Agreements in Family Court Subject to Judicial Intervention
Docket No. A-5389-18T3
Decided May 22, 2020
Submitted by New Jersey Family Law Firm, Hark and Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division reviewed $3,800 taken from a worker’s compensation settlement and placed to child support arrears, despite an agreement between the parties that defendant did not have to pay towards arrears.
In Stanton, the parties were married in 1995, had three children and were divorced in 2014. On April 13, 2018, the parties entered into an agreement, which was recorded by court order, that in part provided that “[d]efendant’s arrears payback shall be set at $0, to be revisited upon [the youngest child’s] emancipation.” Nonetheless, the Hunterdon County Probation Child Support Enforcement Unit intercepted a Worker’s Compensation settlement owed to defendant and sent $3800 to plaintiff, thereby reducing the more than $25,000 in arrears due prior to the April 2018 order.
Defendant sought reimbursement from plaintiff. He offered to stop paying $135 child support weekly until the $3800 was paid off. Plaintiff told the court she had spent the unexpected funds on necessities, had no funds to repay defendant and needed the weekly child support. The court did not grant defendant relief.
Defendant appealed. The Appellate Division ruled that family contracts are to be considered in the context of the circumstances at the time of drafting to apply a rational meaning in keeping the expressed general purpose. Further, the law grants particular leniency to agreement made in the domestic arena allowing judges greater discretion when interpreting such agreements. The Appellate Division found that despite the parties agreement, taking the money from the settlement was appropriate because of defendant’s significant arrears.
Most family matters are resolved with agreements including custody agreements, visitation schedules, alimony and child support amounts, property settlement agreements (PSAs), Matrimonial Settlement Agreements (MSAs) and civil restraints . As clear from the decision above, Family Law judges have discretion to change agreements because of the nature of family court. Therefore, it is vital to ensure your matter is resolved with the best solution, and protected by an agreement that has language to ensure that the agreement will remain intact, even if a judge were to review it.
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