New Jersey Equitable Distribution Involving an Older Spouse
September 5, 2017
In a recent New Jersey equitable distribution decision, a wife and husband cross-appealed after their divorce. The husband filed for divorce in 2010 after he’d been married to the wife for less than eight years. He was 61 when they married, while the wife was 50. They came into the marriage with children from prior marriages and worked full time.
The husband was laid off two years into the marriage and ultimately determined he would retire. The wife worked in IT, and her income fluctuated between $62,000 and $120,000 on a yearly basis. She had no health benefits as a contractor and no pension. The husband irrevocably named her a contingent beneficiary of his pension and also provided for the household.
The husband’s accounts paid for renovations and living expenses. She didn’t contribute to his accounts, nor withdraw from them. He paid down the wife’s mortgage. The wife put her earnings into accounts only in her name and contributed to the home by doing most of the chores. They had a nine-day divorce trial, in which the husband’s request for alimony was denied. The defendant filed a motion challenging the distribution to the plaintiff of his own bank accounts.
The appellate court explained lower courts have broad discretion to divide marital assets fairly and decide whether alimony should be awarded. Appellate courts affirm an equitable distribution as long as the lower court could reasonably get to its result from the evidence, and there were no legal or factual mistakes that contributed to the award.
The wife argued on appeal that it was an error for the court to determine that she wasn’t entitled to money from accounts to which the husband had joined her, but that the husband was entitled to half of her marital earnings deposited in her own accounts. The husband argued the court didn’t account for one of the wife’s CODs.
The appellate court explained that when the husband joined the wife to his bank accounts, they became marital assets subject to equitable distribution. However, the court found that the defendant wasn’t entitled to the distribution of these assets because the husband only agreed to join her because of her badgering. The accounts had functioned like separate property, and the wife didn’t add to the value of the funds, nor did she have an expectation she’d take them over.
In contrast, the court found that the wife could only deposit money she earned during the marriage into her separate accounts because they lived almost completely off her premarital funds. The husband had been entitled to 50% of the money the wife earned during the marriage.
The appellate court explained that the goal of equitable distribution is to reach a fair, just division of marital property. It found that merely because something is marital property doesn’t mean both of the parties must necessarily receive some of it. The court found that the factors listed under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1(p) supported the court’s allocation. In this case, although the plaintiff’s bank accounts were in only her name, the husband had contributed to their increased value because his premarital funds paid for most of their living expenses.
The lower court’s decision was partially affirmed.
If you are considering a divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about property division, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive attorney to seek an appropriate outcome. Contact the lawyers of Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or through our online form. We have attorneys available who can handle all aspects of a divorce.