Articles Posted in Discovery

In a previous blog, I promised that the Appellant Division was going to revisit the proof required to be presented before one could obtain discovery of a dependent former spouse’s social and financial circumstances; as of today June 17th, 2021, the case has been decided although not yet approved for publication.

Temple v. Temple ( A-0293-20) is an important decision for anyone seeking to terminate their alimony obligations based on their former spouse’s cohabitation. In Landau v. Landau, the appellant court indicated that before one was entitled to discovery or a hearing, regarding issues of cohabitation the proponent of this change in circumstance needed to prove evidence of said change. The problem with Landau was that it did not address what proofs were needed in order to meet the requirement and move forward with the discovery phase.

The Trial Judge on Temple found that to be successful on an application one needed to prove all six factors set forth in the statute as things to evaluate when determining if a prima facia case was established. The Appellant Court accepted our argument that one needed not to prove all six statutory factors to establish a prima facia case but must only establish sufficient evidence so that the trier of fact may conclude that the parties have “ undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or civil unions.”

On June 8th, I argued a case of significant importance in the Appellant Division. Although I have not received a decision as of yet, I am still of the belief I was heard. The case involved an application from the supporting spouse to terminate alimony based on the cohabitation of his former spouse. Although I did not represent my client at the trial level I believe that my predecessor made the necessary arguments allowing me to present the important issues to the higher court. The Trial Judge had misread the recently decided, Landau decision, believing that the fact in Landau created a litmus test as to what constituted a Prima Facia case allowing discovery and a plenary hearing as to the issue of cohabitation. In fact, Landau provides that before one is entitled to discovery and a plenary hearing one must establish a prima facia case.

A prima facia case is one where the court is to consider the issues presented by the proponent of a proposition in the light most favorable to said, petitioner. In considering the assertions of the petitioner the defenses offered by the opposition are not to be given weight. Since the opposition is not required to give evidence, their election to give selected evidence is should not be considered as the issue is not ultimately a success on the merits but rather the sufficiency of the assertion to justify a full examination of the issue.  

The idea of a prima facia case as an entry ticket is based on the privacy right of the dependent spouse who ought not to be forced to divulge intimate details absent the presentation of more than innuendo. In my case, there was significant proof including a private investigator’s report, statements by the paramour of the closeness of the relationship, and some economic proof. The initial problem was that the Trial Court had misread the law, this error of the law was compounded by the trial courts weighing the defenses of the dependent’s former spouse and finding her explanations more credible. 

In many divorce cases, obligations for the payment of alimony and/or child support are established. Whether the result of an agreement between the parties or an order of the Court, such support obligations are generally determined based upon the relative financial circumstances of the parties at the time the agreement was made or the order was entered. However, as has clearly been reinforced by the pandemic, the financial circumstances of either party can substantially or dramatically change. Incomes can increase or decrease. People can lose their jobs or obtain new ones. Someone can suffer from a disabling illness or injury. Needs and expenses may increase or decrease. A recipient of support may enter into a new relationship. Generically referred to as “changed circumstances” they can be many and varied. The issue is whether they are significant enough that it would render continued enforcement of an existing support obligation to no longer be fair and equitable, and in some instances, perhaps even unconscionable. As a divorce lawyer, a significant percentage of our practice are litigants looking to either modify existing support obligations or defending against requests for same. When someone meets with me and believes they have a basis upon which to modify support, whether they are seeking an increase in the amount they are receiving or a decrease in the amount that they are paying, the first hurdle to determine is whether the circumstances which they allege have changed are sufficient, either factually or legally, to support a possible modification. While in some instances the changes proffered may be convincing and irrefutable, the real test is whether the changes claimed, and the proofs substantiating same, would at least rise to the level of making out a threshold showing of changed circumstances. Often when parties come in to discuss these issues they focus less on what their circumstances are and focus more on what they believe the other party’s financial circumstances may be, and feel a right and entitlement to obtain information from them regarding same. When that occurs, I need to explain to the party that before you may have the ability to obtain financial information from the other side they must first establish to a Court’s satisfaction that they have met their own threshold, what the law refers to as a “prima facie” showing of changed circumstances. What does “prima facie” mean?

