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Huguette Mualem v. James Mualem

May 9, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County, Docket No. FM-08-322-10.

Per curiam.


Submitted May 1, 2012

Before Judges Reisner and Simonelli.

Plaintiff Huguette Mualem appeals from an Amended Judgment of Divorce entered on March 17, 2011, and a May 6, 2011 order denying her motion for reconsideration. We affirm, substantially for the reasons stated in Judge Robert Becker's written decisions dated May 6, 2011 and June 14, 2011.


The parties were married in 1990 in Lebanon. They have two minor children. The parties resided in New Jersey when plaintiff filed the divorce complaint here in 2009. After extended divorce negotiations, the parties entered into a property settlement which included defendant's agreement to pay equitable distribution and child support. The settlement was placed on the record on February 15, 2011, and the attorneys gave the judge a handwritten version of the settlement agreement.

The sole issue on this appeal concerns plaintiff's claim to property located in Lebanon, which defendant owned prior to the marriage. During the February 15 hearing, plaintiff's attorney stated on the record before Judge Becker and in plaintiff's presence, that plaintiff was waiving her right to the property in Lebanon as part of the divorce settlement. The following dialogue occurred between Judge Becker and plaintiff's counsel, Ronald B. Edelman, Esq.:

THE COURT: The waiver of the Lebanon property, is there a full waiver of the real estate . . .

MR. EDELEMAN: Yes, Judge, there's full waiver of any property husband owns in Lebanon.

After all the settlement terms were placed on the record, the judge asked plaintiff if she had "any questions" about the terms of the settlement or whether she thought "anything . . . was left out." In response, plaintiff asked whether defendant was agreeing to pay for the children's college expenses, and the attorneys explained in detail the provisions concerning the parties' future obligations for college costs. She also asked which parent would have physical custody of the children's passports, because both parties contemplated traveling abroad with the children for vacations. She asked no questions about the property in Lebanon.

Plaintiff's attorney then questioned her under oath concerning her understanding of and voluntary agreement to the settlement. Plaintiff stated that she understood all the settlement terms and conditions. She admitted that the settlement was fair and equitable, although she acknowledged that she was not "happy" with it. She also indicated that she was satisfied with her attorney's services. The judge signed a handwritten final judgment; it was later put in typewritten form as an amended judgment entered on March 17, 2011.

About two weeks after the final judgment was entered, plaintiff contacted her attorney claiming that nothing had been placed on the record about her waiver of rights to the property in Lebanon. She then filed a pro se motion for reconsideration of the judgment, claiming that she had not knowingly waived her right to that property.*fn1 At the May 6, 2011 motion hearing, at which plaintiff was placed under oath, she claimed that she and her attorney "never discussed" the Lebanon property. Her attorney, who had submitted a certification to the court, was present and told the judge that the Lebanon property had been "the subject of discussion since the first day that she came in, into my office." Plaintiff stated that she had no idea that settlement would be discussed in court on February 15 and she "was not expecting" her attorney to agree to waive her right to the Lebanon property. She claimed she "did not hear" her attorney make that statement.

In a brief opinion placed on the record on May 6, 2011, Judge Becker found plaintiff's testimony incredible and found that the agreement "was placed on the record with [plaintiff] sitting there answering questions the day the divorce was granted." In a supplemental opinion dated June 14, 2011, the judge further found that during the hearing at which the settlement was placed on the record, plaintiff did not appear "intimidated, nervous, or confused. On the contrary, Plaintiff had a lucid and nearly aggressive attitude." He found that plaintiff "lacked credibility at the time of the Motion ...

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