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Melia v. Melia

Decided: February 7, 1967.

MARGARET MELIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LARRY A. MELIA, A/K/A LAWRENCE A. MELIA, DEFENDANT



Consodine, J.c.c. (temporarily assigned).

Consodine

Does voluntary and continued addiction to heroin over a period of years, by a dissipator as opposed to a medically adduced addict, with resultant attrition of sexual powers and the refusal of sexual intercourse, warrant an absolute divorce on the ground of extreme cruelty?

Plaintiff sued for divorce on the ground of extreme cruelty. She proved defendant's sexual inability and refusal as a concomitant of volitional and continued heavy heroin addiction, and his rejection of all aid toward overcoming the habit. The result is that her health has been impaired and her life made one of such extreme discomfort and wretchedness as to incapacitate her physically and mentally from discharging her duties as a wife and a mother.

Extreme cruelty, in those words, became a ground for divorce a vinculo by statutory amendment, L. 1923, c. 187, § 1, Suppl. to L. 1907, c. 216 (N.J.S. 2A:34-2). Previously, only a divorce a mensa et thoro could be had on that ground. Act of December 2, 1794, Paterson's Laws 143. Like any organic act, expressed in generality and infused with large social objectives, the specific content of Divorce Act language was designed to grow with the evolving insights and needs of the times. See Stephenson v. Stephenson, 102 N.J. Eq. 50, (E. & A. 1927); Hofman v. Hofman, 108 N.J. Eq. 161 (Ch. 1931).

Generally it has been said: "The shorter the Law is, the more general must its language be and the greater its need for interpretation." Bryce, The American Commonwealth, 372 (1897).

It has always been the rule that the grounds for divorce are not closed categories. They must be understood

liberally to the end that marriage may fulfill both human needs and social obligations. This flexible dimension of extreme cruelty as a ground for absolute divorce has been confirmed many times. It was long ago decided that the recognition of new causes of extreme cruelty (in that case conduct induced by habitual drunkenness) does not amount to a new cause for divorce. McVickar v. McVickar, 46 N.J. Eq. 490, 497 (Ch. 1890).

For more recent instances, see Capozzoli v. Capozzoli, 1 N.J. 540 (1949) (unreasonable sexual demands); MacArthur v. MacArthur, 135 N.J. Eq. 215 (E. & A. 1944) (malicious and wanton charges of infidelity); Golden v. Arons, 36 N.J. Super. 371 (Ch. Div. 1955) (imposition of religious fanaticism); H. v. H., 59 N.J. Super. 227 (App. Div. 1959) (homoerotism); Stolov v. Stolov, 50 N.J. Super. 178 (App. Div. 1958) (malevolence and sadism resulting in serious neurotic state); A. v. A., 87 N.J. Super. 440 (Ch. Div. 1965) (onanism).

Conditions which, by modern understanding, abort the human and social objects of marriage are essentially incompatible with the public purposes of marriage. First among these purposes is procreation of the human race, as the fruit of a consensual, libidinal and instinctual relationship. See Lindquist v. Lindquist, 130 N.J. Eq. 11 (E. & A. 1941); Houlahan v. Horzepa, 46 N.J. Super. 583 (Ch. Div. 1957); Bishop, New Commentaries on Marriage, Divorce and Separation, §§ 11, 13 (1891).

Rejection of sex, however it may be accomplished, can turn marriage from a benediction and a fulfillment into a nightmare of frustration, despair and decay. That has been plaintiff's tormented experience. Without self-justification, defendant explains his sexual torpor and denial by saying that he did not love his wife less but loved heroin more.

The touchstone of extreme cruelty is its impact upon the victim. See Friedman v. Friedman, 37 N.J. Super. 52 (App. Div. 1955), which so clearly defines the controlling standard. Given ...


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