned his alimony and equitable distribution obligations. The Plaintiff filed for divorce from the Defendant in 2001 after 31 years of marriage and subsequently began to cohabitate with her boyfriend. The parties’ divorce was finalized in a final divorce judgment in 2002 which incorporated a PSA. The PSA included a provision requiring the Defendant to pay to the Plaintiff “limited duration alimony” from 2002 until 2023 for the ten (10) months a year that the Defendant worked as a teacher. The payments began at $150 per month and were to increase by increments of $25 over twenty-one (21) years until the payments were $650 per month by 2023. In 2010, the Defendant filed a Motion seeking to terminate his alimony obligation based upon changed circumstances because he claimed he was forced to retire from his job due to a physical disability. The Defendant also argued that the Plaintiff’s salary had more than doubled since the divorce and that she was cohabitating with her boyfriend which eliminated her need for alimony. In 2013, the court granted the Defendant’s Motion to terminate his alimony payments. However, the Family Court also determined that the termination of the alimony created a windfall to the Defendant and noted that if the PSA had been equitably negotiated, the Plaintiff would have received more than three times the amount she was scheduled to receive under the full payout of the payment schedules according to the PSA. Therefore, the court ordered that the Defendant’s equitable distribution payments be doubled until 2023 and that he was to pay $2500 towards the Plaintiff’s counsel fees. The Defendant appealed from this decision citing that it was unfair to modify the PSA and award counsel fees in the Plaintiff’s favor. The Appellate Court agreed with the Defendant. According to the Appellate Court, applications for relief from equitable distribution provisions found in PSAs are subject to review under Rule 4:50-1. Miller v. Miller, 160 N.J. 408, 418 (1999). Further, in matrimonial actions, PSAs, which are “essentially consensual and voluntary in character[,]” are “entitled to considerable weight with respect to their validity and enforceability,” if they are fair and just. Petersen v. Petersen, 85 N.J. 638, 642 (1981); See also Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139, 153 (1980). Court should rarely modify or set aside a PSA “absent clean and convincing evidence of fraud or other compelling circumstances.” N.H. v. H.H., 418 N.J. Super. 262, 280 (App. Div. 2011); Glass v. Glass, 366 N.J. Super. 357, 379 (App. Div.) certif. denied, 180 N.J. 354 (2004). In this case, both parties were represented by attorneys during the negotiation and execution of the PSA and both had ample time to review and understand its provisions. Therefore, the Family Court mistakenly exercised its discretion in modifying the equitable distribution payment schedule in the PSA. Property Settlement Agreements (PSA) are very common today. If you have questions regarding how an agreement should be drafted to best protect your interests with regard to alimony, equitable distribution, or any other disputed issue it is extremely important that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about equitable distribution, alimony, post-judgment modification, parenting time 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

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