Law Lessons from LINDA M. GEFFNER v. RAMI E. GEFFNER, App. Div., A-2896-08T2, May 11, 2011:
“A fiduciary relationship arises between two persons when one person is under a duty to act for or give advice for the benefit of another on matters within the scope of their relationship.” F.G. v. MacDonell, 150 N.J. 550, 563 (1997). “The fiduciary’s obligations to the dependent party include a duty of loyalty and a duty to exercise reasonable skill and care.” Id. at 564. Thus, “the fiduciary is liable for harm resulting from a breach of the duties imposed by the existence of such a relationship.” Ibid.
Fiduciaries “appear in a variety of forms and in a variety of contexts. Agents, partners, receivers, trustees, and executors are entrusted in one way or another with the conduct of the affairs or the protection of the rights of another.” Balliet v. Fennell, 368 N.J. Super. 15, 22 (App. Div. 2004). In re Niles Trust, 176 N.J. 282, 295 (2003) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 874), held that “‘[o]ne standing in a fiduciary relation with another is subject to liability to the other for harm resulting from a breach of duty imposed by the relation'” and that “‘[a] fiduciary who commits a breach of his duty as a fiduciary is guilty of tortious conduct to the person for whom he should act.'”
Such a relationship simply does not exist between parties who are adversaries in litigation. Like all opposing litigants, divorcing spouses are responsible to look out for their own best interests. Indeed, like all litigants, parties are obligated to comply with applicable court rules, court orders, and discovery obligations. See, e.g., R. 5:5-2(c) (imposing a continuing duty to update CIS with material changes in information).
No fiduciary duty between divorcing spouses has ever been recognized in this State. Tannen v. Tannen, 416 N.J. Super. 248, 262-63 (App. Div. 2010), certif. granted, 205 N.J. 80 (2011). The court noted that although divorcing spouses are required to deal fairly with each other, that requirement is not the same as, nor does it require establishment of, a fiduciary duty. Ibid.
NOTE: This Blog/Blawg, NJ Family Issues, is managed by Paul G. Kostro, Esq., an attorney/lawyer/mediator in Linden, Union County, New Jersey.