April 20, 2010
JOHN EDWARD WOODS, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
JILL SUZANNE WOODS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FM-04-1396-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued January 21, 2010
Before Judges Fisher and Sapp-Peterson.
In this appeal, defendant Jill Woods appeals from the November 21, 2008 order denying her motion to modify child support after concluding that jurisdiction to address child support was reposed in the courts of Tennessee. We affirm.
The parties were divorced in Tennessee by way of a Final Judgment of Divorce dated April 3, 2001. In a second order dated August 13, 2001, the Tennessee court disposed of additional issues between the parties, including custody of the three minor children born of the marriage, visitation, and child support. In an order dated September 20, 2005, the Tennessee court reviewed the child support obligations of the parties and "based upon testimony, upon pleadings and exhibits, upon [the] argument of counsel and the record as a whole," entered an order declaring that application of the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines (Guidelines) to fix the appropriate award of child support would be inequitable because "[i]t [was] impossible for the [c]court to determine the amount of child support that would be owed if it was set pursuant to the Guidelines based upon the evidence and testimony presented...." The court fixed the amount of child support based upon the evidence presented rather than pursuant to the Guidelines. The order also addressed visitation issues during certain holidays and summer vacation.
In early 2007, defendant, who was living in New Jersey with the three minor children over whom she had been awarded "absolute custody and control" with the consent of plaintiff, filed a motion in Camden County Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part, seeking an order transferring jurisdiction to the New Jersey courts to review custody and support-related issues. The court denied the motion and entered an order reflecting its decision dated July 2, 2007. In October, defendant, with new counsel, filed a motion to vacate the July 2 order and, among other relief, sought to establish jurisdiction in New Jersey and modify child support. On January 20, 2008, an "Agreed Order" was issued by the Tennessee court, in which plaintiff agreed that "pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the jurisdiction in this cause shall be relinquished to the State of New Jersey."
On June 25, defendant once again filed a motion seeking, among other issues, to modify plaintiff's child support obligations. Plaintiff opposed the motion and also filed a cross-motion seeking an order compelling payment of monies owed to him by defendant in accordance with an earlier order issued by the Tennessee court. On October 6, the court issued an order directing both parties to brief the issue of jurisdiction and advised the parties that after its review of their submissions, the court would decide whether oral argument was necessary. In an order dated November 21, the court advised the parties that there was no need for oral argument and denied defendant's motion for a modification of child support in accordance with New Jersey Support Guidelines. The court found that jurisdiction to address this issue remained in the Tennessee courts. The order stated:
The [p]laintiff in this matter consented to a transfer of the issues of parenting time to jurisdiction in the State of New Jersey. The issue of child support had never been raised during the arguments presented to the [c]court with regard to the transfer of jurisdiction to New Jersey and as such, when the [p]laintiff consented to the transfer of jurisdiction, the [c]court[']s sole focus was concerning the issues of parenting time. New Jersey has no jurisdiction over the child support modification issues and [d]efendant may avail herself of the Tennessee forum in order to pursue that remedy.
The court also denied plaintiff's cross-motion to compel defendant to make payments to him of $17,821.84 and $4,062.67, as previously ordered by the Tennessee court, reasoning that plaintiff's recourse was through the Tennessee court. The present appeal followed.
On appeal, defendant urges that plaintiff consented to New Jersey's jurisdiction to address child support issues when he executed the "Agreed Order." This claim is without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion beyond the following brief comments. R. 2:11-3(e)(2).
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-53 to -95, (UCCJEA) was adopted in 2004 and replaces the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-28 to -52 (UCCJA). The UCCJEA has also been adopted by the State of Tennessee, T.C.A. 36-6-201 to -243. Like its predecessor, the UCCJA, the UCCJEA's primary purpose is to "avoid jurisdictional competition and conflict and require cooperation with courts of other states as necessary to ensure that custody determinations are made in the state that can best decide the case." Griffith v. Tressel, 394 N.J. Super. 128, 138 (App. Div. 2007). While a custody determination under the UCCJEA includes any judicial ruling related to physical custody and visitation, it does not include issues of support. See N.J.S.A. 2A:34-54 (expressly providing that "[c]hild custody determination" does not include a provision in any decree, judgment, or order "relating to child support or other monetary obligation of an individual."). The "Agreed Order" executed by the parties and entered by the court, by its express terms, unequivocally transferred jurisdiction of custody issues to the State of New Jersey, where the minor children reside with their mother.
The Agreed Order did not confer jurisdiction upon New Jersey courts to resolve defendant's child support dispute. Such a dispute is governed by the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UFISA), N.J.S.A. 24:4-30.65 to -30.123. While the Family Part judge did not address this issue, none of the criteria that would permit a New Jersey court to modify the Tennessee child support order exist here. Plaintiff, as the obligor, does not reside in New Jersey; defendant is not a "nonresident of this State seek[ing] modification"; and plaintiff is a resident of Tennessee, over whom personal jurisdiction by New Jersey has not been exercised. N.J.S.A. 2A:4-30.114(a)(1)(a), (b) and (c). Nor have the parties consented to New Jersey's exercise of jurisdiction on the issue of child support. N.J.S.A. 2A:4-30.114(2).
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