KATHLEEN KRUPINSKI, N/K/A KATHLEEN GOCKLIN, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT/CROSS-APPELLANT,
MICHAEL KRUPINSKI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT/CROSS-RESPONDENT
Argued May 21, 2014
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Sussex County, Docket No. FM-19-352-90.
John V. McDermott, Jr., argued the cause for appellant/cross-respondent.
Chris H. Colabella argued the cause for respondent/cross-appellant ( Gruber, Colabella & Liuzza, attorneys; Mr. Colabella and Kristen C. Montella, on the brief).
Before Judges FUENTES, FASCIALE and HAAS. The opinion of the court was delivered by FUENTES, P.J.A.D.
[437 N.J.Super. 160] FUENTES, P.J.A.D.
Defendant Michael Krupinski appeals from the order of the Family Part denying his motion to terminate his obligation to pay permanent alimony to his former wife, plaintiff Kathleen Krupinski, n/k/a Kathleen Gocklin. Plaintiff cross-appeals the
court's decision to deny her application for an award of counsel fees incurred defending defendant's motion. After reviewing the record before us, we hold the Family Part mistakenly exercised its discretion when it denied defendant's motion to terminate alimony without affording the parties discovery and thereafter determining whether an evidentiary hearing was warranted.
Defendant's motion requires the trial court to address and answer one key question it did not address in denying defendant's motion to terminate alimony in 2010 and again in 2012. Specifically, the court must discern what part of the $1,871 monthly pension benefits plaintiff has been receiving since defendant's retirement in 2010 is attributable to defendant's post-dissolution efforts, and thus may be considered income to plaintiff for purposes of determining alimony, outside the bar imposed in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b). The trial court erred in denying defendant's motion without making this threshold determination.
[437 N.J.Super. 161] We thus remand for the Family Part to enter a case management order to afford the parties the right to engage in limited discovery to ascertain each other's current financial status, including medical and social needs. We leave the precise method and scope of discovery to the discretion of the trial court. We suggest, however, that the judge confer with counsel and thereafter enter a case management order limiting the form of discovery to written interrogatories, requests for admissions, production of documents, and updated Case Information Statements (CIS) supported by copies of filed income tax returns for the past three years. At the conclusion of discovery, and after consultation with counsel, the court will then be in a position to determine whether it is necessary to conduct an evidentiary hearing to resolve any factual issues in dispute.
The parties were both twenty-two years old when they married in 1968, and had two children who are both emancipated adults. They separated twenty years later on October 24, 1988. With the assistance of independent counsel, they negotiated and entered into a comprehensive property settlement agreement (PSA) that covered all of the key issues associated with the dissolution of marriage, including child support, the cost of college education for the children, and most relevant here, alimony, and equitable distribution. The PSA was incorporated by the court to the final judgment of divorce (JOD) dated June 27, 1990.
Defendant was a public school teacher at the time the parties separated in 1988, earning an annual salary of $45,798.28. He was enrolled in the Public Employment Retirement System (PERS). With respect to the equitable distribution of defendant's pension benefits, Paragraph 14 of the PSA provided in relevant part as follows:
It is agreed that at such time as the Husband starts to draw his pension, the Wife shall be entitled to one-third of each of the periodic pension payments made to the Husband. The Husband further agrees to execute such qualifying domestic relations order [QDRO] as may be necessary to direct the organization administering [437 N.J.Super. 162] the pension to make the Wife's one-third share of each pension payment directly to the Wife.
At the time the court entered the JOD in 1990, the PERS recognized defendant had accumulated nineteen years and eleven months of service as a public school teacher. The QDRO, which for reasons not disclosed in the record was not filed until October 5, 2000, provided, in relevant
part, for the Division of Pension and Benefits
to withhold from [defendant']s gross monthly retirement allowances for equitable distribution payments to [plaintiff] an amount to be computed by multiplying the gross monthly retirement allowances by Fifty Percent (50%) and a coverture fraction in which the numerator will be the total number of years that the spouses were married while the member was a member of the retirement system (from September 1, 1969 to July 21, 1989 or 19 Years 11 Months), and the denominator will be stated to be the total years of service credit accrued within the retirement system at the ...