On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FM-15-1298-99C.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 16, 2008
Before Judges Skillman and Graves.
Defendant appeals from an order entered on March 28, 2008, which granted the motion of his daughter, Rachel, to intervene in his matrimonial action with plaintiff, who is his former wife and Rachel's mother. This order also vacated a consent order defendant entered into with plaintiff on January 22, 2008, which declared Rachel to be emancipated. In addition, the court imposed obligations upon both defendant and plaintiff for the continuing support of Rachel.
Defendant does not challenge the part of the order that allowed Rachel to intervene. However, defendant argues that the court erred in vacating the order declaring her to be emancipated and requiring him to continue providing her with support. Although plaintiff did not file a separate appeal, she joins in this argument.
Plaintiff and defendant were divorced in 2001. The property settlement agreement incorporated in the judgment of divorce awarded residential custody of the parties' children to plaintiff. The agreement required defendant to pay child support until the children were emancipated. The agreement provided that emancipation would occur at the earliest of several conditions, including in relevant part:
a. Reaches the age of eighteen (18) years or the completion of four (4) academic years of continuous college education; or in lieu of four (4) years of continuous college education (and graduate or post college education where applicable), the completion of an uninterrupted post-high school technical or vocational course of study, whichever last occurs. However, a child may be entitled to take a total of 12 months of hiatus from their college education without being deemed emancipated; if a child takes more than a total of 12 months of hiatus from their college education, that child will be deemed emancipated and the Husband's support obligations to that child will be terminated. . . . .
d. Permanent residence away from the residence of either custodial parent. A residence at boarding school, camp, or college is not to be deemed a residence away from the residence of the custodial parent, and hence, . . . is not an emancipation event. . . . .
f. Should [a] child obtain the age of 18 yet not attend college for a period of up to 12 consecutive months due to illness, injury and/or other catastrophe beyond the control of the child, then the child shall not be deemed emancipated provided that the absence from post high school education does not exceed 24 months in duration.
Rachel has experienced mental health and personal adjustment problems for a significant number of years. The exact nature and magnitude of those problems is unclear on this record.
Rachel did not graduate high school, but she subsequently earned her GED diploma. She has attended Ocean County Community College since the fall 2006 semester. Around the time she began college, Rachel moved out of her mother's home into the home of a friend's family.
In June 2007, defendant filed a motion to have Rachel declared emancipated. Plaintiff opposed that motion. By order entered on July 12, 2007, the trial court denied defendant's motion. However, the order provided:
In the event that Rachel fail[s] to make continuous progress toward completing her . . . post-secondary education, to include registering for and completing not less tha[n] (12) credits per semester, then the defendant's obligation to pay child support and college expenses shall . . . terminate without prejudice and the plaintiff shall have the burden of ...