On appeal from Superior Court, Chancery Division, whose opinion is reported in 41 N.J. Super. 608.
For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Burling, Jacobs and Weintraub. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J.
[23 NJ Page 637] Anna Lavino, the plaintiff, filed a complaint in the Chancery Division of the Superior Court demanding that a conveyance from her husband, Libero Lavino, to Joseph and Margaret Cattaneo, all named defendants, be set aside and that an inchoate right of dower of the plaintiff be recognized in the realty. The complaint was dismissed on the ground that it failed to state a cause of action. Lavino v. Lavino, 41 N.J. Super. 608 (Ch. Div. 1956). Plaintiff
appealed to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, and we certified the cause prior to a review below.
The facts are not disputed. Plaintiff married Libero Lavino in 1933. On March 22, 1949 she obtained a limited divorce, also termed a divorce from bed and board. Several months thereafter the Legislature enacted L. 1949, c. 272 (N.J.S. 2 A:34-6) which provides:
"For and during the time that any judgment for divorce from bed and board shall remain in force and effect all property rights of the parties shall be as though a judgment of absolute divorce had been entered.
In any property transaction had by either of the parties in such status the fact of the existence of such judgment shall be distinctly recited and reference to the public record thereof shall be clearly set forth."
In 1954 Libero Lavino inherited the subject property from his father and thereafter conveyed it to Joseph and Margaret Cattaneo. The deed contained no reference to the divorce judgment as required by the statute. Lavino and "Elizabeth Lavino, his wife" were named as grantors. The reference to his wife was not a correct representation. The deed was not set forth in the appendix and it is not clear whether a third party signed in such nomination. The separation from bed and board has continued without dissolution or reconciliation.
In order to succeed in establishing an inchoate right of dower in the property, the plaintiff attacks the constitutionality of N.J.S. 2 A:34-6 and, in the alternative, contends that the enactment should be interpreted as applying only to those persons obtaining limited divorces after its effective date. (She also seeks to attack the conveyance because of an alleged fraud in the naming of the feminine grantor in the deed and the failure to recite therein the divorce decree as required by N.J.S. 2 A:34-6, but these questions have no relevancy in the absence of some legally protected interest.)
There are two types of divorce in our law: absolute divorce (N.J.S. 2 A:34-2) and limited divorce
(N.J.S. 2 A:34-3). Absolute divorce dissolves the marital bond and all dower rights are barred. Peff v. Peff, 2 N.J. 513, 524 (1949). In limited divorce the marital bond subsists and property rights are not affected absent a statutory alteration of the common law. Supreme Council American Legion of Honor v. Smith, 45 N.J. Eq. 466, 469 (Ch. 1889). N.J.S. 2 A:34-6 represents a statutory alteration. It seeks to abolish any marital property rights of spouses who have obtained a limited divorce. In brief, dower and curtesy are barred "for and during the time that any judgment for divorce from bed and board shall remain in force and effect."
Plaintiff complains of a discriminatory incidence of the statute. She sees no distinction between a separate maintenance decree and a decree of limited divorce sufficient to support a diversity of treatment so far as property rights are concerned. Middleton v. ...