Black’s Law Dictionary defines a prima facie case as either (1) the establishment of a legally required rebuttable presumption or (2) a party’s production of enough evidence to allow the fact-trier to infer the fact at issue and rule in the party’s favor. The New Jersey Supreme Court has defined prima facie evidence as that which, “if unrebutted, would sustain a judgment in the proponent’s favor” Baures v. Lewis, 167 NJ 91, 96 (2001). Similarly, the United States Supreme Court has previously defined prima facie evidence as “such as, in judgment of law, is sufficient to establish the fact; and, if not rebutted, remains sufficient for the purpose.” Bailey v. Alabama, 219 US 219, 234 (1911) (quoting Kelly v. Jackson, 6 Peters, 632)

In establishing a prima facie case, the “evidentiary burden is modest” and the Court should evaluate the prima facie case “solely on the basis of the evidence presented by the plaintiff, regardless of the defendant’s efforts to dispute that evidence”. Zive v. Stanley Roberts, Inc., 182 NJ 436, 441 (2005) “As in a summary judgment motion, courts should view the facts in the light most favorable to a defendant to determine whether a defendant has established a prima facie claim”. State v. Preciose, 129 NJ 451, 462 (1992) A movant seeking to establish a prima facie case should further be given the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the evidence presented. See Kant v. Seton Hall Univ., 210 NJ Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2469, *7(App. Div. 2010); Teilhaber v. Greene, 320 NJ Super. 453, 464 (App. Div. 1999)

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what the holidays will be like this year. Of course, the holidays are supposed to be a time filled with love and joy; a time spent with family and friends. This is true no matter what holiday you celebrate at this time of year. After all, that is what we see in all the holiday movies and hear in all the holiday songs. But, as most grownups know, even in normal times, as special as this time of year is, it is also a time that is inevitably more hectic and more stressful. But this year is different. Many are facing the loss of a loved one, in some cases, more than one loved one. So many people are separated from family members – in hospitals, nursing homes, or just keeping their distance to stay safe. Those who live alone are feeling the solitude even more while those who live with others are feeling the added pressure of the extra time couped up inside because while time together is wonderful, most of us are not accustomed to quite this much “time together.” And then there is the absence of so many of the holiday activities and traditions which we have come to treasure. As an Italian American from Brooklyn, for me, this means foregoing Christmas Eve in Brooklyn with extended family. As the mom of a two-year-old, it means no visit to see Santa this year. But I consider myself lucky. My family is healthy and I have not had to suffer the loss that so many have.pexels-nicole-michalou-5765727-200x300

Yet even as the pandemic drags on, we are striving to make the holidays a time of happiness. These are unusual circumstances, we tell ourselves. It is only one year and next year we will be able to celebrate again like we once did. These feelings of loss, loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness are not usual for this time of year and this too shall pass. But of course, this is not true for everyone. For some, the holidays are not a happy time, even when there is no pandemic. This is true for so many including those who are recently divorced or in the middle of a divorce.

Certainly, it is hard to be happy when the life you knew changes. Suddenly you find yourself dealing with the magnification of loneliness and navigating the stress and the hectic of the holidays alone. Maybe you are struggling with old traditions. Perhaps it is the first year that you will spend the holidays without your children. And added to the normal stress that always comes with the holidays is the need to manage parenting time schedules and feeling like you need to keep everything the same for the kids, while so much has changed.

Ascertaining whether a supported spouse is cohabiting with a romantic partner in such a way that it 3e728f0b3d0e026b62a8cb4b38918e95-300x200constitutes a changed circumstance warranting a modification of alimony is often an issue that family courts have address.  In 2014, the New Jersey Legislature modified the alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n), to codify factors to determine whether a former spouse is cohabiting with a romantic partner such that an alimony award may be modified.  Those factors are:

(1) Intertwined finances such as joint bank accounts and other joint holdings or liabilities;

(2) Sharing or joint responsibility for living expenses;

