On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FM-07-586-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Grall, Messano and LeWinn.
Plaintiff, Stuart Lantz, appeals from two orders of the Family Part: the October 24, 2008 order denying his request to reduce his child support obligation for the parties' two children, and requiring him to pay to defendant, Ivy Lantz, $14,819.51 representing her equitable distribution share of certain stock options; and the May 27, 2009 order denying without prejudice his requests to reduce his alimony obligation to defendant, his contribution towards the children's college expenses and the amount of life insurance required to secure his support obligations. We reverse and remand for reconsideration of the reduction in child support. We affirm on all other issues.
The parties were married in 1985 and divorced in 2003. They have two children, a son born in 1987 and a daughter born in 1990. The property settlement agreement (PSA) incorporated into their divorce judgment provided for plaintiff to pay alimony of $3750 per month and child support of $370 per week ($1591 per month). These support figures were based upon plaintiff's imputed annual income of $170,000. The PSA further provided that the parties would share the children's college expenses in proportion to their incomes, unless plaintiff's income exceeded $170,000, in which case he would pay two-thirds of the son's college expenses.
Two additional provisions of the PSA are pertinent to the issues on appeal: Section 1.8 states: "In the event a child is attending school away from home, and not living in the home of [defendant], then [plaintiff] may be entitled to a reduction in child support"; and Section 5.6, which states:
[Plaintiff] has an interest in certain [s]tock [o]ptions and [s]tock [a]ppreciation [r]ights.... All stock options and stock appreciation rights granted prior to August 2002 shall be divided equally between the parties. The parties understand that such options and stock appreciation rights are not assignable. In order to effectuate this equal division, [plaintiff] shall hold 50% of such options granted and stock appreciation rights in constructive trust for the benefit of [defendant].
These stock options and rights were provided by plaintiff's employer at the time of the divorce, Lincoln National (Lincoln). In 2005, however, plaintiff left Lincoln for Summit Financial Resources. Lincoln thereupon advised plaintiff that any options or rights not exercised during his employment were terminated. It is undisputed that defendant's 50% share of the terminated options and rights was $14,819.51; and she made several demands upon plaintiff to reimburse her that amount. Plaintiff denied that he owed any obligation to defendant, as he had lost his share of this asset as well.
In June 2005, plaintiff filed a motion to reduce his alimony, child support, life insurance and college expenses obligations. The trial judge entered an order in July 2005 denying a reduction in child support and college expenses, but reducing alimony from $45,000 to $22,500 annually, and reducing plaintiff's life insurance obligation from $1 million to $600,000. This order was based upon the judge's finding that plaintiff's annual income had decreased to $108,000.
In October 2005, plaintiff filed a motion seeking to reduce his child support obligation; the judge denied this motion and again ordered plaintiff to pay his share of the son's college expenses.
On July 14, 2008, plaintiff filed the motion which is the subject of this appeal; he sought a reduction in child support based upon the parties' daughter's anticipated entry into her freshman year of college at the University of Miami, and their son's entry into his senior year at Bucknell University, in August 2008. Plaintiff contended that since both children would be living away from home during the school year, and he was obligated to pay two-thirds of their college expenses, he was entitled to a reduction in his child support payments to defendant.
Defendant filed a cross-motion seeking payment of her equitable distribution share of the Lincoln stock options and rights, and reimbursement for other expenses. On October 24, 2008, the trial judge heard oral argument and entered an order denying plaintiff's request to reduce his child support obligation. The judge also ordered defendant to pay to plaintiff his share of the net proceeds of the marital residence, less credits of $14,819.51 for her share of the stock options, $5600 as pre-payment of child support for the parties' son through May 2009, and $773.28 as reimbursement for other expenses incurred on behalf of the children. In addition, the judge reduced plaintiff's alimony obligation to $18,900 per year effective November 1, 2008.
The judge determined that plaintiff's child support for the parties' son should be paid by a credit of $5600 against his share of the sale proceeds of the marital residence; this represented child support at $800 per month from November 2008 through the son's college graduation in May 2009. The judge ordered that plaintiff continue to pay $800 monthly on behalf of the daughter and concluded that since plaintiff "will ...