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Increased Cost and Complexity Regarding Gold-Sealed Judgments

Editor-in-Chief’s Column
by Charles F. Vuotto Jr.

Within this issue of the New Jersey Family Lawyer is a notice to the bar dated Nov. 3, 2014, indicating that due to the revision of the Family Division filing fees pursuant to Rule 1:43 and N.J.S.A. 2B:1-7, all certified copies require a payment of $25. As a result, attorneys and self-represented litigants will no longer receive gold-sealed copies of the final judgment of divorce or qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) without paying a fee. A courtesy non-certified copy will be provided at no cost, however.

Aside from the additional cost to clients, one major problem with this change in protocol is the added time and expense associated with counsel’s involvement in assisting clients after uncontested hearings in obtaining a gold-sealed copy of the judgment of divorce. For instance, in order to obtain a gold-sealed copy of the judgment of divorce,at the conclusion of the uncontested hearing, the parties (and presumably their counsel) must leave the courtroom, go to the finance unit, wait in line to make payment, and then, after payment has been made, return to the courtroom or the judge’s chambers and present a receipt in order to obtain the gold-sealed copy. This process will usually involve waiting at not only the finance unit, but also waiting while attempting to catch the eye of courtroom personnel to make the request for the copy, which may mean either interrupting a current proceeding or waiting until the proceeding is concluded. In the alternative, at any time, in person or via mail, the parties may report to or mail a written request to the matrimonial intake unit with a check or money order to obtain a certified copy.

In either of these instances, the workload of the court staff will be increased. Under the current practice, a judge’s assistant conforms copies of the orders and is able to certify the copies as true because that assistant has created the copies. Once the chain of custody is broken, court staff asked to later certify a copy as a true copy will have to review it against the original (which may or may not be readily accessible) in order to properly do his or her job.

This additional procedure will not only increase the time and aggravation for litigants and their counsel in obtaining certified gold-sealed copies of judgments of divorce after uncontested hearings, but also will increase the cost due to the $25 fee and the cost associated with counsel billing them to assist in this process.It will also place added burdens on the court and its staff.

It is respectfully suggested that there are several ways this process could be modified to avoid the problems set forth above. For example, the $25 fee could be added to the initial filing fee when a dissolution action is filed. Alternatively, if the court is compelled to assess a $25 filing fee when placing the gold seal on the final judgment of divorce, the cost could be charged to the superior court filing fee accounts established by many firms. Union County appears to be following this procedure by asking attorneys to complete a form prior to the uncontested hearing with their superior court filing fee account number so the parties can receive the gold seal at the time of the uncontested hearing. Any avenue in which the clients have the option to ‘prepay’ the $25 filing fee would certainly save time and money for clients at the time a final judgment is entered. For the cases that are settled prior to a court appearance, the proposed final judgment of divorce can be submitted in advance of the uncontested hearing, the $25 fee can be advanced, and the ‘wait time’ associated with obtaining the gold-sealed Final judgment of divorce(and attendant counsel fees) can be avoided. Regardingqualified domestic relations orders, the parties and/or counsel should submit the fee with their request for the gold-sealed copy.

It must also be noted that charging $25 for a certified gold-sealed copy of a final judgment of divorce seems excessive to the author. However, in reality, the cost is going to be much more, as stated above. Going from the judge’s courtroom at the end of the uncontested hearing to the finance unit, waiting in line, paying the fee and then returning to the judge’s chambers or courtroom with the receipt, will conservatively add an hour to each client’s counsel fee simply to attempt to obtain a gold seal. Thus, cumulatively, the clients will pay anywhere between a few hundred dollars to a thousand dollars, all for a $25 gold seal.

Although the aforementioned concerns consider litigants represented by counsel, the new procedure will also affect pro se litigants, who may be impatient with the process. Not realizing the importance of a gold seal on a final judgment of divorce, many pro se litigants might avoid the process and leave the courthouse with an uncertified copy, which is essentially useless in the event retirement assets need to be divided or a spouse seeks to revert to a prior name, get remarried or address other circumstances in which a gold-sealed judgment would be necessary.

On a separate note, the author believes the filing fee for a substitution of attorney or representation letter appears to be unfair. For example, clients will be charged $35 simply because their lawyer’s firm changes names. This adds a financial burden upon clients who, in many cases, already have difficulty paying for their attorneys.

In conclusion, the author is aware that Jeralyn L. Lawrence, immediate past chair of the NJSBA Family Law Section, has written to Thomas H. Prol, president elect of the NJSBA, to seek his assistance in addressing these concerns. It is the author’s hope that Prol can address these rules successfully with the Supreme Court, and conserve costs on behalf of all clients and the Judiciary.


The author would like to thank Jeralyn L. Lawrence (immediate past chair of the Family Law Section of the NJSBA), as well as Noel S. Tonneman and Cheryl E. Connors, of Tonneman, Vuotto, Enis & White, LLC, for their assistance with this column.

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