May 21, 2012
PAMELA JONES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
ROBERT JONES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-13-1198-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 6, 2012
Before Judges Grall and Alvarez.
In this appeal, defendant Robert Jones seeks relief from a post-divorce order denying his motion to modify or eliminate spousal support and granting plaintiff Pamela Jones's cross-motion for an increase in child support. Additionally, defendant was required to pay plaintiff the balance remaining on a child's education costs for the 2008-2009 academic year.
Lastly, plaintiff was granted counsel fees of $5695. Defendant's subsequent application for reconsideration was also denied, and plaintiff's cross-motion for enforcement of litigant's rights was granted, as were additional counsel fees. We affirm.
The court issued its cogent, thorough, and comprehensive decision on the merits on March 8, 2011, after extensive submissions and oral argument. Thereafter, on May 13, 2011, the court denied defendant's request for oral argument on his motion for reconsideration.
The parties divorced on July 13, 2004, and have five children. Presumably because of the split parenting arrangement entered into when they divorced, defendant was required to pay only $190 weekly in child support, but $800 weekly in alimony. By the time of the motion in 2011, defendant's child support obligation had been increased to $222 weekly.
In 2004, defendant had an income or earning capacity of $165,000 per year and plaintiff's earning capacity was $45,000.*fn1
Defendant, who is in the residential home construction business, claimed in his motion submissions that he earned no income for 2009 despite, as the Family judge described it, "amass[ing] several luxury assets including a 42' boat and a condo on Islamorada Key in Florida." The combined equity in those two assets alone, both of which were listed for sale in 2011, was $334,000.
Furthermore, the financial documents revealed that defendant had acquired his partner's interest in a jointly owned construction business in 2008 for $989,000, applying $680,000 in borrowed funds towards the purchase price. The court found this resulted in defendant becoming the sole owner of a business worth over $1.9 million, which carried debt of only $680,000. On his case information statement (CIS), defendant did not attribute a current value to the business, as the judge put it, "with only the cryptic notation 'TBD.'"
At the time of the motion, defendant owned an interest, or had recently sold an interest, in several real estate holdings. Some of these assets were jointly held by defendant and his girlfriend. The judge found that these assets had hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity and were not fully described on defendant's CIS or in his supporting documentation.
In addition to questioning the reliability and veracity of defendant's CIS, the judge also doubted defendant's assertion that the undisputed downturn in the real estate market warranted a reduction in alimony. In the six years after the divorce, defendant acquired assets that "if liquidated, would be more than sufficient to meet his support obligations for many years to come" despite the economic crisis. The judge characterized defendant's description of his assets and financial transactions as "clouded with questionable timing and suspicious circumstances which prompt skepticism as to their legitimacy."
Lastly, defendant's current monthly budget of expenses could be offset only by annual income of $166,512 - slightly more than the $165,000 he claimed as earnings when divorced in 2004. In fact, in 2004 defendant's assets were valued at $162,500, substantially less than his worth at the time of his application for downward modification.
Insofar as child support, the parties' oldest has been emancipated as of July 2009. The second child, twenty-two years of age when the motions were considered, had after the divorce, moved from defendant's home to plaintiff's home, and he too was deemed emancipated as of August 31, 2010.
The third child lives on his college campus part of the year. Accordingly, the judge calculated a proportionate reduction in the cost of his maintenance while residing with plaintiff. The judge included plaintiff's imputed income of $54,000 plus alimony in his child support computations. Child support was therefore recalculated at $326 weekly for the three remaining unemancipated children. And defendant was required to pay the outstanding balance of $3291.94 for the third child's 2008-2009 college term.
In considering plaintiff's counsel fee request, the judge reviewed the relevant standards found in Williams v. Williams, 59 N.J. 229 (1971), and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. He added: The intentional omission of substantial
assets in defendant's CIS along with unsupported claims of shared ownership with [defendant's girlfriend] presents a financial portrait that is so incomplete that it is misleading. This constitutes bad faith which not only permits but compels an award of counsel fees. This motion required plaintiff's counsel, his associate and his paralegal to spend time locating and providing relevant documents to the court that were not provided by defendant. Counsel's fees are reasonable as are the hours billed that were necessary to appropriately respond to defendant's motion.
We will not disturb the trial court's findings where they are supported in the record by substantial, credible evidence. Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 483-84 (1974). Given the Family Part's special expertise, we accord particular deference in those cases and to the conclusions that logically flow from those findings. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 412-13 (1998).
After review of the record and of defendant's claims on appeal, we affirm essentially for the reasons stated by the trial judge. His extensive and detailed findings of fact as to the parties' overall financial picture on each issue, was substantially supported by the credible evidence found in the record. We see no reason not to defer to his findings, nor to the conclusions of law he reached.
Defendant also appeals denial of his application for reconsideration. Curiously, the only new material came from plaintiff's certification in support of her cross-notice of motion and in opposition to defendant's motion for reconsideration. She discovered that during the pendency of the first motion and cross-motion, defendant entered into a $763,250 contract for the sale of real property owned by defendant's construction company. The judge put it succinctly - the additional submissions on reconsideration only established that defendant's business was not "suffering in any way."
We therefore affirm the judge's denial of defendant's motion for reconsideration on the merits for the reasons detailed in that thorough and cogent decision rendered from the bench. We address only three of defendant's points on appeal.
First, the contention that the judge's findings were inadequate is so lacking in merit as to not warrant further discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).
Secondly, defendant contends that his request for oral argument on the reconsideration motion should have been granted. The policy that requests for oral argument should ordinarily be granted, except on motions regarding routine calendar and discovery matters, is embodied in Rule 1:6-2(d). In this case, however, after review of the extensive submissions, the trial judge correctly concluded that defendant's reconsideration application was merely a reiteration of the points made on the original motion. No significant fact or precedent had been overlooked. Where only plaintiff's submissions contained new information, and those submissions bolstered the initial decision, making the scales of justice tip more clearly towards plaintiff, there simply was no need for oral argument. See Filippone v. Lee, 304 N.J. Super. 301, 306 (App. Div. 1997). This point therefore also lacks merit.
Lastly, defendant argues that the trial judge should recuse himself because he made findings regarding defendant's credibility. Since we affirm, the issue is now moot, and we will not address it further.