Domestic violence and abuse allegations are unfortunately a common part of many divorce cases in New Jersey. State law allows a person to sue his/her spouse if there was personal injury from the abuse as part of a divorce proceeding. In New Jersey, this is called a Tevis claim. The law also allows divorcing spouses to use a neutral arbitrator – a private third party who is often a retired judge – to hear Tevis claims. Arbitration is often an efficient and cost-effective way to resolve some or all legal disputes. As the state’s Superior Court recently explained, however, arbitration awards are final, and courts have only limited power to undo them.
Wife filed for divorce from Husband in 2010, following roughly 25 years of marriage. She also filed a Tevis claim, alleging that Husband had abused her over the course of the marriage. She was seeking money damages for related injuries. The spouses later agreed to submit the Tevis claim to binding arbitration before proceeding with the divorce case. Following a hearing, the arbitrator ordered Husband to pay Wife $125,000 in damages for physical and mental injuries. Although the arbitrator did not issue any fact findings related to the alleged abuse, a trial judge later confirmed the arbitration award.
Husband later appealed the decision, arguing that the arbitrator’s award violated public policy because it wasn’t based on any specific fact findings about whether the alleged abuse ever occurred. He also argued that the arbitrator wrongly relied on a letter that Husband wrote to Wife after she filed for divorce. The Court did not describe the contents of that letter.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Superior Court explained that the New Jersey Arbitration Act “grants broad powers to arbitrators,” which are “subject only to limited review.” Arbitration awards are generally presumed valid, the Court said, and can be overturned only if the award was procured by fraud or corruption, partiality by the arbitrator, or a refusal to consider evidence, or if the arbitrator exceeded his or her authority.
In this case, the Court said the arbitration agreement didn’t require the arbitrator to issue findings of fact along with the award. As a result, it said the arbitrator’s responsibility was to simply issue an award. The Court also explained that the arbitrator was not bound by rules of evidence that would have governed the letter had it been introduced in state court.
The New Jersey domestic violence and child custody lawyers at Helfand & Associates have more than 100 years of combined experience representing clients in a wide range of divorce, child custody, and support cases. Our lawyers work diligently to ease the stress on clients in what can be a trying process by building the strongest possible cases for the people whom we represent. Tanya N. Helfand, Esq., is a Certified Matrimonial Attorney of New Jersey.
Our offices are conveniently located in Whippany and New York City. We are happy to offer clients a free consultation in family law and other cases. Contact us online, call our New Jersey office at (973) 428-0800, or call our New York City office at (646) 213-9053 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys.