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Cruz-Chase v. DeJesus

March 12, 2008

EDITH L. CRUZ-CHASE, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
FELIX A. DEJESUS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FD-04-4028-97.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 8, 2008

Before Judges Winkelstein and LeWinn.

The parties were married on August 2, 1982, and divorced by judgment entered on November 9, 1990. They have one son, Brandon DeJesus, born January 27, 1987. According to the property settlement agreement (PSA) incorporated into the divorce judgment, defendant's child support obligation was set at $75 per week "until the child reaches the age of 18 years... or graduates from high school, whichever is later." The PSA also provided that the parties would equally share Brandon's college expenses, subject to either party's right to petition the court "to modify this provision in the event that they are financially unable to meet their obligation to pay for the child's college tuition and related costs."

In August 2005, plaintiff filed a pro se motion resulting in an order compelling defendant to pay $7,325.50 to Kings College as his one-half share of Brandon's college expenses, pursuant to the PSA. This order also increased defendant's child support obligation to $133 per week, pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines, plus an additional $50 per week towards accrued arrears. Defendant did not respond to the motion.

In October 2005, plaintiff filed another pro se motion resulting in an order enforcing the August order for payment of college expenses and increasing the weekly child support arrears assessment to $80. Again, defendant failed to respond to this motion.

In August 2006, plaintiff filed another enforcement motion for college expenses and payment of child support. In October 2006, defendant filed a cross-motion seeking numerous forms of relief, including: (1) to be relieved of any obligation to contribute to Brandon's college expenses, or, alternatively, to require Brandon to pursue all available forms of financial aid, and compelling plaintiff to provide copies of all college-related financial documents and reports, and other information; and (2) to reduce his child support obligation. At this point, both parties were represented by counsel.

On February 5, 2007, the trial judge entered an order requiring defendant to pay $15,690 as his one-half share of Brandon's college expenses for his freshman and sophomore years, and to continue to be responsible for one-half of Brandon's expenses in his remaining college years; defendant was further required to submit, by February 9, a proposed timetable for making his overdue college payments. Plaintiff was ordered to give defendant copies of all tuition bills with statements as to any financial aid Brandon received.

On February 22, 2007, in response to correspondence from counsel for both parties, the judge entered an order modifying defendant's child support obligation to $110 per week plus $80 per week towards arrears. This order further set forth a timetable for defendant's payments on his outstanding obligation for college expenses.

Defendant now appeals from the trial court's orders of February 5 and 22, 2007, raising the following issues:

POINT I: THE LOWER COURT ERRED BY MODIFYING CHILD SUPPORT TO A NON-GUIDELINES AMOUNT WITHOUT CONSIDERING THE REQUIRED STATUTORY FACTORS AS SET FORTH IN N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a)

POINT II: THE LOWER COURT ERRED BY DENYING APPELLANT'S REQUEST FOR A CREDIT IN OVER-PAID CHILD SUPPORT AND TO RE-ALLOCATE THE CONTRIBUTIONS TOWARD THE MINOR CHILD'S COLLEGE TUITITON AND RELATED EXPENSES

For the reasons set forth, we conclude that the trial judge's decisions in support of her orders of February 5 and 22, 2007, failed to comply with the requirements of Rule 1:7-4. Therefore, we remand this matter for further proceedings.

Rule 1:7-4(a) provides:

The trial court shall, by an opinion or memorandum decision, either written or oral, find the facts and state its conclusions of law thereon . . . on every motion decided by a ...


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