BALL v. BALL (App Div., 3rd Dep’t)

The plaintiff-wife and the defendant-husband each claimed a distributive share of the other’s enhanced earnings capacity obtained during the marriage.

Defendant earned his law license prior to the marriage and worked as a lawyer from 1989 to 2007.  In 2007, defendant began working as a part-time City Court Judge and in 2010 started a 10-year term as a full-time City Court Judge.  The Court ruled that the election to a judicial position is not equivalent to obtaining a license or degree that enables a person to engage in a more lucrative career.  Although the defendant earned more money as a full-time judge than as a lawyer, it is actually the law degree and license that enhanced his earning capacity, both of which were obtained prior to the marriage.  Therefore, the Court determined the defendant did not have any enhanced earnings to distribute.

Plaintiff earned her Master’s degree during the marriage by completing her degree part time over a number of years during the evening and on weekends.  Additionally, plaintiff’s father paid for her tuition.  In order to have succeeded in his claim, the husband was required to “establish that a substantial contribution was made to the acquisition of the [plaintiff-wife’s] degree or license.”  Such factors include whether the spouse altered his schedule and/or took on additional household duties that he would not have otherwise performed in order to enable the titled spouse to obtain the license/degree. Although the defendant claimed he cared for the children while the plaintiff was at class, the Court determined that this was a duty he would have had to perform regardless. Accordingly, the Court determined the defendant was not entitled to a distributive share of the plaintiff’s enhanced earning capacity.