September 19, 2008
IBRAHIMA DOUMBIA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
AMINATA DOUMBIA, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, FM-07-1374-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 31, 2008
Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez and Collester.
In this matrimonial action plaintiff husband Ibrahima Doumbia appeals from a dual judgment of divorce entered on April 2, 2007. Judge Thomas P. Zampino directed that plaintiff and defendant wife Aminata Doumbia are to have joint legal custody of their son, with the wife as primary residential custodian and parenting time for the husband. No alimony was awarded to either party, and plaintiff father was directed to pay child support of $60 per week. Equitable distribution focused on property purchased by the husband in Ivory Coast, which the husband valued at $80,000 and the wife claimed was worth $290,000. In his written opinion of January 25, 2007, Judge Zampino fixed the husband's interest at sixty-five percent and thirty-five percent to the wife, but he added that the first $10,000 of the proceeds of sale were to be paid to the husband "off the top" representing his cash outlay for the property. Subsequently, he amended the judgment to permit the wife or her attorney to commission an attorney or other third party to sell the Ivory Coast property.
The husband appeals that portion of the judgment holding the Ivory Coast property subject to equitable distribution and directing that it be sold. He also seeks reversal of the award of child support, the wife's designation as parent of primary residence, and seeks additional parenting time with his son.
On appeal the husband asserts that the Ivory Coast property was not subject to equitable distribution because the marriage occurred after the date he acquired an interest in the property. He disputes the wife's claim that they were married in a traditional ceremony on an earlier date, adding that such a marriage would have no legal effect and would even constitute a felony under the laws of Ivory Coast. He also contends that the parties had a prenuptial agreement required by the laws of Ivory Coast that excluded the wife from any interest in the property. Finally, he alleges that he contracted with the government for the purchase of the land, that the process of conveyance had not been completed when he and his wife fled Ivory Coast, and that he cannot convey or sell the property until there is a regime change.
With respect to the payment of child support, the husband says that although he was a prominent attorney in Ivory Coast, his income is severely limited because he cannot practice law in the United States. He claims he made only $6,000 last year and spent the bulk of his time doing volunteer work. On the other hand, the wife made about $40,000 a year working at the United Nations, but she was on furlough at the time of trial.
In a non-jury case our scope of review is limited to an evaluation of whether the findings of fact and conclusions by the trial judge are supported by or consistent with the substantial credible evidence in the record. Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 483-84 (1974). Moreover, the findings of judges of the Family Part are entitled to special deference in view of their special expertise in domestic relations. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 413 (1998).
In this case, the experienced trial judge made specific findings with respect to equitable distribution and made orders of child custody as well as an appropriate order imposing upon plaintiff a modest obligation of child support. After careful review of the record, we affirm substantially for the reasons set forth by Judge Zampino in his January 25, 2007 letter opinion.
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