Hiding money, possessions, or property during a divorce proceeding is an illegal and risky activity. The spouse hiding the assets often gets caught, resulting in a less favorable divorce settlement or even jail time.
But occasionally, the perpetrator gets away with it. If you recently discovered an ex-spouse was hiding assets during the divorce proceeding, what will happen next depends on what state you live in.
In New Jersey, a divorce settlement can be reopened if hidden assets or other fraudulent activity is discovered after the fact. It’s a challenging scenario, but it is possible.
How Do I Reopen a Divorce Case?
The first step to reopening a divorce settlement is to seek the advice of a family law attorney. Revisiting a finalized divorce is a very complex process, and it can get expensive fast if you hire a general law practitioner who does not traditionally work on this type of case. For this reason, it’s best to find an attorney who specializes exclusively in New Jersey divorce and family law.
Next, you must file a motion to reopen the divorce case within a time frame the court considers to be reasonable–typically within a year of the final judgment of divorce.
If the court believes you have a strong enough case, it will grant a plenary hearing to review the original settlement, along with any new evidence, documentation, witness testimony, and other relevant arguments. The court will then rule to reopen the case or let the existing settlement stand.
Are There Laws to Protect Victims of Divorce Fraud in New Jersey?
Sort of. The State of New Jersey has laws on the books to prevent individuals from lying about marital assets and debts during a divorce proceeding. However, if the fraud is never caught and the divorce is finalized, the case is closed. What’s done is done.
Fortunately for victims of divorce fraud in New Jersey, there is a rule granting the opportunity to set aside a divorce judgement if the case meets specific criteria.
According to Rule 4:50-1, a court may “relieve a party or the party’s legal representative from a final judgment or order” for the following reasons:
- Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect
- Newly discovered evidence which would probably alter the judgment or order
- Fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party
- The judgment or order is void
- The judgment or order has been satisfied, released or discharged, or a prior judgment or order upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment or order should have prospective application
- Any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment or order
The facts of the case must prove the existing judgement is not equitable and was only accepted by the victim due to the fraudulent facts available to them at the time of the original case. They must also prove the party requesting the relief was not aware of the fraud at the time he/she signed the original divorce settlement.
New Jersey Case Law Supporting Reopened Cases
There is some New Jersey case law supporting the reopening of a Final Judgement of Divorce in the event of discovered fraud. In the 2015 case, Zuba v. Zuba, a divorcing couple negotiated a property settlement agreement. However, it was later revealed the husband secretly owned a bank account in Belize and property in Costa Rica. He failed to disclose both assets on his Case Information Statement.
It was a long road toward discovery for the ex-wife. The trial court initially denied the ex-wife’s motion to re-open discovery, despite having an affidavit from a witness confirming: 1) the existence of the hidden assets, and 2) the ex-husband’s repeated attempts to conceal them.
The wife appealed, and the NJ Appellate Division eventually vacated the order of the trial court and remanded the case for discovery based on Rule 4:50-1.
Keep in mind: re-opening discovery is only half the battle. The investigation, negotiation, and litigation phases follow.
Hire a New Jersey Divorce Attorney
Spouses have a duty—akin to a fiduciary duty–to be upfront and honest about marital finances until the divorce is finalized. When one party breaks this commitment, it may be appropriate to reopen the case.
The family law attorneys at Arons & Solomon can help you explore options and determine if it makes financial sense to pursue the assets hidden from your divorce settlement. Contact us today for a free consultation.