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Jackson v. Jackson

December 9, 2009


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FM-11-392-05C.

Per curiam.


Submitted October 26, 2009

Before Judges Lisa and Alvarez.

Defendant Randi B. Jackson appeals from portions of a judgment of divorce entered February 27, 2008. Specifically, defendant seeks relief from Judge Fleming's award of limited duration alimony, allocation of loans and credit card debt, and counsel fees. We affirm, essentially for the reasons set forth in Judge Fleming's cogent, thorough and comprehensive written opinion.

We make the following brief comments. The parties married January 7, 1995, when plaintiff Thomas D. Jackson was approximately forty-six years old and defendant was thirty-nine. No children were born of the marriage. Defendant suffers from significant mental health disabilities, and has received Social Security disability benefits as a result since 1989. At the time of trial, her monthly benefit was $920. Plaintiff was aware of defendant's mental health conditions prior to the marriage. The marriage was "chaotic," and the parties separated many times over the years.

The parties' marital lifestyle was quite modest in the beginning. This changed commencing in February 2000 when plaintiff began to perform consulting work for a pharmaceutical company where he now works full-time. At the time of trial, he earned an annual salary of $162,553. Except for a brief period early in the marriage, defendant has not worked. She did acquire a second graduate degree during the marriage and engages fully in her hobbies, which include weightlifting and dog training.

Plaintiff testified that the parties borrowed $40,000 from his father as a down-payment on the marital residence. He and defendant paid back $10,000 of that debt in two installments over two years, and although the installments were paid by checks written by plaintiff, the check entries were in defendant's handwriting. Defendant denied any knowledge of the loan, and denied that the parties were expected to repay the money.

When the parties separated in August 2003, defendant remained in the marital residence. Plaintiff voluntarily paid her support, settling upon $1000 weekly by November 2003. In February 2005, plaintiff was ordered to continue to pay defendant that amount pendente lite.

By the time the pendente lite order was entered, defendant had accumulated credit card debt of approximately $8500, despite the fact no credit card debt existed when the parties separated. At trial, defendant testified that she accumulated an additional $30,000 in credit card debt in maintaining and repairing the marital residence, but did not supply the court with any documentation regarding this indebtedness.

After ten days of trial and consideration of the written trial summations provided by counsel, the court entered a dual final judgment of divorce dissolving the marriage. Plaintiff was ordered, among other things, to pay defendant limited duration alimony of $5000 per month for a period of eight years.

The court determined that defendant was responsible for fifty percent of the loan made by plaintiff's father, and the court did not require plaintiff to satisfy any portion of defendant's credit card debt. Plaintiff was required, however, to pay approximately $15,000 in counsel fees in addition to the $3500 pendente lite award. The total amount of counsel fees sought by defendant was $52,627.42.

The court found plaintiff to be "honest and sincere in his testimony.... completely credible." In contrast, defendant's testimony was described as: inconsistent. It changed and wavered throughout her testimony. At times, her testimony was poignant and compelling; at other times, confusing and unclear; and at still other times it was hostile and evasive. The Court... factored defendant's disability into its weighing process as to credibility, but [defendant] nevertheless was not as credible as plaintiff.

We give a trial judge's credibility determination particular deference because of his or her superior vantage point, the immediate and direct opportunity to evaluate "'the veracity of witnesses.'" Twp. of W. Windsor v. Nierenberg, 150 N.J. 111, 132-33 (1997) (quoting Pascale v. Pascale, 113 N.J. 20, 33 (1988)). Our review of this record does not reveal information that would cause us to disturb the judge's conclusions as to the credibility of the parties. Defendant's testimony was indeed ...

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