On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County.
Before Judges Baime, Brochin and Wefing.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wefing, J.A.D.
Defendant appeals from two orders entered in the trial court by two different Judges. The first order denied defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of in personam jurisdiction. The second order reflects the court's Conclusion that the Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) (N.J.S.A. 46:38-13) precludes a custodian-parent from using the funds in a custodial UGMA account to pay for a child's college expenses. *fn1 In the second order, defendant was directed to reimburse his daughter $25,406.15, the amount he had taken from the UGMA account to pay for her college expenses. Because we are satisfied that the first court erred in its Conclusion that it had in personam jurisdiction over defendant, we reverse without addressing the propriety of the court's second conclusion.
The parties were married on June 8, 1968 in South Orange, New Jersey. The record is silent where defendant lived prior to that date but plaintiff's parents resided in West Orange, New Jersey. Immediately after the marriage, the couple moved, first to South Carolina and then to Florida. In 1971, while still residing in Florida, their only child, Jaimee Lynn, was born. Shortly thereafter they returned to New Jersey, and defendant enrolled in Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark. During his schooling the family lived in West Orange, New Jersey. When defendant graduated from law school in 1975, he was admitted to the New Jersey bar and commenced the practice of law with a firm located in Montclair. In that same year, the couple purchased a residence in Maplewood, New Jersey. Two years later in 1977, however, they relocated to Pennsylvania.
Shortly after relocating, the two separated and they were ultimately divorced pursuant to a judgment of the Pennsylvania court entered June 6, 1983. That judgment incorporated the property settlement agreement that the parties had previously executed on May 26, 1983. The agreement, which contained various provisions on the parties' responsibility for Jaimee Lynn's support and education, specified it was to be construed in accordance with Pennsylvania law.
Following the divorce, plaintiff and Jaimee Lynn returned to New Jersey, where plaintiff has continued to reside. Jaimee Lynn lived with her mother in New Jersey, except for the periods she attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Plaintiff and Jaimee Lynn asserted that she returned to reside with her mother while she attended Seton Hall University School of Law, after her graduation from college. Defendant asserted that after her graduation from Emory, Jaimee Lynn resided in New York State even though she attended law school in New Jersey. That minor factual dispute is not material to our decision.
Following his separation from plaintiff, defendant, with two brief exceptions, did not return to New Jersey. In 1980 he moved to Ohio where he began working as an engineering consultant and a business executive. He gave up the practice of law, although he retained his license to practice. In 1985, he returned to New Jersey for three months in connection with his career. He then, however, went back to Ohio where he remained until January 1990 at which point he moved to California. He has resided in California ever since.
Since 1990, defendant has been employed by Hill International, a company which has its corporate headquarters in New Jersey. He works for Hill's western region, however, and at the commencement of this action he had made only one three-day business trip to Hill's New Jersey offices, in 1993. Indeed, other than his three-month visit in 1985, that three-day stay was defendant's only visit to New Jersey after he moved to Pennsylvania in 1981.
Although defendant owns no real estate in New Jersey, he is a limited partner in an entity which does own two buildings in New Jersey. In 1993, when this matter commenced, he held a two and one-half percent (2-1/2%) interest in a limited partnership, Saron Associates. That same year, Saron merged with thirty-one other limited partnerships, which reduced defendant's ownership interest to 0.047%. While the reconstituted limited partnership retained the two New Jersey buildings previously owned by Saron, the vast majority of its holdings are in New York and in Texas.
Despite defendant's various relocations, he has maintained his status as an attorney of the State of New Jersey and has continued to satisfy the requirements of the New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection. He is listed as an active member of the New Jersey Bar in the current New Jersey Lawyers Diary and Manual. The address and telephone that are listed opposite his name, however, are both for California. Despite that listing, defendant is not eligible to practice law in this state. He does not maintain an office here, as required by R. 1:21-1, nor does he maintain either an attorney business account or a trustee account, as required by R. 1:21-6(a) and R. 1:28A-2.
In September 1993, plaintiff commenced this action, alleging that defendant was obligated to contribute to the cost of Jaimee Lynn's legal education; she also sought certain miscellaneous expenses. In a later amendment to her complaint, she alleged that defendant was obligated, under the terms of the 1983 property settlement agreement, to pay for Jaimee Lynn's college education from his own funds and yet had used the proceeds of a UGMA custodial account to meet that obligation. She therefore sought reimbursement to Jaimee Lynn.
Defendant was served by mail in California. He did not immediately answer but rather filed a motion to dismiss for lack of in personam jurisdiction. R. 4:6-2; R. 4:6-3. The trial court, after considering the parties' briefs and oral arguments, concluded that defendant did have sufficient minimum contacts with New Jersey to afford our courts ...