A divorcee’s plush lifestyle provided by her paramour can be considered when her ex seeks alimony reduction, a state appeals court held on Tuesday in a precedential ruling.
The Appellate Division, in Reese v. Weis, A-5557-10, turned aside arguments that the gifts and luxuries lavished by the woman’s live-in lover were outside the equation.
"We reject this view and hold that the provision of emoluments, which enhance a dependent spouse’s lifestyle, also equate to a tangible economic benefit from the new living arrangement," the panel held.
The panel affirmed Essex County Superior Court Judge Verna Leath’s grant of a motion by Ronald Reese, seeking termination of the $100,000 a year he was paying in permanent alimony to his ex-wife, Rebecca Weis.
Reese and Weis divorced in July 1996 after 13 years of marriage. They had three children. Reese remarried in 1997 and, in October 1998, Weis and her new partner, William Stein, purchased a house in Port Washington, N.Y., for $567,000, plus $400,000 for renovations. Weis paid four-sevenths of the cost and Stein paid three-sevenths.
Although Weis and Stein maintained separate bank accounts and credit cards, they also commingled their funds and had joint bank accounts and credit cards. Stein paid for most household costs.
Then there were the trips, with Stein paying for nearly everything. Stein, Weis, their children and often their children’s friends took vacations to the Bahamas, the Galapagos Islands, the Grand Canyon, Malibu, Disney World, Half Moon Bay and Vail, and a yachting trip to Nantucket and Cape Cod. Stein and Weis would often take trips themselves, including stays in Beverly Hills, Italy, Anguilla and Greece. Stein took Weis’ two older children on a trip to Los Angeles after one had expressed an interest in going to postgraduate school at the University of Southern California.
Often, trips occurred on the Stein family’s private jet.
Stein’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in 2008, when he and his family lost $11 million to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and to bad real estate investments. The trips ended, and household expenses were cut drastically.
Leath, in granting the motion to terminate alimony, relied on Gayet v. Gayet, 92 N.J. 149 (1983), which held that payments can be reduced or terminated on evidence of economic benefits being enjoyed by a co-habitant.
On appeal, Judges Marie Lihotz, Mitchel Ostrer and John Kennedy said it is permissible to look beyond direct economic benefits.
Weis had argued that permanent alimony could only be terminated with the death of the paying spouse or the remarriage of the receiving spouse.
"We conclude this argument is meritless," Lihotz wrote for the court. "[E]quity and fairness demand that when a dependent spouse receives outside support from the one with whom he or she co-habits, this change must also be treated in the same manner as any other change in the circumstances."
Here, the evidence clearly showed that Weis was benefiting both directly and indirectly from Stein.
"Insisting she was paying her way, defendant nonetheless acknowledged she would not have been able to live in the type of home she and Stein purchased had it not been for Stein’s initial and on-going contribution," Lihotz said.
"The facts showed the combined families operated as a single household, with defendant and Stein committed to each other economically, devoted to each other emotionally, and faithful to their monogamous union," Lihotz said.
Reese’s lawyer, Bonnie Frost, says the ruling further addresses changes in circumstances that may warrant termination of alimony.
"The court recognized she received other emoluments as a result of her cohabitation," says Frost, of Denville’s Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito & Frost. "That can’t be dismissed when you look at her lifestyle and how they lived."
The evidence is clear that Weis, Stein and the children live together as a family, she says.
"You can’t say you live as a family and still get alimony," says Frost.
Weis’ attorney, Gary Newman, of Roseland’s Newman, McDonough, Schofel & Giger, did not return a telephone call.