Hiding Assets From Equitable Distribution Voids Divorce
- May 7, 2015
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In Zuba v. Zuba, the Plaintiff appealed the Family Court’s denial of her Motion to re-open her final judgment of divorce (FJOD) based upon information that she received afterward that indicated that the Defendant had concealed property that was subject to equitable distribution. The Appellate Court vacated the Family Court’s judgment and remanded the case for further discovery proceedings. In this case, the parties were married in 1980 and divorced in 2011. According to the property settlement agreement (PSA) that was incorporated into their divorce judgment: “The parties represent[ed] that each of them ha[d] candidly and fully disclosed to the other all of their income, assets and liabilities as of the execution of th[e] Agreement.” Following the parties’ divorce the Defendant lived with a third party and allegedly disclosed to the party and other members of her family that he owed property in Costa Rica and had a bank account in Belize that he did not include in his Case Information Statement (CIS) that was filed during his divorce. After the Defendant left her house, the third party contacted the Plaintiff and told her about the concealed property that the Defendant had hidden during their marriage. In 2013, the Plaintiff filed a Motion to set aside the parties’ PSA based upon the Defendant’s oral and written assertions that the marital property listed in the PSA and his CIS was the entire marital estate. The Family Court judge denied the Motion holding that the Plaintiff did not establish a prima facie case for fraud. The Plaintiff appealed arguing that at the very least she was entitled to post-judgment discovery and a potential plenary hearing following the discovery period based upon her petition to have her divorce judgment vacated under Rule 4:50-1. According to the Appellate Division, New Jersey has a strong public policy that favors the settlement of litigation. Gere v. Louis, 209 N.J. 486, 500 (2012). “[T]he settlement of litigation ranks high in our public policy.” Brundage v. Estate of Carambio, 195 N.J. 575, 601 (2008). The court also recognized that Motions to set aside final divorce judgments under N.J. Court Rule 4:50-1 are only to be granted sparingly, but the Rule does permit relief when the facts and equities compel, specifically in the context involving equitable distribution marital assets. The court held that “where there is a showing of fraud of misconduct by a spouse in failing to disclose the true worth of his or her assets, relief may be granted under Rule 4:50-1(f) if the motion is made within a reasonable time. Rosen v. Rosen, 225 N.J. Super. 33, 36, (App Div.) certif. denied 111 N.J. 649 (1988). The equitable distribution of assets is of the most emotional and complex aspects of a divorce. If you are involved in a battle over the division of marital 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, contested divorce, spousal support, 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.