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New Jersey Case Law Update: Child Support

SEFACK v. SEFACK

Docket No.  A-5338-10T2

Facts

Defendant appeals from a post-judgment order that fixed the amount plaintiff was required to pay toward child support arrears on a weekly basis and denied her request to incorporate an agreement between the parties into an order.

The parties agreed to the terms of a PSA, which was incorporated into their JOD.  The plaintiff became delinquent in his child support.  In January 2011, the Probation Division sought enforcement of plaintiff’s support obligation.  An order was entered reflected plaintiff’s arrearages and ordered a garnishment of his unemployment benefits.

In May 2011, plaintiff filed a motion to decrease his child support obligation on the ground that Joseph was out of school and working full-time.  Defendant filed a cross-motion, in which she agree to the emancipation of their older son, and asked the court to retain plaintiff’s weekly obligation.  Defendant asked that the support obligation that would have been payable for the emancipated child be applied to plaintiff’s arrears.

On May 27, 2011, the trial court granted plaintiff’s motions to emancipate Joseph and reduce child support, as well as defendant’s motion to increase arrears payments 

Holding

Affirmed in part, reversed in part.  Affirmed the court’s order as to the amount payable toward support and arrears.  Reversed the order that provides for alternating the exemption for Michael and remand for entry of an order consistent with the court’s opinion.

Issue 1

Defendant argued that court should have increased the amount payable toward arrears more than the $10 increase reflected in the order.

Rules

  • “[T]he enforcement, collection, modification and extinguishment of unpaid arrearages in alimony and child support payments are matters addressed to the sound discretion of the court.” In re Rogiers, 396N.J. Super. 317, 327 (App. Div. 2007) (quoting Mastropole v. Mastropole, 181 N.J. Super. 130, 141 (App. Div. 1981)).
  • The court will not disturb the court’s award if consistent with the law, “unless it is manifestly unreasonable, arbitrary, or clearly contrary to reason or to other evidence, or the result of whim or caprice.” Foust v. Glaser, 340 N.J. Super. 312, 315-16 (App. Div. 2001).

Analysis

At the time of his motion, plaintiff was unemployed.  He asked for the termination of his obligation for his emancipated son and did not ask for any modification of his obligation to pay toward arrears.  The court granted plaintiff’s relief and also partially granted defendant’s cross-motion, increasing the amount of the payment toward arrears, although not as much as defendant requested.  The court found no abuse of discretion in this award.

Issue 2

Defendant argued that the trial court erred in ordering that the parties alternate claiming Michael as a dependent for tax purposes.

Rules

  • “Settlement of litigation ranks high in our public policy.”  Nolan v. Lee Ho, 120 N.J. 465, 472 (1990) (quoting Jannarone v. W.T. Co., 65 N.J. Super. 472, 476 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 35 N.J. 61 (1961)).
  • “[T]he use of consensual agreements to resolve marital controversies’ is particularly favored in divorce matters.”  Weishaus v. Weishaus, 180 N.J. 131, 143 (2004) (quoting Konzelman v. Konzelman, 158 N.J.185, 193 (1999)).
  • “[F]air and definitive arrangements arrived at by mutual consent should not be necessarily or lightly disturbed.” Konzelman, supra, 158 N.J. at 193-94 (quoting Smith v. Smith, 72 N.J. 350, 358 (1977)).

Analysis

Here, the parties agreed that, in lieu of providing health benefits to the children, plaintiff waived any right to claim Michael as a dependent on his income tax returns.  Plaintiff did not oppose the relief sought by defendant.  Defendant was, therefore, entitled to the incorporation of the parties’ agreement in the JOD in the absence of circumstances that dictated otherwise.  The court vacated the portion of the court’s order that provided for the parties to alternate claiming Michael as a dependent.

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