April 21, 2011
DONALD W. BECKER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
JOYCE C. BECKER, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-002606-08N.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 16, 2011
Before Judges Ashrafi and Nugent.
Plaintiff Donald Becker appeals from the March 16, 2010 Family Part order requiring him to pay counsel fees to defendant Joyce Becker, the fee of a forensic accountant, and the cost of personal property and real estate appraisals. We affirm.
The parties were married on April 22, 1988, and had two children. A final judgment of divorce was entered on January 11, 2010, and an amended dual judgment of divorce (DJOD) was entered on March 15, 2010. Paragraph three of the DJOD provided, "[t]he issue of payment of counsel fees and appointed experts is to be decided by the Court."
Plaintiff and defendant filed post-judgment applications for counsel and expert fee awards. On March 16, 2010, the family judge entered an order that required plaintiff to pay $25,000 of defendant's counsel fees and $21,360.98 to the forensic accountant who valued plaintiff's business, and reduced those amounts to judgments. The order also required that plaintiff pay the entire cost of personal property and real estate appraisals.
Plaintiff contends on appeal that the judge failed to apply the proper standard for awarding counsel fees and costs. We disagree.
The allowance for counsel fees and costs in a family action rests in the sound discretion of the court. Eaton v. Grau, 368 N.J. Super. 215, 225 (App. Div. 2004). See R. 4:42-9(a)(1); 5:3-5(c); see also Williams v. Williams, 59 N.J. 229, 233 (1971). That discretion is to be exercised by careful consideration of the factors set forth in Rule 5:3-5(c).
Additionally, "[b]ecause of the family courts' special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters, appellate courts should accord deference to family court factfinding." Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 413 (1998).
The family judge carefully considered each factor set forth in Rule 5:3-5(c), the income and disposable income of the parties, their capital assets, and their ability to pay or contribute to their own counsel fees. The judge found, "[t]he matrimonial action was a long drawn out proceeding instigated in large part by [p]laintiff's recalcitrance and disregard of Court ordered pendente lite economic and discovery obligations."
After determining that the proposed counsel fees were reasonable, the judge concluded:
I find that the [d]efendant's litigation costs were largely inflated due to [p]laintiff's continuous stonewalling of discovery, willful disobedience and bad faith in failing to comply with court ordered discovery. I further find that the [p]laintiff is in a superior financial position to fund counsel fees from income. In the exercise of discretion and in consideration of all factors outlined herein[,] I have entered an order which obligates the [p]laintiff to fund $25,000.00 of [d]efendant's counsel fees, 100% of the $21,360.98 forensic accounting costs, and 100% of real and personal property appraisals totaling $1,850.00. The parties have been ordered to equally share ... the economic mediator's costs.
Having reviewed the record in light of plaintiff's arguments, we find no abuse of discretion in the judge's award of counsel fees and costs.
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