June 21, 2010
JEAN M. STICKLE (N/K/A SHEA), PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
PETER R. STICKLE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FM-14-570-95.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: May 12, 2010
Before Judges Cuff and Payne.
This appeal addresses a post-judgment matrimonial order denying defendant Peter R. Stickle's application to declare his twenty-two year old daughter emancipated and requiring him to pay her accrued college expenses. Defendant argues his daughter is pursuing her college education on a part-time basis, and payment of child support beyond his daughter's twenty-second birthday is contrary to the terms of the property settlement agreement (PSA) between plaintiff Jean M. Stickle, now know as Jean M. Shea, and him. We affirm.
Plaintiff and defendant divorced in 1995. Their PSA provided that any child support obligation for either child would continue beyond the age of eighteen as long as the child pursued a college education "with reasonable diligence" but would not extend beyond the twenty-second birthday of a child. Paragraph 3.10 G provides as follows:
Notwithstanding anything contained in subparagraph A above, an Emancipation Event shall be deemed deferred beyond the 21st birthday of the child only if and so long as the child pursues a college education with reasonable diligence and on a normally continuous basis and in no event beyond the 22nd birthday of the child unless the delay is caused by injury or illness of the child.
In his March 17, 2009 motion, defendant explained that the PSA provided that child support for his daughter terminated on her twenty-second birthday. He also sought termination of his obligation to contribute to her college education because she had changed majors and her graduation would be delayed at least one year.
Plaintiff responded with a cross motion to enforce a November 7, 2005 order*fn1 that requires defendant to contribute 40% of the cost to attend the state college in which the parties' daughter enrolled in Fall 2005. Plaintiff explained that defendant had not complied with the terms of the order. Plaintiff provided copies of correspondence to defendant that afforded him notice of the costs incurred by their daughter and his share of those costs.
By order dated June 19, 2009, Judge Ramsay denied defendant's motion to emancipate the parties' daughter and granted plaintiff's motion to compel defendant to pay his share of their daughter's college expenses for the 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09 college years. In the Statement of Reasons accompanying the order, Judge Ramsay explained that child support, even child support for a child enrolled in post-secondary school, is governed by law not an agreement between the parents. In other words, parents "cannot waive their obligation to pay child support in the Property Settlement Agreement." Furthermore, Judge Ramsay stated that emancipation is a fact-sensitive issue, and defendant had failed to submit sufficient facts to support his contention that their daughter has not pursued her education "with reasonable diligence."
Finally, the judge found that defendant had paid none of his daughter's higher education expenses. Accordingly, the judge ordered payment of the amounts due and unpaid, and further ordered that the obligation will be reduced to judgment. She further directed that any unpaid balance must be added to defendant's child support account and that defendant shall pay an additional $50 each week to defray the accumulated debt.
On appeal, defendant argues that Judge Ramsay should have emancipated his daughter because she was a part-time student as of June 30, 2006, that the college expense obligation is contrary to law, and that the judge should have terminated his child support obligation. Finally, defendant contends that the motion judge should not have considered plaintiff's cross motion because it was not filed timely in accordance with the rules of court.
We have carefully reviewed the record in its entirety. We are satisfied that the order enforcing defendant's obligation to pay college expenses and child support and denying his application to emancipate his daughter is consistent with the law governing each issue. We, therefore, affirm substantially for the reasons set forth by Judge Ramsay in the statement accompanying her June 19, 2009 order.