Picture this – two spouses in a matrimonial dispute.  The husband (or former husband) files a motion to reduce his alimony.  In support of that motion, the husband files a certification, under oath, telling his side of the story about how he lost his job, has a disability, or whatever reason it is that has caused his down income.  On the flip side, the wife files her response to the husband’s motion, with a certification of her own, telling her side of the story about the husband is still living lavishly, is lying to the court, and is simply doing what he has to do to reduce his payment obligation to her.  Not surprisingly, the two versions of events could not be more diametrically opposed.

In that scene, what is the trial judge supposed to do?  Is he just supposed to take the husband’s word for it that he can no longer earn what he did before and that his entire financial picture merits a reduction of his support?  Is he supposed to believe the wife’s response, about how her former husband is simply just a bad guy who refuses to pay that to which he agreed or was ordered.

Generally – but, of course – not always, a trial judge is not supposed to resolve the question of credibility, or who is telling the truth, simply by reading the papers submitted by each party.  When there is a dispute of fact, the judge is supposed to then order a hearing, during which time he will take testimony from the parties and then determine who is credible/truthful.  Ordering a hearing, though, does not happen in every case, as almost every case will inevitably involve some dispute of fact, to some degree.  If the judge ordered a hearing in each instance, the family part would be even more flooded than they already are.Continue Reading RESOLVING ISSUES OF CREDIBILITY WITHOUT A TRIAL – HOW FAR IS TOO FAR?

It seems that moving parties are more often trying to overcome the defects of their motions by arguing that a plenary hearing should be held due to unresolved questions of fact or issues of credibility.  In other words, the litigant asks the court to hold a trial at some point in the future because the party asserts that the court cannot properly resolve the party’s motion simply by reviewing the disputing positions of the respective parties set forth on paper.

While the case law indicates that a court cannot resolve issues of credibility or disputed facts without a trial, involving testimony, properly submitted evidence and the like, litigants often try to use such case law as a crutch to get past the fact that their motion should be denied on its face.  What often happens, as a result, is that a court will err on the side of caution in the realm of judicial discretion and grant the hearing.  The collateral damage is the incurrence of additional counsel fees, and substantial time before the motion is actually decided, thereby leaving the parties in limbo.  While hearings are often necessary to resolve legitimate issues, the question is whether the issue is always legitimate.

For the financially superior moving party, this may be exactly what he or she wants, as convincing a court to grant a future hearing can be an effective tactic to pressure the financially inferior party to settle.  While that party can seek counsel fees from the court to help take them through the litigation against the other party on an even playing field, there is no certainty that such fees will be granted.Continue Reading JUST THE FACTS JACK – OR A LEGITIMATE QUESTION OF CREDIBILITY?