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Ruggero v. Ruggero

July 9, 2008

MARTHA S. RUGGERO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MICHAEL RUGGERO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FM-07-0648-95.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 9, 2008

Before Judges Axelrad, Payne and Sapp-Peterson.

Defendant, Michael Ruggero, appeals from the May 16, 2007 order of the Family Part that (1) awarded credits to defendant for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits plaintiff received against sanctions the court imposed rather than against outstanding child support arrears, (2) denied his request to have his oldest child declared emancipated, (3) found previous sanctions imposed against defendant, in excess of $300,000, reasonable, and (4) required defendant to provide proof of life insurance. We affirm.

I.

The parties were divorced on June 19, 1995. There were three children born to the marriage. The property settlement agreement (PSA), incorporated into the judgment of divorce, addressed child support and college education expenses. Nonetheless, subsequent to the entry of the judgment of divorce, defendant filed a number of applications to reduce child support. On September 16, 2005, defendant moved for modification of his support obligation, retroactive to April 2003, because he had been declared disabled. Plaintiff cross-moved for an order enforcing payment of defendant's outstanding child support arrears and, with respect to his eldest daughter only, payment of outstanding unreimbursed college expenses. The trial judge concluded that defendant's retroactive application to reduce child support was prohibited by N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23 and that defendant had otherwise failed to establish changed circumstances under Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980). The court granted plaintiff's enforcement action.

On appeal, we rejected defendant's arguments in support of his retroactive application of N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23, but we remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings that would afford defendant an opportunity to present supplemental evidence related to his disability and to permit the trial judge to exercise his discretion to use September 16, 2005, the filing date of defendant's motion for post-judgment relief, as the effective date of any future modification. Ruggero v. Ruggero, No. A-1694-05 (App. Div. May 31, 2006) (slip op. at 7). We also directed the trial court to determine whether any derivative payments should be credited against defendant's arrearages, which exceeded $50,000. Ibid.

On remand, the trial court ordered the exchange of information between the parties and scheduled the matter for trial. By order dated January 10, 2007, the parties waived their right to trial and agreed that the court would decide the issues through the submissions of certifications and briefs. The parties also agreed the court could exercise its discretion to determine whether oral argument would be required.

On May 16, 2007, Judge James Convery entered an order and supporting letter opinion in which he (1) determined that defendant's eldest child was not emancipated; (2) credited the $54,382 plaintiff received in SSD benefits against sanctions rather than arrears; (3) set defendant's child support and college education expense arrears, as of May 31, 2007, at $119,632.40, to be paid at $200 per week; (4) decreased defendant's child support obligation for the children effective September 16, 2005 forward based upon an analysis of defendant's lower SSD income; (5) ordered that all of defendant's $360 per week child support obligation and arrears total be automatically withheld from defendant's SSD benefits payments and provided to plaintiff via the New Jersey Family Support Center; and (6) directed defendant to provide appropriate proof of life insurance. The present appeal ensued.

II.

Defendant raises the following points for our consideration on appeal:

POINT I

THE TRIAL COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION WHEN IT DETERMINED THAT THE PARTIES' DAUGHTER, [A.R.], WAS NOT EMANCIPATED; DEFENDANT'S OBLIGATION TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT, COLLEGE EDUCATION EXPENSES, AND OTHER EXPENSES FOR [A.R.] SHOULD ...


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