In 2015, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled in the case of N.T.B v. D.D.B. that the destruction of jointly owned marital property by either spouse constitutes an act of criminal mischief. This ruling answered the question of whether a spouse can be guilty of destroying property that he or she partly owns. It also enforced the rights of the other owner, whose interest in the property cannot be infringed upon by the other party. The properties involved in N.T.B. included a bedroom door and and a set of speakers, which are properties that are easy to valuate. There are, however, complex properties to which a dollar value cannot be ascribed, and the destruction of such properties has been a long standing legal dilemma for the civil courts.
The dilemma is easier to solve when things are laid out in a divorce agreement, which was the case in C.S. v. B.S. The involved parties were an Ocean County couple who had divorced after 25 years of marriage, during which time they had amassed considerable family mementos in the forms of photographs and videos. The Matrimonial Settlement Agreement (MSA) stipulated that the husband would receive a share of the family photos and videos, which were being kept at the marital home, where the wife would continue to reside. After the divorce, the wife refused the husband's repeated requests to send the mementos, until she finally admitted that she threw them away, because of his unfaithfulness during the marriage.
The husband sued the wife for breaching the MSA, and for disposing of property that was partly his without permission. The wife attempted to justify her actions by stating that she had gotten rid of the photos and videos before the divorce, but could not answer the question of why she had agreed to share a set of properties that were no longer in her possession. Because of the wife's vague and unsubstantiated claims, the court was left to conclude that she had willingly disposed of the mementos, which was a violation of the husband's property rights. The court also considered the possibility that she was still in possession of the properties and was willfully concealing them. Either way, she was interfering with the husband's legal right to a property he jointly owned, so he was entitled to some type of compensation.
Still, how does one determine the value of a property that has no actual market value? This part is basically left up to a judge's discretion, and in the case of C.S. v. B.S„ the husband was awarded $5,000 in damages. This is an important ruling for spouses who are in the midst of a nasty divorce. Regardless of how much you despise your spouse, revenge always comes with a price, especially when it involves marital properties. For more information on your property rights and legal options, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.