On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Somerset County, Docket No. FM-18-0159-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Cuff, Lihotz and St. John.
Defendant Jetty Sawyer (f/k/a Beim) appeals from the October 8, 2010 order of the Family Part, denying her motion to vacate a settlement; the January 11, 2011 amended dual judgment of divorce that incorporated the terms of the settlement and dissolved the marriage between her and plaintiff Joseph Beim; and the award of certain legal fees to Beim, which fees resulted from the court's enforcement of the settlement. We are not persuaded that the Family Part either abused its discretion or misapplied the law. We affirm.
The parties married on June 15, 1985, and no children were born from the marriage. Plaintiff is in his eighties and defendant is in her seventies. From November 1994 until June 2008, defendant held a power of attorney for plaintiff and conducted substantially all of the parties' financial dealings. Plaintiff was also unconscious for several months prior to the filing of the divorce complaint as a result of injuries suffered in an automobile accident.
After the complaint and answer were filed, the parties attended multiple alternative dispute resolution events in an attempt to settle the controversy. They went to an "Early Settlement Panel" on July 13, 2009, and were referred to Donna P. Legband, Esq. for economic mediation. The parties attended a shortened "Mandatory Economic Mediation" session with Legband on October 8, 2009, as well as an "Intensive Settlement Conference" on March 22, 2010, and a second "Economic Mediation" session with Legband on June 10, 2010.*fn1 The second mediation session lasted for several hours and resulted in a settlement agreement, which was signed by defendant, defendant's attorney, plaintiff, and plaintiff's attorney.
Plaintiff attended the June mediation session with his attorney, Daniel B. Tune, Esq. Defendant attended with Adelaide Riggi, Esq., an associate at the Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus law firm. Defendant's primary attorney, Michael Stanton, Esq., from the same firm, did not attend.
During the mediation session, plaintiff produced several documents which defendant's counsel advised her would negatively impact claims to certain assets. In addition, Legband asked defendant to estimate certain property values, which defendant provided.*fn2 After hours of mediation, both sides, with the help of Legband, composed the four-page settlement agreement. Legband typed two pages of the document, the third page was photocopied from one of defendant's prior submissions, and the last page was written by Tune. Handwritten paragraphs were added to the typed document and certain sections were deleted completely.
Of significance to this appeal, the parties made very specific decisions in the settlement agreement. They divided: all real property; ownership of defendant's business; their bank, retirement and investment accounts; plaintiff's insurance settlement funds and payments he received from the German government; and each party's premarital property. The particular specificity was further illustrated by the delineation of defendant's right to seven lighting fixtures, which were described in minute detail.
A handwritten section of the settlement agreement stated: [t]he undersigned agree that they intend to meet with their attorneys and have a property/martial settlement agreement drafted consistent with the terms of this agreement. Both parties further agree that this document constitutes a binding settlement agreement. [(Emphasis added).]
The settlement agreement also provided plaintiff's "[p]ending motions [be] withdrawn by Friday, June 11, 2010."*fn3 Defendant, plaintiff, and their respective attorneys signed and dated the settlement agreement. Additionally, plaintiff and defendant signed each page of the settlement agreement and initialed certain handwritten changes.
On June 29, 2010, plaintiff submitted a notice of motion to enter partial judgment enforcing the settlement agreement. On July 22, 2010, defendant filed a cross-motion asserting that the "binding settlement agreement" be deemed unenforceable.
On October 8, 2010, Judge Anthony F. Picheca, Jr. entered an order granting plaintiff's request for the entry of a partial judgment consistent with the settlement agreement. On November 15, 2010, a "short form" final judgment of divorce was entered. On January 11, 2011, an amended dual final judgment of divorce was entered and the judge also awarded counsel fees ...