On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Sussex County, Docket No. FM-19-111-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Rodríguez and Payne.
Plaintiff, Nancy Hreha-Coloccia (mother), challenges those portions of the March 3, 2008 final judgment of divorce in favor of Leonard Coloccia (father) concerning: equitable distribution; child support arrears due pursuant to a pendente lite order; and compelling the parties to file a joint state and federal income tax return for 2005 and 2006. We affirm in part and reverse in part.
After twenty years of marriage, mother sued for divorce, alleging acts of extreme cruelty. Father filed an appearance. Two daughters were born of the marriage, now ages twenty and eighteen. The parties were divorced on March 3, 2008.
These are the proofs presented to the trial judge that are relevant to the issues on appeal. Prior to the marriage, father owned a small home in Clifton. Father put down $60,000 to $80,000 as a deposit from his own funds. The parties were dating when father purchased the Clifton home. The parties lived there together from the date of their marriage in October 1987 until 1999. The Clifton house was sold so they could jointly purchase a home for $206,000 in Branchville. Mother described the Branchville property as a three-bedroom house with a barn, located on a three-and-one-half acre lot. Father does not dispute that both parties worked together to develop the Branchville property.
According to mother, shortly after the parties' marriage, she became aware that father owed $10,000 to the IRS, which was ready to seize assets from father's delivery business. This debt was paid in part by mother from the settlement proceeds of an automobile accident. According to mother, in 2003, father did not report a withdrawal from his IRA on his federal income tax return. This caused another tax liability. Mother alleged that both parties paid for this assessment from joint funds. Mother filed separate income tax returns in both 2005 and 2006.
At some point during the marriage, a TV satellite company damaged the roof of the marital home. A claim was filed, which was settled for $3,800. Mother used $200 of that $3,800 to make other repairs to the house. She used the balance of the settlement to pay the mortgage, taxes and shelter expenses for herself and the daughters in September 2005. At that time, father's support obligation had not yet commenced.
The oldest daughter left her mother's residence in August 2007 to live with her father. She remained with her father until leaving for "a program" in Washington, D.C. in the early part of February 2008.
Following a trial, the judge required both parties to file joint state and federal income tax returns for the tax years 2005-2007. Father's child support arrears were set at $3,793.67. However, father was given credit against the arrears as follows: $910 for the six months that the eldest daughter resided with him, from August 2007 through February 2008; $1,800, representing his fifty-percent interest in the proceeds of the settlement with the TV satellite company; and $1,000, representing his fifty-percent interest in two joint bank accounts. Therefore, arrears were deemed reduced to $83.67.
On appeal, mother contends that the judge's ruling with respect to equitable distribution of the marital premises, which awarded her forty-five percent of the equity, was plain error. We disagree.
The equitable distribution of marital assets is a fact-intensive inquiry, guided by N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1. The statue setting forth the criteria provides, in relevant part:
In making an equitable distribution of property, the court shall consider, but not be limited ...