Divorce is a life-altering event. For many it is an emotionally charged situation. The person you had loved and intended to share a life with is now someone who you consider your “enemy” – 6821f1126a34f02c8e256da1560d1e52-300x200viewing them from indifference to hatred. Any sense of trust has gone out the window. For some, notwithstanding the breakdown of the marriage, they sincerely want to resolve their marital issues amicably and in a fair and reasonable manner. However, for a significant number the raw emotions at the outset of the marital breakup seem to engender a need to “screw” the other person as much as possible. Depending upon your position in the relationship, you either want to “milk” the other spouse for all you can get, or want to pay the other as little as possible. One spouse may feel the need to “protect” one’s assets or income in some fashion from the claims of the other. One spouse may suspect that the other is hiding assets or diminishing income. In many cases, these feelings are borne out of the mistrust which exists and are not occurring in reality. However, in others these feelings or suspicions have some basis in fact. Claims of concealed or diminished income aside, this blog post will focus instead on concerns over the possibility of concealed or hidden assets in divorce, and provides a brief overview of what to look for and how to address them when such issues arise.

In divorce matters, New Jersey law provides for the equitable distribution of assets and property legally or beneficially acquired during the course of the parties’ marriage. In order to do so, marital assets first need to be identified, then they need to be valued, and after which they are to be distributed “equitably”. Unless the property was acquired by gift or inheritance from a third-party, it generally does not matter how or in whose name the assets or property was acquired if it was acquired during the marriage. Hence, if a divorce client suggests that because an asset or property is in his or her name alone the other spouse has no right to it or even to know about it, that person needs to be cleansed of that view right off the bat. Furthermore, if a divorce client tells his or her attorney about “secret assets”, the attorney/client privilege may not shield them from disclosure since the attorney code of ethics prohibits an attorney from facilitating a client engaging in fraudulent conduct or offering knowingly false testimony or statements under oath.

What if a divorce client suspects that his or her spouse has been secreting or hiding assets? Besides inquiring as to the basis for these suspicions, an attorney should obtain from the client their perception of the commencement date of any serious marital difficulties or their sense of when certain suspicious financial activity began, such as changes in the manner finances were being handled, records were maintained, or information shared. In most divorce cases, you usually ask for five years worth of financial records in discovery. However, if the suspicious financial activity has been ongoing for longer than five years, one should extend the time for which discovery is sought.

There is a saying among realtors that the first offer is usually the best offer. Why is that?  Because the first offer is made when the property is freshly on the market. When real estate sits buyers6a3146dbdf81597192112ac03d77c7e4-300x200 become suspicious. There is also the cost of holding the property to factor in.  The first offer likely saves the seller from incurring more tax, mortgage, utility and upkeep costs. There is a lot to be said about the psychological benefits of a fast deal as well. No worry, no uncertainty, no sleepless nights. Continue reading ›

I recently attended a seminar where the topic concerned the obtaining, analysis and use of medical records. While the main focus was how medical records were dealt with in civil litigation matters such as medical malpractice and personal injury cases, it was clear that a number of the issues discussed could apply to Family Court matters as well. A spouse may allege that they are unable to work, or may be limited in what type of work they can do, as a result of some sort of medical or psychological condition or disability, thereby impacting a claim for spousal and/or child support. A spouse may allege that they suffered physical and/or emotional injury as a result of an act or course of abuse by the other spouse leading to a claim for damages in an action for domestic tort. Continue reading ›

It is well cited the significant extent that domestic violence is in this State and in this country.  It has alsoOfficer Holding Cell Phone been in the news over the course of the last year or more the danger that police officers and the need for them to protect themselves on the job.  How do we balance the need for officer protection, and the public interest in domestic violence victims, with citizens’ Constitutional rights? Continue reading ›

When you mention Private Investigators in the context of a matrimonial dispute, most people think of what is portrayed in movies or in television of a gumshoe Detective tailing a car or hiding in the bushes, trying to get the goods on a suspected cheating spouse. While hiring a private investigator to determine whether a spouse may be engaged in an adulterous relationship remains a common reason to do so, there are a multitude of other reasons why the use of a private investigator can be an important tool for the client as well as the attorney in the preparation of a matrimonial case. This blog post will discuPrivate Investigatorss some of these circumstances, as well as some practical and legal considerations affecting the use of private investigators. Continue reading ›