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Thomas v. Thomas

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

June 4, 2013

SCOTT C. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTINE R. THOMAS, Defendant-Respondent. CHRISTINE R. THOMAS, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
REASSURE AMERICA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant, and LAURA THOMAS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF SCOTT C. THOMAS, Defendant-Appellant, and KIMBERLY THOMAS AND SCOTT C. THOMAS, JR., Defendants-Respondents.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued May 15, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-13-236-00B.

Martha A. Suhayda-Vogt argued the cause for appellant.

Robert E. Goldstein argued the cause for respondent Christine R. Thomas (Drescher & Cheslow, P.A., attorneys; Mr. Goldstein, on the brief).

Michael J. Deem argued the cause for respondents Scott C. Thomas, Jr. and Kimberly Thomas (R.C. Shea & Associates, attorneys; Mr. Deem, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Grall, Simonelli and Koblitz.

PER CURIAM

This matter involves the distribution of the proceeds of the $1 million life insurance policy (the policy) maintained by the decedent, Scott Thomas (Scott Sr.).[1] The trial judge awarded 50% of the insurance proceeds to Scott Sr.'s ex-wife, plaintiff Christine Thomas (Christine), 25% to his second wife, defendant Laura Thomas (Laura), and 12.5% to each of his children, defendants Scott Thomas, Jr. (Scott Jr.) and Kimberly Thomas (Kimberly). Laura appeals from the November 14, 2011 Family Part order that denied her motion for distribution of 60% of the insurance proceeds to her and other relief. She also appeals from the January 3, 2012 order, which denied her motion for reconsideration and awarded Christine counsel fees. We affirm the awards to Christine and reverse the awards to Laura and the children.

Scott Sr. and Christine were married in November 1976, and divorced in March 2000. Their Property Settlement Agreement (PSA), which was incorporated into their final judgment of divorce, required Scott Sr. to pay permanent alimony of $3250 per month until the sale of the marital home, and $2500 per month thereafter. The PSA also required Scott Sr. to pay child support until the children were emancipated.

To secure alimony and child support, Article V of the PSA required Scott Sr. to maintain a life insurance policy "irrevocably naming [Christine] as beneficiary for $500, 000 and each child as beneficiary for $125, 000 each[, ]" and "annually provide [Christine] with proof of said insurance." Article V also provided that

[Scott Sr.'s] obligation to maintain said insurance for [Christine] as beneficiary shall terminate upon the termination of his obligation to provide alimony as set forth in Article II or be modified if the alimony obligation is modified. [Scott Sr.'s] obligation to maintain said insurance for the children shall terminate upon emancipation.

Article II.5 provided that the PSA could only be modified by mutual consent "in writing and duly signed and witnessed." In compliance with this provision, the parties modified the PSA three times by filing three consent orders: (1) a February 13, 2004 consent order, which reduced alimony from $2500 per month to $2000, effective February 1, 2004; (2) a December 3, 2004 consent order, which emancipated Scott Jr. as of May 2004; and (3) a September 6, 2007 consent order, which emancipated Kimberly as of May 2007. There was no written consent or consent order modifying Article V to reduce Scott Sr.'s life insurance obligation to Christine.

In an August 17, 2007 e-mail to Scott Jr. and Kimberly, Scott Sr. confirmed that he had a life insurance policy "as part of the divorce settlement [with Christine] named as a beneficiary" (the August 2007 e-mail). He also advised that he chose to keep the children as 12.5% ...


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