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Miller v. Tafaro

May 12, 2009


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hunterdon County, Docket No. FM-10-339-03.

Per curiam.


Argued April 22, 2009

Before Judges Rodríguez and Espinosa.

Defendant Stephen Tafaro appeals from the March 20, 2008 post-divorce judgment order; which among other things, directed him to pay seventy-five percent of the college costs, including tuition and room and board, for his two children. The same order required him to reimburse plaintiff, Melanie Miller, $8,131.33, representing his share of the older child's expenses for the Fall 2007 enrollment at Rutgers University and $7,142.55 for the Spring 2008 semester. Tafaro also appeals from the May 2, 2008 order, denying his motion for reconsideration. We affirm.

These are the salient facts. Tafaro is a pediatric dentist. Miller and Tafaro were divorced in June 2004, after seventeen years of marriage. The dual judgment of divorce included a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA), which provided for joint legal custody of the two children (a son now nineteen years old and a daughter now eighteen years old) and the appointment of a parent coordinator. The PSA also addressed the college costs for the children by providing:

The parties recognize that each may have an obligation to assist the minor children of the marriage financially regarding their future college costs. In light of the children's ages, the parties agree to address the issues of college costs at the time they are incurred. The parties agree that the choice of college will be based upon the input of both parents as well as the child's wishes, so long as the school preferred by the child provides a curriculum and an environment that is consistent with the child's ability, aptitude and goals. The parents shall not unreasonably withhold consent on the selection thereof.

The Defendant will continue to pay child support so long as the children remain enrolled as full-time students for a period not to exceed four years after graduation from high school. The child support and education costs will be reviewed and adjusted as may be necessary at the time of each child's enrollment in college, based on the issues of Newburgh v. Arrigo and the law at that time. [emphasis added]

Despite the existence of a comprehensive PSA, there have been many post-judgment disputes. All of these have been precipitated by Tafaro's refusal to abide by the terms of the PSA and/or subsequent court orders, or by his unremitting belligerence with Miller. In this course of action, Tafaro has not spared his children's mental well-being. This appeal is the latest chapter in his effort to make life difficult for his ex-wife, his children and the parenting coordinators.

Pursuant to the PSA, Judge Stephen B. Rubin appointed John W. Thatcher, Esq., as parent coordinator. Shortly thereafter, there was a disruption in the father/children relationship. In support of her request for payment of a proportionate share of college expenses from Tafaro, Miller certified that "[p]rior to and ever since the entry of the Judgment of Divorce, [Tafaro's] relationship among himself, [Miller] and [their] two children has been, to say the least, extremely strained." By way of example, Miller discusses an incident that occurred on September 21, 2004, in which Tafaro "became completely out-of-control with the children."

Upon picking up the children for parenting time, Tafaro informed them that he would not be returning them home that evening as he was obligated to do. The children became upset and the daughter attempted to get out of the moving car. Once at Tafaro's home, the children refused to go inside and franticly called Miller to come and pick them up. Miller states that as the children approached her car, Tafaro began to yell that she was trying to kidnap the children. Tafaro proceeded to call 9-1-1, even after having been told by the parenting coordinator not to call the police in such situations. The police arrived and eventually the children returned home with Miller.

The following day, Tafaro informed Miller that as punishment for the children's behavior they were to remove all of their belongings from his house by the end of their next weekend with him. Tafaro further told the children that they could only eat his food after asking and receiving permission. Miller states that during that weekend, things became so volatile among Tafaro and the children that the son threatened to commit suicide if he had to spend any more time with his father.

Following this incident, parent coordinator Thatcher wrote a letter to Judge Rubin in which he concluded:

Under the circumstances, I do not believe the children should be subjected to their father's brutality. In my opinion, it is absolutely not in their best interest, and at the same time could lead to frightening circumstances. I do not believe [the son's] threat of suicide was gratuitous. It must be taken seriously. I believe that joint custody should be terminated and that Ms. Miller be given full custody of the children on a temporary basis pending further order f the Court. Parenting time/visitation with Dr. Tafaro should be suspended and should only occur in the future under supervision. I believe it is clear that Dr. Tafaro ...

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