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Feldman v. Feldman

July 22, 2010


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-1119-06.

Per curiam.


Argued January 26, 2010

Before Judges Wefing, Grall and LeWinn.

In 2005, after thirty-six years of marriage, plaintiff Barbara K. Feldman filed a complaint for divorce and defendant Harvey A. Feldman filed a counterclaim. Plaintiff's claim for equitable distribution and defendant's claims for alimony and equitable distribution were tried to the court. When the trial was completed, plaintiff was sixty-one years of age, defendant was sixty-two and their only child was emancipated. An amended final judgment of divorce distributing the marital assets and denying alimony and counsel fees was entered in March 2008 and clarified on defendant's motion for reconsideration by order of July 8, 2008.

Defendant appeals and plaintiff cross-appeals. Defendant contends that the judge erred in denying him alimony. Both parties claim error in the following: the judge's distribution of marital assets; the award of debits and credits for expenses pending trial; allocation of responsibility for property taxes and insurance pending sale of their real estate; and the denial of counsel fees. We modify the judge's determination of credits, but otherwise affirm substantially for the reasons stated in the judge's oral decisions of February 28 and July 8, 2008 as supplemented herein.

Plaintiff was born in 1945 and defendant was born in 1946. They married in November 1969. At that time, plaintiff had a college degree in political science and was working for the City of New York in the Department of Housing and Community Development. Defendant had a degree in accounting and was employed in the tax department of Avon Products, Inc. Neither party had assets at the time of the marriage, and their first home was a one-bedroom apartment in New York City. Throughout the marriage, the parties separated their finances and defendant allocated the expenses between them. They had one joint checking account into which plaintiff deposited her earnings, but defendant kept his funds in separate accounts. When he paid a bill that he believed plaintiff should have paid, he reimbursed himself from the joint account.

The parties' only child was born in 1973. Plaintiff left the workforce during the pregnancy and did not return to work until 1975. In the two-year interim, plaintiff cared for their child and home and defendant worked and studied for an advanced degree.

In 1975, defendant obtained his MBA at the expense of his employer, who paid his tuition. That same year the Feldmans purchased a house in Teaneck, and plaintiff returned to her employment with the City of New York. In 1978, plaintiff left her job with the City to work for a New York State financing agency. Defendant continued his employment with Avon until his position was eliminated in 1980.

Before his severance pay expired, defendant was hired as a vice president and the director of new product development by Margrace Corporation in Middlesex. At that point in the marriage, he was earning about $5000 a year more than plaintiff.

In 1983, plaintiff left her government job to serve as vice president for Salomon Brothers in the area of municipal finance. She and defendant discussed her career change before she moved to the private sector, and he helped her prepare a plan to accomplish that goal. In her opinion, defendant was otherwise not supportive of or helpful in her career. When plaintiff went to work for Salomon Brothers, she hired and paid a full-time, live-in housekeeper who also cared for the Feldmans' child.

Plaintiff continued a pattern of changing her job to advance her career. In 1984, she left Salomon Brothers to accept a position at Bear Stearns. Her starting salary was between $100,000 and $125,000, and she was required to work long hours and on weekends and, at times, had to travel. By 1988, plaintiff earned $197,986.21.

In 1985, Margrace closed and defendant, then earning $75,000, started his own marketing and consulting business. He worked from the family home. Defendant's average earnings between 1986 and 1996 were $104,000. In 1990, his best year, defendant earned in excess of $250,000.

In 1991, defendant selected a vacation home for the family in East Hampton. Plaintiff paid the purchase price, $388,000, in cash from funds in her investment accounts and took title in her name alone. She also paid for all of the furnishings and the landscaping done at the East Hampton home. Defendant paid about $8000 per year for the property taxes and insurance.

As their careers advanced, the parties continued to keep separate checking and investment accounts, separate credit cards and one joint account that was funded solely by plaintiff. In addition to the mortgage, property taxes and insurance, defendant assumed responsibility for their child's private school tuition and his personal expenses. When their child enrolled in college, defendant paid the tuition, but he later reimbursed himself in the amount of $88,000, exhausting a fund set up for that purpose.

In 1994, plaintiff left Bear Stearns and joined Merrill Lynch's municipal bonds group. Her new job was more demanding and required travel throughout the country. By that time the Feldmans' child was about nineteen years old and in college.

In 1994, the Feldmans purchased land in Cresskill for just over $480,000 with the intention to make their home there rather than in Teaneck. As with the East Hampton house, plaintiff paid the purchase price for the land in cash from her investments; this time she acquired the funds by selling her Bear Stearns stock. Again, plaintiff took title in her own name only. She spent about $1.2 million to fund the construction of a custom built 8500 square-foot home, which included an apartment for her mother. Although plaintiff hired a construction manager, defendant said he contributed by selecting and working with the architect, overseeing the workers and negotiating with the vendors.

When the Feldmans sold their Teaneck home, they received $167,000. Upon completion of their new million-plus dollar home, plaintiff spent in excess of $200,000 to furnish the house. Defendant purchased the grill and the equipment in the home's "media room." He also paid $36,000 per year for the property taxes and insurance on that home.

The parties' recollections of their respective roles in raising their child and assisting each other differed. Both believed that he or she had played a greater role than the other perceived. In any event, the Feldmans' child ...

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