The New Jersey Judiciary website provides each days published and unpublished Appellate Division decisions. If you read this blog with any frequency, you know that we often write about the decisions that are released. Today there were three decisions from post-judgment divorce cases. We will likely blog in more detail about some or all of them in the future. What is interesting is that despite the fact that historically, appeals succeed only approximately 20% of the time, there were reversals in all three cases.
In one, alimony was modified and permanent alimony was awarded without the court holding a plenary hearing (i.e. trial) on the contested issues.
In another, the trial judge modified child support, multiplying the old child support amount by the percentage increase in the plaintiff’s income. The Appellate Division held that a simple mathematical calculation does not comply with the mandates of the statute and case law. They further held that while the percentage increase is an important factor in determining the support obligation, it is not exclusive and does not relieve the trial judge of performing the required analysis
prescribed by the statute and case law.
In the third, there were conflicting certifications regarding a husband’s application to reduce support and the wife’s cross application for enforcement. Not only was there no plenary hearing ordered despite conflicting certifications, there was not even oral argument on the motion allowed despite both parties requests for same.
What is the common theme in all of these cases. The Appellate Division found that the trial court decided cases without doing all of the things that were necessary to decide the cases, most importantly, holding a hearing where there are contested facts. Trial judges are already over burdened so one can understand why they may want to cut to the chase. While understandable, it is obviously not acceptable to the Appellate Division or the justice system in general.
Is the problem going to get worse. There is already a shortage of judges. In some cases, you are being told that you cannot get a trial date for years notwithstanding the "best practices" goal to resolve all cases in a year. With the shortage of judges already and pending changes to the pension system which may cause sitting judges to retire and prevent good potential judges from wanting to become judges, one can see the problem getting worse and not better. While alternate dispute resolution like mediation and arbitration is an option to get more speedy justice and we use it all of the time, litigants are still entitled to have a free (relatively) and efficient justice system to resolve their disputes. If dockets are over burdened already, will this become worse?