Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Almost Went The Distance

The New Jersey Appellate Division dealt with a divorce involving parties that had ended a 67-year marriage, finding "no merit" to the husband's appeal contentions but remanding on the wife's attorneys fees.

After all that time, the marriage foundered on irreconcilable differences

The judge found that Sylvia sustained her burden of demonstrating irreconcilable differences without a reasonable prospect of reconciliation. The judge rejected David's argument that a reasonable prospect of reconciliation was demonstrated by evidence that Sylvia assisted David with medical care (before being enjoined from doing so), that the parties attended social gatherings together, that they made joint charitable donations, and that they continued to reside in the same household and, until June 2020, slept in the same bed.


The parties were married in 1955. Sylvia is now in her mid-eighties, and David is over ninety. They have four children: Ellen, Nancy, Douglas, and Jane, who were born in 1956, 1958, 1960, and 1964, respectively. The parties became extremely wealthy during their lengthy marriage, primarily through David's efforts as a real estate developer; Sylvia never worked outside the home. The parties' son Douglas works with David in his various businesses; the parties’ three daughters did not.

Sylvia alleged that the parties' marital assets – exceeding $130 million in value – were controlled solely by David, providing as an example, that their West Orange home is titled in David's name. Sylvia, however, now has sole control over approximately $25 million in assets, including $14 million formerly held by the Sylvia Steiner Trust, which was transferred to her alone by agreement after commencement of this action.

In June 2018, Sylvia filed her complaint seeking a divorce from David. Over a year later, she moved to bifurcate the issues so that the court might first address whether there were grounds for divorce, which David disputed, before tackling their equitable distribution issues. On November 22, 2019, the Family Part's presiding judge granted the motion, and we soon after denied David's motion for leave to appeal that order.

The trial judge denied the parties' summary judgment cross-motions, which addressed whether there were grounds for divorce. Over the course of four nonconsecutive trial days starting in August and ending in December 2020, the judge heard testimony and, on January 19, 2021, rendered a written opinion and entered a judgment of divorce. Nine days later, the judge certified the judgment as a final appealable order, and David filed this appeal.

The court

We find no merit in David's arguments, except we will vacate the counsel fee award and remand for further proceedings about Sylvia's entitlement to fees from David.

(Mike Frisch)

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