This matter was brought before the court by the Bergen County Welfare Board as assignee of the support rights of Berendina Verga pursuant to N.J.S.A. 44:1-140, 44:10-2 and 44:7-19.
The issue which faces the court is whether an agreement between a mother and father for the support of a child bars the Bergen County Welfare Board from instituting proceedings on the mother's behalf for reimbursement from the father of all assistance extended to her for the support of the child.
The essential facts are not in dispute:
Defendant Russell Cueman is the father of a child born out of wedlock to Berendina Verga (then DeHaas) on April 18, 1961. Pursuant to an order for support issued by the Municipal Court of the Borough of Lincoln Park in 1961, defendant made weekly payments to the mother until November 25, 1964, at which time he and the mother entered into an agreement which provided that in consideration of the payment of the sum of $500.00 he would be relieved of any further obligation to support the child. The language used relating to the pertinent portions is significant:
NOW, THEREFORE, it is agreed between the parties that upon the payment of the sum of Five Hundred and 00/100 ($500.00) Dollars by Russell W. Cueman to Bernadine DeHaas, she agrees that the lump sum payment although it is meager compared to the total obligation of the father will be accepted as full payment of all past, present and future weekly payments due from the father to the child. The lump sum payment shall also cover doctor, medical and clothing obligations.
The mother subsequently married, and out of that union three children were born. The Vergas separated in 1971, and after an order for support proved to be insufficient to support Mrs. Verga and her family, she applied to the Bergen County Welfare Board for assistance for herself and her four children. Assistance has been extended to her
from that time to the date of this hearing. The amount of reimbursement sought by the Bergen County Welfare Board for the support of defendant's child is $5,649 through and including the month of August 1978.
Public policy mandates that the responsibility of children is an absolute obligation which must be borne by the parents of the children, even if the children are born out of wedlock. "A child born out of wedlock shall be entitled to support and education from its father and mother to the same extent as if born in lawful wedlock." N.J.S.A. 9:16-2. It is defendant's contention, however, that after the execution of the aforementioned agreement by the parties he was free from further obligation to Mrs. Verga for the continued support of his child. The court finds this contention to be without merit.
An agreement is against public policy if it is injurious to the interests of the public, contravenes some established interest of society, violates some public statute , or tends to interfere with the public welfare or safety. cf. Garlinger v. Garlinger , 129 N.J. Super. 37, 40 (Ch. Div. 1974) mod. 137 N.J. Super. 56 (App. Div. 1975); 17 Am. Jur. 2d, Contracts , § 179 at 541. The enforcement of such agreements or contracts will generally be denied. Veazey v. Allen , 173 N.Y. 359, 66 N.E. 103 (Ct. App. 1903). Here, the fact that defendant acknowledged in the body of the agreement that the amount of money he agreed to pay was insufficient to meet his support obligations indicates that he knew full well that he was attempting to terminate his parental obligation of support.
In a similar proceeding the Supreme Court held that a release granted by the mother of an illegitimate child did not preclude her from bringing a subsequent proceeding against the father to enforce the statutory obligation to ...