When Is A Plenary Hearing Necessary in A New Jersey Family Court?
Plenary hearings (also known as trials) are held when there are contested issues of fact and credibility determinations need to be made in order to reach a fair and accurate decision. Here, after a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey listens to arguments by both lawyers, they shall then entertain testimony by each attorney for each respective party in order to determine a range of facts ranging from facts to credibility of the witness. Next please find this New Jersey lawyer ‘s analysis of why a New Jersey Family Court denied the Wife’s motion to enforce the contested provisions, she appealed, stating that it was incorrect to deny her relief without holding a plenary hearing.
In divorce proceedings, there are often two sides to the same story. When negotiating the details of a separation of assets, issues often arise as to the correct interpretation of different promises that were made before and during the negotiations. When issues like these arise, a judge is required to hold a plenary hearing in order to make credibility determinations and reach a fair decision for both parties.
In Crossken v. Crossken, the parties married in 2002. In 2016, the parties divorced with no children born of the marriage. A property settlement agreement (“PSA”) was incorporated into the final judgment of their divorce. This agreement detailed how the 50% interest the Husband owned in two properties in the Poconos would be divided, as well as the Husband’s Individual Retirement Account (“IRA”).
The PSA stated that when the Husband sold the two properties in the Poconos, the Wife would receive 100% of the proceeds. The PSA also stated that the Wife would be entitled to a portion of the Husband’s IRA. In May of 2017, the Wife sought to enforce these two provisions. The Husband, however, argued that the portion of his IRA that was premarital should not be included in the division of the assets. Therefore, the Wife would be entitled to only 50% of whatever remained after the premarital portion was removed.
The Wife argued that the Husband had misrepresented the value of the two Poconos properties during their negotiation of the PSA. The Wife stated that during the negotiations, the two properties had been valued at $50,000 each. However, the day before the divorce and without notifying her, the Husband had lowered the asking price to only $15,000 each. The properties ended up selling for $28,000 total, leaving the wife with only $14,000 before “maintenance and closing costs” were subtracted.
The Husband painted a different picture as to the negotiation proceedings and the Wife’s awareness of the value of the Poconos properties. He claimed that although the asking price for each property had been set at $50,000 each, this was “a pipe dream” and the Wife was aware that this price would never be received. He argued that the Wife knew this because in an earlier Case Information Statement he had stated that the value of his share of the lots was only $3005.
Despite these disputes as to the facts and content behind the PSA, the judge simply denied the Wife’s motion to enforce the two provisions after their oral arguments, and never held a plenary hearing.
On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed with the Wife, holding that a plenary hearing was necessary to resolve the issues relating to the IRA and the correct version of the PSA negotiation regarding the two Poconos properties. The parties disagreed about the correct interpretation of both provisions of the PSA, and without a plenary hearing, credibility and fact determinations are not properly made. The Wife argues that she understood the IRA to include premarital contributions and that she was made to believe that the Pocono properties were worth $50,000 each. The Husband claims that he never guaranteed that she would receive that amount. Circumstances like these illustrate the exact reason that plenary hearings are held, and the Appellate Division stated that without one, a correct decision on these disagreements could not be reached.
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