Equitable Distribution


After plaintiff initiated this action for divorce, the parties attempted to negotiate a marital settlement agreement. After six months, the case came before a matrimonial early settlement panel. After several hours of conferencing and negotiations, the parties and counsel signed a matrimonial settlement agreement (“MSA”). According to plaintiff, subsequent to the divorce hearing, his counsel realized the need for an adjustment for taxes regarding the value of the parties’ retirement accounts. Defendant filed a motion to enforce litigant’s rights when plaintiff refused to comply with the terms of the MSA. Defendant objected to plaintiff’s attempt to renegotiate the MSA emphasizing that she gave up her claim for $20,000 in joint marital expenses and her share of items of personal property in order to settle.

Defendant also claimed that she accepted a lesser amount of alimony in order to settle the case. Plaintiff responded with a cross-motion seeking to amend the MSA by adjusting the retirement accounts for taxes. The court granted defendant’s motion to enforce litigant’s rights and denied plaintiff’s cross-motion to amend the MSA. On appeal, plaintiff contended that the motion judge erred in rejecting his request to modify the MSA because the failure to calculate the after-tax value of the pensions represented a mutual mistake.  The appellate panel disagreed, finding that plaintiff did not demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to warrant a plenary hearing, nor did he demonstrate the clear and convincing evidence required for reformation based on mutual mistake.  The panel rejected plaintiff’s argument that enforcement of the MSA would cause an unjust and inequitable result.  As the trial court found, the parties explicitly addressed the tax consequences regarding alimony but declined to address them with regard to the pensions.  As the trial judge found, the alleged oversight regarding these tax consequences did not render the MSA unfair or unenforceable.

Reference: Maurer vs. Maurer, 20-2-1677, N.J. Super. App. Div., Cases & Analysis, New Jersey Law Journal, 222 N.J.L.J. 3463 (October 31, 2016)

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