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Frangella v. Frangella

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

September 10, 2013

STACEY S. FRANGELLA, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
JAMES FRANGELLA, Defendant-Appellant.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Telephonically argued March 8, 2013.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Sussex County, Docket No. FM-19-594-10.

Richard D. Schibell argued the cause for appellant (Schibell, Mennie & Kentos, L.L.C., attorneys; Mr. Schibell, of counsel and on the briefs; Ellen D. Fertakos, on the briefs).

Andrew M. Epstein argued the cause for respondent (Lampf, Lipkind, Prupis & Petigrow, P.A., attorneys; Mr. Epstein, on the brief).

Before Judges Messano and Ostrer.

PER CURIAM

This appeal presents an issue of contract interpretation. The parties dispute the meaning of the insurance paragraph of their property settlement and support agreement (PSSA), which was incorporated into their September 19, 2011, final judgment of divorce. When he entered the PSSA, defendant owned two insurance policies on his life - a $2 million policy with Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. (MetLife), with his mother as the sole beneficiary, and a $1 million policy with John Hancock (Hancock), with his mother and the parties' three children as named beneficiaries. The trial court ordered defendant, pursuant to its interpretation of the provision, to maintain the $3 million in insurance, and change the beneficiaries so that plaintiff was a fifty percent beneficiary of the total, and the parties' three children were made joint beneficiaries of the other fifty percent. The court denied defendant's motion to reconsider. Defendant's appeal is limited to the order denying reconsideration. We affirm.

I.

The disputed insurance provision states:

15. In addition to the foregoing, Husband shall be responsible for maintaining at his cost and expense his existing life insurance (represented to have no less than $1, 000, 000 as a death benefit) for the benefit of Wife and the children. 50% of the amount maintained shall be for the benefit of Wife for however long Husband has an obligation to pay alimony, and 50% shall be for the benefit of the children. Should Wife die or should Husband's alimony obligation terminate, while Husband still has a child support obligation, the amount Husband had been carrying for Wife shall be added to the amount Husband is to carry for the benefit of the children. Husband shall immediately provide Wife with proof as to the amount of insurance Husband has.

The PSSA also requires plaintiff to obtain and maintain $250, 000 of life insurance for the benefit of the children.

Before entering the PSSA, the parties agreed in mediation to a binding written Outline of Economic Settlement (the Outline), which also addresses the life insurance obligation. The PSSA stated it was a "fuller statement" of the parties' agreement, but the PSSA referenced the Outline, which was annexed. The PSSA did not expressly provide a rule of interpretation if the two documents conflicted. The Outline provided:

Defendant shall continue in effect his existing face amount of insurance on his own life of not less than 1 million. 50% shall be for the benefit of plaintiff, and 50% shall be for the benefit of the children. Should π [plaintiff] die before child support ends, or should plaintiff's right to alimony terminate before child support ends, the amount of insurance maintained for plaintiff shall be added to the amount maintained for the children.[1]

The Outline also required plaintiff to obtain $250, 000 of life insurance for the children's benefit.

Post-judgment, plaintiff repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, attempted to ascertain whether defendant had changed the beneficiary designation on his policies. She then filed a motion in aid of litigant's rights, to compel compliance.

Defendant argued before the trial court that the PSSA required him to preserve whatever insurance he already owned that designated plaintiff or the children as beneficiaries, which he represented to be at least $1 million. Defendant asserted, to the best of his recollection, when he negotiated the agreement, he believed that plaintiff and the children were the beneficiaries of the $1 million Hancock policy, and his mother was the beneficiary of the $2 million MetLife policy. He claimed he therefore agreed to maintain what he thought was the $1 million of existing coverage for his wife and children.

Defendant also asserted that the MetLife policy was a term policy, which would expire when he was seventy-three years old. He asserted he learned after the divorce that the Hancock policy was a term policy as well. Counsel argued that it would be prohibitively expensive for defendant to ...


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