Before Judges Stern, Kestin and Steinberg.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stern, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County.
Plaintiff, on behalf of her minor daughter, S.N., filed this action for "support and paternity and temporary custody" of S.N.'s daughter, K.N. The complaint named S.M., Sr., as the defendant, although the summons was issued to his son, S.M., Jr., the father of K.N. The complaint requested "the court to enter a[n] order of custody, child support and to [establish] paternity on behalf of . . . [K.N.] DOB:
11/12/98," noting that "the petitioner is the [maternal grandmother] of the child [and that] both parents of the child are minors." *fn1 Ultimately, the paternity test results were returned, after which a "consent order" was entered on June 14, 1999, declaring that S.M., Jr. "is the father of the minor child, [K.N.]."
Plaintiff appeals from an order of March 12, 1999, which treats S.M., Jr. as the "defendant," and provides:
1. The Court reiterates its position that there is no obligation in law for grandparents to provide support for grandchildren because the parents of the children are minors. As a general rule, parents are not responsible for the acts of their children. The plaintiff suggests that as a matter of equity the paternal grandparents should be responsible. This is a false assumption inasmuch as equity must follow the law. Because plaintiff thinks it is fair, it does not make it equitable. What plaintiff is suggesting is a moral decision. The Court is not legally authorized to enforce a moral decision.
2. The amount of support required to be paid by the defendant is in keeping with the Court's discretion in cases such as these. In the event the defendant is working full time in the summer time, the Court will reconsider the amount of support and determine whether additional support should be paid. However, he is now not working as he is a full time student. *fn2
This order confirmed the trial judge's oral conclusion, finding:
There's no authority I have, based in law, to grant what you're requesting. I know the suggestion by the plaintiff is that this would be the fair thing to do, and in general terms, in layperson's term, it may well be the fair thing to do.
But equity must follow the law. If I have no legal authority, I can't enter an order just because it seems like it's the right thing to do.
As the Court pointed out, quite candidly, this is a determination that really goes to the moral fabric of the parties. And I have no legal basis to impose an obligation on the grandfather and I'm not going to do so.
As plaintiff-grandmother, on behalf of her daughter, puts it:
This case involves the novel issues of whether Defendant, (the father of a minor boy) must pay to Plaintiff, (the mother of a minor girl), payments for an infant born to said minor children. The Trial Court found that both Plaintiff [maternal grandmother] and Defendant [paternal grandfather] can turn a blind eye to the additional legal responsibilities incurred by their unemancipated, minor children and that the Plaintiff and Defendant have no legal obligations to pay additional support to their child so they can support their infant.
The baby, K.N., was born November 12, 1998. S.N., the mother, was fourteen when she became pregnant, and S.M., Jr., the father, was fifteen at the time. He is still under eighteen, although his date of birth is not noted in the record. *fn3 The baby and S.N. live with plaintiff. As is clear from its order, the trial court concluded that neither grandparent had an obligation to support the baby, and therefore declined to hold that S.M., Sr. was obligated to pay any support. However, S.M., Jr., the baby's father, was ordered to pay $20 a week in support. That amount represents S.M., Jr.'s entire allowance, and at times, perhaps more than his $15-$20 allowance.
In his undated certification, S.M., Jr. stated that while he originally told the judge his allowance was $15 to $20, "[r]eally I receive $15.00 per week." In his February 1999 certification, S.M., Sr. stated that "[m]y son is given $15.00 a week for chores he does around the house," that he and his wife "have done everything that we can do to make sure [S.M., Jr.] does as well as he can" in school, and ...