On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division - Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FM-11-993-07-B.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad, Parrillo and Lihotz.
Plaintiff Christopher Hasty appeals from a final judgment of divorce (FJD) incorporating a mediated settlement agreement reached by the parties resolving all major issues concerning alimony, equitable distribution and payment of their daughter's educational loan. On appeal, plaintiff argues the trial court erred in failing to hold a hearing as to the existence of an agreement between the parties, and in enforcing the incomplete document as final and without making any finding that its terms were fair, equitable and reasonable. Appellant further challenges the court's award of counsel fees to defendant as an abuse of discretion. We affirm substantially for the reasons articulated by Judge Mary Jacobson on the record on December 21, 2007, following oral argument on defendant's motion to enforce the agreement.
Appellant is a tenured professor at Harvard University acknowledging an annual base salary of $143,000, and defendant is a tenured professor at Princeton University earning about $107,000 annually. After about thirty years of marriage, appellant filed for divorce. About four months later, on August 8, 2007, the parties agreed to participate in a voluntary mediation with retired judge Graham T. Ross. Prior to the mediation, defendant furnished appellant with a copy of her case information statement (CIS) and all requested information relating to the parties' finances. Appellant provided a copy of his CIS and an appraisal of the parties' Cambridge, Massachusetts property.
The mediation lasted more than four hours, during which the parties were accompanied by counsel. During the session appellant did not request any additional information from defendant. According to defendant, the mediator handwrote a three-page document entitled "Christopher Hasty - Olga Hasty Agreement," which set forth the terms to which the parties had agreed. This document provided as follows:
l. Each party to keep premises in which he or she is presently residing. 1/2 the difference in value will be credited to the party who has the lesser equity. Amount to be determined by a joint appraisal for each property (Cambridge & Princeton). Each party to sign all documents to give the other title free of any claims by that party.
2. All bank accounts, including but not limited to PUCU (Princeton University Credit Union) accounts (4), Merrill Lynch accounts (1), Harvard Credit Union Accounts (3) to be divided equally (by credit to the other) as of 4/24/07.
3. [The parties' daughter's] educational loan (approximately $100,000) to be satisfied as follows: Merrill Lynch custodial account [approximately $44,000.000] to be applied immediately to reduce amount of loan; 2/9 of . . . [approximately $30,000] to be applied when received (anticipated summer '08); balance to be satisfied by Olga sending 40% of monthly payment until 2/9ths amount is applied at that time to be satisfied (60% Christopher - 40% Olga).
4. All pension, IRA, annuities, stocks/bonds to be valued as of 4/24/07 and QDRO'd so that each party receives 1/2 of the value of these accounts, Pension appraisers to provide this QDRO service, the cost of which shall [be] paid equally by the parties.
5. Personal Property: Each party to retain items in his/her residence (including rugs) with the following conditions: Christopher to remove all items in Princeton formerly owned by Phoebe Hasty. Olga to buy Steinway Baby Grand Piano for $10,000, to be paid by cash or credit, if applicable. Each party entitled to 2 Keuggerants and 1/2 silver coins.
6. Each party keeps vehicle currently being ...