Court reluctant to set aside arbitrator’s decision in NJ divorce case

With the backlogs in many county family courts throughout New Jersey, divorce litigants are exploring alternative methods of resolving their divorce proceedings.  The traditional litigation can be time consuming.  One such method of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) is arbitration.


There are potential benefits to arbitration.  Those benefits include the ability to proceed on a quicker and more efficient schedule that is not subject to court imposed delays or administrative adjournments.  Unlike court room proceedings, arbitration is confidential. Arbitration, and other methods of ADR, can be less expensive and less acrimonious, but these are not guaranteed benefits.

If you elect to proceed with arbitration, it is critical that you understand the process and the “rules”.  As explained in the summary of a recent unpublished decision below, the ability to review or appeal an arbitrator’s decision are limited.  If you have questions about arbitration, ADR or other methods of resolving your divorce, contact The Durst Firm, LLC to arrange for a consultation.

FAMILY LAW | ARBITRATION 20-2-6519 Shelley v. Shelley, App. Div. (per curiam) (5 pp.) Plaintiff appealed from two orders confirming a matrimonial arbitration award and entering a final divorce judgment. Plaintiff and defendant agreed to arbitrate the financial issues of their divorce under the Alternative Procedure for Dispute Resolution Act. The arbitrator issued a detailed decision from which plaintiff requested modification. The arbitrator addressed each of his substantive contentions and affirmed the award. Defendant then moved before the Superior Court to confirm the award and plaintiff filed a cross-motion, contesting confirmation and seeking modification, arguing the same points as in the application for modification of the original award. The trial court issued an opinion and order, confirming the arbitration award, and denying plaintiff’s contentions. Plaintiff then moved for reconsideration. The court denied the motion. The court’s decision adopted and supplemented its previous decision confirming the award. In its decision, the court found that plaintiff failed to cite any legally cognizable reason to vacate or modify the award. The arbitrator gave defendant $30,000 a year in alimony and fifty percent of the stock units that plaintiff received from his employer’s stock option plan during the marriage. The arbitrator also awarded defendant twenty-five percent of plaintiff’s annual bonuses, as part of her support. In this appeal, plaintiff again raised the same arguments that he made in his previous three attempts to modify the award. He argued that the award was unclear as to the cut-off date on which to value the stock. He argued that “during coverture” means the cut-off date is the filing of the divorce complaint, not the date of the divorce judgment. The trial court in two opinions found plaintiff’s arguments lacked merit and that plaintiff had not demonstrated that the arbitrator committed any factual or legal error. The grounds to vacate, modify or correct an arbitration award under the APDRA are limited. The Supreme Court has determined that, in general, N.J.S.A. 2A:23A-18(b) precludes appellate review of an arbitration award with only a few exceptions in rare circumstances, where the Appellate Division is compelled by public policy concerns or the need to exercise its supervisory authority. These circumstances did not exist in this case. The appellate panel dismissed the appeal, concluding it lacked jurisdiction to review the order and judgment.

About Sandy Durst

Sandy Durst, Esq., is the founding partner of The Durst Firm where he heads the Family Law Department. Individuals facing a divorce benefit from the combination of legal skill, common sense and compassion that Sandy brings to each and every matter. Each case is given the personalized attention it deserves.
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