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Salama v. Salama

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

September 19, 2013

NADEEN SALAMA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
MARTIN SALAMA, Defendant-Respondent


Submitted May 14, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-13-1550-10.

The Deni Law Group, L.L.C., attorneys for appellant (Georgia M. Fraser, of counsel and on the brief).

Law Office of Edward Fradkin, L.L.C., attorneys for respondent (Mr. Fradkin, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Yannotti and Hayden.


Plaintiff Nadeen Salama appeals from a February 3, 2012 Family Part order, which entered an amended dual judgment of divorce (ADJD) incorporating an oral settlement agreement and a June 5, 2012 Family Part order, which denied her motion for reconsideration and to vacate the settlement agreement and ADJD. Based upon our review of the record and the applicable legal principles, we affirm.

Plaintiff and defendant Martin Salama were married in 1986 and had four children. Plaintiff filed a complaint for divorce on April 19, 2010. The parties were part of an affluent, close-knit community and, according to plaintiff, defendant's family was "extremely wealthy, powerful and influential in that community." During the course of the marriage, the parties lived an "upper middle class, affluent lifestyle."

For the majority of the marriage, plaintiff worked in the home caring for the children. Neither party had any substantial earned income during their marriage. According to plaintiff, the parties' had a "financially rocky" life, during which defendant started several businesses, all of which failed. The parties afforded an extravagant lifestyle, however, by relying on the largesse of defendant's wealthy family. Defendant's mother also compensated him around $50, 000 per year to manage her financial affairs. Additionally, the parties received income from their joint business, MES Family Limited Partnership (MES). According to defendant, at one time, MES generated approximately $20, 000 per month for the parties. During the marriage, plaintiff had no knowledge of the family's finances.

From 2003 to 2008, the parties were involved in a business called Matchpoint Health and Racquet Club, Inc. (Matchpoint), owned by MES. The business failed in 2008. According to defendant's family, defendant funded the business and other expenses with money he embezzled from his mother's financial accounts. Plaintiff maintained that she did not know about the embezzlement allegations until late 2008 and she never saw any proof that defendant had taken money without his mother's permission.

In December 2008, both parties executed a promissory note and personal guarantee, acknowledging that they owed defendant's mother $2.7 million plus interest. Plaintiff stated that defendant told her she had to sign over control of MES to his mother and allow his mother to hold MES until they paid back the monies defendant allegedly misappropriated. At that time, plaintiff maintained she was unaware how much MES was worth or how much the parties were earning from it.

Additionally, the parties had borrowed money in 2007 from United Leasing, Inc. to finance Matchpoint. United Leasing obtained a judgment against Matchpoint and MES in July 2009 for $182, 012. Unable to collect on its judgment, United Leasing pursued discovery against plaintiff and defendant.

Plaintiff first obtained information regarding the value of MES during her United Leasing deposition in June 2010, when she viewed a July 15, 2007 financial statement defendant prepared to secure the loan. The statement reported that MES was worth $9, 250, 000 and that plaintiff and defendant had a net worth of $11, 000, 485. During defendant's United Leasing deposition in May 2010, he asserted, incorrectly, that he and plaintiff transferred their ownership interest in MES to his mother in exchange for the approximately $3 million debt he owed her. After discovery was completed, United Leasing filed a complaint against the parties, among others, in July 2010, alleging that defendant and his family fraudulently transferred the assets of MES to avoid payment of United Leasing's judgment.

During the divorce proceeding, plaintiff was represented by counsel from the commencement of the litigation in April 2010 through January 2011. The parties engaged in discovery and attended an early settlement conference. Plaintiff's case information statement (CIS), dated July 28, 2010, reported a net worth of negative $1, 427, 341. Defendant's CIS, dated April 22, 2011, reported a net worth of $26, 229, 333. Plaintiff's counsel asked to be relieved as her attorney due to nonpayment and a deteriorating attorney/client relationship. The court granted the motion.

Thereafter, from January 2011 until July 2011, plaintiff represented herself. The trial commenced in the matter on June 14, 2011, with plaintiff proceeding pro se. She testified that she was aware that defendant allegedly embezzled money from his mother. She acknowledged signing documents about MES in 2008, but she stated she did not understand what she was signing. She agreed that although she was initially led to believe that she had signed her interest in MES over to defendant's mother, she learned at the United Leasing deposition that her interest was "not taken away" but used to secure ...

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