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Tassie v. Tassie

Decided: April 7, 1976.

MARGARET TASSIE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT AND CROSS-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN M. TASSIE, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT AND CROSS-APPELLANT



Halpern, Crane and Michels. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, J.A.D.

Michels

Plaintiff Margaret Tassie appeals and defendant John M. Tassie cross-appeals from portions of a final judgment of the Chancery Division entered in this matrimonial action.

Plaintiff and defendant were married for almost 30 years when defendant left the marital residence and deserted plaintiff. During their marriage eight children were born to plaintiff and at the time of trial seven of them were living. Three of these children were minors and living at home with plaintiff. Defendant is a highly successful corporate executive. During the period from 1960 to and including 1971 his salary and the capital gains obtained upon the exercise of stock options provided by his employer exceeded $100,000 a year. In fact, in 1965 his gross income from all sources, including investments, was $810,135. Defendant had a net worth of approximately $2,500,000. Defendant and his family enjoyed a very high standard of living. Plaintiff and defendant lived in a large house in the Township of Lawrence situated on two tracts of land consisting of approximately 21 acres. Their house was attended over the years by live-in servants and gardeners, and plaintiff

had a secretary to attend to her personal affairs. The family enjoyed many other benefits that defendant's income and wealth were able to provide, including private schools for the children, numerous trips and memberships in such private clubs as The Bedens Brook Club in Skillman, New Jersey, and the Bay Head Yacht Club in Bay Head, New Jersey.

In January 1970 defendant deserted plaintiff. In June of that year plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant based on the ground of extreme cruelty, and sought separate maintenance for herself, support and custody of the children born of their marriage, an accounting and equitable division of their assets, and a restraint enjoining defendant from disposing of any of them. Defendant filed an answer denying generally the allegations of the complaint, and counterclaimed for the return of $350,000 in bearer bonds owned by him and which he charged plaintiff unlawfully removed from his safe deposit box, and for a restraint enjoining plaintiff from disposing of these bonds. Plaintiff subsequently amended the complaint to seek an absolute divorce based on extreme cruelty and desertion and sought alimony for herself, support for and custody of their minor children, an accounting and equitable distribution of the marital property, and counsel fees and costs. Defendant filed an answer again denying generally the allegations of the complaint, and counterclaimed for divorce on the ground of extreme cruelty. He also continued to counterclaim for return of the $350,000 in bearer bonds taken by plaintiff, together with the interest paid to her thereon.

A lengthy trial was held in which most of the evidence was directed to the issues of alimony, support and equitable distribution of the marital property. At the conclusion thereof Judge O'Donnell, in a carefully reasoned opinion dated January 26, 1973 which was clarified by a supplemental opinion dated April 2, 1973, found that defendant had deserted plaintiff and was guilty of extreme cruelty, and he granted plaintiff a divorce on both grounds. The

judge further found that defendant had failed to establish any grounds for divorce and, in fact, had abandoned his counterclaim for divorce, and dismissed the counterclaim. Custody of the minor children was awarded to plaintiff with liberal visitation rights to be agreed upon by plaintiff and defendant.

With respect to the financial aspects of the divorce, the judge held that alimony and the distribution of the marital property were interdependent and could not be separated since the award of alimony was dependent upon the nature and quantity of the property to be divided. The judge made a distribution of the marital property in such a manner that plaintiff received property having an aggregate value of approximately $1,000,000 which provided her with an annual tax-free income of approximately, but not less than, $42,432. The judge also required defendant, among other things, to contribute to the college and graduate education of the minor children, provide certain medical-surgical insurance coverage for them, and be responsible for a portion of their extraordinary medical and dental expenses. The judge ordered that

(1) defendant was to transfer to plaintiff tax-free municipal bonds having a face value at maturity of $705,000 and a present market value of $741,200, together with interest paid on said bonds since January 1, 1973. (The judge also ordered that defendant replace the $75,000 New York City bond that had matured with another bond in the same face amount with the highest interest available so that the income from the replacement bond, together with the income from the other bonds, would yield a total annual tax-free income to plaintiff of not less than $42,432);

(2) defendant was to transfer to plaintiff title to the marital residence and the 15.5 acre tract of land on which the residence was situated (which was appraised at approximately $183,000);

(3) all furnishings and equipment in the marital residence (which had an appraised value of $82,360) were to remain the sole property of plaintiff, and defendant was to execute appropriate instruments reflecting her ownership;

(4) defendant was to transfer to plaintiff membership in The Bedens Brook Club and the Bay Head Yacht Club and to pay the annual dues for these clubs until their youngest child ...


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