The Appellate Division Reaffirms the Sanctity of Marital Settlement Agreements

By:  Bonnie C. Frost

In the recent unpublished case of Salvatore v. Salvatore (A-5565-16T2), the Appellate Division reaffirmed the sanctity of the terms of a freely and voluntarily negotiated Marital Settlement Agreement.  In a case where the trial court had to apply the terms of the Marital Settlement Agreement to the facts as it pertained to the ex-wife cohabiting, post judgment, it held, as it did in Quinn v. Quinn, 225 N.J.  34 (2016) that the trial court erred when it ignored the express provisions of the parties ’contract.  Because marital settlement agreement are governed by the basic principles of contract law, the Appellate Division held that the trial court must be guided by the terms of the Agreement as to whether or not there should have been a review of the ex-husband’s alimony obligation in light of the ex-wife’s cohabitation having lasted for over five years at the time of the motion was filed. The court also discussed the differences between an applications to terminate alimony based on an agreement negotiated prior to the 2014 Alimony Reform Act, N.J.S.A.  2A:34-23 and one which had been negotiated after the statute had been enacted.

A practice pointer in this opinion which is worthy of note is that the court stated that just because the ex-husband had asked for the maximum relief in his motion (termination of his alimony obligation) that did not mean that any other “reevaluation” was foreclosed i.e. discovery or a plenary hearing on the issue.