The opinion of the court was delivered by: Segal
These matters come before this court on notice of motion filed by the Atlantic County Counsel's Office on behalf of Ms. Roxanne Sigona and Ms. Mary Reed for an increase in child support. The movants are beneficiaries of existing support orders. Both motions have been challenged by the obligors. For purposes of this opinion these cases are consolidated. The issue is whether or not the three-year mandatory review of all Title IV-D child support orders constitutes a prima facie showing of changed circumstances as outlined in Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139, 416 A.2d 45 (1980).
Sometime in 1994, the Division of Family Development issued to Ms. Sigona and Ms. Reed a notice of right to request a review of their existing support orders in accordance with federal and state law. This legislation provides participants in the IV-D child support program the right of review once every three years. The letters advised that the Division would undertake this review and adjust the support orders in accordance with the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. Shortly thereafter, each litigant expressed in writing her desire to have her child support reviewed.
The Division then performed an administrative review requesting employment and wage verifications from each party's employer. When this information was obtained, an analysis was performed applying the child support guidelines. An increase in child support was found to be warranted, since there was at least a 20% increase between the award calculated at the review and the existing order. A consent form reflecting the proposed increase was forwarded to each parent. In both cases, the obligors objected to the increase and the cases were forwarded to the Atlantic County Counsel's Office for processing through the court.
County counsel filed a notice of motion in each case on behalf of the obligees seeking an increase in support. On May 1, 1995, the parties presented direct testimony in their respective cases before a hearing officer. The hearing officer determined that a change in circumstances had occurred and recalculated child support based upon the current earnings of each party. Each of the obligors objected to the new order and the cases were scheduled for judicial appeal. The objection in both cases is that neither obligee has demonstrated a sufficient showing of "changed circumstances" on their side of the financial ledger. Thus, neither obligor is required to reveal current income information, and without this income information (already obtained administratively), there is no basis for modification of the support orders according to the guidelines in Lepis.
In 1988, the United States Congress passed the Family Support Act, which imposed a statutory requirement for the periodic review and adjustment of Title IV-D child support orders found in 42 U.S.C. 666(a)(10). This statute requires that in order for a state to be eligible for federal funding in the Title IV-A and IV-D programs, the state must have in effect laws requiring the periodic review of all Title IV-D child support orders. Specifically, states must have a process to review and adjust Title IV-D child support orders once every three years. The applicable statute (42 U.S.C. 666) provides in pertinent part:
(a) Types of procedures required
In order to satisfy section 654(20)(A) of this title, each State must have in effect laws requiring the use of the following procedures, consistent with this section and with regulations of the Secretary, to increase the effectiveness of the program which the State administers under this part:
(10)(A) Procedures to ensure that, beginning 2 years after October 13, 1988, if the state determines (pursuant to a plan indicating how and when child support orders in effect in the State are to be periodically reviewed and adjusted) that a child support order being enforced under this part should be reviewed, the State must, at the request of either parent subject to the order, or of a State child support enforcement agency, initiate a review of such order, and adjust such order, as appropriate, in accordance with the guidelines established pursuant to Section 667(a) of this title.
(10)(B) Procedures to ensure that, beginning 5 years after October 13, 1988 or such earlier date as the State may select, the State must implement a process for the periodic review and adjustment of child support orders being enforced under this part under which the order is to be reviewed not later than 36 months after the establishment of the order or the most recent review, and adjusted, as appropriate, in accordance with the guidelines established pursuant to section 667(a) of this title unless -
(i) in the case of an order with respect to an individual to whom an assignment under section 602(a)(26) of this title is in effect, the State has determined, in accordance with the regulations of the Secretary, that such a review would not be in the best ...