Collisions between "Family Law" and Probate Courts

Probate courts will sometimes have to take a back seat to family law courts and the rules and the precedents of those courts when the deceased dies while still involved in a divorce or other family law action.  In Kingsdorf v. Kingsdorf, 351 N.J. Super 144 (App. Div. 2002) Mr. Kingsdorf was a party to a divorce action which he settled.  One of the terms of the settlement was to compel his ex wife to transfer property to his estate on his death.  Unfortunately, he died before the divorce was granted to his wife, which divorce incorporated the terms of the property settlement agreement into the final judgment.  It appears that Mrs. Kingsdorf did not know of her ex-husband's death at the time of the divorce. (This was a real dysfunctional family.) 

Sometime after his death, Mr. Kingsdorf's son brought an action on behalf of his father's estate to compel the transfer of the property pursuant to the property settlement agreement in the divorce case.  In reviewing the application, the appellate court found that since the husband had died before the divorce, the court held that the power to distribute was a power the court only held incident to a divorce.  Since the husband was dead at the time of the hearing, no divorce should have been granted and therefore the judgment for divorce with property settlement attached could not be enforced.  In discussing the relationship between Family Court and Probate Court, the Appellate Court found that any new action to enforce the terms of the agreement could be filed in the probate court (Chancery Division) as jurisdiction in the Family Court was lost on the husband's death.

In a similar case with the opposite result, the Supreme Court of New Jersey in a decsion where the issue of jurisdiction between Probate Court and the Family Court was at issue, the court decided to refer the matter to the Family Court.  The case involved a "palimony claim" against a married father of two who died intestate (without a will).  Plaintiff alleged that the decedent had made certain promises to care for her financially for the rest of her life during their 40-year relationship.  Suit was filed in the family part and after much discussion was transferred to the probate division by the trial court.  Finding that the family court was better suited to deal with the issues of "palimony" the Supreme Court remanded the matter to the family court where they felt the judges were better able to deal with fixing the levels of support and determining an appropriate lump sum award.
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