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Morse v. Morse

October 25, 2007

PATRICIA MORSE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PAUL J. MORSE, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, FM-04-1340-04B.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued September 11, 2007

Before Judges Payne and Sapp-Peterson.

Plaintiff Patricia Morse appeals from that portion of a final judgment of divorce denying her request for alimony. The court determined that based upon assets she acquired through equitable distribution, income from employment and investments, as well as assets she acquired through inheritance, there was no basis to award alimony, irrespective of the duration of the marriage. We reverse.

I.

The parties were married on September 30, 1978, and three sons were born to the couple in 1980, 1981, and 1983, respectively. The parties separated in late July 2003, and plaintiff filed for divorce on March 26, 2004. Trial commenced nearly eighteen months later. Prior to commencing testimony, the parties resolved their equitable distribution issues, and there were no child support or custody issues. Thus, the focus of the trial was on alimony, counsel fees, expert fees, and retroactive increase or decrease in pendente lite support.

Both plaintiff and defendant testified. In addition, each party produced expert testimony regarding the parties' financial history and lifestyle. At the time of trial, plaintiff was fifty-seven years old and employed as an office manager with American Quality Vinyl (AQV), a company she and defendant started along with another couple in 2003. Defendant, at the time of trial, was fifty-three years old and employed with Guidant Corporation as a sales representative.

During the marriage, the parties lived in a Cherry Hill home valued at $309,000 as of June 2005. In 1981, the parties purchased a condominium in Pennsylvania for $72,000, where they enjoyed winter vacations until they sold it in 2003 for $39,000. The family frequently vacationed at plaintiff's parents' Ocean City, New Jersey, home at no cost and often took trips to New England. Plaintiff and defendant participated in several trips to Colorado and one to Europe that were sponsored by defendant's company. The parties also went on a Western Caribbean cruise and to the Dominican Republic, both at their own expense.

Plaintiff, in her testimony, described herself as in "good" health, although on medication for high blood pressure. She received a bachelor's degree in 1969 from the University of Arkansas. After college, she worked at Gasworks for eleven years demonstrating to customers the proper use of appliances and ranges. She was earning a salary of approximately $20,000 but resigned to become a full-time homemaker sometime after her eldest son was born in 1980. As a result of her mother's death in February 2005, plaintiff inherited the Ocean City home valued at $500,000. In November 2005, plaintiff's father also passed away, leaving plaintiff a $50,000 Merrill Lynch investment account, a $645,327 Individual Retirement Account (IRA), and $314,906 in life insurance.

Defendant testified that he suffered from high blood pressure, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea, but was not taking any prescription medication for these conditions. After receiving a bachelor's degree from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in biology in 1974, he worked as a salesman for Johnson & Johnson for three-and-one-half years earning $35,000 a year. From 1977 until around the time he married plaintiff in 1978, he worked for a New York Company, Gaymar Incorporated, selling heating and cooling equipment for patient care, earning $36,000 a year. From 1978 to 1985, defendant worked as a pacemaker sales representative, earning a beginning salary of $45,000, which increased to nearly $228,000 based upon commissions and product availability. From 1985 to 1989, defendant worked for another pacemaker manufacturer, earning approximately $200,000 to $275,000 a year. From 1989 to 1994, he was employed as a salesman with CPI Company, where he earned approximately $250,000 to $275,000 annually.

In 1994, defendant contracted with Guidant, a subsidiary of CPI Company, to sell pacemakers and defibrillators in the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware region, with a beginning salary of $200,000 to $250,000. Defendant earned $378,000 in 1998; $355,000 in 1999; $548,000 in 2000; $759,000 in 2001; $679,000 in 2002; $826,000 in 2003; and $789,000 in 2004. His gross salary throughout those years included commissions, auto allowances, awards, moving expenses and stock options.

Defendant's employment contract with Guidant, which was signed in July 2004 and modified in October of 2005, guaranteed an annual base salary of no less than $400,000, plus commissions, until October 2008.

In 2003, the parties invested with Victoria and Michael DiMedio in AQV, a company formed to manufacture and sell vinyl products wholesale. Plaintiff used $150,000 from an inheritance to purchase twenty-four shares of AQV, while she and defendant used marital funds to purchase another twenty-four shares of the company, resulting in a forty-eight percent interest in the company. The DiMedios held the remaining fifty-two percent interest in AQV. Plaintiff worked ...


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