Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

Hurricane Sandy and Your Divorce

If you are going through a New Jersey Divorce you are probably wondering how your process will be affected by Hurricane Sandy. First and foremost, while this is an unprecedented event, I have great confidence that the legal community will do all that it can to get operations caught-up as soon as possible. While you may have an endless number of concerns and unique circumstances, they probably fall into one of the following categories: Property, finances, and the court’s schedule due to closings.

Property Damage and Your New Jersey Divorce:
For most divorcing couples, the marital home is their most valuable asset. During the storm, your house may have damage, minimally and substantially. This damage may require clean-up, construction, and probably hauling away of downed trees. In many New Jersey shore towns, year-round and vacation homes were rendered inhabitable or even completely demolished. All scenarios leave a tremendous amount of work to be done both physically and behind the scenes as homeowners deal with insurance companies, FEMA, and contractors.

If your home was damaged, and the property has already been assessed and figured into your divorce settlement, a plan needs to be put in place so the current condition is appropriately represented in all paperwork. If you still co-own these properties, you and your spouse will have to work together to get them brought back to pre-storm conditions. Your attorney can help you negotiate who has the obligation to coordinate repairs and work out financial responsibilities towards the rehabilitations. When parties do not agree, the court can be petitioned and your issues can be decided upon by a judge.

While the scale and scope of Hurricane Sandy may be unprecedented, a change in asset value during the process of a NJ Divorce is not. There is precedent in the case Scavone vs. Scavone (230 N.J. Super 482) Ch Div 1988. In this ruling the court stated that if the market forces a substantial change in value of a property, a divorcing couple will suffer that loss together. Therefore, even if your current plan is for one of you to buy the other out of the house, it is not done at the pre-storm condition or assessed value. If substantial value was lost, that loss is shared.

Financial Issues and Support Payments:
I will be writing separately on the ramifications of Hurricane Sandy on support payments. Globally speaking, any financial hardship suffered due to Hurricane Sandy is not an reason to not make a support (alimony or child support) payment. Those legally binding obligations still stand. For your personal financial situations, many individuals will have issues due to a loss of pay, delay of pay due to businesses being closed or inaccessible. Preliminarily, many banks are offering generous grace periods for insufficient funds. Creditors and utilities are altering due dates for payments. For your part, you need to be on top of your entire financial picture and remain in contact with your creditors to reschedule payments.

The last immediate concern is the court schedule:
Here in New Jersey several of our counties have been experiencing a backlog of cases due to a shortage of judges (link to previous blog post) for quite some time. Add to that, our court system here in New Jersey has been closed for a week – an unprecedented event. We understand that a delay or rescheduling of court appearances is going to mean a delay in your divorce. If you were scheduled for trial or a court appearance, we will be working with the court to get you rescheduled as soon as possible.

On behalf of the entire staff of our office, let me say how proud I am to be a life-long New Jersey resident. The strength our state showed in handling the Hurricane Sandy and then urgency placed-to provide for those in need has been remarkable. You and your loved ones may have lived through power outages, limited access to the outside world, and may still be struggling with the gas shortage. Many of our staff dealt with these issues but we are all on the road to recovery… however slow, we will rebuild.

Should you be dealing with any of the issues described above and believe you need legal counsel, please do not hesitate to reach out to our legal team. We are here to help you through this difficult and very unusual time.