Court Upholds Attorney’s Fees in DV Case Appeal – NJ Appellate Decision

U.G. v. T.S. 

Docket No. A-1803-21

Decided December 21, 2023

Submitted by New Jersey Family Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal from a Family Part order awarding plaintiff attorney’s fees under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35.

In 2010, the parties married and eventually had two children. In June 2021, plaintiff filed a domestic violence complaint and sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) against her husband, which was granted. In July 2021, defendant filed a cross-complaint and was also granted a TRO. The final restraining order (FRO) hearing consisted of a four-day bench trial, which included five witnesses and more than fifty exhibits.

On August 30, 2021, in an oral decision, the judge granted plaintiff a FRO. The judge found that defendant had committed the predicate acts of assault and criminal mischief and concluded that there was a need to protect the plaintiff from future acts of domestic violence. Defendant’s application for a FRO was denied. Following the decision, plaintiff’s counsel moved for attorney’s fees and indicated that they would submit an application. Defendant filed for divorce in August 2021.

In September, plaintiff filed a certification of services with the court seeking $33,105.96 in attorney fees. In November 2021, the judge issued an order, with an accompanying written statement of reasons, granting attorney’s fees and costs for the reduced amount of $31,354.12. The judge opined that all fees incurred by plaintiff to prosecute his application for an FRO were reasonable except the unsupported amount for paraprofessional fees and attorney’s fees which were unrelated to the domestic violence matter. Defendant subsequently appealed.

On appeal, defendant contended that the amount of the judge’s award of attorney’s fees was excessive and unreasonable. The defendant argued for a reduction of $13,715. He challenged both the attorney’s fees amount, and that the paraprofessional charges were not deducted. Defendant did not challenge the issuance of the FRO.

Ultimately, the Appellate Court determined after reviewing the trial court record that the judge’s award of fees was supported by sufficient credible evidence, and remanded the case for the trial judge to issue an amended judgment reducing $51 from the award amount for paraprofessional work which lacked a certification of services per Rule 4:42-9(b). Under RPC 1.5(a)(3) and (8), the judge found plaintiff’s attorneys’ fixed hourly rate, pursuant to the retainer agreement, was reasonable and customary for family practitioners in the County. Further, the attorneys’ years of experience and practice in family law warranted the hourly fee amount charged. The trial judge conducted a detailed examination of each billing entry and reduced the requested amount to exclude unsupported charges. The court found a clerical error in a single missed paraprofessional charge that was not deducted and reduced the award by $51. Thus the trial court’s ruling was affirmed in part and reversed in part.

At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients for appeals in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to filing or defending against motions for attorney’s fees following the issuance of a final restraining order. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of either party in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.


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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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