Evaluating Factors of Child Custody, Alimony & Equitable Distribution

Jun 15, 2017

In any application for alimony, it is the trial judge’s obligation to weigh the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b). A few of the most important factors in making this determination include: (1) the duration of the marriage; (2) the ability of the parties to pay; (3) the standard of living; and (4) the earning capacities of the parties. Failure to weigh these factors will typically result in a reversal by the Appellate Division. 

With respect to obtaining sole custody of any children born of the marriage, a court must consider the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4. Of the more important factors, a court must evaluate: (1) the willingness of the parent to obtain sole custody; (2) the parents’ ability to agree and communicate; and (3) the relationship of the child to both parents. 

Lastly, regarding equitable distribution of property, a court must evaluate the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1. A few of the following are important considerations the court must account for: (1) the standard of living established during the marriage; (2) the income and earning capacities of the parties; (3) the duration of the marriage; and (4) the economic circumstances of each parent at the time of equitable distribution.

Dattoli v. Dattoli was a recent decision involving all three issues described above. There, the parties had three children and were married for fifteen years before Plaintiff filed a complaint for divorce in 2015. Plaintiff sought sole legal and residential custody of the children, half the marital assets, and open durational alimony

Only foreclosure documents of the marital home, one paystub of Plaintiff, and documents showing Defendant’s earnings, were submitted into evidence. Moreover, Plaintiff’s testimony regarding her request for sole custody of the children was very brief, only responding yes to whether she believed she could make the decisions regarding the children’s education and health. 

With respect to her request for open durational alimony, she also provided the court very little to work with. She testified that the documents she subpoenaed from her husband’s work revealed his income was $175,000 per year. Moreover, her CIS showed that her monthly expenses for herself and the children totaled $6,065, of which she could cover $1,653 given her minimal monthly salary. 

Based on the limited testimony and evidence before the trial judge, he ultimately awarded Plaintiff sole custody of the children without providing a thorough explanation or analysis of the factors described above. Regarding alimony, the judge awarded open durational alimony of $4,400 per month based on the fact that Defendant had not paid for many things during the marriage and that it lasted fifteen years. The judge also granted plaintiff’s requests that Defendant maintain the children’s health insurance, obtain a $250,000 life insurance policy, and contribute to their unreimbursed medical expenses and extracurricular activities. 

The Appellate Division ultimately reversed and remanded the trial court. The Court, relying on the Supreme Court’s holding that open durational alimony must be supported by findings of fact and state specific reasons in support of its conclusion, stated that a trial judge must analyze the fourteen factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b) before making an award of alimony

With respect to custody and parenting time, the court emphasized that N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c) enumerates thirteen factors to consider when determining what would be in the child’s best interests, and that the trial judge outright failed to evaluate these factors in any depth. The Court also found the trial court neglected to consider the factors enumerated in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1 in determining equitable distribution, only offering a rationale irrelevant to the factors.

The Court found that the trial judge made virtually no findings and did not apply the law in coming to his conclusions. The Court noted that, even if Plaintiff provided scant information to the court regarding her requests, she is borne with the burden of proof by a preponderance of evidence to provide sufficient information and evidence for the court to make adequate findings. 

If you have any questions regarding alimonychild custody, and/or equitable distributioncontact the skilled matrimonial attorneys at Sarno da Costa D’Aniello Maceri LLCCall us today at (973) 274-5200