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Can I appeal my Divorce Arbitration Award in New Jersey?

Arbitration Award sign

Arbitration and mediation are often an important part of divorce procedure in New Jersey.  The process can be easier and cheaper than resolving every issue through complex litigation.  But if either party ends up disagreeing with the ultimate result after the fact, when and how can arbitration awards be appealed?  Continue reading to learn about a recent case, appealing an arbitration award, and contact a skilled New Jersey divorce lawyer with any questions surrounding your current or impending divorce.

Parties litigate, arbitration award incorporated into court order, one party objects

The Appellate Division in New Jersey recently issued an opinion in the case of K.V.H. v. W.S.H. addressing the appealability of arbitration agreements.  In the case, a divorcing couple went through two years of contentious litigation before finally entering an arbitration and mediation agreement.  The parties hired a retired Superior Court judge to serve as arbitrator and mediator, and with his help they jointly entered a mediation agreement and allowed the former judge to resolve other issues via an arbitration award.  The parties agreed to incorporate the mediation agreement and arbitration award into the final order of the family court.  The arbitration award included an award of fees for one spouse.

Neither party objected to any provision of the arbitration award during the family court proceedings.  After the final order, one spouse filed a motion to enforce the fee award.  The other spouse then filed a notice of appeal, seeking to vacate the arbitration award and the fee award, and later filed a motion to vacate the fee award.  The family court rejected the motion to vacate the fee award as the appeal of the family court order was already pending.

Appellate court rules:  No jurisdiction to appeal

The New Jersey Arbitration Act limits judicial review of a binding arbitration to certain circumstances:  (1) confirmation, (2) vacation, or (3) modification or correction.  Appeals are only allowed from an “order or judgment in a civil action.”  The Court emphasized that, in order to appeal, the party must first have a summary order from the trial court that either confirmed, vacated, or corrected the arbitration award.  In this case, the arbitration award was “confirmed” by the trial court in an uncontested action simply by incorporating the order into the court’s final judgment on the divorce proceeding, which did not result in an actual order from the court “confirming” the arbitration award.  Additionally, rather than challenging the award in the trial court, the defendant raised issues for the first time on appeal.  In order to preserve the right to appeal, the defendant must have first challenged the award at the trial court level.  If the defendant had filed a motion to vacate the fee award first, and then appealed from the court’s order denying the motion to vacate, there may have been jurisdiction for an appeal.

The case illustrates that while arbitration has many benefits, the limited judicial review can cut both ways:  The court will be less involved, allowing for more flexibility and less formality, but the courts may also be less helpful in challenging the ultimate result of arbitration.

Contact an Attorney

If you are facing the possibility of divorce and need legal advice on your best options, contact the skilled and compassionate New Jersey family law attorney John B. D’Alessandro for a consultation on your case, in Union at 908-964-0102.

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