Judge May Correct $40,000 Equitable Distribution Error in Judgment of Divorce
- May 25, 2014
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In the 2014 case, Lee v. Lee, the Appellate court allowed the lower Family Court judge to fix a miscalculation regarding the equitable distribution of the parties’ home contained in their divorce judgment. As the parties calculated the equitable distributions that were required under their Final Judgment of Divorce, the Plaintiff’s attorney found a mathematical error in the lower court judge’s final opinion. In particular, the total credits due to the Plaintiff as the result of the Defendant’s personal use of a home equity line of credit on the home was miscalculated by the judge in the amount of $40,195.00. Apparently, the judge failed to carry over this line item amount from one page of the judgment to another and therefore it was not considered in the final accounting. Following the discovery of this miscalculation, the Plaintiff’s attorneys filed a Motion before the court under Rule 1:13-1 to correct the miscalculation so that the distribution would happen as the judge originally intended. During oral argument on the Motion, the Defendant argued that no one knew what “was in the judge’s mind” when he made the calculations and refused to concede that any mistake was made by the Family Court judge. Further, the Defendant argued that the mistake was not a “clerical” error which would be correctable under Rule 1:13-1 but that Rule 4:50 should have been applied instead. The Family Court judge issued an order correcting the miscalculation and ordering the receiver to distribute according to the corrected accounting. The Defendant appeals from this decision. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to correct the mistake and that it was not a “clerical” error. In addition, according to the Defendant the Plaintiff is out of time to seek relief under Rule 4:50. The Appellate Court disagreed. According to the Appellate Court, even careful judges make mistakes from time to time in drafting orders or opinions. Rule 1:13-1 was created to permit judges to correct minor errors either by their own initiation or on Motion from a party. The court held that the mathematical error at issue in this case is exactly the sort of mistake that the rule was designed to fix. Kiernan v. Keirnan, 355 N.J. Super. 89, 92 (App. Div. 2002). In affirming the lower court’s action, the Appellate Division noted that the Family Court judge was within his authority to correct the error. The equitable distribution of assets and debts are 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, contested divorce, uncontested divorce, spousal support, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way intended to replace the advice of an attorney.