Mani v. Mani

869 A.2d 904 (2005)


W and H met in 1970 when she went to work for him in his seasonal amusement business.  Before the parties were married in 1973, they purchased their first home in Toms River for $30,000. They jointly contributed $5,000 or $6,000 out of profits from the boardwalk business to buy the property. The balance of the purchase price was financed by a $25,000 mortgage held by W's father. W and H married. They had no children. During the marriage, W's father gave her significant gifts of money and investments in her name only. She received stock in a family-owned business that appreciated to $1.7 million by 1991. As a condition of the gift, H was required to sign a waiver stating that he was not entitled to share in the stock. W also received an interest in an investment partnership formed by her father for his five children. W liquidated her interest in the partnership in 1987 for just over $500,000 and invested that money in her name. W's income was needed to pay for the couple's expenses. In 1986, they spent between $500,000 and $750,000 in improvements on a lavish new home. In 1993, they retired from the boardwalk business and lived almost exclusively out of W's investment income. H worked briefly for real estate brokers in Florida, although he earned only about $20,000 total in income. W discovered that H was having an affair with a woman with whom the parties socialized. W filed a complaint for divorce alleging adultery and extreme cruelty. The trial judge granted H's motion for pendente lite relief, awarding $1,006 per week as spousal support and $7,000 as counsel fees. W had assets valued at $2.4 million. H had an IRA with a value of $80,000. He also had a partial interest in accounts held jointly by the couple and a shared interest in property from his father's estate valued at $50,000. H sought permanent alimony of over $68,000 per year.  The judge held that W's assets except for a 30% share of the house were immune from equitable distribution. The judge awarded James $610 per week in alimony based on his economic dependency. The judge attributed to James the ability to earn a minimum of $25,000 annually. H appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed and reasoned that the reduction in H's standard of living was justified, in part, by the finding that W had established he was adulterous and committed acts of extreme cruelty. The court observed that the parties' standard of living was not the result of their joint efforts, but solely due to gifts from W's father. H appealed.