On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Somerset County, FM-18-428-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges S.L. Reisner and C.L. Miniman.
Defendant Stephen J. Fandel ("the husband") appeals from portions of the Final Judgment of Divorce entered in this matter on June 5, 2006, following a bench trial on the issues that he and plaintiff Kim A. Fandel ("the wife") were not able to resolve by agreement. Those issues were equitable distribution of a Toms River shore house, equitable allocation of debt to the husband's parents and various credit card companies, alimony, and child support.*fn1 We affirm.
The parties were married on November 8, 1982, when the wife was twenty-four and the husband was almost twenty-eight. The wife was a high school graduate who was employed in retail positions prior to her marriage. Two children were born of the marriage, one on April 24, 1986, and the other on March 10, 1990. The parties separated on May 4, 2004, and the complaint for divorce was filed in October of that year. At that time, the wife was working at the Crim School in Martinsville, New Jersey, and consequently was home with her children during the summer months. The husband was self-employed at Fandel Construction in Raritan, New Jersey.
During the pendency of the divorce proceedings, the parties were able to resolve the issues of custody, health insurance and costs. They also agreed to equitable distribution of: (1) the husband's twenty-five percent interest in a condominium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; (2) the husband's 4.16% interest in Seven Acres Land Corporation, Incorporated, and Colorado Café, Incorporated; (3) the wife's interest in two TFS Securities accounts; (4) the husband's account with Wachovia Securities; (5) the wife's teacher's pension and annuity fund; (6) five vehicles owned variously by the wife, the husband, or both; and (7) the husband's business, known as Fandel Construction.
The parties also stipulated to certain facts relating to the shore house. They agreed that on December 12, 1980, the husband had purchased land located at 3323 Long Pointe Drive in Toms River for $54,000. They agreed that the value of the land was $525,000 and the value of the house was $325,000. The principal balance on the mortgage at the date of separation was $216,454.81. All other facts respecting equitable distribution of the shore house, equitable allocation of debt to the husband's parents and various credit card companies, alimony, and child support were tried before the Honorable Ann R. Bartlett on February 7, 8, and 27, 2006. The judge decided the issues by a Dual Judgment of Divorce on May 31, 2006, to which she attached a twenty-five-page opinion of the court.
Judge Bartlett found the following facts regarding the shore house:
The parties became engaged to marry in November 1981. Sometime before their engagement [the husband], who had an abiding desire to live on the water, had found an area in Toms River where he thought he would like to build. He took [the wife] to show her a lot that he was thinking of buying and in the course of looking around they found another lot that he liked better. He received a $54,000 gift from his mother to purchase the lot, to which he took title on December 12, 1980. In May 1981 he received the go-ahead from the EPA and a permit to erect a bulkhead on the property's shoreline. He obtained a permit on July 1, 1981 and drew up plans for the design of the house with the aid of an architect. [The husband] framed the house and did the masonry work himself. He subcontracted out the electrical and plumbing. [The husband] applied for an electrical inspection on February 17, 1982. The first inspection took place that day.
The parties married on November 8, 1982. The house was fully enclosed by then but the interior work was still at the rough stage. According to [the wife] the home was finished approximately a year after the parties got married. However the final electrical approval was not obtained until April 13, 1984.
According to [the husband], whose testimony was laced with facts that appeared to fit the purpose of the moment with no regard for truthfulness, he had saved up $28,000 to build the home. The implication of his testimony was that this was pre-marital money. His assertion is supported by the fact that he lived with his mother and paid no shelter or even food costs to her, while he conducted his construction business from their home, but his general level of earnings in the last five years of marriage suggests that he never made enough to save up $28,000 in even the three year period from when he bought the lot until the house was essentially finished. Both parties testified that they contributed their earnings to a household account. [The wife] worked at General Motors as an administrative assistant full-time in the first few years of the parties' marriage. Her income was not provided in testimony. She believes that the parties paid the balance of the cost of building the home from their joint income.
[The husband] testified that he borrowed the funds from his mother to complete the home. His list of funds borrowed from his mother does not support his testimony. The only amount borrowed from her during the period when the house was being built was $10,000 in January 1983 for the purposes of a "loan payment." He did testify, glibly, that he bartered for services in the construction of the shore house but his smirking remark that "it was a very good year for bartering" hardly lent credibility to his testimony. He also testified, without giving a time frame, that he worked full-time at his business and three nights a week as a disc jockey and snow-plowed in the winter to raise enough money for the shore house.
The court finds that [the husband] did barter for some or all of the electrician's work, the plumber was allowed to charge on [the husband]'s materials account at Somerville Lumber in payment for some or all of his services, the [husband] did the roof himself and he bartered for the windows. The rest ...