On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-1008-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Reisner and Chambers.
Plaintiff Wioleta Schottel appeals from the trial court's order of April 17, 2009, that allowed her to take her daughter on a four week vacation to Poland in July 2009, on condition that she pay $2500 toward the child support that she owes to defendant Piotr Kutyba. The order further provided that she would be responsible for all of the child's medical expenses on the trip because the child's medical insurance provided no medical coverage for such a trip. Schottel contends that conditioning the vacation upon payment of child support was in error and that she should be allowed to take the child to Poland although she refuses to pay child support.
We note that the appeal is now moot since the time to take the child on the vacation has now passed. However, because the issue is likely to arise anew, we address the question presented. Bursztyn v. Bursztyn, 379 N.J. Super. 385, 394 (App. Div. 2005) (stating a court may review a moot issue if it is "one of substantial importance, likely to reoccur, but capable of evading review").
We conclude that the trial court may not condition the trip upon a child support payment because New Jersey law treats child support and parenting rights independently. However, the fact that the child would be without medical coverage while on the trip would be a sufficient basis to deny the trip. When considering alternatives to address this problem, the trial court may take into account Schottel's history of failing to make payments on child support when it examines the likelihood that she would obtain and pay for any medical services that may become necessary on the trip.
The parties were married in Poland in 1991, but they thereafter moved to the United States. One child was born to the marriage. In 2002, defendant obtained a divorce in New York State.*fn1 That judgment ordered plaintiff to pay defendant child support of $50 per week. An order was entered in New Jersey on August 3, 2005, after a plenary hearing, awarding defendant sole legal and primary residential custody of the child and providing a visitation schedule for plaintiff that included four weeks in the summer. It also provided that the child could not be removed from the United States without the written consent of the other parent or a court order.
Then began a long history of court orders directing plaintiff to make child support payments and holding her in violation of litigant's rights for failing to do so. Specifically, the record reflects that the following orders were entered against plaintiff on the child support issue. The order of December 16, 2005, directed plaintiff to pay child support of $50 per week, and fixed arrears at $950. By order dated May 9, 2006, plaintiff was ordered to pay $50 per week in child support and $25 per week toward arrears, and arrears were fixed at $1950. This order was affirmed on appeal. Schottel v. Kutyba, Docket No. A-5342-05 (App. Div. September 21, 2007). In the order dated July 21, 2006, plaintiff was held in violation of litigant's rights, an arrest warrant was issued requiring that she be held until $500 was paid, and child support arrears were determined to be $2500. An order dated August 10, 2006, held plaintiff again in violation of litigant's rights, and an arrest warrant was again issued requiring that she be held until $500 was paid. We reversed the portion of this order that suspended plaintiff's parenting time until she paid $500 toward child support arrears. Schottel v. Kutyba, Docket No. A-5342-05 (App. Div. September 21, 2007). By order dated September 22, 2006, plaintiff was again adjudicated in violation of litigant's rights. An order dated November 2, 2007, adjudicated plaintiff in violation of litigant's rights, awarded defendant a judgment against plaintiff in the sum of $5594, representing arrears, entered a judgment in favor of the defendant's attorneys for $1880, and affirmed the child support award of $50 per week and payment toward arrears of $25 per week.*fn2
Against this backdrop, plaintiff filed a motion returnable April 17, 2009, seeking the court's permission to take her daughter on a four week vacation to Poland to visit plaintiff's family there, including the maternal grandparents. Plaintiff argued that the trip was in the best interest of the child. At the hearing before the trial court, she acknowledged that she would be paying the cost of the child's plane fare which amounted to $1200.
The trial court noted plaintiff's "flagrant disregard" of the support orders, and noted that the cost of the plane fare would cover twenty-two weeks of support.*fn3 The trial court distinguished between vacation time and visitation and concluded that the trip would be permitted provided plaintiff paid $2500 toward arrears. In addition, because the trial court was advised by defense counsel that the child's medical insurance would only cover her while in the United States or Canada, the trial court required that plaintiff would be responsible for any medical expenses incurred for the child as a result of the trip.
Plaintiff appeals, contending that her support obligations must be treated separately from the visitation issues, and that the trial court erred when ...