On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part, Mercer County, FM-11-621-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 26, 2007
Before Judges Axelrad, Payne and Sapp-Peterson.
Defendant, Karen Haley, appeals from certain provisions of a final judgment of divorce entered by Judge LeWinn in the action initially filed by her former husband, plaintiff, Kent J. Mottle. Additionally, Haley appeals from provisions of a post-judgment order entered by the judge on October 28, 2005.
In her appeal, Haley raises the following issues:
I. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN AWARDING PLAINTIFF A RETROACTIVE MODIFICATION OF HIS PENDENTE LITE SUPPORT OBLIGATION.
II. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN AWARDING PLAINTIFF 100% OF HIS RETIREMENT ASSETS.
III. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN AWARDING HALEY ONLY 35% OF PLAINTIFF'S STOCK OPTIONS.
IV. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN AWARDING PLAINTIFF A 100% INTEREST IN HIS RESIDENCE.
V. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY FAILING TO REQUIRE PLAINTIFF TO REIMBURSE HALEY FOR FUNDS WITHDRAWN FROM THE HOPEWELL VALLEY SAVINGS BANK ACCOUNT.
VI. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO PROVIDE HALEY WITH A $10,000.00 CREDIT FOR JEWELRY OR REQUIRING PLAINTIFF TO RETURN SAME AND FURTHER ERRED IN FAILING TO PROVIDE HALEY WITH A CREDIT FOR THE SCHIMMEL PIANO.
VII. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED REGARDING TAX EXEMPTIONS.
VIII. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED REGARDING DISTRIBUTION FROM THE CHILDREN'S CUSTODIAL ACCOUNTS.
IX. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO COMPEL PLAINTIFF TO CONTRIBUTE TOWARD HALEY'S COUNSEL FEES.
X. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DETERMINING EACH PARTIES CONTRIBUTION TO THE PAYOFF OF THE HOME EQUITY LINE OF CREDIT.
Mottle and Haley were married on August 25, 1979. Three children were born of the marriage, a daughter, born on November 15, 1988; another daughter, born on May 5, 1990; and a son, born on August 26, 1992. On or about January 16, 2003, Mottle filed a complaint for divorce alleging acts of extreme cruelty committed by Haley. On January 28, 2003, a consent order was entered, in which Haley agreed to return $85,000 withdrawn from a joint home equity credit line. With limited exception for "reasonable and regular household and family bills," the parties were restrained from withdrawing any funds from this account or from certain other financial accounts they maintained.
Haley's answer and counterclaim, alleging extreme cruelty on the part of Mottle, was filed on February 4, 2003.
On March 20, 2003, following oral argument, Judge LeWinn entered an order denying a request by Haley to find Mottle in violation of the January 28, 2003 order and mandating continued compliance with its conditions. Mottle was ordered to deposit the proceeds from any stock options obtained through his employment into a joint account. He was further ordered to pay unallocated pendente lite support to Haley in the amount of $2,000 per month, retroactive to February 5, 2003, the date Haley filed a motion for such support, and Mottle was ordered to pay two months' worth of arrears by April 1, 2003. Additionally, Mottle was required to pay for all expenses set forth in Schedule A of Haley's Case Information Statement (CIS) of February 4, 2003, except for the cost of such services as he chose to perform himself. The parties were permitted to make limited incursions on joint assets for the purposes of paying reasonable and regular family household bills, and each was permitted to withdraw $5,000 for payment of litigation expenses and counsel fees. Mottle was also permitted to withdraw $13,750 to furnish new housing he had acquired. Haley and the children remained in the marital residence. Notably, paragraph 14 of the order provided: "All pendente lite support and other financial issues addressed herein are without prejudice to proper credits and adjustments at final disposition." The judge also addressed custody issues that have no relevance to the present appeal. The judge's order was accompanied by a supplemental statement that detailed the court's reasons for its entry.
Haley moved for reconsideration of the court's custody and pendente lite support decisions. Following oral argument, Judge LeWinn issued a written order, dated May 23, 2003, denying Haley's request. By this same order, the parties were ordered to list property owned by them in Trenton for sale, with the net proceeds divided equally between them for use in satisfying any shortfalls in meeting pendente lite expenses. Additionally, Haley was ordered to reimburse $5,000 to the home equity credit line. The restrictions on withdrawals from joint accounts were modified to permit each party to withdraw $1,000 per month from an account maintained in the Hopewell Valley Community Savings Bank to meet any expense shortfalls pending the distribution of the proceeds from the sale of a property in Trenton. This account was identified as the chief source of liquid assets, and was to be exhausted prior to any further use of the home equity credit line. A request by the parties for payment of attorney's fees was again denied, the judge having determined that "each has adequate resources to pay his/her own fees. Hopefully each is motivated to avoid unnecessary escalation of fees in the future." As with the March 20, 2003 order, this latest order was accompanied by a written statement of reasons for its entry.
A twenty-day trial was held before Judge LeWinn in July and August 2005.*fn2 On August 25, 2005, a final dual judgment of divorce was entered by the judge. The judgment granted the parties joint legal and physical custody of the children and ordered distribution of the marital assets as follows:
Haley was awarded 100% of the marital residence in Pennington, but was required to refinance the outstanding mortgage and, as a retroactive modification to Mottle's pendente lite support obligation, Haley was required to return $55,800 from the proceeds of the refinancing to Mottle as compensation for one-half of the amount expended by him for mortgage payments made during the thirty-one month period between commencement of pendente lite support and entry of the final judgment. Each party was to retain 100% of the retirement assets they currently held in their own names. Haley received forty-one shares of J&J stock then owned by Mottle. In addition, thirty-five percent of certain stock options Mottle had received through his employment were to be held ...