On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Atlantic County, Docket No. FM-01-933-03B.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Chambers and Kestin.
In this post-judgment matrimonial matter, defendant, Thomas Hiltner, appeals from the trial court's denial, following a plenary hearing, of his motion for contribution by plaintiff to the college costs incurred by the parties' son. The scope of the appeal includes a challenge to a provision of the interlocutory order that set up the plenary hearing, which also denied termination, modification or suspension of alimony for lack of changed circumstances.
The parties were married on July 1, 1989. Their son was born of the marriage on March 26, 1990. A judgment of limited divorce was entered on March 19, 2004. Among its other clauses, the judgment provided for defendant to pay plaintiff alimony of $450 per week until March 12, 2007, and $425 per week thereafter. An "order supplementing judgment of limited divorce" was entered on April 7, 2004, memorializing "[t]he parties['] agree[ment] that they each have a responsibility to contribute towards the minor child's education as their means and ability allow at the time of the event."
According to its terms, the divorce took the form of a limited judgment "for the purposes of allowing plaintiff . . . to remain on defendant['s] . . . health insurance policy for a period of one (1) year." The form of judgment allowed for defendant to "finalize the divorce" via a motion after March 4, 2005; however, the record before us reveals no such development. The judgment went on to provide: "It is expected that during the [one-]year period [plaintiff] is going to make diligent efforts to obtain full-time employment and obtain health insurance through her employment."
Under the terms of the judgment, the parties shared joint legal custody of the child, with defendant as the primary residential parent. The text of the judgment continued: "[Defendant] is not seeking child support at this time. [Defendant] has stipulated that his intentions are that he will not seek child support unless [plaintiff] seeks modification of alimony."
College studies for the son commenced in August 2008, with defendant paying the full costs thereof. According to his uncontroverted testimony at the plenary hearing, those expenses exceeded $50,000 per year.
Defendant also testified that he worked sixty to seventy hours per week in four positions: City Clerk and Tax Collector for the City of Margate, part-time Tax Collector for the Borough of Longport, Deputy Clerk for the Borough of Longport, and Treasurer of school funds for the Margate City Board of Education. In 2008, he earned $147,000 to $148,000 from the four sources.
Plaintiff was unemployed. She testified that she was unable to work as a manicurist, her former occupation, because she suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome. During the marriage, she had become addicted to prescription pain medication and was still using drugs at the time of the divorce. She had since successfully completed drug rehabilitation treatment at a facility in Florida, where she also worked for a time as a "mental health tech." She returned to New Jersey in August 2007, and was living in an apartment she rented from her father for $650 per month, plus utilities.
She testified to extensive health problems and several hospitalizations. For a short time, she qualified for and received temporary disability benefits. On cross-examination, the following colloquy occurred:
[Counsel for defendant]: "So you will acknowledge you're not totally disabled. There are certain things you can do.
[Plaintiff]: No, I don't think I'm totally disabled. I think that right now I'm disabled to the extent that I can't go back and do what I used to do. That's out ...