On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Somerset County, Docket No. FD-18-595-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued Telephonically March 3, 2009
Before Judges Reisner and Sapp-Peterson.
Plaintiff appeals from that part of the March 17, 2008 Family Part order denying plaintiff's*fn1 request for support and child care credit during a period of time that he served as the custodial parent, and the April 1, 2008 order directing plaintiff, who was represented by Legal Services, to pay $8,485.26, the full amount of counsel fees sought by defendant's attorney. We affirm the denial of child support credits to plaintiff but reverse the award of counsel fees and remand for further proceedings.
The parties were involved in a dating relationship and briefly resided together during the spring of 2006. Together they had one child, C.P., born on March 19, 2004. In January of 2007, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) removed C.P. from defendant's custody and plaintiff became the custodial parent until August 2007, when DYFS determined that defendant was again capable of resuming her role as the custodial parent.
On May 7, 2007, plaintiff filed a pro se application for custody of C.P. One month later, Legal Services of Northwest Jersey, Inc. entered an appearance on behalf of plaintiff. Defendant retained private counsel. Although there were interim motions and cross-motions filed by the parties, the actual custody hearing did not take place until February 19, 2008. At that time, the parties settled the custody and parenting time issues. As part of the agreement, plaintiff also agreed that in the event he was dissatisfied with the court's decision on the issue of counsel fees, he could not reopen his claim seeking a credit for child support for the eight-month period that C.P. resided with him:
[PLAINTIFF'S COUNSEL]: Judge, may I ask a couple of questions of my client?
[PLAINTIFF'S COUNSEL]: [Plaintiff], do you understand that as part of this settlement you will not be able to - - even if you don't like the Judge's decision as to counsel fees - - you won't be able to come here and ever reopen the issue of the fact that you received no support for a period of time - - actually, you didn't ask for it from January until May and then from May to August. You know that is gone by making this settlement?
[PLAINTIFF'S COUNSEL]: Knowing that's gone, do you still want to make the settlement?
The court memorialized the parties' agreement and its rulings in an order dated March 17, 2008. In paragraphs six and seven of the order, the court ...