New Jersey Supreme Court

A question faced by all parents is, when is a child emancipated in the eyes of the law?  As set forth by the New Jersey Supreme Court,  “emancipation is the act by which a parent relinquishes the right to custody and is relieved of the duty to support a child.”  Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982).  The question and answer therefore have far reaching financial implications.  However, emancipation does not occur at a fixed age.  Rather, the inquiry is fact-specific.

This issue was recently taken on by the Appellate Division in the matter of Brandes v. Rigney, an unpublished opinion finding that the trial court applied improper legal principles in concluding that a child was emancipated.  The parties at issue had three children before they were divorced in 1997.  In 2004, the father, Brandes, sought to have the parties’ sons emancipated.  The parties’ oldest son, Raymond, was born in 1982, while the other son, Eric, was born in 1985.  The trial court denied Brandes’ motion at that time.

Continue Reading When Is A Child Emancipated Under New Jersey Law?

When does electronic surveillance of another person constitute a violation of the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act?  That was the question recently tackled by the Appellate Division in its unpublished decision, Kebea v. David.  The unmarried couple at issue was living together when, one evening, they got into a heated argument and Kebea told David to leave the apartment.  Kebea obtained a Temporary Restraining Order after David returned to the apartment and removed a few items he had purchased.  She ultimately voluntarily dismissed the TRO against David, who then purchased a software program by which he could learn about the contents of her emails to determine if she would lie to him about an ex-boyfriend so that he could end the relationship if he felt necessary.

Continue Reading Electronic Surveillance – An Act of Domestic Violence?

On Tuesday, February 3, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard arguments on the Family Law case of Fawzy v. Fawzy. This case was originally reported by Sandra Fava of our Roseland office this past summer when the Appellate Division determined that a court did not have the ability to permit parents to submit to binding arbitration on the issue of custody. To read Sandra’s original post, click here.  To read the full text of the Appellate Division’s decision in the case, click here

The Supreme Court granted certification. Both sides offered excellent arguments for and against the issues.

In this case, Mr. and Mrs. Fawzy agreed, in the courthouse, and in front of a judge, to submit the issue of custody to an arbitrator.  As Sandra mentioned, the parties were scheduled for a trial date in early 2007.  When they appeared in Court on this date, they agreed to submit all issues in contest to an arbitrator for binding, final, non-appealable arbitration pursuant to this state’s statute governing arbitration (N.J.S.A. 2A:23B1 to 32).  They, along with their respective attorneys appeared before the judge that same day and placed this agreement on the record.  The judge clearly advised them that the arbitrator’s decision would be final and could not be changed.  The parties agreed and went forward. They went to a well respected arbitrator who specializes in family law. Subsequently, Mr. Fawzy, who did not like the way things were going, moved to vacate the arbitrator’s decision, contending that issues such as the custody of children could not be subject to arbitration. The Appellate Division agreed. 


But what of the future? Arbitration can proceed with the same formality as a court trial or in some cases, with a more relaxed structure. However, the process is something that is agreed to by the parties in advance order to insure fairness. In a nutshell, the strong public policy in New Jersey is such that the Courts favor settlements between parties through alternative dispute resolution, of which arbitration is one example. In arbitration, the parties agree to have an arbitrator, rather than a judge, decide issues. There are many instances other than the matrimonial context in which arbitration is utilized and has been for many years in New Jersey. There are laws concerning the use of arbitration. However, it is only in the relatively recent past that arbitration has been commonly used to resolve matrimonial issues. This is obviously due to the sensitive nature of family proceedings. At the current time, there is no statute which specifically governs arbitration in family cases.  Utilizing arbitration for custody seems to be the next logical step in alternative dispute resolution for matrimonial cases.


The central issue is whether a judge, who stand in a parens patriae, or protective role, can in effect delegate his or duty to make a determination as to custody to an arbitrator. There have been previous cases in which the courts have been prohibited from allowing a parenting coordinator from making decisions as to custody and parenting time. Is it right for  litigants to be able to agree to allow a third party other than a judge the authority to make a custody determination on these issues? There are certainly arguments for and against.

Continue Reading The New Jersey Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Arbitration case

Most people have heard or had experience with an attorney who’s behaviors were, one could say, questionable.  What most have not considered is what implications an attorney’s unethical or questionable behaviors could have on them.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has provided some guidance on this very topic in the recent decision of Brundage v. Estate of Carl V. Carambio.  Carol Brundage hired her attorney to represent her in her claim for palimony against the estate of her deceased paramour.  She probably had very little knowledge of what other matters her attorney was handling in his office.  Little did she know that her attorney, just months before beginning his representation of Carol Brundage, represented another woman, Jeanette Levine, in a different county, but also for a claim of palimony.  Carol Brundage also is likely not to have known that in Ms. Levine’s case, the trial court determined that she would not succeed on her claim for palimony because cohabitation was an essentail element for success on a palimony claim, and those parties had not lived together.  Her attorney filed an appeal raising the question of whether cohabitation is an indispensible element of a cause of action for palimony.  (Click here for  Eric Solotoff’s blog entry above on the recent Supreme Court decision in that regard).  Carol Brundage never lived with her now deceased paramour.

Her attorney went on to represent Carol Brundage with his appeal on the Levine matter pending. The Estate filed an application to dismiss Ms. Brundage’s Complaint claiming that cohabitation was an essential element.  In his representation of Ms. Brundage, her attorney convinced the trial court that cohabitation was not essential and thus the Estate’s application was denied.  In his argument, her attorney failed to mention his experience with the trial court in Ms. Levine’s case nor did he mention that the issue was pending on appeal.

The Estate then filed a motion for leave to appeal with the Appellate Division.  In opposing that motion, the attorney did not disclose the contrary conclusion reached by the trial court in Ms. Levine’s matter or the fact that an appeal was pending.  The Appellate Division denied the Estate’s motion and eventually the parties’ settled.

Continue Reading Can an Attorney’s Ethical Violation Be a Client’s Problem As Well?