On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Essex County.
Michels, Bilder and Baime. The opinion of the court was delivered by Baime, J.A.D.
At issue in this appeal is whether a noncustodial parent who receives alimony from the custodial parent may be ordered to pay child support. We hold that the child support guidelines may be applied to determine the obligation of the noncustodial parent, but alimony received from the custodial parent may not be considered in determining his or her contribution.
The facts are not in dispute. After 29 years of marriage, the parties were divorced in 1982. Plaintiff was awarded custody of the parties' nine year old daughter, Kristina. A property settlement agreement incorporated into the divorce judgment provided that defendant was to pay weekly child support in the amount of $100. In addition, defendant was to pay alimony in the sum of $150 per week. The agreement provided, however, that after Kristina's emancipation, defendant's alimony obligation
was to be reduced by a sum equal to 40% of the amount earned by plaintiff in excess of $10,400 a year.
As Kristina matured, she expressed the desire to move into defendant's home. When she became 18, Kristina graduated from high school and enrolled in college on a full-time basis. The parties mutually agreed that she would reside with defendant. On July 31, 1991, defendant filed a motion in the Family Part, requesting a change in the custody order. Defendant also sought child support and a reduction of his alimony obligation. Plaintiff interposed no objection to the proposed modification of custody, but opposed the remainder of defendant's application. Updated case information statements indicated that plaintiff's gross income exclusive of alimony was $531 per week and that her net available income was $406. Defendant's weekly gross income was $1,407 and his net available income was $733.13.
The Family Part Judge granted the change in custody and terminated defendant's child support obligation. However, the Judge denied defendant's application for child support and a reduction of alimony. Although the Judge's oral opinion is not altogether clear, he apparently considered it inconsistent to direct a noncustodial parent who receives alimony to pay child support. We disagree and reverse.
We see nothing antithetical in requiring a noncustodial parent who receives alimony from the custodial parent to bear her fair share of the parties' obligation to support their child. In reaching this Conclusion, we recognize that the termination of a marriage involves an "economic mosaic" comprised of equitable distribution, alimony and child support and that these financial components interface. Sheridan v. Sheridan, 247 N.J. Super. 552, 569, 589 A.2d 1067 (Ch.Div.1990). Nevertheless, each award has a distinct purpose and is based on different policy considerations. The purpose of alimony is to provide the dependent spouse with a level of support and standard of living generally commensurate with the quality of economic life that existed during the marriage. Innes v. Innes, 117 N.J. 496, 503,
569 A.2d 770 (1990); Mahoney v. Mahoney, 91 N.J. 488, 501-02, 453 A.2d 527 (1982); Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139, 150, 416 A.2d 45 (1980); N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. The objective of alimony is the continuation of the standard of living enjoyed by the parties prior to their separation. Innes v. Innes, 117 N.J. at 503, 569 A.2d 770; Mahoney v. Mahoney, 91 N.J. at 502, 453 A.2d 527; Khalaf v. Khalaf, 58 N.J. 63, 69, 275 A.2d 132 (1971). The supporting spouse's obligation is set at a level that will maintain that standard. Innes v. Innes, 117 N.J. at 503, 569 A.2d 770. In contrast, children are entitled to have their needs accord with the current standard of living of both parents, which may reflect an increase in parental good fortune. Zazzo v. Zazzo, 245 N.J. Super. 124, 130, 584 A.2d 281 (App.Div.1990), certif. denied, 126 N.J. 321, 598 A.2d 881 (1991). In other words, children are entitled to share the benefits accruing to a successful parent. Walton v. Visgil, 248 N.J. Super. 642, 646, 591 A.2d 1018 (App.Div.1991); Dunne v. Dunne, 209 N.J. Super. 559, 567, 508 A.2d 273 (App.Div.1986); cf. Weitzman v. Weitzman, 228 N.J. Super. 346, 549 A.2d 888 (App.Div.1988), certif. denied, 114 N.J. 505, 555 A.2d 623 (1989). "There is no divorce between parent and child." Zazzo v. Zazzo, 245 N.J. Super. at 130, 584 A.2d 281.
The distinction between alimony and child support is made manifest in our statutes and court rules. The Legislature has dictated that certain factors must be considered in setting support. These factors reinforce the differences between alimony and child support in cases not covered by court rule. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 provides:
a. In determining the amount to be paid by parent for support of the child and the period during which the duty of support is owed, the court in those cases not governed by court rule shall ...