On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Warren County, Docket No. FM-21-326-04.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 30, 2007
Before Judges Fuentes and Grall.
Defendant appeals from the denial of his post-judgment motion. After reviewing the record before us, we vacate the order of the Family Part and remand for the motion judge to make specific factual findings and conclusions of law.
The parties' divorce judgment incorporated a property settlement agreement (PSA) which gave defendant 120 days from the entry of final judgment to remove certain personal items from the former matrimonial residence. The PSA provided that if defendant failed to remove the items within the specified timeframe, the property would be deemed abandoned, giving plaintiff the right to dispose of it as she saw fit.
The parties relationship soon became acrimonious, and plaintiff requested that defendant communicate with her only through personal e-mail. When correspondence between defendant and plaintiff's counsel proved unsuccessful in resolving the issue of the removal of the personal property, defendant moved before the Family Part seeking enforcement of the PSA. The parties filed conflicting certifications in support of their respective positions. Plaintiff also requested an award of counsel fees incurred in opposing defendant's motion. The motion judge denied defendant's motion with the following remarks:
The husband's motion is denied for the reasons set forth in the wife's certifications in Response and Surrebuttal. The husband has not shown that he is entitled to the relief he is seeking.
Rule 1:7-4(a) requires a court deciding a motion to "find the facts and state its conclusions of law thereon in all actions." As Justice (then Judge) Long stated in Salch v. Salch, 240 N.J. Super. 441, 443 (App. Div. 1990), a trial court's [f]ailure to perform the fact-finding duty "constitutes a disservice to the litigants, the attorneys and the appellate court." Meaningful appellate review is inhibited unless the judge sets forth the reasons for his or her opinion. In the absence of reasons, we are left to conjecture as to what the judge may have had in mind. [(Internal citations omitted).]
Since Salch, we have consistently reaffirmed and enforced this rudimentary principle. Shulas v. Estabrook, 385 N.J. Super. 91, 96 (App. Div. 2006); Raspantini v. Arocho, 364 N.J. Super. 528, 532-33 (App. Div. 2003); DFYS v. J.Y., 352 N.J. Super. 245, 261 (App. Div. 2002).
Here, the motion judge's general reference to plaintiff's certification is utterly inadequate to satisfy the requirements of R. 1:7-4(a).
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