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Philipp v. Stahl

June 12, 2002


On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 344 N.J. Super. 262 (2001).


This appeal concerns the application of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) and stems from the application of Claire Philipp to require her ex-husband, Robert Stahl, to contribute toward their daughter's college tuition at Princeton University and for other additional relief.

The parties were married in 1975 and divorced in Georgia in 1993, where a judgment of divorce was entered on April 23, 1993. The divorce decree incorporated a binding arbitration agreement dealing with custody, support and related matters, and also embodied the parties' agreement regarding visitation. At the time, the parties had two children: Julia, aged twelve; and Eric, aged eight. Claire was designated as principal custodial caregiver and Robert was to pay child support of $500 per month, per child. Robert was also to pay for private-school tuition for both of the children and other reasonable costs of schooling. In addition, Robert was to cover both children on his medical plan, with the parties equally dividing the costs of unreimbursed medical expenses. The agreement was silent on the issue of college expenses.

Less than six months after the entry of the divorce judgment, Claire decided to move with the children to New Jersey. Robert moved to enjoin the relocation, which was denied by the Georgia Superior Court in September of 1993. Thereafter, Claire and the children moved to New Jersey. Georgia, as the state with continuing, exclusive jurisdiction, would lose its power to exercise its continuing jurisdiction to modify its child support order if a New Jersey court issues an order modifying child support pursuant to UIFSA or a substantially similar law.

Three orders were issued in New Jersey relative to the children. The first order, issued in April 1994, provided for a highly detailed visitation schedule and allocation of costs of travel between New Jersey and Georgia. That order also stated that New Jersey was the home state of the children under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA). The second order, issued in April of 1995, concerned visitation and arrearages and future support. The third order, entered in August 1999, provided that custody of Eric would pass to Robert, that Robert would maintain health insurance for Eric, and that Claire would be relieved of her share of unreimbursed medicals for Eric and for his dental insurance.

Claire moved to have the New Jersey court require Robert to contribute toward Julia's tuition at Princeton. The trial court denied relief, holding that UFISA placed "exclusive jurisdiction" in the courts of the state that had issued the original support order (Georgia), and that New Jersey had no jurisdiction to act.

Claire appealed and a majority of the Appellate Division reversed, finding that the post-divorce judgments issued in New Jersey courts touched on support of the children, that the mother and daughter whose educational costs are at issue still reside in New Jersey and, thus, New Jersey has jurisdiction to hear and resolve the matter. According to the majority, New Jersey courts had issued at least three orders that modified the original Georgia

support order embodied in the judgment of divorce, thus under UIFSA, Georgia lost the "continuing, exclusive jurisdiction" that it once had regarding support matters, and that "continuing, exclusive jurisdiction" is now vested in New Jersey.

The majority also noted that at least impliedly, the parties understood and acknowledged that all further proceedings in the case would be held in New Jersey, based on the language in the orders broadly retaining jurisdiction in the Chancery Division. According to the majority, the language in UIFSA, a reasonable interpretation of the facts and the law supporting integration into one court of all issues concerning one family, and limited case law all support the view that the New Jersey court has jurisdiction to deal with the issue of contribution for college expenses. In addition, the majority held that the State could exercise personal jurisdiction over Robert since there were clearly more than minimal contacts to provide a basis for jurisdiction. The Appellate Division remanded the matter to the trial court for a hearing to determine the extent of parental contribution for Julia's college expenses.

One member of the Appellate panel dissented, finding that New Jersey does not have subject matter jurisdiction over Claire's application for an order requiring Robert to contribute toward Julia's college expenses nor does the court have personal jurisdiction over Robert for purposes of modifying child support. According to the dissent, the existing record does not permit the conclusion that Robert's participation in New Jersey proceedings waived his challenge to personal jurisdiction, or that he otherwise meets the minimum contacts required for long- arm jurisdiction. Moreover, the dissent did not consider the three New Jersey orders cited by the majority to be child support order modifications that would deprive Georgia of its continuing, exclusive jurisdiction under UIFSA. Rather, the dissent considered these orders nothing more than enforcement of the terms of the Georgia divorce judgment that originally set the current child support. In addition, the dissent concluded that even if such orders were deemed to modify the Georgia child support order, they would not be consistent with the law of the forum and could not establish continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over child support in New Jersey.

HELD: Judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED for the reasons expressed in Judge Wecker's dissenting opinion below. Pursuant to UIFSA, New Jersey does not have jurisdiction over an application to require the former husband, a Georgia resident, to contribute to his daughter's college expenses because Georgia maintains continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the original support order entered in Georgia in 1993.


The opinion of the court was delivered ...

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