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Mekhail v. Mekhail


February 2, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Atlantic County, FM-01-348-08N.

Per curiam.


Submitted December 14, 2009

Before Judges Lisa and Coburn.

Plaintiff sued defendant for divorce on October 9, 2007. The case was tried and judgment was entered on November 21, 2008. Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial judge erred by:

(1) failing to make adequate findings of fact respecting alimony; (2) arbitrarily awarding plaintiff twenty-five percent of defendant's retirement account; and (3) directing that each party remain responsible for their own credit card debt.

These parties, who are now both in their mid-forties, were married on May 19, 2001. They had two children, one born in 2002 and the other born in 2003. Defendant is employed by Bally's Atlantic City Casino as a dual rate pit boss, and during the marriage, earned about $55,000 to $60,000 per year. Plaintiff is unemployed, having last worked as a floor person in the casino industry in 2001. Plaintiff has spent her time caring for the parties' two children, as also desired by defendant.

In 2003, the parties purchased a house in Egg Harbor Township for $199,000 with a down payment of $116,449.92. The source of their funds was the sale of a jointly owned house in Ventnor and a property in Brigantine. At the time of trial, the Egg Harbor house was worth about $280,000 and was subject to a mortgage lien of about $75,000.

Defendant's 401(k) had a balance on September 30, 2007 of $87,000. But he had to borrow $40,000 from that account to pay household expenses.

Plaintiff has an IRA account that existed before the marriage. The account's balance was $25,000 on June 27, 2008, and $15,000 at the time of trial. She also had a retirement plan with Claridge Casino. Before the marriage the account had a balance of $18,598. As of September 30, 2008, its balance was $61,471. Plaintiff also had a Vanguard account which had been given to her before the marriage. On September 30, 2008, the account had a balance of $36,348.

When the parties married, defendant had debts of at least $30,000, which plaintiff helped him pay. After the purchase of the parties' last home, they had $26,888.59 in a joint account, which defendant took along with a CD in the amount of $5,200.

The judge granted plaintiff primary responsibility for custody of the children. He ordered defendant to pay Limited Duration Alimony ("LDA") for three years at the rate of $400 per week.

The judge ordered the house sold with an essentially even division of the net amount realized. He determined that plaintiff's accounts were exempt from equitable distribution.

In essence, the judge ordered defendant's 401-K with Harrahs Entertainment, Inc., to be distributed twenty-five per cent to plaintiff and seventy-five percent to defendant. Since the account then had $50,000, this meant plaintiff would receive $12,500. And he ordered each party to be responsible for their own credit card debt.

Until the sale of the marital home, the judge also ordered defendant to pay the mortgage, taxes, homeowner's insurance, and utilities, but ruled that while defendant paid for those items, there would be neither spousal nor child support. At the time of sale, defendant would receive "a dollar-for-dollar credit for 75 percent of the mortgage and tax payments" paid following entry of the judgment. Thereafter the LDA would have to be paid. Child support would be determined after the sale of the home in accordance with the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines.

After carefully considering the record and briefs and the applicable principles of law, we are satisfied that all of defendant's arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). Nevertheless, we add the following comment.

Although our review would have been simplified by more detailed finding of the facts and express application of the principles of statutory and case law, we have no doubt about the justice of the ultimate judgment entered by the trial judge. On their joint assets, defendant will receive about $137,500 and plaintiff will receive about $112,000. Given the facts set forth above, that division cannot fairly be described as arbitrary. In light of the age of the children and defendant's earning capacity, which exceeds $55,000 per year, the LDA of $20,800 for three years is obviously reasonable. A judge has broad discretion in setting alimony and equitable distribution, Steneken v. Steneken, 367 N.J. Super. 427, 434 (App. Div. 2004), aff'd in part, modified in part, 183 N.J. 290 (2005); Borodinsky v. Borodinsky, 162 N.J. Super. 437, 443-44 (App. Div. 1978). We do not perceive this case as approaching a violation of that discretion. Finally, the defendant provides nothing by way of detail that might suggest that having each party bear their own credit card debts was somehow unfair.



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