Default Judgment in New Jersey Reversed
November 3, 2017
After a recent divorce judgment in New Jersey, a husband appealed, arguing for reversal. He claimed that the wrong income had been used to calculate alimony and that his actual earnings were lower. He also claimed his wife committed perjury when she testified he didn’t pay for the family’s expenses and misrepresented how much time he spent with the kids, including the overnights he spent. He also argued for the disqualification of the trial judge because he’d talked about his impending retirement with the wife’s attorney at the end of the default hearing.
The couple had married in 2000 and had three kids, all of whom were minors at the time of the divorce. The wife sued for divorce in 2015. The couple didn’t own much property beyond their home, which was in foreclosure, as well as cars and limited retirement accounts.
The wife and her attorney came to a default hearing, at which the husband didn’t appear. The hearing addressed a number of issues that were in the wife’s notice of proposed final judgment. She was seeking sole legal and residential custody of their kids and half of their assets. She also wanted to have open durational alimony, to have the kids’ medical insurance be paid by the husband, and to be compensated for a number of other costs. She only submitted foreclosure correspondence, pay stubs, and documents subpoenaed from the husband’s employer about his earnings. The mother’s case information statement wasn’t put into evidence, although the judge referenced it.
The plaintiff testified about certain matters but was mostly restricted to answering leading questions from her own attorney. Among these questions was a question about whether she should be the only decision maker for her kids’ health and education. Her answer was yes. There was no other evidence submitted to support her request for sole legal and physical custody, and she testified in a limited way about alimony as well. She testified that the documents from her husband’s employer showed an income of $175,000. She also claimed that her marital lifestyle was comfortable and that she got no benefits from employment.
She testified that the parties had been apart for five years, and the defendant hadn’t supported her, causing her to rely on family and run up debt. She claimed the foreclosure had negatively affected her credit. She reported $6,065 in expenses based on a limited monthly income, and she had a shortfall of $4,412.
The mother asked the judge to compel the defendant to pay child support, provide health insurance, and also pay for alimony, child support, the kids’ college, and joint debts. She claimed there were no assets.
The trial judge ordered that she be given physical and legal custody, notwithstanding the limited evidence. It also ordered alimony based on the 15-year marriage and the defendant’s failure to pay for “a lot of things.”
The appellate court found this insufficient. It explained that N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c) requires consideration of 13 factors related to a child’s best interest when determining custody. It noted that findings related to these factors were especially important if sole custody were awarded. Even in a default proceeding, the wife had to meet the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence, which she hadn’t done. The judgment was reversed for further consideration.
If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about alimony or visitation, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive attorney to seek an appropriate outcome. Contact the lawyers of Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or through our online form. We have attorneys available who can handle all aspects of a divorce.