On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FM-07-873-94.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Rodríguez, Reisner and Yannotti.
The Monmouth County Division of Social Services (MCDSS) appeals from orders entered by the Family Part on June 12, 2009, June 19, 2009, and July 24, 2009, which required the MCDSS to pay plaintiff $7,935. We reverse.
This appeal arises from the following facts. The parties were married in June 1987. One child was born of the marriage. The parties were divorced by a judgment entered by the trial court on February 28, 1995. The judgment provided, among other things, that the parties would have joint custody of the child and defendant would pay child support in the amount of $300 per week, based on his earnings of $65,000 per year and plaintiff's earnings of $24,000.
In 2006, defendant was diagnosed with certain illnesses, which rendered him incapable of working. He was laid off by both of the firms for which he worked. Defendant applied to the MCDSS for assistance under the Work First New Jersey/General Assistance Program. He also applied to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for social security disability (SSD) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. In October 2006, defendant signed an agreement to repay the MCDSS with the initial payment of SSI benefits and authorized the SSA to pay those monies directly to the MCDSS.
In May 2007, the trial court entered an order requiring defendant's child support payments to be made through the Essex County Probation Department (ECPD). The order noted that defendant was receiving public assistance and his social security claims were pending. The court entered another order on March 3, 2008, which again provided that the support payments would be made through the ECPD. The order additionally stated that if defendant were "successful in obtaining social security benefits and receives a lump sum payment from the [SSA]," defendant must turn over the payment to the ECPD "immediately[.]"
In May 2008, defendant filed a motion in the trial court seeking a modification of his child support obligation. Defendant also sought a stay of the enforcement of his child support and arrears obligation. In a supporting certification, defendant said that his illnesses precluded him from working. He was receiving general assistance and food stamps from the MCDSS. Defendant's application for social security benefits had been denied and he was pursuing an appeal. Defendant stated that his child support arrears totaled $53,000.
The Family Part filed an order dated June 13, 2008, suspending defendant's child support obligation. The court ordered defendant to provide the court and plaintiff with a monthly status report concerning the appeal from the denial of his application for social security benefits. The order further provided that defendant's attorney must inform the court immediately upon receipt of any disability payment, so that the matter could be re-opened for review.
In June 2008, the SSA informed defendant that he had been awarded SSD benefits. The past-due SSD benefits from August 2006 through May 2008 totaled $40,562, from which counsel fees of $5,300 were deducted for the attorneys who handled the social security appeal. The parties' child was awarded $10,015 in retroactive support. In addition, in July 2008, the SSA informed defendant that he had been awarded SSI benefits. The retroactive SSI benefits totaled $7,935.
Defendant's attorney informed the court of the SSD determination. In July 2008, defendant was notified that the retroactive SSI award had been paid directly to the MCDSS and applied as partial repayment for the $14,230 that defendant had received in assistance payments.
The court filed an order dated August 1, 2008, which noted that plaintiff had received the benefits that had been awarded to the parties' child. The order provided that $2,000 of that sum shall be paid to defendant. The order further provided that the retroactive SSD benefits of $40,562 must be paid to plaintiff.
On October 6, 2008, plaintiff filed a motion to enforce litigant's rights, arguing that the SSA had paid the past-due benefits to defendant and she had not received the monies due to her. The court entered an order dated December 5, 2008, which required the MCDSS to pay plaintiff the $7,935 it had received from the SSA. The order stated that the court had previously ...