Exceptional Circumstances for Reopening a Divorce Settlement
There is a Narrow List of Strong Reasons to Reopen a Divorce Case in Ocean and Monmouth County, NJ
The only way to reopen a divorce case in New Jersey is if one of the parties to a divorce presents strong evidence of proper grounds for reopening a matter.
Grounds for Reopening under NJ Court Rules 4:50-1
As per N.J. Court Rules, R. 4:50-1, relief from a final judgment of divorce, otherwise known as “reopening the case,” is granted by the court for:
a. Mistake; Oversight; Surprise; Excusable Neglect
Example: Undervaluing specific assets. Not including assets that obviously should have been included in the property settlement agreement.
b. Newly discovered evidence unable to be discovered until it was discovered
Example: Zuba Plaintiff discovered Defendant’s wirings of substantial sums of money to offshore accounts in Belize, as well as property in Costa Rica.
c. Fraud; misrepresentation; other misconduct
Example: One party hiding assets.
d. Judgment or order is void
Example: Wrongful foreclosure of marital home prompted final judgment of divorce.
e. Order satisfied, released or discharged or order upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment or order should have prospective application
Example: Unlike the other “changed circumstance” standard, events happening after entry of final judgment must be shown to cause in the future an ‘extreme’ and ‘unexpected’ hardship, such as losing funding for housing subsequent entry of divorce decree.
f. Any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment or order.
Example: One spouse receives significantly less property or money than the other against the interest of justice
Alternatives You May Consider If You Disagree With the Final Judgment
If you are unhappy with the outcome of your divorce, it is necessary to consult with an attorney immediately. Normally nothing can be done if there is a final judgment of divorce. However, an experienced attorney can help persuade the court to reopen the matter under New Jersey Court Rule 4:50(1)(f), which allows for reopening of the case if no other subsection of the statute is satisfied. If justice so requires it, the Court will reopen the matter, and only an experienced attorney will help the Court arrive at the conclusion that requires them to reopen the matter for you.
Unhappy spouse parties to a divorce may move to reopen only if a strong and compelling argument shows proper grounds.
Rehashing the Reopening in NJ
In Rosen v. Rosen, 225 N.J. Super. 33, 36, 541 A.2d 716 (App. Div.), the court specifically addresses subsection (f) and it’s capability of reopening cases, or vacating judgments, “for any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment or order.” When using subsection (f), there is no “perfect” situation to apply it. It may only be used in “exceptional cases” so that there can be “equity and justice” reached for both parties.
Courts have typically granted this kind of motion, or have vacated judgments, for situations involving a showing of fraud or misconduct by one party lying about their assets. Rosen also provides that if over a year has passed since the entry of the final judgment of divorce, there MUST be a “showing of inequity and unfairness” for the court to grant relief under subsection(f).
Reopening cases and vacating final judgments of divorce typically involve the equitable distribution of marital assets. This is the most common reason courts will vacate final judgments of divorce. Anything that is subject to the common “changed circumstances” standard used for alimony, child support, etc., would not be addressed after a final judgment has been vacated. Eaton v. Grau, 368 N.J. Super. 215, 222 (App. Div. 2004).
Zuba v. Zuba, a Real Life Example
In Zuba v. Zuba, 2015 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 818, the Court reopened a final judgment of divorce after the plaintiff (wife) discovered the defendant’s purchase of property in Costa Rica and that he “wired substantial funds to a Belize bank account during” the marriage. Obviously, this would have met the standards under subsection (b). This case puts forth an analysis starting with public policy considerations. Courts will typically act in accordance with their strong belief that the parties should be inclined to settle cases and therefore clear the court’s docket of unnecessary litigation. Though reopening cases can be useful in hasty settlement decisions, rule 4-50(1) is used “sparingly.” Zuba states “the Rule does allow for relief where the facts and equities compel it, particularly in contexts involving the equitable distribution of marital assets.”
The First Step If I Want to Reopen a Case
A motion filed under 4-50-1(a) – (f) must be filed within a “reasonable time” which “necessarily depends on the specific circumstances of each case according to Pressler & Verniero, Current N.J. Court Rules, comment 3 on R. 4:50-2 (2015).
Talk to Our Divorce Lawyers if You Have Questions About Reopening a Case in New Jersey
For optimal success in vacating a final judgment of divorce or reopening a case, it’s necessary to use an experienced divorce and family law attorney. At our Ocean County law firm, our family lawyers at The Bronzino Law Firm have spent years filing motions with the court, with briefs and arguments that support the contention stated in the motion and why the case must be reopened.
Our lawyers delve into the complexities of your divorce case to determine if you have grounds for reopening and build the most compelling case to obtain this result. If you do not have a valid reason under the law, we can also assist you with modifying your divorce orders due to changes in your circumstances, such as loss of income, disability, retirement, or your ex’s moving in with someone else.
We have continuously and confidently served clients in divorce cases in Tinton Falls, Eatontown, Toms River, Monmouth Beach, Point Pleasant, Colts Neck, and Ocean and Monmouth County communities. Contact our Brick or Sea Girt office at (732) 812-3102 to speak with an attorney about reopening your divorce matter in a free consultation.