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Firmani v. Firmani

June 20, 2000

LINDA FIRMANI,
PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT/CROSS-APPELLANT,
V.
E. DOMINIC FIRMANI AND FIRMANI FAMILY LIMITED PARTNERSHIP,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS/CROSS-RESPONDENTS.



Before Judges Skillman and D'Annunzio.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued May 9, 2000

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Camden County.

This appeal requires us to consider the application of the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, N.J.S.A. 25:2-20 to -33, to a conveyance of real property for the alleged purpose of hindering enforcement of the equitable distribution provisions of a judgment of divorce.

Defendants appeal from an amended summary judgment, entered on February 26, 1999, which vacated the conveyance from defendant E. Dominic Firmani (Firmani) to defendant Firmani Family Limited Partnership (Family Partnership) of real property located at 18 Grove Street in Haddonfield and revested title in Firmani. Plaintiff cross- appeals from an order entered on April 29, 1999 which denied her application for counsel fees.

This case is an outgrowth of a matrimonial action between plaintiff and Firmani. Pursuant to a settlement agreement between the parties entered into on December 12, 1991, which was later incorporated in a judgment of divorce, Firmani obtained sole ownership of the Haddonfield property, which had been jointly owned. In return, Firmani agreed to pay plaintiff $55,000, $30,000 of which was payable within thirty days and the balance within three years. Firmani paid plaintiff the $30,000 but failed to pay her the $25,000 balance. On motion by plaintiff, this obligation was reduced to a judgment.

Shortly before the expiration of the three-year period for paying plaintiff the remaining $25,000, Firmani established the Family Partnership and conveyed the Haddonfield property to this entity. The partnership agreement states that Firmani holds a one percent interest as the general partner of the Family Partnership and a ninety-four percent interest as a limited partner. Firmani's present wife, three children, and stepson received the remaining five percent interest in the Family Partnership in equal proportions as limited partners.

When Firmani conveyed the Haddonfield property to the Family Partnership, he had approximately $83,000 in equity in the property. In consideration for the conveyance, Firmani received one dollar from the Family Partnership.

Firmani resides in the Haddonfield property with his present wife and also allegedly operates his financial planning business out of the home. A corporation owned by Firmani pays the $1500 per month mortgage obligation as well as the other expenses of the property.

Plaintiff brought this action to set aside the conveyance of the Haddonfield property on the ground that it was a fraudulent transfer designed to avoid enforcement of Firmani's obligation under the judgment of divorce to pay plaintiff an additional $25,000 and the subsequent order reducing that obligation to a money judgment. The matter was brought before the trial court on cross motions for summary judgment. At the argument before the trial court, defendants agreed that the case could "be decided on summary judgment." The trial court concluded that the conveyance was a transparent effort by Firmani to avoid his obligations to plaintiff by transferring legal title to the property to the Family Partnership entity while "still retaining the actual beneficial interest in the land," and vacated the conveyance. The court subsequently denied plaintiff's application for counsel fees.

On defendants' direct appeal, we affirm the summary judgment vacating the conveyance of the Haddonfield property to the Family Partnership. On plaintiff's cross appeal, we reverse the denial of her application for counsel fees and remand to the trial court for a determination of the amount of such fees.

I.

N.J.S.A. 25:2-25(a) ...


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