October 25, 2013
PETER J. CICCOSANTI, Plaintiff-Appellant,
CATHERINE M. CICCOSANTI, Defendant-Respondent
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 9, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-13-1567-07.
Gendel & Brod, attorneys for appellant (Daniel H. Gendel, of counsel and on the brief).
Drazin and Warshaw, attorneys for respondent (Vincent L. Stripto, on the brief).
Before Judges Waugh and Nugent.
Plaintiff Peter J. Ciccosanti appeals two Family Part orders, both dated August 20, 2012, denying his motion for post-judgment relief and granting defendant Catherine M. Ciccosanti's cross-motion. We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
We discern from the record on appeal that, in November 2011, Peter filed a motion seeking post-judgment relief with respect to child support, parenting time, and the sale of the marital residence. Peter also requested that the parties' judgment of divorce from bed and board, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-3(a), be converted to a judgment of divorce from the bonds of matrimony, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2. Catherine filed a cross-motion seeking twelve items of relief, including the denial of Peter's motion and relief involving issues related to child support, the emancipation of one child, the sale of the marital residence, completion of the Qualified Domestic Relations Order required by the parties' property settlement agreement, and counsel fees. At oral argument for the motion, the parties agreed to mediation and the motion judge entered an implementing order.
Because mediation was unsuccessful, Peter filed a motion seeking essentially the same relief in June 2012. The motion requested oral argument, as well as discovery and a plenary hearing. Without holding oral argument, a different judge entered two orders on appeal. One order denied the relief sought by Peter and granted most of the relief sought by Catherine. The second order denied the relief sought by Peter, except that it granted his application that the divorce be converted to one terminating the marriage. The prior judge's unsigned "tentative" order and statement of reasons was attached to one of the orders. This appeal followed.
We find it necessary to reverse and remand to the Family Part. First, Rule 5:5-4(a) provides that "the court shall ordinarily grant requests for oral argument on substantive and non-routine discovery motions." In our view, oral argument should have been allowed on cross-motions such as those involved in this case, especially in light of the fact that a different judge was determining a motion previously argued before another judge.
Second, "[t]rial judges are under a duty to make findings of fact and to state reasons in support of their conclusions." Heinl v. Heinl, 287 N.J.Super. 337, 347 (App. Div. 1996) (citing R. 1:7-4). "'Meaningful appellate review is inhibited unless the judge sets forth the reasons for his or her opinion.'" Strahan v. Strahan, 402 N.J.Super. 298, 310 (App. Div. 2008) (quoting Salch v. Salch, 240 N.J.Super. 441, 443 (App. Div. 1990)). "Naked conclusions do not satisfy the purpose of R. 1:7-4. Rather, the trial court must state clearly its factual findings and correlate them with the relevant legal conclusions." Curtis v. Finneran, 83 N.J. 563, 570 (1980) (citations omitted). The judge's findings and conclusions in this case do not satisfy that standard.
Finally, although we are aware that "not every factual dispute that arises in the context of matrimonial proceedings triggers the need for a plenary hearing, " Harrington v. Harrington, 281 N.J.Super. 39, 47 (App. Div.) (citing Adler v. Adler, 229 N.J.Super. 496, 500 (App. Div. 1988)), certif. denied, 142 N.J. 455 (1995), we cannot determine from the record before us why the motion judge decided that there were no genuine and material factual disputes requiring either discovery or a plenary hearing, or both, concerning the issues raised in this case.
Consequently, we reverse the orders on appeal, except for the provision related to the issuance of a final judgment of divorce from the bonds of marriage, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction.
Reversed in part and remanded.