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Moffitt v. Moffitt


May 7, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-2-1882-02.

Per curiam.


Submitted April 19, 2010

Before Judges Lisa, Alvarez and Coburn.

In this post-judgment matrimonial case, plaintiff appeals from an order denying her request that defendant reimburse her for the balance of what she says is defendant's share of a $3,000 fee submitted by Dr. Jane Healey for the evaluation of their son conducted in 2005/2006. The balance is $1,418.75. We reverse and hereby order defendant to make the payment forthwith.

The effect and relationship of two provisions of the parties' judgment of divorce was at issue.

Paragraph 3 ordered in relevant part "that no healthcare professional can be selected to treat the children unless there is an emergency without the prior consent of the other parent." (Emphasis added.)

Paragraph 4, in relevant part, ordered "that the parties have agreed that Dr. Jane Healey shall be the professional used to evaluate . . . [their son]'s, special education needs." It also provided that "[t]he parties shall be liable equally for all prospective costs of Dr. Healey."

Dr. Healey's responsibilities, as described in paragraph 4, included "assist[ing] the parties in deciding what level of tutoring that [their son] may need and whether or not [he] should be placed in public or private school."

The trial court decided that paragraph 3 "must be adhered to by the parties with respect to the services of Dr. Healey." It ruled against plaintiff because she had "not provided any proof that the defendant consented to the services of Dr. Healey in 2005 or proof that the report was necessary for the school to make a determination regarding the child's schooling."

"A trial court's interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts are not entitled to any special [appellate] deference." Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995). Although the interpretation and application "of divorce agreements are not governed solely by contract law[,]" those "fair and definitive arrangements arrived at by mutual consent should not be unnecessarily or lightly disturbed." Konzelman v. Konzelman, 158 N.J. 185, 193-94 (1999).

Application of those principles requires reversal. Paragraph 3 of the judgment is expressly and clearly limited to the selection of healthcare professionals, requiring prior consent which is not to be unreasonably withheld. It is not relevant here because in paragraph 4 of the judgment the parties specifically select Dr. Healey. Furthermore, paragraph 4 clearly contemplates that Dr. Healey will be providing services on an ongoing basis. Since this paragraph also provides for the parties to equally share the costs of Dr. Healey's services, and since there is nothing to indicate unfairness in that arrangement, the trial court should have enforced the judgment as written, rather than in essence supply new terms. Rolnick v. Rolnick, 262 N.J. Super. 343, 352 (App. Div. 1993).

If defendant believes that paragraph 4 should be modified or no longer applied, he should seek that relief in the trial court with respect to Dr. Healey's possible future services. In the meantime, he must abide by the judgment in its present form. Therefore, the order is reversed, and defendant is hereby ordered to make the requisite payment to plaintiff forthwith.



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