All About NJ Family Court Motions
1. What is a motion?
A motion is simply an application to the family court. Motions can ask for an endless array of different types of relief. The most common grounds for relief are to increase or decrease child support, to emancipate a child, to compel the payment of health related expenses, and to reduce or terminate alimony.
2. When can a motion be filed?
All family court motions are filed with the Family Court Clerk in the local county court house. All family court motions are considered to be 24-day motions. See, R. 5:5-4(c). This simply means that the motion papers must be filed at least 24 days before the return date. Thus, your legal papers must be served on your ex-spouse and filed with the court at least twenty-four days before the scheduled court date. The motion hearing days are scheduled every other Friday. Some counties have hearings every Friday. To summarize, the motion papers must always be filed 24 days before the hearing date. Any cross-motion or opposition papers must be served and filed fifteen days before the court date. Finally, any reply papers to the cross-motion must be served and filed at least eight days before the court date.
3. What are the important parts of a motion?
A. Notice of Motion
The notice of motion is simply the part of the motion that requests from the court what type of relief you are asking for.The most common types of relief requested are to establish child support, to reduce support payments, to request emancipation, to compel the payment of family household expenses. The notice of motion should be as specific and clear as possible. Remember, the judge reads about 20 to 30 different motions every motion cycle. Thus, all of the motions tend to blur together. Your motion should be written in a clear, concise and punctual manner.
A certification is simply a legal document that advises the judge exactly what you want and why you should get it. The certification should be detailed and organized. Moreover, the certification should also have relevant exhibits attached to it. Some important attachments may be tax returns, pay stubs, a current and past CIS, copies of day care bills, prior court orders, and a copy of the judgment of divorce. These exhibits should also be labeled as well. The page limit for a certification is 15 pages for filing of the initial motion, and 25 pages to reply to a motion.
C. Proposed form of Order
All family motions must have a proposed form of order attached to it. The court system is over worked. Therefore, the lawyers are required to prepare a proposed court order. It is very rare for a judge to simply sign the court order in the exact format that was provided. Instead, in most cases the judge will cross out and mark up the proposed order to conform to his or her court ruling. Quite often these marked up final orders are very difficult to read.
D. Other Court Notices
Any family court motion must have attached to it a form called a notice to litigants. This notice simply advises the parties the time frame when the motion will be heard, and when the response papers must be filed.
3. What other important information should a family court motion contain?
Some other important information that should be part of a family motion include;
a. Any prior and current CIS statements.
b. Copies of tax returns.
c. Copies of pay stubs.
d. Copies of any prior court orders.
e. A copy of any final judgment of divorce.
f. Copies of any bills that you are requesting that the court order to be paid by your ex-spouse.
g. Copies of any expert’s report.
4. What is a Pendente Lite Motion?
A pendente lite motion is an application that is filed before you can obtain your final divorce. Pendente Lite is not a Spanish diet soft drink. Basically, the main purpose of a pendente lite motion is to request that the court should maintain the family’s status quo if at all possible. It is important to emphasize that any pendente lite orders or P and L orders are only temporary until the final judgment of divorce is entered.
A typical pendente lite motion will request the following relief: a) to establish child support and alimony; b) to establish a parenting plan; c) to request that household bills be paid; d) to request that the mortgage be paid; e) to enforce parenting rights such as visitation.
5. What are some other important types of motions that are frequently filed in the family court?
A. Motions for Reconsideration
A very popular type of motion is called a motion for reconsideration. Many people simply go beserk when they receive the initial child support award or temporary alimony award. Divorce is serious business. Many people want to get divorced but they have no idea how much their lifestyle and their wallet will suffer. I always advise my clients that New Jersey family law can be harsh and that I did not write these laws. Consequently, many litigants demand that their lawyers frequently file reconsideration motions even if there is no legal grounds to support it.
If you sincerely believe that a family court order entered by the court is unfair, or that the judge misunderstood important facts, overlooked some important documents, misapplied the law, or some new and important evidence has been obtained, then you should consider filing for a motion for reconsideration. Any motion for reconsideration must be filed within twenty days of the entry of the original court order.
B. Post-Judgment Motions
There are a limitless amount reasons why a person could file a post-judgment motion. A post-judgment motion is simply a motion that is filed after the parties have obtained a judgment of divorce. The following is a list of the most commonly filed post-judgment motions:
* Modification of Child Support/Alimony
* Custody and Parenting Time
* Resumption of Maiden Name
* Termination of Child Support/Alimony
* Enforcement motion to enforce prior court order or the final judgment of divorce.
C. Custody and Parenting Time Motions
The courts are also swamped with motions that deal with parenting time issues and custody. These types of motions often deal with the enforcement of parenting time, change of custody applications, a removal or a relocation case, or a request to have supervised visitation.
6. Does a litigant have any legal limitations as what he or she can raise in cross-motion?
In many family court motion scenarios the ex-spouses simply start a “war of paper” with each other. In the world of family law, motions are the weapons that are used to combat each other. In most instances, when a party files a motion, the responding party then files a cross-motion that requests additional relief that is not even relevant to the issues raised in the initial motion papers.
