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John Romano, Iv v. Dana Romano

January 12, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County, Docket No. FM-08-955-08.

Per curiam.


Argued November 10, 2011

Before Judges Fuentes, Graves and Koblitz.

Plaintiff John Romano, IV (John*fn1 ), appeals from the January 3, 2011 judgment of divorce, which divided the marital assets disproportionately in favor of defendant Dana Romano (Dana) and awarded her $50,000 in counsel fees and permanent alimony of $190 a week. The judgment also imposed on John a $250,000 life insurance obligation to secure the alimony. At oral argument, we were advised that Dana remarried on October 23, 2011, thereby limiting her alimony entitlement to forty-two weeks and eliminating John's $250,000 life insurance obligation. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge Robert P. Becker's oral decision of December 17, 2010, and written decision of January 3, 2011. We offer some additional comments.

The parties were married on June 27, 1999. Dana worked for a pharmaceutical company earning over $100,000 annually when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in early 2008. After her brain surgery, both parties agree that she was permanently disabled. Although she required continuing costly medical treatment, John allowed their medical insurance to lapse during the pendency of the divorce complaint, which he filed on June 16, 2008. John was thirty-three and Dana thirty-eight at the time of the divorce. No children were born of the marriage.

Prior to the divorce trial, a final restraining order was entered against John after a contested hearing on November 20, 2008. At the hearing, John testified that he was named on the deed of the marital home, although the trial court determined that only Dana's name was on the deed.

John filed a certified Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition on March 8, 2010, in which he estimated the value of his assets at no more than $50,000. In addition, he answered "none" in response to the following instruction at "SCHEDULE A - REAL PROPERTY":

List all real property in which the debtor has any legal, equitable, or future interest, including all property owned as a cotenant, community property, or in which the debtor has a life estate. Include any property in which the debtor holds rights and powers exercisable for the debtor's own benefit. If the debtor is married, state whether the husband, wife, both, or the marital community own the property by placing an "H," "W," "J," or "C" in the column labeled "Husband, Wife, Joint, or Community." If the debtor holds no interest in real property, write "None" under "Description and Location of Property."

John certified to an estimated annual income of $54,000 in both 2008 and 2009. On September 21, 2010, he filed an amendment to his bankruptcy petition, but did not modify the information concerning real property or estimated income. John's Chapter 13 repayment plan was accepted, although he did not receive a final discharge order, which is scheduled to occur in 2013.

On November 3, 2010, John filed a certified Family Case Information Statement (CIS), which indicated the marital home was a joint asset with a value of $494,000, subject to a mortgage of approximately $110,250. He further indicated his construction business had a value to be determined. Without considering the business, he estimated the parties' net worth subject to equitable distribution to be $511,132. John certified in the CIS that he earned $22,350 in 2009.*fn2

The marital home was purchased in 2001 for $324,545. Although John testified that he provided the funds for the down payment, Judge Becker found more credible Dana's testimony that she paid the down payment of $132,000 by cashing in her stock options.

The parties agreed that the home contained equity of $383,000 after subtracting the mortgage from the market value. Judge Becker awarded the home to Dana based on John's representation to the bankruptcy court that he had no interest in the property.

Dana's expert accountant, Michael Saccomanno, concluded that the operating value of John's kitchen remodeling business was $76,203 and that he received a yearly economic benefit of approximately $83,000. John's expert criticized Saccomanno's methodology. Judge Becker, ...

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