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Sheinbaum v. Campbell

March 31, 2009

JILL SHEINBAUM, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ROBERT CAMPBELL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FD-02-250-05.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued January 13, 2009

Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Chambers.

These two appeals were calendared back-to-back. We consolidate the matters for purposes of this opinion. The issues raised in these appeals pertain to the trial court's award of counsel fees to plaintiff Jill Sheinbaum and to the court's imposition of a per-diem monetary sanction against defendant Robert Campbell in the event he fails to timely pay court-ordered installments on the initial $68,000 counsel fee award.

In the appeal filed under Docket No. A-5174-06, defendant appeals from that part of the April 3, 2007 order awarding plaintiff $68,000 counsel fees and costs (collectively, counsel fees). Defendant also appeals from those parts of the order of June 4, 2007, that: denied his motion for reconsideration of the order of April 3, 2007; directed him to satisfy the $68,000 counsel fee award by paying equal monthly installments of $2,833.33 effective April 2007; directed him to pay the April and May 2007 installments within twenty days of order; and directed him to pay a $100 per-diem sanction if he is late in paying any monthly installment. In the appeal filed under Docket No. A-0124-07, defendant appeals from that part of the August 3, 2007 order that directed him to pay plaintiff an additional $1,500 in counsel fees. We affirm in part; reverse in part; and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

The parties were married in November 2002 and separated in July 2003. One child was born of the marriage, Luke,*fn1 born October 2003. In February 2004, the parties were divorced pursuant to a Massachusetts decree. The decree, however, did not address issues of child support, custody, or parenting time. In the interim, plaintiff moved to New Jersey, and on June 29, 2004, filed a complaint seeking custody, child support, and an order limiting defendant's parenting time.

On August 5, 2004, the trial court entered an order awarding plaintiff temporary custody of Luke; directing defendant to pay child support in the amount of $382 a week; and providing defendant limited parenting time, pending his relocation to New Jersey. That order also directed that the parties were to confer on all issues concerning their son's health, education and welfare.

Defendant having relocated to New Jersey, the trial court entered an order without prejudice on September 9, 2004, directing joint legal custody of their son. Under this order, the parties had a continuing obligation to confer on issues pertaining to Luke; and plaintiff retained final decision-making authority pendente lite. By order dated October 25, 2004, the court appointed a parenting coordinator, with plaintiff to pay 40% of the coordinator's fee, and defendant to pay 60%.

On November 3, 2004, the court entered an order removing the supervision requirement of defendant's parenting time. On February 18, 2005, and May 9, 2005, the court entered orders that provided defendant with limited overnight parenting time. On October 21, 2005, defendant filed a motion seeking, among other matters, to increase his parenting time and to modify custody and his child support obligation. Plaintiff cross-moved to modify defendant's parenting time as well, and for other relief. On December 2, 2005, the court entered an order scheduling a plenary hearing and directing parenting-related evaluations and procedures, but otherwise maintained the status quo pendente lite.

The court conducted a seventeen-day trial on the disputed issues between August 9, 2006 and January 31, 2007. On March 12, 2007, the court rendered an oral opinion which, among other matters:

1) directed that plaintiff is to have sole legal custody of Luke, with sole decision-making authority concerning his health, education and welfare;

2) directed that except in an emergency, where notice cannot be provided beforehand, plaintiff shall provide defendant with reasonable notice prior to making major decisions pertaining to Luke;

3) directed each party to cooperate with, and provide full support to, Luke's doctors, educators, therapists, and all other persons in health, education and related fields concerning any treatment which their son receives pursuant to a doctor's diagnosis or a health or education professional's recommendation;

4) directed that each party is to receive complete information, as well as copies of all written reports from any medical provider, consultant, educational instructor, or therapist who treats, teaches, or provides therapy to Luke;

5) directed that defendant may contact any of Luke's healthcare providers, school teachers and school administrators for information concerning Luke, provided defendant gives plaintiff prior notice of his intention to do so;

6) fixed a parenting time schedule that provided defendant with overnight parenting time on alternate weekends and on other time periods and days throughout the year;

7) fixed defendant's child support obligation at $270 per week;

8) directed that the parties share certain expenses for their son's care, with plaintiff paying 26% and defendant paying 74%;

9) appointed a new parenting coordinator to serve for a period of twelve months;

10) directed defendant to reimburse plaintiff for a portion of Dr. Arnold Gold's neurologic evaluation fees;

11) denied defendant's application for counsel fees and costs;

12) directed defendant to pay $68,000 toward counsel fees that plaintiff incurred in prosecuting the action between October 1, 2005 through January 31, 2007; and

13) ordered the counsel fees to be paid pursuant to a schedule agreed upon by counsel, with the entire amount being paid within two years.

On April 3, 2007, the court entered an order confirming the relief enumerated above.

On April 12, 2007, defendant moved for reconsideration of that part of the April 3, 2007 order setting his child support obligation, requesting that the court utilize his 2006 tax return information not previously submitted to the court. On May 21, 2007, plaintiff cross-moved for enforcement of litigant's rights seeking, among other matters, payment of her counsel fee award. On June 4, 2007, the court entered an order denying defendant's motion for reconsideration; denying plaintiff's motion seeking to hold defendant in violation of her litigant's rights; but directing defendant to provide certain information concerning Luke.

In addition, the court directed defendant to: satisfy the $68,000 counsel fee award by paying equal monthly installments of $2,833.33, effective April 2007; pay the April and May 2007 installments within twenty days of the date of the order; and pay all future installments on the fifteenth day of each month. It also imposed a per-diem sanction of $100 per day if defendant failed to timely pay the court-ordered counsel fee installments. Lastly, the court awarded plaintiff an additional counsel fee of $1,500. On June 11, 2007, defendant filed his notice of appeal from the orders of April 3, 2007 and June 4, 2007.*fn2

Thereafter, on June 15, 2007, defendant moved for a stay pending appeal of the April 3, 2007 and June 4, 2007 orders pertaining to the $68,000 counsel fee award, the court-ordered counsel fee installments, and the $100 per-diem sanction. Plaintiff opposed and filed a cross-motion to enforce litigant's rights, seeking injunctive and enforcement relief on other matters. On August 3, 2007, the court entered an order denying defendant's ...


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