I recently spoke in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, at the New Jersey State Bar Association’s (NJSBA) mid-year meeting, along with judges, attorneys, and other noted professionals from New Jersey, to discuss the latest updates in alimony, child support, and equitable distribution. The following list of cases encompass recent advances in New Jersey matrimonial law, as well as a preliminary glimpse into the new child support statutory amendment which will become effective on February 1, 2017.
Judge L.R. Jones’ Opinions*
- Cameron v. Cameron, 440 J. Super. 158, 161, 111 A.3d 733, 735 (Ch. Div. 2014): The reporting of child support arrears as a delinquency on an obligor’s credit report under N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.21(a) applies under circumstances where an obligor fails to comply with an existing child support order. However, the statute does not equitably apply in situations where an obligor suddenly owes arrears that are retroactively imposed or due to an increase in support.
- Black v. Black, 436 J. Super. 130, 134, 92 A.3d 688, 691 (Ch. Div. 2013): When there exists an estranged relationship between an unemancipated child and the non-custodial parent, the court may require the child to attend joint counseling with the parent as a condition of the child receiving ongoing financial assistance from that parent for college tuition, as long as there is no exists no compelling reason to keep the parent and child physically apart.
- Dudas v. Dudas, 423 J. Super. 69, 70, 30 A.3d 359, 360 (Ch. Div. 2011): Under circumstances where the supporting spouse’s income increased substantially between the date of the filing of the Complaint for Divorce and the date of trial, a court may consider the post-Complaint increase in income for purposes of determining the supporting spouse’s alimony obligation.
- Gilligan v. Gilligan, 428 J. Super. 69, 73, 50 A.3d 110, 113 (Ch. Div. 2012): When a party asserts a post-divorce disability that allegedly renders that party unable to work at all and pay any child support, that party must provide more evidence than the SSD award letter to prove his or her case.
- C. v. R.H., No. FV-15-194-16 (N.J. Super. Ct. Ch. Div. Aug. 11, 2015): Litigants intending to utilize cellphone evidence, including text messages, during a domestic violence final hearing should make said evidence available in hard copy form. The court further opined that voicemails, video streams, or photographs should be duplicated onto a CD or DVD.
- Harrington v. Harrington, 446 J. Super. 399, 141 A.3d 1228, 1229 (Ch. Div. 2016): Under circumstances where a parent seeks retroactive modification of unallocated child support for multiple children based upon one child’s emancipation (while there are still other unemancipated children of the marriage), courts have discretion to retroactively modify child support back to the date of the child’s emancipation.
- Mueller v. Mueller, No. FM-15-619-05, 2016 WL 4379392 (N.J. Super. Ct. Ch. Div. Apr. 22, 2016): An application to terminate alimony brought five years before anticipated retirement date was brought too far in advance.
- Fichter v. Fichter, 444 J. Super. 205, 132 A.3d 441, 442 (Ch. Div. 2015): Courts may adjust the guideline-level child support to account for a child’s cost of car insurance.
- C. v. T.G., 430 N.J.Super. 455, 65 A.3d 281 (Ch.Div. 2013): Courts may enter a restraining order containing an advance provision that an unborn child will, upon birth, be automatically included as a protected person under circumstances where a domestic violence victim is assaulted while pregnant.
- Madison v. W. Davis, 438 N.J.Super. 20, 101 A.3d 1132, 1143 (Ch.Div. 2014): The primary custodial parent has the initial right to select a pre-school program for the child. However, the custodial parent’s choice must be reasonable and predicated on the need for work-related childcare.
- Van Brunt v. Van Brunt, 419 J.Super. 327, 16 A.3d 1127, 1131 (Ch.Div. 2010): Both the custodial parent and the unemancipated child have an obligation to provide the non-custodial parent with information relevant to the child’s college attendance as a condition to the receipt of ongoing child support.
- Kakstys v. Stevens, 442 J. Super. 501, 503, 124 A.3d 725 (Ch. Div. 2015): At trial, the court may establish a party’s child support obligation retroactive to the date of filing of the Complaint for Divorce under circumstances where the Complaint for Divorce contains an explicit request for child support. This is so even if a motion for child support was never filed, or was filed after the filing of the Complaint for Divorce.
- Kayahan v. Kayahan, No. FM-15-823-06 (N.J. Super. Ct. Ch. Div. Dec. 28, 2015): A court may, in its discretion, permit the non-custodial parent to pay child support directly to an unemancipated child over eighteen years old.
- S. v. B.C., No. FV-15-82-17, 2016 (N.J.Super.Ct.Ch.Div. Aug. 4, 2016): A knowing violation of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) meets the first prong of the two-pronged test under Silver for entry of a Final Restraining Order (FRO), namely that such a violation constitutes an act of domestic violence.
- H. v. D.H., No. FM-15-1571-11 (N.J.Super.Ct.Ch.Div. Jun. 5, 2015): One’s credit score is an important asset. Thus, when a divorcing party breaches an obligation to refinance a mortgage and such actions damage the other party’s credit score, such breach is actionable. Courts may grant equitable relief, including but not limited to power of attorney to sell the home and removal of the defaulting party from the home.
- Malek v. Malek, No. FM-15-1028-16W (N.J.Super.Ct.Ch.Div. Aug. 5, 2016): Both the spirit and the terms of the amended alimony statute require more than an analysis of the parties’ former “standard of living” or marital lifestyle when determining pendente lite Courts have the authority to enter a fair and equitable pendente lite support award in which neither spouse maintains the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. This is because it is likely that neither spouse will have the financial wherewithal to maintain the marital lifestyle on a pendente lite basis post-separation.
- Mills v. Mills, No. FM-15-1263-12 (N.J.Super.Ch.Div. Jun. 21, 2016): Under the recent amendments to the alimony statute, a court may reduce an alimony obligation when the obligor loses his prior employment and makes reasonable attempts to find substitute employment. Assuming the obligor obtains employment at a substantially lower salary, the court must determine whether the obligor’s choice to accept employment was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances and if so, if adjustment of support is fair and reasonable to both parties.
Other Hot Tips
- Lombardi v. Lombardi, No. A-3624-13T1 (N.J.App.Div. Sept. 12, 2016): In establishing alimony, the court must, in its assessment of marital lifestyle, consider evidence of regular savings adhered to by the parties during the marriage, even under circumstances where there is no concern for protecting an alimony award.
- Null v. Null, No. A-0551-14T3 (N.J.Super.App.Div. Jun. 2, 2016): A litigant’s application to terminate alimony may be denied with prejudice under circumstances where the litigant continuously failed to provide discovery and comply with court orders for a period of five years.
- N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67 (Termination of Child Support): Effective February 1, 2017, the law has been modified to reflect that when a child reaches the age of 19, child support and/or medical support obligations will end. The law does allow child support and/or medical support to continue up until the age of 23 in cases where the child is still in high school or attending full-time college, vocational or graduate school; or if the parties’ agreement or a court order provides otherwise.
*According to the Court in Brundage v. Estate of Carl V. Carambio, 195 N.J. 575, 593 (2008), a trial court opinion is not binding on other trial courts.