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A divorcing wife’s attempt to saddle her in-laws with alimony and child support to keep up her lifestyle is raising matrimonial lawyers’ eyebrows. Plaintiffs lawyer Patricia Barbarito is asking a Morris County, N.J., judge for leave to add as defendants the husband’s parents, who assumed his mortgage and other expenses when he got too ill to work. “If one understood the uniqueness of the facts and circumstances, I’m sure they’d agree with me that this is the logical approach,” says Barbarito, of Denville, N.J.’s Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito, Frost & Ironson. But while Barbarito calls her third-party-liability theory a logical extension of existing case law, family lawyers reacting to it last week say it’s at best a stretch — and at worst the height of chutzpah. “I have a hard time seeing it,” says John Paone Jr. of Woodbridge, N.J.’s Paone & Zaleski. “From the point of view of maintaining standard of living, this is a bowl of sugar from a neighbor, not an obligation. In New Jersey, we have alimony; and we have palimony. But we don’t have patrimony.” “Alimony is a creature of the Legislature,” says Cary Cheifitz of Summit, N.J.’s Ceconi & Cheifetz. “Under the case law, it has got to be between a husband and a wife.” Douglas and Cynthia Idleman were married in 1988. They have two boys, Devon, 13, and Ryan, 10, the younger one autistic. Douglas, now 43, retired early from AT&T seven years ago. They bought their Denville home with most of his $350,000 retirement package. He then became a self-employed public relations and marketing consultant. Cynthia, now 40, had been a stay-at-home mother for most of their marriage. In 2002, Douglas was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease and was repeatedly hospitalized. The next year, he underwent liver transplants followed by months of hospitalizations and rehabilitation. When he finally was discharged, his wife asked that he go to the Madison, N.J., home of his parents, Lee and Sue Ann, because she said she would be unable to care for him, in addition to caring for their autistic son. The parents began paying $20,000 a month to meet the family’s mortgage, private school tuition and other expenses. In a brief in support of the motion, Barbarito and her co-counsel Thomas Snyder say Douglas’ parents set a standard of living that they are bound to uphold. “Lee and Sue Ann Idleman created a financial dependency on the part of Cynthia Idleman and the minor children … [who] relied on that support,” they write. They say the state Supreme Court’s ruling in Weishaus v. Weishaus, 180 N.J. 131 (2004), which said the source of a couple’s marital standard of living “is of use to a court when making an alimony award,” left open how to consider the sources of funds that supported the lifestyle, such as regular and continuous contributions from third parties. But the lawyer for husband Douglas Idleman calls the argument ludicrous. “The plaintiff would have this court believe that the defendant’s parents are legally obliged to assume responsibility for the gap between the defendant’s present limited ability to pay and the heightened marital standard of living,” Theresa Julian, of Summit’s Cooper, Rose & English, writes in her brief. “There is no statutory or common law support for the plaintiff’s claim for alimony against her mother-in-law and father-in-law,” Julian adds. Superior Court Judge Allison Accurso is scheduled to hear the motion on Friday.

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