On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FM-20-0855-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Chambers.
In this intensely contested matrimonial case, defendant Michele Marchev (nee Power) appeals from certain aspects of the final Judgment of Divorce (JOD) entered by the Family Part dissolving the marriage between her and plaintiff Fred Marchev. Specifically, defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying her requests: (1) to be the primary residential parent of the parties' two minor children; (2) to remove the children to Ireland; (3) for alimony; (4) for weekly child support in a specified amount; (5) to distribute the equity in the marital home on an equal basis; (6) for an interest in plaintiff's stock account; and (7) for an award of counsel fees.
The parties presented their respective positions in the course of a six-day trial that commenced on March 28, 2006, and ended August 16, 2006. Judge Cassidy addressed and disposed of all the issues raised by the parties in a memorandum of opinion dated June 29, 2007. After reviewing the record, and in light of prevailing legal standards, we affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Cassidy.
We gather the following facts from the evidence presented at the trial.
Defendant was born and raised in Ireland. She met plaintiff in the summer of 1994, and began dating in 1996. They decided to marry after defendant became pregnant in March, 2001 with their first child, a boy identified here as "A.J." Although their wedding ceremony took place in Ireland, they lived and raised the children in New Jersey. Defendant contends that plaintiff agreed that she could return to live in Ireland if she was unhappy living in the United States. They both held jobs at Schering-Plough; defendant left her employment in November, 2001, four weeks before A.J.'s anticipated birth.
A.J. was born on December 15, 2001. Who should assume the role of the child's primary caretaker soon became a point of contention. According to plaintiff, although this question was not directly discussed, taking care of A.J. made him nervous. Defendant contends that plaintiff wanted her to stay home with A.J. rather than placing him in daycare. Plaintiff disputed this. According to plaintiff, it was both "nice" to have the additional income, and "fair" for defendant to return to work. Defendant returned to work on a part-time basis for five months before transitioning back to full-time in August, 2002. Defendant's mother cared for A.J. without compensation during the time both parents were at work. Defendant also contends that her mother was the one who provided primary care for A.J.
In September 2003, the parties purchased their marital home in Springfield, New Jersey. They paid a five percent down payment of $14,000, and obtained a $266,000 mortgage for the balance. They also secured a $42,000 home equity loan, leaving very little equity in the home.*fn1
Before buying the house, defendant testified that plaintiff told her that he would sell stocks to provide the funds for a down payment. When the time came, however, "he refused to so," forcing her to use her pre-marital savings. Defendant makes a similar allegation with respect to the cost of home repairs. She claimed that plaintiff refused to sell stocks to pay for needed repairs, requiring them to use savings and credit cards. The parties resided at defendant's parents house in New Providence while their house was being renovated. Plaintiff performed most of the renovations himself, working on nights and weekends. The renovations were extensive, and took approximately seven months to complete.
The parties' second child (referred to here as "B.M.M.") was born in March 2004; the family moved into the marital residence on May 14, 2004. The family traveled to Ireland in the end of May 2004 for B.M.M.'s christening. Plaintiff returned to New Jersey a week later; defendant remained with the children until July 5, 2004.
On the question of where the children would live, the parties had a telephone conversation in June 2004, the substance of which is hotly contested. Defendant stated that she asked plaintiff if he would consider moving to Ireland, "not as a solution to [their] marriage but as a solution to the parenting of [their] children." She recalls plaintiff replying that, although he would not move, he supported the idea of her relocating there with the children.
Plaintiff's recollection is different. He remembers that defendant told him she did not love him and wanted a divorce. According to plaintiff, defendant refused marriage counseling and threatened to take the children with her to Ireland ...