On appeal from Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County.
King, Landau and Thomas. The opinion of the court was delivered by Landau, J.A.D.
Aivars P. Rimsans appeals from an August 23, 1991 order of the Family Court which appears superficially to be only a routine confirmation of the order of a Michigan court registered in 1990 pursuant to the registration provision of the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA) corresponding to N.J.S.A. 2A:4-30.57. The long procedural and factual history of this case, however, has required that we explore several aspects of URESA, including its provision of alternative remedies for enforcement and their implications in light of the statutory language, and New Jersey law and policy. We conclude that the order under review must be reversed.
Aivars P. Rimsans (Defendant) and Hope Sparrow Rimsans (Plaintiff) were divorced by decree of the State of Michigan in February of 1975. The divorce decree incorporated an order (the Michigan Order) requiring that the defendant pay child support to respondent until their son attained the age of 18
years or finished high school. At that time the child was four years old. Sometime thereafter, defendant relocated to Illinois.
In April, 1980 an order of support was entered by the State of Illinois on a URESA petition filed to Illinois from the State of Michigan seeking the entry of a support order and collection of arrears that had accumulated under the Michigan order. On April 23, 1980 the State of Illinois entered an order calling for payment of support in the amount of $75 per week plus $25 per week toward accumulated arrears. This order was dismissed on February 26, 1982 when defendant relocated to New Jersey.
On May 17, 1982 a petition for child support was filed by the State of Michigan under URESA. A hearing on the petition was held in the Chancery Division, Family Part in September, 1982. This led to entry of a support order, terms of which are set forth infra, requiring that payments be made through the Middlesex County Probation Department.
The child reached majority on October 10, 1988. On May 15, 1989 the Family Part entered an order terminating payment of support.
On or about July 19, 1989 the State of Michigan submitted an Interstate Child Support Enforcement Transmittal to the State of New Jersey requesting registration of the 1975 Michigan support order, and asserting arrears totaling $22,886.65.*fn1 This registration was initially dismissed upon the belief that all arrears had been satisfied. However, it appears that there was no formal entry of a dismissal.
The Michigan support order was again tendered for registration in New Jersey. It was registered with the Chancery Division in Camden County on June 14, 1991. Defendant's motion to vacate was denied. An order of confirmation was entered on August 23, 1991, and this appeal followed.
Factual and Procedural Details
The 1975 Michigan order required the defendant to pay child support of $100 per week, until his son reached the age of 18. When defendant relocated to Illinois, the plaintiff received public assistance in Michigan. She assigned her support rights to its welfare department.
The State of Michigan then filed a URESA petition to the State of Illinois seeking entry of an order of support. The Illinois courts entered an order providing for support of $75 per week plus $25 towards arrears, effective May 1, 1980. Defendant made payments under the Illinois order until December, 1981, when he moved to New Jersey. The Illinois order was dismissed on February 26, 1982.
On May 17, 1982 the State of Michigan filed a URESA action in Middlesex County seeking the entry of an order of child support. The Certification of Arrears which accompanied the petition set forth arrearages of $18,200 owed to plaintiff and $3,550 owed to the State of Michigan, plus $85 in fees. Plaintiff now contends the amounts of arrearages were inadvertently transposed and that the State of Michigan was owed the higher amount.
The 1982 petition requested New Jersey to enter an order of support "in the amount of $450 each and every month or in such other amount as the court may deem fair and reasonable; and further requiring payment of the accumulated support arrearages."
A hearing was held before Judge Appleton, now retired, on September 15, 1982. At the hearing, counsel for defendant indicated that the amount of arrearages requested by the State of Michigan was incorrect because the State of Michigan had not properly credited certain payments. Arrears in the amount of approximately $7000 were agreed upon before the court by defendant's counsel and local counsel who presented the Michigan petition. A final order was entered in New Jersey on the same date which provided for the defendant to pay $75 per
week towards support and $25 per week towards the $7,000 in agreed arrears which were adopted by the court. No appeal was taken.
Defendant complied fully with the New Jersey URESA order until payments were terminated by the May 15, 1989 order following emancipation of the supported child. Sometime thereafter the appellant moved to Camden County. On July 14, 1989, the State of Michigan registered its 1975 Michigan order and sought the arrears that purportedly accumulated.
The State of Michigan certified arrears of $18,145 due the State of Michigan and $4,741.85 due the plaintiff. The $18,145 amount represents arrearages allegedly due the State of Michigan based upon plaintiff's assignment while she was a welfare recipient from 1976 to December 1980, and prior to the 1982 URESA order. (In 1982, the New Jersey court had determined this amount to be approximately $7,000.) $4,741.85 represents arrearages which accrued between December 1980 and entry of the 1982 New Jersey order, plus an accumulation of the $25 weekly difference between support payments made under the 1982 New Jersey order and the higher payments required under the original Michigan order.
In response to the 1989 registration petition, counsel for the Camden County Board of Social Services first advised defendant that approximately $22,000 remained due to the State of Michigan and the plaintiff. This amount was later adjusted to $11,794.85 when the Camden County counsel determined that proper credit for the arrearages paid pursuant to the 1982 New Jersey order had not been made by Michigan. Then, on September 26, 1990, counsel for Camden County Board of Social Services informed the State of Michigan and defendant that the URESA petition for collection of arrearages was dismissed in full as a result of the defendant's compliance with the 1982 New Jersey URESA order. What purports to be a trial court order of dismissal accompanied this correspondence.
In June of 1991, the State of Michigan again registered in Camden County the 1975 Michigan order and the arrears allegedly due thereunder. Defendant's counsel filed a motion to vacate the registration. A hearing was held on August 23, 1991, at which time the court determined that the 1989 registration was never formally dismissed;*fn2 that the action taken by the court in 1982 was in error and did not supersede the original Michigan arrearages order nor prevent the continued build-up of arrearages against the defendant; that Michigan had the right under URESA to register the arrears that accumulated under the Michigan order; and that a New Jersey court was without jurisdiction to entertain appellant's contention that the amount of arrearages in the affidavits included with the registration petition did not provide credit for past amounts paid.*fn3 From this order defendant appeals.
We consider first the effect of the responding state's unappealed 1982 URESA order (the New Jersey order), duly entered under the civil enforcement section of URESA, upon an additional URESA action initiated by Michigan eight years later under a different section of URESA, which sets forth the registration option.
In 1950, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the American Bar Association promulgated
URESA. In 1968 substantial revisions were made in the Uniform Act. See Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support ...