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Morrone v. Morrone

Decided: March 25, 1957.


Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.


This is an appeal from a Chancery Division judgment nisi dismissing the wife's complaint for separate maintenance and granting the husband's counterclaim for divorce on the ground of extreme cruelty. Permission was given plaintiff to prosecute the appeal on a typewritten transcript and brief. Counsel, however, filed no appendix whatever, in violation of R.R. 1:7-1, but we agreed to consider the appeal on the original transcript, plaintiff being in apparent lack of funds. The typewritten brief summarizes the facts in three pages, without a single reference to the transcript. Defendant's brief attempts to supply the deficiency in part by an extended resume of the testimony and by reproducing the court's oral decision. We are considering this appeal, notwithstanding plaintiff's totally inadequate presentation, solely because of the State's interest in the marriage relation.

We have been obliged to read all the pleadings and the transcript of testimony on file in the Clerk's office, as well as to examine the dozens of exhibits introduced during the 15 days devoted to the trial of the cause. We have carefully reviewed the more than 1,150 pages of testimony to determine whether there is any merit in plaintiff's claim that extreme cruelty was not established in the proofs. We find that it was, and this beyond peradventure.

The parties were married in 1931; they separated March 31, 1952, when defendant claims he was compelled to leave plaintiff by reason of her extreme cruelty. There were no children born of the marriage; an adopted daughter, 14 years old at the time of the separation, accompanied her father and has lived with him since. The judgment nisi awarded custody to defendant, with reasonable rights of visitation to the plaintiff; ordered defendant to pay for services rendered the trial court by J. Howard Haring, a handwriting expert of its own choice, and to pay counsel fees of $500 and $1,500, respectively, to attorneys who successively represented plaintiff in the course of the hearings.

Defendant is a practicing physician and surgeon of this

State and head of a small hospital in Union City, N.J. The acts of extreme cruelty complained of are detailed in some 16 pages of his amended counterclaim. The great majority of them occurred before the date of separation, and some later. Among other things, defendant alleges that plaintiff continuously drank to excess, despite his repeated entreaties that she desist. He claims that over the years, and in increasing measure, she called him vile and offensive names, in the presence of the adopted child, patients, relatives, friends and professional associates, and that she accused him, privately and in the presence of these people, with illicit relations with nurses and employees at the hospital, patients, wives of associates, and others. He alleges that she made countless phone calls to those whom he knew, disparaging his professional ability and charging him with having affairs with others, and that she sent what may generally be described as poison pen letters containing scurrilous accusations. Most of these calls and letters were subsequent to the separation. Plaintiff's vile language extended to the adopted daughter and included the charge, repeatedly made, that she was defendant's daughter by "one of his whores." An unspeakable accusation by her, involving the child and her husband, brought on the separation; the two immediately left the home.

It is entirely unnecessary to extend the list of charges or to detail their nature. Suffice to say, defendant proved them in full measure, without successful contradiction. The record demonstrates that plaintiff's accusations and conduct were continuous, deliberate and with absolutely no justification. She apparently was obsessed with the idea that her husband was a satyr and that his lust extended to every woman within range. She wrecklessly broadcast her fixation without regard to the sensibilities or reputation of those involved.

Habitual drunkenness, without more, has been held not to constitute extreme cruelty. Welch v. Welch , 34 N.J. Super. 197 (Ch. Div. 1955), affirmed 35 N.J. Super. 255 (App. Div. 1955); Cruikshank v. Cruikshank , 115 N.J. Eq. 322

(E. & A. 1934). While habitual drunkenness in itself is not a ground for divorce in this State, it nevertheless should not and will not excuse actions which independently are of a character held to be extreme cruelty, if their effect upon the health of the other spouse is sufficient to meet the test of making it impossible to continue the marital relation without impairing the health or life of the complaining party.

There can be no question that plaintiff's conduct seriously impaired defendant's health and his ability to carry on his medical practice. The testimony was that in April 1952, directly after leaving the marital home, defendant was in such a state of nervous exhaustion and depression that if compelled to live with plaintiff he would suffer a complete nervous breakdown. Defendant had to close his office for several weeks after the separation because of his mental and physical condition. We fully agree with the trial court's finding that plaintiff's conduct undermined her husband's health and capacity to carry on his professional duties and, if continued, would probably result in disaster.

We need not here repeat some of the language plaintiff used to and about her husband, or the farthest reach of her charges of sexual promiscuity. Her language was inexcusable; her accusations were false and maliciously and wantonly made; they were made repeatedly and came to the husband's notice, and visited on him anguish and suffering which finally brought him to the brink of a breakdown. Clearly, we have a situation where "the conduct of a spouse is calculated to destroy the peace of mind and happiness of the other so as to utterly destroy the objects of matrimony * * *." Golden v. Arons , 36 N.J. Super. 371, 374 (Ch. Div. 1955). This case is completely controlled by what this court said in Friedman v. Friedman , 37 N.J. Super. 52, at pages 58 et seq. (App. Div. 1955). The principles there set out, and the ...

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