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Dominguez v. Munoz

October 23, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, FM-07-751-05.

Per curiam.


Submitted September 16, 2008

Before Judges Gilroy and Chambers.

In this matrimonial case, plaintiff Ibelisse Dominguez appeals from the Judgment dated August 16, 2007, that, among other matters, dismissed her complaint for divorce with prejudice, registered in this State the prior final judgment of divorce she had already obtained in the Dominican Republic, made certain provisions for equitable distribution of assets in New Jersey, and awarded her child support. We remand solely for the purpose of allowing the trial court to either reconsider or provide a more explicit explanation of the child support award. The judgment is affirmed in all other respects.

Plaintiff and defendant Juan Pablo Munoz, both university educated residents of the Dominican Republic, were married in that country in December 1990. A child was born to the marriage in November 1991. The parties continued to reside together in the Dominican Republic until June 1993, when defendant came to the United States to live. Defendant testified that plaintiff did not want him to move to the United States and that she remained in the Dominican Republic with their child. Plaintiff obtained a divorce from defendant in the Dominican Republic in August 1993. The next year, both parties married other individuals. Plaintiff divorced her second husband in 1998, and defendant divorced his second wife in 2000. Plaintiff and defendant remarried in the Dominican Republic on December 30, 2000, and then continued to live together in the United States until their separation in 2003.

According to plaintiff, the first divorce and these second marriages were shams. She testified that she and defendant divorced and married others in order to obtain green cards. Plaintiff maintains that she came to the United States in 1993, and that she has lived with defendant since then. However, at another point in her testimony she said that she first came to the United States in 1995.

Defendant denied that the divorce and second marriages were shams. He testified that plaintiff moved to the United States in 1995, but she did not reside with him at that time. Defendant maintains that he reconciled with plaintiff in 1997, and they then began living together.

Due to marital difficulties, plaintiff and the parties' son returned to the Dominican Republic to live in July 2003. Plaintiff came back to the United States in November 2003, in an attempt to resolve their marital difficulties, but that effort was unsuccessful. Plaintiff returned to the Dominican Republic where her son was attending school. She filed for divorce in the Dominican Republic in January 2004, and a judgment of divorce was entered in that country on April 22, 2004. Plaintiff was awarded custody of the parties' child, and defendant was ordered to pay child support in a specified amount.

While the divorce action was pending in the Dominican Republic, plaintiff also filed in that country a civil action against defendant for the division of assets. The record is unclear on when this Dominican Republic civil action was dismissed, but one document in the record indicates it was still pending in September 2005. On December 2, 2005, defendant filed a Division of Property Demand in the Dominican Republic against plaintiff seeking division, liquidation and sale of the house and its contents owned by the parties jointly in that country. This proceeding was ongoing at the time of the trial with both parties represented by counsel in the Dominican Republic litigation.

Both parties agree that they own a home in the Dominican Republic. Defendant also acknowledged that he owns two lots there, but he acquired them before this marriage to plaintiff. While plaintiff contended that defendant also owned a beauty parlor and a second house in the Dominican Republic, he denied owning such a business or any other property there.

Despite having already obtained a divorce from the defendant in the Dominican Republic on April 22, 2004, plaintiff commenced this divorce action in New Jersey on October 1, 2004, seeking a divorce, child custody, child support and equitable distribution. When she filed this divorce action, her division of assets litigation was still pending in the Dominican Republic. By this time, it appears that plaintiff had returned to the United States to live, although the child remained in the Dominican Republic. In his answer and counterclaim, defendant sought dismissal of plaintiff's action and equitable distribution of the parties' property in New Jersey.

An interlocutory order entered in this litigation on April 22, 2005, required the defendant to pay $500 a month in child support so long as the child was in the Dominican Republic; if the child came to the United States, the child support payment would be $191 per week. Upon motion by defendant, the trial court dismissed plaintiff's New Jersey divorce action under principles of comity. On appeal, we summarily reversed.

Thereafter, the parties were able to resolve certain issues amicably. They agreed to joint legal custody of the child with plaintiff designated the parent of primary residence and defendant designated the parent of alternative residence with parenting time. They also agreed that the marital residence ...

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