On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FM-03-910-07-Z.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 9, 2010
Before Judges Carchman and Messano.
Defendant Dr. Edward Sleeper appeals from a March 25, 2009 amended judgment of divorce, which among other things, awarded alimony to plaintiff Eileen Sleeper and granted equitable distribution. Relying on her expansive findings of fact and her determination that defendant's testimony lacked credibility, Judge Claypoole ordered that defendant pay plaintiff the sum of $6,757 per month. We conclude that defendant's appeal is without merit and affirm.
These are the facts and the judge's findings. Plaintiff and defendant were married on April 11, 1986. Plaintiff is retired teacher, and defendant is a veterinarian.
The parties owned two homes - a vacation home in Knowlton and their marital home in Medford, N.J. Defendant owned his own veterinary practice until he sold it, and he also owned the land housing the practice (the Mt. Laurel property). It was disputed at the time of trial as to whether the Mt. Laurel property had been sold, or whether defendant still owned it and collected rental income. Defendant and plaintiff also formed a limited liability company - Sleepy Hollow LLC - in which defendant had a ninety-nine percent interest and plaintiff had a one percent interest. The veterinary practice paid rent to the LLC.
Prior to trial, the parties stipulated to the equal division of a number of assets, including: the Knowlton property, bank accounts, IRAs, the marital home, defendant's life insurance policy, plaintiff's pension, plaintiff's 403(b) account and plaintiff's LSW annuity. The parties also stipulated that defendant paid plaintiff $500,000 in January 2006, and this represented plaintiff's share of the sale of the veterinary practice.
Following completion of the testimony and introduction of evidence, the judge made significant findings that informed her ultimate determination. She concluded: Plaintiff was credible and forthright in all regards. Her record keeping was meticulous. Defendant, to the extent he was permitted to testify, was not credible. Several examples follow. On cross-examination, when asked whether he was lying, he replied that he was not lying under oath "that I know of." He also admitted that he instructed his brother, who prepared the corporate tax returns for the veterinary practice, to create a number for the business rental obligation so the business would not show a profit. Defendant's deposition testimony that he did not know who a Dr. Mirabella was, was contradicted by his testimony at trial. Dr. Mirabella was a plastic surgeon to whom Defendant wrote a business check for $4,000*fn1 ; the Court does not accept Defendant's trial testimony that he learned of Dr. Mirabella's identity only in Court. In short, defendant withheld, misstated or changed testimony throughout the discovery process and at trial.
Judge Claypoole noted that the parties were married for twenty years. She determined that both parties were in "reasonably good physical and emotional health."
With respect to the parties' marital lifestyle, the trial judge concluded that the parties enjoyed an "upper middle class lifestyle" and noted,
They ate out frequently at nice restaurants in Philadelphia and New York City and, locally . . . They attended plays and many concerts by artists such as Jimmy Buffett and Bruce Springsteen. The parties entertained at their home on holidays. They took many vacations, some for business and some purely personal. They traveled to places such as Canada, Bermuda, Florida, New Orleans, Germany, the Canadian Rockies, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Vieques, Saint John's, Arizona, Panama and the British Virgin Islands. They stayed in higher end hotels . . . . They included their children and their families in the vacations. The parties had a family home as well as a second home in Knowlton. They had pets, usually four or more. Both parties will be able to reasonably maintain a marital lifestyle based on alimony and equitable distribution . . . even if slightly different from that which they enjoyed during the marriage.
The judge observed that plaintiff, a retired teacher, has been absent from the job market for almost nine years. Judge Claypoole found that defendant has an employment agreement from which he is to "receive $60,000 per year for working twenty hours per week plus production ...