On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FD-07-9290-96.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 17, 2008
Before Judges Sabatino and Simonelli.
In this child support case with international aspects, Felipe Noguera ("the father") appeals a Family Part order determining that he owed $117,104 in child support arrears to his ex-wife, Ellen Wing ("the mother").
The crux of the husband's argument is that the Family Part erred in giving full faith and credit to the child support obligations set forth in the parties' consent divorce decree entered in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 1996, which the mother never filed or docketed in the New Jersey courts until eleven years later. The father also complains that the motion judge failed to credit him for direct monetary payments that he has made over the years to his children.
The mother cross-appeals contending that the motion judge undercounted the outstanding arrears by improperly giving the father a credit on his support obligations for a thirty-four month period when their daughter resided with him abroad.
These are the facts and circumstances relevant to our consideration of the issues before us. The parties married on February 6, 1984, in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. They produced three children: a son born in December 1983, a second son born in March 1986, and a daughter born in February 1989.*fn1
The father is a highly educated man. He is a graduate of Harvard College, the Johns Hopkins School of International Affairs, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. He has also been a fellow in the prestigious Fulbright program. During the marriage, the father worked as the secretary-general of a Caribbean telecommunications organization, while the mother supported the family as a homemaker. The mother ultimately obtained a degree in ophthalmic sciences after the parties divorced.
In April 1996, the father filed a petition for divorce in the High Court of Justice in Trinidad. Meanwhile, the mother, who had moved from Trinidad to New Jersey, obtained an order under the non-dissolution docket in the Family Part on June 25, 1996, granting her custody of all three children. She did not, however, file a divorce complaint in the Family Part.
The parties, both of whom were represented by counsel in Trinidad, amicably resolved their differences concerning the divorce. Accordingly, they entered into a consent decree in the High Court on July 19, 1996, pursuant to Section 47 of the Republic's Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act.
The consent decree recited various terms regarding custody of the minor children, a visitation schedule, child and spousal support and a property settlement. Pursuant to the decree, the parties decided to share joint legal custody of the children, with the mother being entrusted with their primary residential care and the father receiving parenting time "during the Summer and one or other of the Easter and Christmas vacation each year, the dates of such access to be agreed between the parties."
Significantly, on the subject of child support, the consent decree specified that: the payments to each child [from the father] shall be $500 US per month until each child completes his education or ceases to attend High School or attains the age of 18 age [sic] years whichever is the later whereafter the [father] will be responsible for their tertiary education[;]...
[T]hat so long as the said children are attending an educational establishment the [father] will pay for tuition and the cost of books for said children[;]
[T]hat [the father] will pay the further sum of $100 US per month to [the mother] for medical insurance coverage for which the [the mother] is at present paying[;]
[T]hat [the father] will accompany the children to New Jersey on August 26, 1996, where he will deliver them to ...