The parties were married in 2001. Plaintiff Husband filed a Complaint for Divorce in 2013. The parties exchanged discovery during the pendency of the litigation and attempted mediation with the Honorable Edward V. Torack, J.S.C, but were unsuccessful in resolving the matter. As such, the parties entered into an agreement to engage in binding arbitration relative to all financial issues pertaining to the marriage pursuant to the New Jersey Alternative Procedure for Dispute Resolution Act (APDRA), N.J.S.A. 2A:23A-1 to -30.
Richard H, Weiner, Esq., the agreed-upon Arbitrator, issued a fifty-four (54) page decision on May 14, 2018 after a total of twenty-four (24) days of hearings were conducted. In addition to the parties, six (6) experts testified. The Arbitrator ordered the marital home to be sold and the proceeds and contents to be distributed to the parties. Defendant Wife moved to vacate or modify the decision claiming that the Arbitrator exceeded his authority and refused to consider relevant evidence. Plaintiff Husband cross-moved for confirmation of the decision.
The trial court, rejecting Defendant Wife’s argument, entered a Judgment of Divorce incorporating the final arbitration decision on August 17, 2018 and found that the Arbitrator reviewed ample evidence submitted by both parties and properly weighed the credibility of the experts. In reaching this decision, the Court relief on the Uniform Arbitration Act (UAA), N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-1 to -31.
Subsequently, in addition to other requests for relief, Defendant Wife moved to vacate the arbitration decision based on the fact that one of the experts who testified was not a certified public accountant in New Jersey, unbeknownst to her. Plaintiff Husband filed a cross-motion seeking enforcement of the trial court’s August 17, 2018 Order. The trial court denied Defendant Wife’s motion to vacate as she had “recycled the same submission” filed with her initial motion. The trial court referred to the UAA in its determination that there was no basis to vacate the arbitration decision. In addition to other relief, the trial court awarded counsel fees to the Plaintiff Husband for Defendant Wife’s baseless motion and her failure to comply with the sale of the house.
Defendant Wife filed for reconsideration and Plaintiff again filed a cross-motion for enforcement of the August 17, 2018 Order. Among other directives, the trial court ordered Defendant Wife to pay a penalty of $100 per day if she failed to vacate the marital home within sixty (60) days and that if she failed to cooperate with the sale of the home, an attorney-in-fact would be appointed. Robert Landel, Esq. was appointed as the attorney-in-fact on January 22, 2019.
Plaintiff was again compelled to file a motion for enforcement of the August 17, 2018 Order. The trial court ordered the parties to vacate the home by April 14, 2019, for the attorney-in-fact to divide the personal belongings between the parties, and for Defendant Wife to pay counsel fees. On June 10, 2019, the trial court ordered sums to be taken from Defendant Wife’s share of the proceeds of the sale of the marital home to pay the Arbitrator. On June 11, 2019, the trial court ordered sums to be taken from Defendant Wife’s share of the proceeds of the sale of the marital home to pay the neutral forensic accountant. The trial court also found the Defendant Wife in violation of litigant’s rights for her failure to comply with the April 12, 2019 Order.
Defendant Wife filed an appeal arguing that the trial court applied the wrong legal standard in denying her motion to vacate or modify the arbitration decision, as the trial court relied on the UAA rather than the APDRA.
The Appellate Division emphasized the State’s strong public policy of favoring arbitration and explained that the parties may designate whether the proceeding will be submitted pursuant to the UAA or the APDRA. In the absence of a designation, the UAA will apply. It was undisputed that the parties submitted their proceeding pursuant to the APDRA. The Appellate Division compared the provisions of the UAA and the APDRA and found that the two sets of statutes are substantive equivalents.
Accordingly, the Appellate Division held that the trial court’s mistaken application of the UAA resulted in no meaningful harm to Defendant Wife and that under the APDRA, there was no basis to disturb the trial court’s decision entering a Judgment of Divorce and incorporating the final arbitration decision. The Appellate Division further found that Defendant Wife’s claims amounted to little more than her disagreement with the well-supported factual determinations of the Arbitrator and his reasoned resolution of the parties claim.
On February 9, 2021, the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied Defendant Wife’s petition for certification.