This is an action for support by a deserted wife against her husband in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court pursuant to N.J.S. 2A:4-18(b), (e).
At the initial hearing the testimony disclosed that the defendant left plaintiff without justifiable cause and that she continued to live in the apartment which they had rented and occupied as husband and wife prior to the separation. Thereafter, he voluntarily contributed about $30 per week for her support and the support of the one child of the marriage, although while the parties were living together he was providing his wife with about $125 per week for the support of the family, including the rent for the apartment, which was established at $120 per month. Plaintiff testified that she was unable to pay the rent after her husband left because the amount of support he was contributing was not sufficient to permit her to do so. The evidence submitted as to defendant's income was contradictory and unclear. It appeared that he owned and operated his own business but it was difficult to determine what his annual earnings were without an examination of the books and other records of the business.
Defendant conceded liability for future fixed, periodic payments of support, and objected solely to the wife's request for the inclusion into any support order of a provision
for the payment of the back rent owing to the landlord which accrued after the separation. Though the wife expressed fears of eviction, the landlord had not at the time of the initial hearing instituted a suit in the county district court for either eviction or the payment of back rent. Defendant grounds his objection upon the following technical arguments: (1) that a deserting husband is never required to pay the past, accrued debts incurred by his wife, his obligation going solely to future, periodic payments without consideration for such past debts and (2) the inclusion of such a provision in an order of this court would provide the landlord with a most potent remedy, enforceable by the potential penalty of contempt, which the Legislature never intended for him to have, his sole relief being an action in the county district court.
At the conclusion of the hearing the court ordered defendant to pay temporarily $60 per week through the probation office for the support of plaintiff and the child. Counsel for the respective parties were directed to submit briefs with respect to the above legal issue raised at the hearing. Defendant was further directed to have his business accountant make available to plaintiff the books of his business and any other records which would tend to establish his earning capacity and income. The court ordered that the case be relisted after receipt of the briefs, for further review and final disposition.
At the subsequent hearing plaintiff testified that a dispossess proceeding had in fact been instituted against her and defendant in the county district court by the landlord and that the matter was listed for hearing the next day. It was represented by counsel for both parties that the attorney for the landlord agreed that his client was willing to discontinue this tenancy action upon the payment of the back rent. It was further represented that the accountant was not available and that plaintiff and her attorney had not had an opportunity to review the books and records of defendant's business pursuant to the prior order of this court.
At the hearing defendant renewed his objection to the court's authority to order him to pay the past due rent which had accrued after the separation of the parties for the apartment occupied by plaintiff and her child.
The sole issue to be determined at this juncture is whether the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has the right and authority under N.J.S. 2A:4-18 to direct a deserting husband to pay past-due rent for demised premises occupied by an abandoned wife as part of his obligation to provide "adequate support" for her and her children. Upon examination, it appears that this issue touches upon virgin areas of the law.
While there are no cases precisely in point construing N.J.S. 2A:4-18, defendant's first contention seems to be contrary to relevant principles of law as well as concepts of equity, manifest ...