September 13, 2007
DEIDRE TREITLER, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
CHRISTIAN TREITLER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, FM-02-2622-97.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 10, 2007
Before Judges Lintner and Sabatino.
Christian Treitler ("the ex-husband") appeals the Family Part's order of September 22, 2006, obtained at the behest of Deidre Treitler (the "ex-wife"), enforcing his post-judgment obligation to fund the college costs of their daughter. We affirm, without prejudice to the ex-husband seeking future relief from the Family Part if there is a sufficient change in circumstances.
The parties were divorced on March 19, 1999. They were each then represented by counsel. With the assistance of their attorneys, the parties negotiated a Property Settlement Agreement ("PSA") incorporated into the divorce judgment. The PSA provided, among other things, that the ex-wife would have primary custody of the parties' son and daughter and that the ex-husband would pay child support through their emancipation. The PSA specifically deemed each child unemancipated so long as he or she was attending college on a full-time basis and was under the age of twenty-four. The PSA also initially provided that the parties would share the college expenses of their children in accordance with a specified formula.
Six years later, the parties entered into a pro se consent order on May 6, 2005, declaring the ex-husband solely responsible for the expenses of both children, specifically including "college related expenses." In consideration of that obligation shifting entirely to the ex-husband, he was relieved of any child support payments to the ex-wife as of May 1, 2005.
The daughter, who is presently twenty-two years old, attends Ramapo College. When the daughter is not at college she continues to reside with the ex-wife. The daughter registered for the 2006-07 academic year at Ramapo as a sophomore, her studies having been delayed due to missed time from school and multiple changes of her majors. After the ex-wife advanced the daughter's tuition for the fall 2006 semester, she sought reimbursement of those sums from the ex-husband pursuant to the May 2005 Consent Order. The ex-husband declined to pay. He contended, among other things, that he had not been kept sufficiently informed of the daughter's enrollment plans and also that Ramapo had improperly computed her tuition at out-of-state rates.
Consequently, the ex-wife filed a motion to compel reimbursement of the college costs. After considering the exhusband's opposing papers and the parties' oral arguments, the motion judge granted the ex-wife's application. The ex-husband appeals. We affirm, substantially based upon the motion judge's analysis as set forth in his November 28, 2006, written statement of reasons filed pursuant to R. 2:5-1(b).
The ex-husband's arguments on appeal largely revolve around his contention that there has been poor communication among the parties and their daughter concerning her college studies. He alleges in particular that the daughter has withdrawn from him and did not apprise him of her need for tuition until a day before it was due to be paid. However, the motion judge recognized these communication problems in his consideration of the motion and, in fact, urged the parties at length to work together to address those problems in the future with the aid of a parent coordinator. The motion judge also recognized that the ex-husband's concerns about the tuition level had been rectified, upon the ex-wife's representation at the motion hearing that Ramapo had already corrected its billing to charge the daughter at the reduced rate for in-state residents.
Although we can appreciate the ex-husband's desire not to be treated disrespectfully or taken for granted by his daughter, the inescapable fact is that he specifically agreed in the May 2005 Consent Order to be fully responsible for the higher education costs of his children. In exchange, the ex-husband gained the cessation of child support obligations to his ex-wife, which could have continued through the emancipation of both of his children. In signing that document with his notarized signature, the ex-husband agreed that there was "good cause" for superseding the cost-sharing plan that had been in place under the PSA.
Under these circumstances where college costs have been specifically allocated to one parent by mutual decree, the motion judge was not required to apply the multi-factor analysis of Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529, 545 (1982), utilized in situations where the parties have not reached such an agreement. Moreover, even if Newburgh factors had applied here, we defer to the motion judge's supplemental findings as to those factors on the limited proofs supplied by the parties. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998)(requiring deference to factual findings made by Family Part judges).
The ex-husband contends that the communications problems with his daughter and his ex-wife have worsened, and that they equitably should relieve him of his agreed-upon financial obligations. However, the ex-husband should not have engaged in self-help by refusing to pay his daughter's tuition, without first filing an application with the court and demonstrating a sufficient change in circumstances that might warrant prospective adjustment. See Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139, 157 (1980).*fn1 Given the procedural chronology, we cannot fault the motion judge for declining to relieve the ex-husband of his tuition obligations retroactively after the semester had already started.