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Playing by the Rules

palimony.jpgIt is often said that you have to know the rules of a game to play it well. A recent decision by the New Jersey Appellate Division, Sawa v. Sawa, exemplifies this principle and insists that you must know the rules and play by them. The case concerns a defendant father and his motion for reconsideration of a lower court's decision that denied his request to modify alimony.

Defendant father and Plaintiff mother made a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) when their divorce was first finalized in 2013. Under the MSA, the father could apply to the court for modification of his alimony and child support obligation if he was laid off from work and did not have another job within six months. He was unemployed at the time of the divorce and the MSA and for 20 months thereafter. As a result, he sought to terminate and modify his child support obligation. A judge denied him this relief when he found the father did not conduct a thorough and exhaustive job search. His search was only for jobs over a certain salary in a certain geographical location. The judge found this did not relieve him of his duties under the MSA.

The father asked the judge to reconsider his decision, but that application was denied. He then filed a 3rd application to terminate his obligations under the MSA, again citing his unemployment status. Shortly after that, he got a job and wrote to the court to notify it of his new status.

A judge found that because the 2nd and 3rd applications were based on the same argument, that the father's unemployment status entitled him to modification under the MSA, the 3rd application was really a reconsideration of the 2nd, which was already a reconsideration of the 1st. In doing so, the court believed the defendant was not property following the rules of the court.

Reconsideration is only appropriate when a court has made some sort of mistake or has not been provided with enough evidence. It is not a remedy merely because someone is unhappy with an outcome. The court found that defendant's "reconsideration of a reconsideration" was inappropriate. In New Jersey Courts, you can't keep asking a judge over and over to "get it right."

Angela Yu is a New Jersey and New York attorney with a multifaceted practice area focusing in corporate, real estate and general contract law. She uses her interest in real life application of the law to author articles and other scholarship on a broad range of cutting-edge legal and business topics. Ms. Yu is a published legal author and holds a J.D. and M.B.A. from Rutgers School of Law and Rutgers Business School. Neither she nor Mike Farhi provides legal advice on this website. This blog post and any blog posts do not constitute legal advice.

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