When contemplating a divorce, many individuals want to lay blame with their spouse for the separation. Many spouses who have been cheated on or wronged want their spouse to pay for their indiscretions.
Related: Premarital Agreements Are Good
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on what side of the wrong you are on, New Jersey is considered a “no-fault” state, which means that fault plays no role in the divorce process. There are, however, small exceptions to this general rule.
Legal Fault Exceptions in a New Jersey Divorce
The New Jersey alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(i) provides:
“No person convicted of murder…manslaughter…criminal homicide…aggravated assault… or a substantially similar offense under the laws of another jurisdiction, may receive alimony if: (1) the crime results in death or serious bodily injury to a family member of a divorcing party; and (2) the crime was committed after the marriage or civil union.”
The statute also provides: “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to limit the authority of the court to deny alimony for other bad acts.”
Case law specifically sets forth that those bad acts, which may impact the outcome of the divorce, require egregious fault. Egregious fault is more than mere marital indiscretion and marital fault which affects the economic status quo must be more than simple acts of gambling, excessive spending, wasting assets, or other acts of bad judgment.
In order for fault to play role in the financial aspects of the divorce litigation, the fault must violate societal norms to the point that continuing economic bonds between the parties would be unjust. Mani v. Mani, 183 N.J. 70, 2005
In conclusion, in order for fault to play any role in the divorce process, the fault must be really bad. Fault which may have some impact on the divorce will usually involve physical harm, i.e. plotting to kill your spouse or deliberately infecting your spouse with a disease.
For economic bad acts to constitute fault that would impact the divorce, the action must be willful and designed to deprive one spouse of the economic benefit of the marital partnership. Clark v. Clark, 429 N.J. Super. 61 (Ap. Div. 2002). For example, secreting assets in a foreign country or transferring assets to someone else’s name.
Filing for Divorce with Fault in a “No-Fault” State
If you are considering a divorce because you believe your spouse has done something terrible, which cuts to the heart of the marriage and has potential to damage your physical or emotional being or is financially egregious, you may have a basis upon which to argue for more or less when there is an alimony claim or as it relates to equitable distribution.