Top 10 New Jersey Family Law Cases Decided In 2009

On January 31, 2010, the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE) hosted the annual Family Law Symposium. This year, this “must attend” annual event for New Jersey family law attorneys had the largest audience of any program ever held by NJICLE: 650 family lawyers were in attendance. One program identified the “top 10 family law cases decided in 2009.” I believe that sharing the cases identified at the Symposium would be useful for readers of this blog. To the case list, I added a brief summary of each decision and a link to each case.

Fawzy v. Fawzy, 199 N.J. 456 (2009). The parties to a matrimonial action can agree to submit disputes concerning child custody and parenting time to binding arbitration. The standard of review of a child custody arbitration award is the “avoidance of harm to the child” standard.

Donnelly v. Donnelly, 405 N.J. Super. 117 (App. Div. 2009). The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the payor husband’s request for a reduction in alimony and child support without a hearing when the court held a plenary hearing addressing the same issue one year earlier from which the husband did not appeal.

Kennedy v. Plan Administrator for DuPont Savings and Investment Plan, 129 S. Ct. 865 (2009). The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a plan administrator properly distributed benefits under an ERISA pension plan to a deceased participant’s ex-spouse, as she was the only designated beneficiary, even though she had waived her interest in plan benefits in a divorce decree. I previously blogged about the Kennedy case here.

Gonzalez-Posse v. Ricciardulli, 410 N.J. Super. 340 (App. Div. 2009). Even though the trial court found that an involuntary and substantial change in circumstances occurred warranting a modification of the husband’s alimony obligation, the trial court erred by restructuring a 5 year limited duration alimony award of $500.00 per week into a 17 year obligation of $100.00 per week.

Kay v. Kay, 405 N.J. Super. 278 (App. Div.), aff’d ____ N.J. ____ (2009). The N.J. Supreme Court held that the estate of a deceased spouse may assert equitable claims of unjust enrichment and constructive trust against the surviving spouse when the deceased spouse was pursuing a claim of diversion of marital assets against the surviving spouse in a divorce litigation pending at the time of the deceased spouse’s death. I previously blogged about the Kay v. Kay case here.

Crespo v. Crespo, 408 N.J. Super. 25 (App. Div.), appeal granted, 200 N.J. 468 (2009). New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

J.S. v. J.F., 410 N.J. Super. 611 (App. Div. 2009). In a case of first impression in New Jersey, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, affirmed a trial court’s ruling, holding that paying for another’s companionship can be a form of “dating” that triggers statutory protections against domestic violence under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. I previously blogged about the J.S. case here.

Houseman v. Dare, 405 N.J. Super. 538 (App. Div. 2009). Specific performance is available as a remedy when one party breaches an oral agreement about the possession of a pet.

Martin v. Martin, 410 N.J. Super. 1 (Ch. Div. 2009). Child support order are not subject to a triennial review that governed child support orders prior to September 1, 1998 when R. 5:6B was adopted.

Wunsch-Deffler v. Deffler, 406 N.J. Super. 505 (Ch. Div. 2009). The Court must adjust the child support guidelines when the parenting time is split between the parents equally by disregarding the “Controlled Expenses” section of the child support worksheet.