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Dona M. Donaldson v. Richard L. Donaldson

April 5, 2011

DONA M. DONALDSON, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RICHARD L. DONALDSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County Docket No. FM-04-1292-07-Y.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 14, 2010

Before Judges Graves and Messano.

In this matrimonial matter, defendant Richard Donaldson appeals from part of an amended dual judgment of divorce that awarded plaintiff Dona Donaldson one-half of the value of four parcels of real property with a stipulated value of $310,000. On appeal, defendant contends the matter should be remanded with instructions to determine equitable distribution without including the three properties defendant purchased in his name alone, prior to the parties' marriage on October 20, 1984.*fn1 The judgment was entered following a six-day trial in which only the parties testified. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

Plaintiff was born in 1952, and is now fifty-eight years old. Defendant was born in 1937, and is seventy-three. The parties met in 1970, when plaintiff was eighteen and living with her parents. On May 5, 1971, plaintiff gave birth to the parties' first child.

In 1972, at defendant's request, plaintiff and the child moved out of her parents' home into an apartment located in close proximity to defendant's residence. Plaintiff testified that defendant proposed to her on New Year's Eve in 1972 and gave her an engagement ring. She also testified that defendant slept at her apartment "throughout the week" and when her mother took the child on weekends, plaintiff stayed at defendant's apartment.

According to plaintiff, she was employed "[m]ost of the time" and gave defendant the money she earned. Plaintiff testified that defendant gave her "an allowance" and she thought the arrangement "made sense" because defendant "paid the bills" and told her "the benefits would be greater if he controlled the finances."

Plaintiff also testified that defendant "was an excellent father," and the parties always "did everything together" as a family. Their second child was born on April 9, 1979.

The first property at issue, 528 Royden Street, Camden, New Jersey (528 Royden), was purchased by defendant on July 25, 1978, for $3500. Plaintiff testified defendant told her that her name "was on the deed." In addition, plaintiff testified she moved into 528 Royden with the parties' child while defendant "rehabbed the whole house" because it was "cost effective," and the parties thought that it would benefit them "down the line." The parties resided at 528 Royden after their marriage in 1984, and they stipulated at trial that the fair market value of the property was $87,000.

Defendant also purchased and rehabilitated three additional properties. On August 1, 1983, he purchased 524 Royden Street, Camden, New Jersey (524 Royden), for the sum of $1550; and on September 19, 1983, he purchased 609 Williams Street, Camden, New Jersey (609 Williams) for $2500. The parties agreed that the fair market value of 524 Royden was $85,000, and the value of 609 Williams was $69,000. In addition, on November 1, 1985, after the parties were married, defendant purchased a fourth property in his name alone located at 611 Williams Street, Camden, New Jersey (611 Williams) for the sum of $1200. The stipulated value for this property was $69,000. Thus, the stipulated value of all four properties was $310,000.

After the parties were married, they formed Donaldson Builders, a home improvement construction company in 1992. Both parties were authorized to write checks from the business account. In addition, plaintiff started a daycare business in 2000 known as Brownstone Academy at 524 Royden Street. The Brownstone Academy was still active at the time of trial, but Donaldson Builders had ceased operating after defendant retired in 1999.

In a letter to plaintiff, defendant acknowledged he "would take the stand and admit" that she gave him checks dating back to whatever year "[she] would want." Nevertheless, defendant claimed he had taken care of plaintiff "from the very first day" because she always spent more than she earned. He further stated: "There is no cash money for you to get, nor would I give it if I had it, and do you actually believe that I would give something for you and another to enjoy? I would die before I give in to that."

At trial, defendant argued that all four properties were exempt from equitable distribution because they were purchased with defendant's "own funds"; plaintiff did not contribute to the improvements to the properties; and three of the properties were purchased prior to the parties' marriage. The trial court rejected these arguments, however, ...


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