An important case is Marangos v. Marangos, Docket No. A-2625-07T12625-07T1. This case should be cited when a litigant raises too many non-relevant grounds for relief in his or her cross-motion. This case was an appeal. Here, the plaintiff Catherine Swett, appealed from an order entered by the trial court on December 19, 2007, which denied in part her cross-motion for post-judgment relief. The parties were married on August 11, 1985. They had four children. The plaintiff filed a complaint for divorce on February 6, 2004, and on July 6, 2005, the parties then placed a settlement on the record. They agreed upon custody of the children, visitation, equitable distribution, alimony, child support, payment of pendente lite arrears, college expenses, and the allocation of certain debts. The parties also agreed that the court could decide certain outstanding issues. Thereafter, the court resolved the remaining issues and on August 29, 2005, and it entered a final judgment of divorce.
On November 10, 2005, the plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the judgment, arguing that the court had not considered her objections to the proposed judgment. The defendant filed a cross-motion to set aside the judgment. The trial court resolved the disagreements regarding the judgment and on January 17, 2006, entered an amended final judgment of divorce. Defendant appealed from the judgment. The Appellate Division affirmed. Marangos v. Marangos, No. A-3225-05 (App. Div. Dec. 6, 2006).
In October 2007, defendant filed a motion for a modification of his alimony and child support obligations based upon alleged changed circumstances. In November 2007, plaintiff filed a cross-motion in which she sought an order: (1) directing defendant to comply with a provision of the judgment that requires defendant to schedule sessions with a court-appointed evaluator “to corroborate his prescription regime and its effect, if any, on his parenting time,” suspending his parenting time with the children should he fail to comply, and directing that the evaluator’s report be provided to both parties so that any issues concerning parenting time could be presented to the court; (2) directing defendant to pay forty percent of the day care expenses for the children and entering judgment against defendant in the amount of $4,816; (3) directing defendant to pay his proportionate share of the college expenses for S.M., one of the parties’ children; (4) directing defendant to reimburse plaintiff for one-half of the school expenses for the parties’ children, and entering judgment against defendant for $1,347.09; (5) requiring defendant to provide documentation concerning certain patents and trademarks and any income earned therefrom; (6) directing defendant to pay his share of the uncovered medical expenses for the children and entering judgment against defendant in the amount of $394.88; (7) directing defendant to produce a signed and notarized authorization letter for the children’s health insurance benefits; (8) directing compliance by defendant with his life insurance obligations under the judgment; (9) directing defendant to contribute to certain private school education costs of the children; (10) directing defendant to pay plaintiff’s counsel fees and costs associated with the motions, and entering judgment against defendant for that amount; and (11) entering certain civil restraints against defendant.
The trial court then considered the motions on December 19, 2007, and it placed its decision on the record on that date. The court denied the defendant’s motion for modification of his alimony and child support obligations. The court also found that plaintiff’s cross-motion was procedurally improper because it did not relate back to the subject matter of defendant’s motion. The court stated that, “plaintiff had seized upon [defendant’s] motion as a platform to re-argue many of the issues that had previously been decided adverse to her without even a reference to these prior rulings.”
The court nevertheless considered plaintiff’s application to compel defendant to pay S.M.’s college expenses. The court observed that defendant’s continued failure to contribute to those costs could jeopardize S.M.’s enrollment at the school. The court found that, pursuant to the final judgment, defendant was responsible for seventy-six percent of S.M.’s college costs, while plaintiff was responsible for the balance. The court also commented upon and appears to have ruled on certain other relief sought in plaintiff’s cross-motion.
The court denied the parties’ motions for counsel fees. The court found that defendant’s motion was frivolous. The court further found that plaintiff’s cross-motion “also was deficient” because it raised “issues previously decided without even referencing the prior adverse decisions of the court, and to that extent is brought in bad faith.” The court stated that plaintiff had only prevailed on her application to compel defendant to contribute to S.M.’s college expenses and plaintiff “has not prevailed on her numerous prayers for relief.”
The court entered an order dated December 19, 2007: (1) denying defendant’s motion to modify his alimony and child support obligation; (2) directing defendant to pay seventy-six percent of S.M.’s college costs, after application of all scholarships, grants, loans and work study monies received; and (3) denying the remainder of plaintiff’s cross-motion without prejudice.
On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the trial court erred by summarily denying most of the relief sought in her cross-motion because the subject matter of that cross-motion did not relate to the subject matter of defendant’s motion. The Appellate Division disagreed.
The Appellate Division held that:
Rule 1:6-3 pertains to the filing and service of motions and cross-motions. The rule provides in pertinent part that:
[a] cross-motion may be filed and served by the responding party together with that party’s opposition to the motion and noticed for the same return date only if it relates to the subject matter of the original motion. Other than in Family Part motions brought under Part V of these Rules, a cross-motion relating to the subject matter of the original motion shall, if timely filed pursuant to this rule, relate back to the date of the filing of the original motion.
The rule thus makes clear that a cross-motion must “relate to the subject matter of the original motion.” Id. The Marangos court further held that; It is clear, therefore, that Rule 1:6-3(b) requires that the subject matter of all cross-motions relate back to the subject matter of the original motion.In the instant case, the defendant’s motion sought a modification of his child support and alimony obligations. However, the plaintiff’s cross-motion was not addressed to child support or alimony but raised numerous issues regarding other provisions of the final judgment. The Appellate Division further held that the trial court correctly found that plaintiff’s cross-motion did not comply with Rule 1:6-3(b) because it did not “relate to the subject matter” of the defendant’s motion.
In summary, the Appellate Division held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to consider the plaintiff’s demands for relief, with the exception of plaintiff’s application to compel the defendant to pay his share of S.M.’s college expenses. In conclusion, the Appellate Division held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to consider and denying without prejudice all of the demands for relief in plaintiff’s cross-motion, except for the application regarding S.M.’s college expenses.