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Mattox v. Mattox

Decided: December 17, 1956.

VIOLA MATTOX, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
CLINTON MATTOX, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Clapp, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Clapp, S.j.a.d.

Clapp

Appeal is taken from an order of the Essex County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court upon the ground that the court did not have jurisdiction to enter the order.

Clinton Mattox and Viola Mattox, husband and wife, live together in the same household, but he has (as we understand the findings of the court below) willfully failed to

provide her with food. The court in fact found "that the only basic support the husband gave his wife was shelter." It was also found that she had worked most of her married life and was, at the time of the hearing, earning $37 a week. In the order appealed from, the court, reciting its reliance on N.J.S. 2 A:4-18(e), adjudged:

"that defendant [the husband] deserted his wife so far as supplying her with food is concerned and * * * that he pay her $10.00 [per] week for food."

The question, presented to us, turns on N.J.S. 2 A:4-18(e), which provides:

"The juvenile and domestic relations court shall also have jurisdiction concurrently with such other courts as may have jurisdiction over the matter, to hear and determine in a summary manner disputes and complaints:

e. Involving the domestic relation, where a husband or father deserts his wife or child even though they continue to live in the same household, in which case the court may order adequate support of his wife, child or family." (Italics added)

The question is whether a willful failure to provide food constitutes a desertion within this statute. Clearly it would not, of itself, constitute a desertion under the divorce law of this State. Fehmel v. Fehmel , 118 N.J. Eq. 294, 297 (E. & A. 1935); Shockey v. Shockey , 112 N.J. Eq. 370, 372 (E. & A. 1933); Annotation, 150 A.L.R. 991. To make out a desertion in that connection, there must be some additional circumstance, as for instance, that the husband, having the means, refused to support his wife in order to drive her away. Paxton v. Paxton , 98 N.J. Eq. 476 (Ch. 1925).

But, apart from the divorce law, the word, desertion, has other connotations. Thus, it may denote a willful abandonment of a duty. Lea v. Lea , 8 Allen 418, 90 Mass. 418, 419 (Sup. Jud. Ct. 1864); Stoneburner v. Theodoratos , 30 P. 2 d 1001, 1003 (Cal. App. 1934); Johnson v. Strickland , 88 Ga. App. 281, 76 S.E. 2 d 533, 535 (Ct. App.

1953); 26A C.J.S. p. 861; Black's Law Dictionary (4 th ed.); cf. McComas v. Glendinning , 59 Ga. App. 234, 200 S.E. 304, 305 (Ct. App. 1938). It is true that the Legislature, in N.J.S. 2 A:4-18(e), does not, in terms, speak of a desertion of a duty; it refers to a desertion of a wife or children. However it attaches to the statute a further clause, namely, "even though" the parties "continue to live in the same household." Does this clause indicate an intention on the part of the Legislature to give to the juvenile and ...


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