On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-24522-86.
Before Judges Carchman, Wecker and Weissbard.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carchman, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Plaintiff Keith Glass ("husband" or"plaintiff"), asserting"changed circumstances," moved to terminate the alimony payments payable to his former wife, defendant Diane Glass ("wife" or "defendant"). The changed circumstances were not an inability to pay the alimony but the narrow claim that defendant's income was sufficient for her to maintain the marital standard of living of the parties. After a hearing, the trial judge concluded that defendant could maintain such a standard on her current income and terminated alimony. He further found that"no equities" weighed in defendant's favor.
We reverse. We hold that a Crews*fn1 analysis, demonstrating that the supported spouse can maintain the established marital standard of living, does not mandate the termination of alimony but is a significant factor that must be considered with other relevant factors in determining whether alimony should be terminated.
The judge's finding that there were no equities in defendant's favor was also erroneous. The property settlement agreement anticipated defendant's future employment; defendant had a reasonable expectation of permanent alimony in planning her financial future; and defendant has maintained a frugal lifestyle not out of economic necessity, but as a matter of self-determination in the allocation of her resources. The change in circumstances asserted by plaintiff is no change at all but reflects the reasonable expectation of the parties in the performance of the property settlement agreement. We conclude that the termination of defendant's alimony was not warranted under the facts presented here.
We present an expansive recitation of the procedural and factual background to place the issue in context. Plaintiff and defendant, both then twenty-three, were married in 1974. In that year, the parties moved from North Carolina, to Colorado, then finally to California, where plaintiff had been accepted into law school. The parties resided in California from 1975 to 1983, initially living in a 480-square-foot mobile home, where their daughter Samantha (Sami) was born in 1978. Approximately four and a half years later, they moved into a rented three-bedroom apartment, where their son Tyler was born in 1982. Although defendant obtained her master's degree in reading improvement, she did not work after Sami was born.
Initially, the couple had limited financial means. Plaintiff had a start-up law practice, worked as an assistant basketball coach at UCLA, worked at summer camps, and started a basketball school. As finances were limited, the parties never had any domestic help, yard help, a cook, or a baby nurse for either child. They infrequently went out, and seldom went to restaurants. Vacations were limited to visiting his family in New York and her parents in Atlanta. The only other vacation taken was a trip to Tokyo for which UCLA paid. They maintained two cars, neither new, and then only one car after defendant was involved in an accident.
In June 1983, the parties moved to Middletown, New Jersey, where they bought their first house for $110,000, financed by two mortgages to make the purchase. The house, approximately 85-100 years old with no central air conditioning, had siX bedrooms, two of which were small storage-type rooms used as playrooms, a large living room, a dining room, a large kitchen, sauna and wraparound porch; there were four floors including a basement. They also bought a second car, a 1978 or 1979 Buick, from plaintiff's parents. The parties did not employ any household help to assist with the cleaning, laundry or cooking, nor regular lawn care or gardening service or regular snow removal service. Between June 1983 and June 1986, the vacations followed the earlier pattern, visiting family in New York and Georgia.
Plaintiff described defendant as "very frugal" - defendant shopped at "K-Mart or J.C. Penney's or Sears." Plaintiff and defendant seldom bought things for themselves, and their gifts to each other were not extravagant.
Plaintiff and defendant separated in November 1985. On June 1, 1986, the parties entered into a property settlement agreement (PSA) that was subsequently incorporated, without any judicial scrutiny as to adequacy or sufficiency, into the final judgment of divorce of January 7, 1987. Under the terms of the PSA, the existing stocks, bonds and cash, totaling approximately $6,500, were divided equally. The parties each retained their newly-purchased automobiles. The parties had no IRAs, 401(k)s, or retirement accounts. Significantly, defendant waived any interest in plaintiff's law license, practice or business endeavors, as the PSA provided:"The Wife waives any interest she may have by way of equitable distribution or otherwise in the business enterprises known as Glass and Father and Team Sports, Inc."
The PSA also addressed the issue of spousal and child support. Plaintiff's monthly support obligation for the first two and a half years after the execution of the PSA consisted of $655 in child support and $500 in spousal support. Plaintiff was also obligated to make direct payments for the following expenses: mortgage, utility excluding telephone, homeowners and car insurance, car payment, real estate taxes, school and camp expenses for the children, lawn care and snow removal. Thereafter, plaintiff's spousal support obligation was fixed at $1,000 per month; plaintiff's monthly child support obligation of $655 continued, as well as his responsibility for school and camp expenses for the children.
The PSA terms regarding spousal and child support provided:
5. The Husband shall at his expense maintain at least $100,000.00 worth of life insurance naming the infant children as beneficiaries until there are no more unemancipated children at which time this obligation shall cease. He shall name the Wife as Trustee of the fund.
6. The Husband shall maintain the Blue Cross/Blue Shield type coverage at his expense for the Wife and infant children of the marriage. If the parties become divorced, the Husband shall be responsible for such coverage for the Wife up until 12/31/88, unless the Wife has obtained such coverage elsewhere. He shall, however, continue to maintain it for the children. He shall also be responsible for the uncovered hospital, medical, dental, pharmaceutical, eye care, and psychological expenses for the children. However, no such expense in excess of $50.00 for any one course of treatment shall be incurred without the Husband's or Wife's permission unless in an emergency. Under no circumstances shall the Husband be responsible for the uncovered medical expenses for the Wife.....
14. For a period of 2 1/2 years from the time of the execution of this Agreement, the Husband shall pay to the Wife the sum of $655.00 child support per month, being $327.50 per child and the sum of $500.00 support for the Wife. In addition he shall pay directly the mortgage and utility expences [sic], (exclusive of telephone) the homeowners insurance, and real estate taxes, the Wife's car insurance and her car payment of $193.00 a month, and school expences [sic] for the children and their camp expenses. He shall also be responsible for the lawn care and snow removal expences. [sic]. Any repairs exceeding $720.00 per year shall be borne equally between the parties by the Husband receiving a 50% credit at the time that the house is sold. No such repair in excess of $100.00 shall be incurred, unless in an emergency, without the Husband's consent or without the Wife's consent.
15. Commencing 2 1/2 years from the execution of this Agreement the Husband's obligation for support to the Wife shall be $1,000.00 per month. In addition, he shall continue to pay the $655.00 per month for the child support for the two infant children and he shall be responsible for the school expenses for the children and their camp expenses. The Wife shall be responsible for the mortgage payment for 28 Cherry Tree Road directly to the mortgage company until such time as the property may be sold.... After title closes, the Husband's obligation to the Wife for the children's expenses and child support shall continue as provided herein, and his obligation to the Wife for her support shall continue at $1,000.00 per month..... 17. It is understood that this Agreement is intended to resolve all property issues and support issues between the parties past, present and future, including the issue of equitable distribution.
As defendant was not working at the time these terms were agreed upon, the support provided by the PSA constituted her sole income.
When plaintiff moved to New Jersey, he ceased practicing law, as the law school he attended was not accredited. Instead, plaintiff worked as a sports agent for basketball players. Plaintiff also coached high school basketball. In 1986, according to plaintiff's income tax return, plaintiff's gross receipts from his sports agency business amounted to $36,600, and his adjusted gross income was $25,220. Notwithstanding this reported income, from January 1986 to May 1986, plaintiff paid defendant ...