How Is A Motion to Reconsider Different Than An Appeal In A N.J. Divorce?
In Gromek, the court held that a motion to reconsider pursuant to Rule 4:50-1 does not act as a substitute for an appeal, especially when it is not required in the interest of justice in the case, and there is no need for extraordinary relief. The lawyers at our East Brunswick, New Jersey, law firm embrace that when a party simply disagrees with a trial court decision, a motion for reconsideration pursuant to New Jersey Courts Rule 4:50-1 will not provide a remedy. The correct action is to have your attorney file an appeal in order to have the decision reviewed by New Jersey appellate court.
In Gromek, the parties were married in 1982, and several years later they had two children, both of whom are now emancipated. In 1999, after a three-day trial, the parties were divorced. Over the following years, they engaged in multiple rounds of litigation dealing with alimony, child support, college costs, and court fees.
On December 10, 2014, the trial court issued a final order for the parties. The trial judge determined that the parties’ children were emancipated as of January 1, 2012, and therefore the Father did not have to pay child support as of that date. He also denied the Father’s motion to end his alimony payment, and instead reduced it. The judge further found that the Father was responsible for fifty percent of his children’s undergraduate college costs, and fifty percent of the payments the Mother had previously made for those costs. In addition, the judge awarded the Mother $131,865.45 in attorney’s fees and costs.
After this final order, the parties continued to disagree as to the outcome. The Father argued that the trial judge’s order was “so defective, so replete with errors, as it relates to child support, attorney fees, and college expenses that it should be voided and re-litigated.” In addition, he asked the court for reconsideration of both the emancipation date of one of his children, and the attorney fee award. The motion judge denied these requests for reconsideration. In asking for these reconsiderations, the Father argued that the December 10, 2014 order was void and generally unjust, and cited New Jersey Rule 4:50-1 (d) and (f). Rule 4:50-1 sections (d) and (f) state:
On motion, with briefs, and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or the party’s legal representative from a final judgment or order for the following reasons: . . . (d) the judgment or order is void; . . . or (f) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment or order.
On appeal, the Appellate Division stated that the Father was incorrect in styling his motion as one for reconsideration, and for citing Rule 4:50-1. In New Jersey courts, Rule 4:50-1 is used infrequently and only in exceptional circumstances where true injustice has occurred. The Father argues that the trial judge was incorrect in many of his findings. He argues that the judge did not take into account his changed income, improperly calculated the child support payments, included charges he should not be responsible for in regard to his children’s college expenses, and did not take into account false information provided by the Mother.
However, the Appellate Division found the Father’s argument unpersuasive. They stated that these issues had been properly reviewed by the motion judge, and agreed with his findings. The motion judge stated that after review and in the time since the final order was entered, no new information had been presented to him that would warrant any action by him. No established laws had been ignored or changed that would spark the need to void the final order.
The trial judge, and later the Appellate Division, stated that the correct remedy that had been available to the Father was an appeal. An appeal gives a party who is unhappy with the decision made by the lower court a chance to have the decision reconsidered by the Appellate Division. The motion for reconsideration filed by the Father, however, is not intended for a party who disagrees with the trial court’s decision. A motion for reconsideration pursuant to Rule 4:50-1 seeks to provide a party with a remedy to a decision that later becomes void, or is against the interest of justice. As stated by the court, the Father’s “disagreement with the December 10, 2014 order neither demonstrated it was void pursuant to Rule 4:50-1(d) nor established grounds for extraordinary relief under Rule 4:50-1(f).”
When a party disagrees with a lower court’s decision, the proper next step constitutes filing an appeal in order to have the matter addressed by the appellate court, not seeking a motion to reconsider using a Rule that addresses rare instances of extraordinary error or unjust outcomes.
Please contact our attorneys if you or a loved one is facing a divorce.