The Family Court Has Discretion In Family Law Matters
- January 29, 2014
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In a recent decision, the Appellate Court deferred to a Family Court ruling because, as it stated, the Family Court has special expertise in family matters. In the case, Formicola v. Kearn, the Plaintiff, Richard Formicola, and Defendant, Arleen Kearns, were married in 1987 and obtained a divorce in 2004. They have two children which were born during their marriage. There was a property settlement agreement that was incorporated into the couples’ Final Judgment of Divorce. According to the property settlement agreement (PSA), the Plaintiff is required to pay the Defendant alimony in the sum of $9,100 per year for ten years starting on January 14, 2004 and ending on January 13, 2014. Further, the PSA specified that the Plaintiff was to pay child support in the amount of $18,900 per year along with one third of his annual bonus up to $5,000. In addition, the parties agreed that the child support obligation would be re-evaluated when each child matriculated to college. In 2011, the Defendant filed a motion claiming that the Plaintiff violated the PSA by not contributing his share of college tuition payments, not contributing to home repairs, and for additional information regarding his bonuses. At that time, the parties’ daughter was a junior in college and their son was a high school senior. Initially, the parties attempted to settle the dispute in mediation, which failed. Therefore, a court ruled that the parties were to share in their children’s college expenses in proportion to their incomes, that the Plaintiff was to pay the Defendant for deficient sums of his annual bonuses that she was entitled to, and the Defendant was to contribute to the marital home repairs, amongst other orders. The Plaintiff appealed the court’s decision arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the relief sought by the Defendant without analyzing the facts or case law, erred in allocating college expenses, and was wrong in awarding the Defendant counsel fees. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision holding that based on the ruling in Cesare v. Cesare wherein the court held “the general rule is that findings by the trial court are binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial, credible evidence.” In addition, the Court noted that because the Family Court has special jurisdiction and expertise regarding family matters, the Appellate Division should offer deference to the fact finding that was conducted by the Family Court. In this case, the Appellate Court found that, although in some matters a plenary hearing must be held in order for the trial court to make a determination, the Family Court carefully considered the large number of documents submitted by the parties and its holding was supported by sufficient, credible evidence. The enforcement of the terms of property settlement agreements during or after a divorce can require an intricate understanding of the law, therefore if you require assistance in enforcing custody, alimony, parenting time, or any other terms contained in a settlement agreement or would like to engage mediation to reach such an agreement it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before proceeding. For more information about divorce, mediation, custody, visitation, parenting time, alimony/spousal support, child 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.