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Napier v. Hall


April 21, 2009


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FD-11-2152-92.

Per curiam.


Submitted January 21, 2009

Before Judges Graves and Grall.

Plaintiff Joan Napier appeals from an order dated April 18, 2008, denying her motion to establish the amount of child support arrearages and to require the father of the child, defendant David Hall, to make periodic payments until the arrears are paid in full. Defendant did not oppose plaintiff's motion, and he has not participated in this appeal. Based on the limited record before us, we are constrained to reverse and remand to the Family Part for further proceedings.

Plaintiff is the maternal grandmother of Kennith Napier, who was born in Trenton, New Jersey, on July 15, 1986. In a paternity affidavit dated March 20, 1990, plaintiff's daughter certified that she resided in New Jersey with defendant prior to Kennith's birth, and the parties continued to reside together with their child in this state for several weeks after Kennith was born. According to plaintiff, her daughter voluntarily gave her custody of Kennith, and she "raised Ken from the time he was six weeks old."

In 1991, plaintiff applied for and received public assistance. At that time defendant was residing in Vermont, and the Mercer County Board of Social Services filed a support complaint, on plaintiff's behalf, under the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act.*fn1 On January 14, 1992, a Vermont court entered an order requiring defendant to pay child support in the amount of $19.85 per week. In a motion filed on March 13, 2008, plaintiff stated that defendant had not made any payments "since approximately 1993," and she certified that defendant's arrears exceeded $19,000. Plaintiff also certified that defendant was residing in Florida, but it is unclear from the record when he moved from Vermont to Florida. Kennith continues to reside in New Jersey, and plaintiff claims he needs "back support" because he "is going to Mercer County College part time and working part time."

The order denying plaintiff's motion was entered without oral argument and without a statement of reasons. The order, which was prepared by the court, merely states: (1) "the order originated in Vermont and [was] registered in New Jersey"; (2) "Vermont has continuous exclusive jurisdiction in this matter, and the case was closed in 2002"; (3) "the case in Mercer was also [closed] and the arrears were vacated"; and (4) "the [c]court must therefore enforce the previous orders which closed this child support case and vacated arrearages, and thus, the [p]laintiff's motion is DENIED in its entirety."

On appeal, plaintiff claims the court erred: (1) in entering an order on April 18, 2008, "without making findings of fact or conclusions of law"; (2) in ruling that Vermont "has continuous exclusive jurisdiction"; and (3) in terminating defendant's obligation to support his child. Unfortunately, we are unable to properly review these contentions because the trial court failed to adequately articulate its reasons for denying plaintiff's motion.

A trial court must find the facts and state its conclusions "on every motion decided by a written order that is appealable by right." R. 1:7-4. "Naked conclusions do not satisfy the purpose of R. 1:7-4. Rather, the trial court must state clearly its factual findings and correlate them with the relevant legal conclusions." Curtis v. Finneran, 83 N.J. 563, 570 (1980). That did not happen here. Accordingly, the order denying plaintiff's motion is reversed and the matter is remanded to the Family Part for such further proceedings as the court deems necessary and appropriate in order to render a just result. We do not retain jurisdiction.

Reversed and remanded.

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