Setting Aside a Property Settlement Agreement

There are many cases that say that the settlement of litigation ranks high in the public policy of this state,  As such, there are many cases that say that an agreement can be enforced, even if it is not reduced to a writing, if the major terms have been agreed to.  As my client learned in Brawer v. Brawer, the unexpressed intention not to be bound is irrelevant.  There is no place in the law for second thoughts where the parties have expressed their agreement.  In fact, in a case called Bistricer, the judge said:

… the proposition that a case is not settled until the last “i” is dotted and the last “t” is crossed on a written settlement agreement carries the germ of much mischief. A party could, in bad faith, waste the time of the court and the other litigant in protracted settlement negotiations, and then, after a “framework” has been established, wiggle out of that framework by creating a flood of new issues and questions.

Just as you can’t wiggle out of a settlement, similarly, you cannot appeal a settlement.  This issue reared its head in the case of Courboin v. Courboin, an unreported (non-precedential) opinion decided on February 21, 2013.  In this case, after two days of trial, the parties settled and put their settlement on the record. The husband testified that he agreed to be bound.  As part of that settlement, the home was to be sold.


Continue Reading If You Enter Into An Agreement or Consent Order, You Can't Appeal It

We have recently blogged on the requirement that there be oral argument on substantive motions if it is requested.  Another requirement is that court’s should hold plenary hearings (i.e. trials) when there are conflicting certifications regarding a material fact in dispute.  That requirement was made clear again in the unreported (non-precedential) decision in Marquez v. Cabrera released on July 15, 2010. 

In this case, the Property Settlement Agreement provided that the wife got to keep two pieces of real estate owned by the parties, seemingly their largest assets, while the husband remained responsible for some debt associated with the properties.  This does not seem to pass the smell test on its face, a fact not lost on the Appellate Division in its decision.  The husband moved to set aside the agreement, alleging fraud – essentially that a signature page from a different agreement was appended to the one filed with the court on the day of the divorce hearing.  Of course, the wife denied this.  There was some credence on its face to the husband’s arguments given that there were two page sevens of the agreement. 

In any event, the trial court  denied the motion finding the wife more credible.  The problem there is that court are not supposed to make credibility determinations on mere certifications alone.  Rather, as noted above, if there are competing certifications, a plenary hearing must be held.  As such, the matter was reversed for a plenary hearing.  In addition, the Appellate Division held, "because the motion judge made credibility determinations and "may have a commitment to [her] findings," the plenary hearing must be conducted before a different judge." 


Continue Reading Failure to Hold a Plenary Hearing When There Were Conflicting Certifications Regarding Alleged Fraud Was Reversible Error

The New Jersey Appellate Division has held that an application seeking to set aside a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) under Rule 4:50-1 of the New Jersey Rules of Court should be granted "sparingly."  It was this very type of application that formed the basis of the Appellate Division’s recent opinion in Heald v. Heald, found here.

The parties were married for 28 years and had 4 children before the Final Judgment of Divorce was entered in November 2006.  They had separated in 2005 and, for a significant period of time, negotiated the terms ultimately encompassed in a PSA, executed in April 2006.  Notably, the parties agreed to use the Husband’s 2004 income to determine his support obligations.  The PSA also contained language that the parties were knowingly waiving their right to discovery regarding each other’s income and assets.


Continue Reading Appellate Division Affirms Trial Court’s Denial of Wife’s Motion To Set Aside Property Settlement Agreement Based on Fraud