On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FM-16-0939-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad and Sapp-Peterson.
In this matrimonial matter, defendant Victor M. Quijano (husband) appeals from the Family Part's July 28, 2010 order enforcing the arbitrator's decision pursuant to the parties' 2004 dual judgment of divorce providing for "binding arbitration" of unresolved financial issues. On appeal, husband argues the court erred in: (l) enforcing an unsigned property settlement agreement (PSA) as he never agreed to its terms; (2) disallowing a plenary hearing as to the existence of a valid and enforceable PSA; and (3) failing to award all appropriate credits he advanced plaintiff, Maria L. Quijano (wife). Wife concedes the court's calculation omitted credits awarded by the arbitrator and should be modified to reflect the correct amount due of $314,010, plus the $7,000 pendente lite counsel fee that has not been appealed. We affirm the order as modified.
The parties were divorced on July 29, 2004. Both parties were represented by counsel. Their children were emancipated at the time. The dual judgment provided, in pertinent part:
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the financial and other issues be submitted to binding arbitration to an Arbitrator chosen and agreed to by the parties and the attorneys for the parties . . . and the [parties] shall cooperate with and abide by the interim and final determinations, decisions and judgment of the Arbitrator; and
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Arbitrator shall have the power to adjudicate and enforce disputes and disagreements between the parties which are submitted to the Arbitrator by Motion or otherwise.. . . .
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the decision of the Arbitrator shall be confirmed by reducing same to an Order of the Court. After entry of the Final Order confirming the decision of the Arbitrator, the Order shall be subject to the same treatment as a Final Judgment or Final Order of the Court[.] The final decision and determination of the Arbitrator shall be subject to appeal; and
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Plaintiff and the Defendant shall have the right to make application to this court as a result of the failure of either or both of the parties to comply with the interim and final decisions, determinations and judgments of the Arbitrator[.]
The parties chose Judge Harvey Sorkow, a retired Superior Court judge, as their arbitrator. The parties, represented by counsel, purportedly did not reach an agreement until November 2007, during a meeting in Judge Sorkow's office. Husband purportedly refused to execute the agreement that wife's counsel reduced to writing. On May 28, 2008, the arbitrator issued a written decision stating, in pertinent part:
Talks between counsel in consultation with their respective clients and the arbitrator resulted in an essentially settled case. All issues save the valuation and division of the equity in the former marital home and whether to allow for certain payments remain.
[Wife] questioned the use of the original agreed upon valuations ($400,000) use at this late date - - - 4 years after the divorce judgment was entered. She asked for and received permission to obtain a current valuation at her own expense. She agreed to pay the full cost of the reappraisal. The new appraisal put a value of $490,000 on the house. There was no contrary opinion submitted by [husband].
The arbitrator accepts that figure as the current value of the house and divides the $90,000 increase in value equally between the parties so that each shall receive $245,000 for their share of the house. [Wife] will execute and deliver a deed and ...