Divorces in New Jersey are filed as “fault” or “no-fault”, depending on the grounds for dissolution. While many spouse file under no-fault for the sake of getting divorced as soon as possible, there are cases where a fault-based divorce is appropriate. Victims of domestic violence, for example, may want to file under grounds of “extreme cruelty” if they are asking for long-term alimony or primary custody of the children. Another example is adultery, which may be grounds for a reduction in alimony or a share of the marital property, but only in the most extreme cases.
The level of extremity in an important element in the examination of marital misconduct, which refer to actions or behaviors that led to the demise of the marriage. Marital misconduct includes adultery, physical and/or emotional abuse, alcohol or drug addiction, and economic fault. The most complex of these categories is economic fault, which is subdivided into a wide range of actions such as hiding assets, tax fraud, using marital funds to have affairs, and reckless spending to fund a gambling addiction.
These behaviors are classified as “egregious faults” when they are particularly disturbing or distasteful. There are no specific guidelines for determining the egregiousness of a marital fault, but a good example of extreme marital misconduct is the 2012 case of Clark v. Clark. This case involved a wife who embezzled over $345,000 from a business she co-owned with her husband during the course of the marriage. The husband fought the wife's request for alimony due to the amount of the secreted funds, along with the fact that she clearly did it behind his back. The superior courts awarded the wife an alimony award of $600 per week, but the Appellate Division reversed the alimony provision, stating that the “defendant's conduct transcends mere ‘economic impact'... Defendant conceived and carried out a long-term scheme… which deprived the plaintiff of the immediate fruits of his labor and impinged on the viability of the joint business asset and the family's future security.”
In essence, the court ruled that the wife's secreting of the funds went beyond the reasonable limits of economic fault. First, the amount that she embezzled significantly threatened the security of the business, which in turn threatened her family's financial well-being. Second, the court believed that her actions were part of a long term, intentional plan to deprive her husband of his fair share of the earnings, which “smack of criminality and demonstrate a willful and serious violation of societal norms.” This phrase is a good description of egregious conduct, but it's still up to the courts to decide whether an individual's actions exhibit “a willful and serious violation of societal norms.” If you believe that your spouse has committed egregious marital misconduct, please speak with the experienced family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. Our attorneys have the legal knowledge and trial experience to advise you on this incredibly complex area of divorce law.