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Edward P. Harwelik, Jr v. Jessica R. Harwelik

December 19, 2011


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hunterdon County, Docket No. FM-10-228-07.

Per curiam.


Submitted May 24, 2011

Before Judges Carchman, Graves and Waugh.

Plaintiff Edward Harwelik, Jr., and defendant Jessica Harwelik were married on August 3, 2000, and divorced on June 11, 2010. The parties have one child, a daughter, who is now seven years old. Prior to trial, the parties entered into a shared parenting arrangement that designated defendant as the parent of primary residence and plaintiff as the parent of alternate residence. However, the parties were unable to reach an agreement on child support.

Plaintiff argues on appeal that the trial court incorrectly calculated his alimony and child support obligations and his percentage contribution toward their child's unreimbursed medical expenses based on compensation that he is no longer eligible to receive. Plaintiff also claims the trial court erred in awarding counsel fees to defendant in the amount of $25,000 and in ordering the parties to place "a hold on [their daughter's] passport with the State Department." For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

The essential facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff is a college graduate with a degree in finance. He also completed course work at New York University in financial planning. Plaintiff was fifty-three years old at the time of trial and was employed as a manager at Verizon Communications, where he had worked for many years.

Defendant was born in Peru on March 27, 1972. While living in Peru, defendant finished high school, earned a secretarial certificate, and studied English as a second language. In 1992, defendant moved to Caracas, Venezuela, to continue her studies and to work. While living and working in Venezuela, defendant earned an Associates Degree in Human Resources, but the credits she earned are not transferable to the United States.

The parties met in Venezuela in 1995 while plaintiff was employed by GTE, which subsequently merged with Bell Atlantic to form Verizon. On August 3, 2000, the parties were married in Venezuela. They relocated to the United States later that same year.

After moving to the United States, defendant initially worked in a florist shop and then a restaurant. She also worked at a dentist's office for a short time, and she was an administrative assistant at a nursing home. Defendant did not work outside the home following the birth of the parties' child in 2003, but she continued to study English as a second language. Defendant also took some courses at Raritan Valley Community College. She testified that her goal is to become a teacher.

Plaintiff's complaint was filed in February 2007, and the trial was conducted on August 11, 12, and 13, 2009, and September 22, 2009. The parties were the only witnesses to testify. On June 2, 2010, the trial court placed its decision on the record, and a final judgment of divorce was entered on June 11, 2010.

Plaintiff testified he had been employed by Verizon for twenty-one years (although the company was not always known as Verizon). He explained that while he was a director at Verizon, his income was comprised of a base salary, short-term bonuses, and long-term bonuses in the form of restricted stock units (RSUs) and performance stock units (PSUs).*fn1 These stock units were granted in a given calendar year and vested three years later. Following the three-year vesting period, the value of the stocks was paid to plaintiff as part of his W-2 wages. As a director, plaintiff was also entitled to defer all or part of his short-term bonus.

In July 2006, when Verizon sold most of its international assets, plaintiff's title was downgraded from director to manager. As a result of the change, he was no longer eligible to receive long-term bonuses, although the bonuses previously granted would still vest and be fully payable. In addition, as a manager, plaintiff could no longer defer the short-term bonuses he received after 2006.

Plaintiff's earned income was $150,021.86 for 2002, $150,879.31 for 2003, $158,149.10 for 2004, $199,034.01 for 2005, and $232,919.49 for 2006. For 2007, plaintiff's earned income of $240,044.10 included a long-term bonus in the amount of $65,287 that had vested in 2007, an $8000 relocation benefit, ...

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