Often, cases are given nicknames, sometimes by judges and law clerks, and sometimes by the attorneys. Sometimes the nicknames come from who the people are – for instance, a case we had several years ago where both parties were models became the “model case” at the courthouse. Sometimes, the names come from something that one or both parties did – a case where a spouse tried building a brick wall inside his house to divide the house before the divorce might have been the “brick wall case.” Right now, we have a case called “the money tree case.”
We call this case the money tree case because, despite the husband’s ever present cries of poverty, money keeps materializing from out of nowhere for lavish spending. Turn over the entire paycheck for support – sure – yet he lives like a king with no apparent income. $40,000 is needed for a particular expense, it is wired in a day without disclosing where it came from. Oldest child needs a car – no used car for her, she gets a new Mercedes. In opposing a motion for counsel fees, his lawyer laments that he hasn’t been paid in a year and as soon as the motion is decided, he gets paid in full from sources unknown.
While at the same time of crying the blues that there is no money, expensive new watches appear which was a “gift.” One if not two residences are being paid for though who knows by whom. There are expensive vacations. Showering the children with presents. The home equity line gets paid off, from no known source.
Of course, there is no transparency or up front disclosure about anything up front. It is only after he gets caught, is there a lame excuse of a “gift” or a “loan” – with no proofs as to anything.
I, myself, have mused to the judge that I would like to know where to get a money tree too, because literally money keeps appearing in this case from no known source.
What is the takeaway? When a litigant is crying poverty, you can’t let it go at that, especially when the lifestyle and known expenditures exceed the known sources of income. Discovery must be doggedly pursued and the total cash flow (notice I didn’t say income because who knows how this person will characterize this endless cash infusion) must be calculated as best as possible. That is the only way that support can be fairly decided. Moreover, this money tree may also indicate an undisclosed asset or assets that is being tapped now, but which should be divided in equitable distribution. When crying poverty, the wiping of the tears with $100 bills is always a red flag.
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland and Morristown, New Jersey offices though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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