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Robert L. Wheeler v. Ellen A. Wheeler

April 1, 2011

ROBERT L. WHEELER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ELLEN A. WHEELER, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, FM-12-1900-03G.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued September 20, 2010

Before Judges Rodriguez, Grall and LeWinn.

Robert Wheeler appeals pro se from the April 6, 2009, order denying his motion for reconsideration of a January 23, 2009, post-judgment order. In that January order, Judge Deborah J. Venezia denied Robert's application for termination of his obligations to pay alimony and maintain a life insurance policy for the benefit of his former spouse, Ellen A. Wheeler. We affirm for substantially the reasons stated by the judge in the April 6, 2009 order.

The parties were divorced on February 1, 2006, ending nearly twenty-eight years of marriage. They had two children, both of whom are now emancipated.

After working in education administration for two decades, Robert moved to the home-building industry to increase his income. The transition was a success. By the time of the divorce, Robert earned in excess of $150,000 per year. Ellen is a teacher, whose salary in 2007 was $95,000.

During the marriage, Robert handled the parties' finances. In 2003, Ellen found out through a credit report that Robert had reached the credit limit of $29,000 on one credit card and had taken over $80,000 in personal loans secured by the marital home. Robert had also raided approximately $96,200 worth of marital assets by taking loans in Ellen's name, borrowing on the cash value of family insurance policies and cashing in retirement funds. Although Robert admitted these actions, he claimed it was necessary to maintain his family's lifestyle.

Shortly after filing for divorce in March 2003, Robert relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina. Subsequently, he remarried in North Carolina and accepted a position with a $110,000 salary. He claims that he gives his second wife $1,000 per month for household expenses.

The dual judgment of divorce incorporates a consent order to submit all economic issues to binding arbitration and to enter into a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). The parties also agreed that the arbitrator would decide how to compensate Ellen for Robert's wrongful depletion of marital assets.

The arbitrator decided that Robert should pay permanent alimony of $250 per week. This amount would allow Ellen to continue her marital lifestyle and cure Robert's wrongful depletion of marital assets. To secure this obligation, Robert was required to maintain at least $250,000 in life insurance, naming Ellen as sole beneficiary. The judgment of divorce was modified to incorporate these terms.

Since the divorce, Robert has often been in arrears on his alimony obligations. In December 2007, Judge Glenn Berman ordered a Middlesex County Probation Department audit of Robert's account. The audit incorrectly showed that Robert owed $14,500 in arrears. Relying on the audit, Ellen immediately moved to enforce. However, a second audit revealed the error before Ellen's motion was decided.

On January 23, 2009, Judge Venezia granted another motion to enforce Robert's alimony obligation. The judge directed Robert to pay arrears of $3250 and alimony of $250 per week. She also ordered Robert to provide proof of the requisite life insurance policy. Finding that Robert acted in bad faith in failing to comply with the court's prior orders, Judge Venezia ordered Robert to pay Ellen's attorney's fees and costs.*fn1

In March 2009, Robert moved for reconsideration. He submitted documents to substantiate his position that he earned less than $250 a week. The judge denied the motion without prejudice on March 19, 2009, finding that Robert submitted financial information in his motion for reconsideration that was not previously submitted, i.e., a pre-divorce case information statement (CIS) dated October 29, 2003; a present CIS dated February 8, 2009, indicating 2008 income of $55,395.95; and a W-2, ...


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