On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Somerset County, Docket No. FM-18-000955-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 9, 2012
Before Judges Sabatino and Maven.
In this matrimonial case, plaintiff Christina Mantey, formerly known as Christina Mantey-Schwartz ("Mantey"), and defendant Eric Schwartz ("Schwartz") respectively appeal and cross-appeal certain aspects of the Family Part's November 17, 2011 Amended Dual Judgment of Divorce relating to the equitable distribution of the parties' assets. In particular, the parties each contest discrete terms of equitable distribution ordered by the trial court relating to: (1) the marital residence; and (2) a Morgan Stanley investment account (the "Morgan Stanley account"). Because the trial judge's oral decision and written findings do not sufficiently address all of the relevant statutory criteria for equitable distribution prescribed by N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1, and, in some respects, lack sufficient evidential and legal support, we remand this matter to the Family Part for a reexamination of the contested issues and for a more complete statement of reasons.
The parties were married in July 1997. They separated in November 2007 when Mantey moved out of the marital residence. They have no children together. In May 2010, Mantey filed a complaint for divorce, and Schwartz thereafter filed a counterclaim for divorce.
Following certain stipulations by the parties, the two unresolved issues in the divorce action related to equitable distribution. These issues were the subject of a one-day trial conducted in the Family Part in November 2011. Both spouses were represented by counsel and they were the only witnesses who testified.
As to the marital residence, the record indicates that the parties jointly purchased it in July 1995, approximately two years before they married. Schwartz testified that he paid the entire $36,000 down payment for the purchase from his personal account. Mantey testified, however, that she funded approximately $6,000 of the down payment from her own savings. The parties lived in the house together from July 1995 until November 2007, when Mantey vacated the premises. Up to the time of trial, Schwartz continued to reside in the house. The record indicates, however, that the parties anticipate selling the home.
At trial, Schwartz contended that the $36,000 he allegedly contributed to the home should not be included within the marital assets subject to equitable distribution. Mantey, on the other hand, argued that both parties had contributed to the down payment, that the house was purchased in contemplation of marriage, and consequently the entire net proceeds of any sale of the residence should be available for equitable distribution without any offset.
The other disputed asset during the divorce action was the Morgan Stanley account, which was opened in the parties' joint names in December 2002. Prior to that time, the parties had a joint investment account with Putnam, which was initially funded in 1999 with approximately $30,000 they received as wedding gifts. In November 2001, Schwartz's mother died, leaving him with an inheritance of approximately $300,000. The parties do not dispute that $100,000 of the inheritance remained segregated in a separate IRA account and is therefore not a martial asset subject to equitable distribution. The remaining $200,000 of inheritance, which is at issue, was deposited into the joint Morgan Stanley account in three deposits between December 2002 and June 2003. A fourth deposit was made in May 2003 from the couple's joint Putnam account.
As of September 2006, the approximate value of the Morgan Stanley account was $295,000. That same month, the parties signed a document authorizing the transfer of the funds in the Morgan Stanley account into an account (also with Morgan Stanley) that was solely in Schwartz's name. Schwartz testified that this transfer was intended to insulate the funds from potential creditors of Mantey. He further testified that Mantey acknowledged that those funds came from his inheritance, and, allegedly, "she wanted no part of them." Mantey, however, disputed this claim, contending that she understood the funds to be marital assets and that she had signed the transfer documentation unwittingly because Schwartz had typically handled the parties' investments.
Between October 2006 and October 2010, several withdrawals were made
from the new Morgan Stanley account. In addition, the value of the
investments in the account were decreased by market forces.*fn1
By October 2010, the value of the Morgan Stanley account had
dropped to $123,000. Schwartz lost his job in 2006 and thereafter had
made only limited earnings as a real estate agent. He testified that
the funds withdrawn from the Morgan Stanley account were used to help
pay the parties' joint expenses through the time of the wife's
departure in November 2007. According to Schwartz, the account was
thereafter used to pay the mortgage and otherwise maintain the
property. Schwartz acknowledged on cross-examination, however, that
some of the funds withdrawn from the account were used for his
personal food, clothing, and utilities.
After considering the parties' testimony concerning these two disputed assets, the trial judge made the following determinations. With respect to the marital residence, the judge concluded that Schwartz's contribution to the down payment was a gift, and thus declined to grant the $36,000 credit sought by Schwartz. The judge divided the equity in the house in equal (50/50) shares to each spouse. With respect to the Morgan Stanley account, the judge rejected Schwartz's argument that the account was his personal asset and instead found it eligible for equitable distribution. The judge apportioned eighty percent of the then-current value of the Morgan Stanley account to Schwartz and twenty percent to Mantey. Over Mantey's objection, the judge ordered that the account be valued as of the time of trial and not as of some earlier date.
On appeal, the parties now each raise divergent reasons for overturning these rulings on equitable distribution. As to the marital residence, Schwartz challenges the court's finding that his contribution to the down payment was a gift. He also challenges the fairness of the 50/50 division of the equity in the house, because he was not given a $36,000 credit. Mantey argues that we should affirm the trial court's finding of a gift, and to leave the 50/50 allocation undisturbed.
As to the Morgan Stanley account, Schwartz argues that the judge erred in not treating those funds as his exclusive asset because the account was substantially funded by his inheritance and also because the funds were in an account that was solely in his name at the time of Mantey's divorce complaint, filed in May 2010. Meanwhile, Mantey argues that the judge correctly treated the Morgan Stanley account as a marital asset, but the judge erred in: (1) unfairly awarding Schwartz eighty percent of the account balance; and (2) utilizing the time of trial as the account valuation date rather than ...