Motion to Vacate an Arbitration Award Based on an Approval of Social Security Disability

Souza v. Souza

Docket No. A-0293-19

Decided February 25, 2021

Submitted by New Jersey Family Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division reviewed a denial of plaintiff’s motion to vacate an arbitration award based on her approval of Social Security Disability after the arbitration award.

In Souza, Plaintiff and defendant Sergio Souza were married for nine years and have two children; an adult daughter who now resides with a grandparent, and a teenage son who lives with plaintiff. Plaintiff filed a complaint for divorce in 2014. On August 21, 2017, one month before the divorce trial, a Family Part judge signed an order memorializing the parties’ agreement to enter binding arbitration with a retired judge.

The arbitrator issued a written opinion adjudicating the equitable distribution, alimony, child support, college contribution, and counsel fee issues presented to him by the parties. The arbitrator denied plaintiff’s claim for alimony.  Plaintiff claimed she was in an accident but failed to provide any proof of her inability to work, nor did she provide testimony concerning her needs. She did not want to disclose where she was currently working.  Therefore, she was imputed at $40,000 income and child support was based off that figure.

Plaintiff was then deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration (SSA). She made a motion to vacate the arbitration award, however she did not want to provide the entire SSA ruling. The trial court denied her motion. Plaintiff appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed, ruling her failure to provide this information led to an appropriate denial of her motion.  In addition, the Court noted that she could still make a motion based on changed circumstances, without a guarantee as to the result.

Arbitration is an alternative path to resolution for a divorce. It is out of court, however it is structured similarly to court with rules that mirror court in some aspects.  Sometimes, arbitration can be a faster process.  If there is an agreement for binding arbitration, once the arbitrator decides the issues, it will most likely be upheld like a court order.  Trying to vacate an arbitration award can be as difficult as changing a court order.  If you have questions about the differences of arbitration and court for your divorce, contact our experienced matrimonial attorneys today.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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