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Welch v. Welch

Decided: February 17, 1955.

MABEL V. WELCH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HAROLD F. WELCH, DEFENDANT



On hearing of action for divorce.

The opinion of the court was delivered by Conford, J.s.c.

Conford

This is an action for divorce based upon grounds of extreme cruelty. I do not find the cause of action sustained by the proofs adduced.

The parties were married in 1946 and had cohabited continuously, except for two or three brief intervals, until he left at her insistence in August 1954, under circumstances referred to hereinafter. There are two young children.

From so much of the testimony in this matter that appears credible it may be concluded that the difficulties of the parties stem substantially from a combination of excessive drinking by the defendant and a state of chronic anxiety and nervousness of the plaintiff. While the nervousness may have been aggravated by the husband's lapses from sobriety and the ensuing quarrels, the physician who has attended plaintiff since 1950 and testified on her behalf was not able unqualifiedly to lay her condition to the defendant's conduct, or, indeed, to any other specific cause. He did assert that she was disturbed, until reassured by him, over occasional

threats by the husband to have her committed for derangement. These occurred two or three years ago, and apparently took place only when the defendant was engaged in one of his altercations with plaintiff. There is no indication that the plaintiff was in distress over such threats for some time prior to the separation in August, 1954.

Aside from the matters related, the cause pleaded in the complaint is substantiated only by two incidents of claimed physical assault, one in 1946 and the other in 1948. On the first occasion, when the parties were having their first marital separation shortly after the marriage, defendant came to the home of plaintiff's mother, where she was staying, and, in her absence, occupied her bed. Upon her arrival and attempt to evict him from the bed, he gagged her with his hand and forced his knee against her abdomen to prevent her calling her mother to her assistance. In 1948, in a scuffle over possession of a purse, she fell down a flight of stairs. She says he pushed her. Plaintiff's testimony concerning the first of these incidents is competently corroborated, but not as to the second. These brushes seem to me isolated events, not reflective of a brutal or cruel attitude toward plaintiff on the part of the defendant.

Plaintiff testified there was no physical abuse of her by the defendant between the 1948 incident and August 1954, when she asserts he struck her during the course of an argument over her going out one evening with a girl friend. Since the latter occurrence transpired during the six-month period preceding the filing of the complaint, it cannot inhere in the cause pleaded, N.J.S. 2 A:34-2, but might, at most, be taken as giving color to the earlier offenses or to defeat the condonation thereof arising from the cohabitation of the parties. Yorn v. Yorn , 138 N.J. Eq. 608, 609 (E. & A. 1946). As to whether it can have the latter effect in the circumstances of this case, see infra.

It is firmly established that habitual drunkenness, without more, does not constitute extreme cruelty. Cruikshank v. Cruikshank , 115 N.J. Eq. 322 (E. & A. 1934);

Bridge v. Bridge , 93 A. 690, 691, 692 (Ch. 1915). The incidents of 1946 and 1948, as well as everything else complained of, were condoned by the cohabitation of the parties until 1954, Weigel v. Weigel , 63 N.J. Eq. 677, 680, 681 (Ch. 1902), unless it can be concluded that the testimony concerning the supposed assault in August of that year is operative to establish a breach of the condition of subsequent conjugal kindness which is normally implied as the concomitant of condonation. It is concluded no such effect should be accorded that testimony, and for two reasons:

1. The proofs as a whole and the plaintiff's demeanor and manner on the witness stand lead me to disbelieve her story as to what transpired in August 1954. Although the testimony of her mother was offered to corroborate the cause of action and she testified the plaintiff told her all about her difficulties with defendant, she said that plaintiff told her the last separation was due to "arguments." Plaintiff said nothing about blows on the face. Nor did plaintiff mention this incident to her ...


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