On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FM-09-2327-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Grall and Chambers.
Defendant Joseph M. Kraft appeals and plaintiff Janet B. Kraft cross-appeals from a final judgment of divorce entered after a trial in the Family Part. Both object to the trial court's determinations of alimony, child support and equitable distribution. Due to errors that require modification of equitable distribution and may warrant adjustment of alimony, child support, payments for college and private school and defendant's life insurance obligation, we remand.
The parties were married on April 28, 1985. The Krafts have two children. The first was born in 1986, and the second was born in 1996. Plaintiff filed the complaint for divorce on May 9, 2005, and defendant filed an answer and counterclaim. At the time of trial, plaintiff was fifty years of age and defendant was seventy-two years of age.
When the parties married in 1985, defendant was practicing law, and plaintiff was working as an artist. There is no evidence that either party brought significant assets to the marriage, and defendant had debt.
After the Krafts married, plaintiff attended seminary school. She was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1991. Following her ordination, plaintiff worked for several different congregations and, with the exception of a brief period in 2001, has been employed in her field. Plaintiff generally received compensation beyond her salary in the form of either a housing stipend or use of parish-owned housing. She also accrued credits toward a defined-benefit pension in which several of the congregations participate.
Defendant continued to practice law. In 1996, he elected to collect social security retirement benefits, which included benefits for the Krafts' children, but did legal work from time to time. He also managed a property in Ocean Grove, which the Krafts purchased in 1991. The property is a multi-family residence, and the Krafts rented the units they did not use.
Throughout the marriage, the Krafts sent their children to private schools. They generally vacationed at their home in Ocean Grove, and plaintiff and the children traveled to Ireland, where her family had a home. Defendant traveled with the family at least once.
At the time of trial in 2006, plaintiff was working for a congregation in Jersey City, which she had served since November 2001. She and the parties' youngest child were living in the rectory. Her salary was $48,250, and the value of the housing provided by the congregation was $20,063, which includes an estimated rental value for the rectory and all utilities other than long-distance phone calls and cable service. In addition, the congregation paid $18,275 for plaintiff's health insurance, a housing equity allowance of $4286 per year and made a pension contribution of $14,400. Compensation for travel expenses was also provided. As a consequence of defendant's social security benefits, plaintiff was receiving a benefit in the amount of $777 per month on behalf of their youngest child. The parties' oldest child was attending a university in Illinois but is no longer entitled to social security benefits.
In 2006, defendant obtained legal work through an agency that supplies temporary workers. Between January 1 and September 9, 2006, he earned $38,094. In addition, he received a social security retirement benefit of $1224 per month, after a deduction of a monthly Medicare payment of $88.50. He was living in Ocean Grove, New Jersey in one unit of a four-family residence, which the Krafts had purchased in 1991. He also received income from proceeds of a client's settlement that were held in escrow; the agreement entitled him to a share of the interest. In 2006, defendant's interest income from the settlement, which varied greatly over the years due to changes in the interest rate, was $6813.
The Krafts acquired assets and debt during the marriage. The evidence relevant to value and the trial court's determinations of value are described below.
Plaintiff and defendant reached an agreement on the distribution of the Ocean Grove property. In 2002, the Krafts refinanced the property to pay off debt. Defendant transferred his interest to plaintiff pursuant to an agreement under which she was to determine the date of sale, receive the first $57,000 from the proceeds and divide the remaining equity equally with defendant. The agreement divided responsibility for payment of the refinanced mortgage between the Krafts and provided for defendant to manage and maintain the property until it was sold.
On the last day of trial, the parties stipulated to the following agreement relevant to the Ocean Grove property: the value was $530,000; the outstanding mortgage was $307,604; the equity, $222,396 minus $57,000 defendant owed to plaintiff under their agreement, was to be divided with plaintiff and defendant both receiving $82,698. ...