November 8, 2010
LINDA J. LANG, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
JAY S. MORROS, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-13-260-09C.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 28, 2010
Before Judges Yannotti and Espinosa.
Plaintiff Linda J. Lang appeals from the denial of her post-judgment motion for modification of defendant Jay S. Morros's child support obligation for their one child. We affirm.
Both Lang and Morros are physicians. She is a psychiatrist and he is an emergency room physician. When they divorced in 1998 in Pennsylvania after eleven years of marriage, they had one child, B., then four years old. Their property settlement agreement (PSA), which was incorporated into their judgment of divorce, provided for no direct child support payments. It was agreed that Morros would "pay directly to the provider any and all costs for [B.'s] summer camp or similar program, pre-school program, religious school education, after school activity, ranging from day care to athletics, including equipment, lessons, tutoring and other similar expenses." In addition, Morros was responsible for all unreimbursed medical expenses. The PSA further addressed bar mitzvah and college expenses.
Each of the parties moved to New Jersey. By Order dated October 14, 2008, the court granted Lang's request to register the PSA in New Jersey, denied Lang's request to compel Morros to pay tuition and additional weeks of camp expenses, and required the parties to exchange case information statements and financial information, providing that either may file an application for the modification of support at the close of a thirty day discovery period.
Lang filed a motion for modification of support that sought the following relief:
1. establish Morros's child support obligation, effective August 13, 2008;
2. order defendant to pay child support through probation or through wage garnishment;
3. order that the parties share unreimbursed expenses with Lang responsible for 44% and Morros responsible for 56% of such expenses;
4. order that the parties share the expenses for B.'s summer camp and extracurricular expenses on a 44%/56% basis;
5. payment of arrears within ten days; and
6. award of counsel fees.
In her supporting certification, Lang stated that, according to the case information statements they exchanged, her income is $189,406 and Morros's income is $252,000. She acknowledged that their income placed the case above the child support guidelines*fn1 and that there needed to be additional support beyond that calculated in the guidelines as well as an allowance for the $75 weekly cost of maintaining medical and dental coverage for B. Specifically, she asked the court to set $578 per week as Morros's child support obligation.
Morros filed a cross-motion in which he asked the court to set child support at $262 per week; to direct him to continue to provide medical coverage for B. through his employment and adjust his obligation to reflect such payment; to direct that for as long as he pays $262 per week in child support, he shall be responsible to pay 100% of the cost of extracurricular activities, one-camp session and all unreimbursed medical expenses; to direct the payment of arrears and to award him counsel fees. In his supporting certification, Morros asked the court to fix child support pursuant to the child support guidelines (based upon incomes of $215,000 for Lang and $250,000 for him) plus a discretionary amount, and include an adjustment for parenting time expenses and a credit for the payment of B.'s health insurance premium. He proposed that the discretionary amount be satisfied by his payment of B.'s extracurricular activities and camp costs and other expenses required under the PSA.
In deciding the motions, the trial court stated, "I am satisfied in part that the methodology has to begin with the guidelines themselves." The court used an annual income of $250,000 for Morros based upon his most recent paystubs and $200,000 for Lang based upon her current CIS and recent paystubs. The court described its methodology for arriving at 45%/55% as the parties' proportional shares of their joint income. The court then used Appendix IX-F of the guidelines to obtain the basic child support amount of $519 which, when divided proportionally between the parties, resulted in a $285 obligation for Morros. The court observed that an adjustment would be applied for the age of the child and also stated that there would be no credit for medical insurance premiums or parenting time because Morros had failed to provide documentation to support such credits. Because the parties' income exceed the guidelines, the court noted that it could "add a discretionary amount of child support to the minimum basic award based upon the factors specified in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23A."
The court then proceeded to describe the application of relevant statutory factors to the case and the fact that Morros pays for many of B.'s expenses. The court concluded:
I'm satisfied here that instead of adding a discretionary amount pursuant to the statutory factors,... I will fix the child support amount at $285 per week effective the 13th of August, 2008 [giving consideration to the additional expenses paid by Dr. Morros.]
The court directed that support be paid through the Probation Department. The court noted Morros's continuing obligation to pay for B.'s summer camp, unreimbursed medical expenses and other expenses. The court also noted that in the event that B. returned to private school, Morros would be responsible for 100% of those expenses as well. Arrears were ordered to be paid within ten days. Requests for counsel fees were denied.
In this appeal, Lang presents the following arguments:
THE TRIAL COURT FAILED TO ANALYZE THE NEEDS OF THE CHILD AND THE TRIAL COURT'S FINDINGS WERE NOT BASED UPON SUFFICIENT CREDIBLE EVIDENCE.
THE COURT'S ORDER OF OCTOBER 13, 2008 PERMITS PLAINTIFF TO REQUEST TO MODIFY HER OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE HEALTH INSURANCE FOR [B.], AND THEREFORE, THE COURT ERRED IN REQUIRING CONTINUING DISCOVERY ON THIS ISSUE BETWEEN THE PARTIES AND DEFENDANT'S ASSERTIONS AS TO COVERAGE FOR THE CHILD LACKED PROOFS.
After carefully reviewing the briefs, record and arguments of counsel, we are satisfied that neither of these arguments have merit.
Rule 5:6A provides:
The guidelines... shall be applied when an application to establish or modify child support is considered by the court. The guidelines may be modified or disregarded by the court only where good cause is shown.
Good cause consists of "a) the considerations set forth in Appendix IX-A, or the presence of other relevant factors which may make the guidelines inapplicable or subject to modification, and b) the fact that injustice would result from the application of the guidelines." The determination as to whether good cause exists lies within the sound discretion of the court. R. 5:6A.
Appendix IX-A(20) addresses circumstances where, as here, the parents' combined net annual income exceeds $187,200 and instructs:
[T]he court shall apply the guidelines up to $187,200 and supplement the guidelines-based award with a discretionary amount based on the remaining family income... and the factors specified in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.
Here, both parties acknowledged that their combined incomes exceeded the guidelines and that it was appropriate for the court to supplement the guidelines-based award. They parted company on the issue of how that supplement should be determined and applied, with Lang wanting a direct addition to the guidelines-based award and Morros wanting the supplement to be satisfied by his direct payment of enumerated expenses for B.
In reviewing a decision of a family court, we "defer to the factual findings of the trial court," New Jersey Div. of Youth and Family Serv. v. E.P., 196 N.J. 88, 104 (2008), in recognition of the "family courts' special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters...." New Jersey Div. of Youth and Family Serv. v. M.C. III, 201 N.J. 328, 343 (2010); Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 413 (1998). It is only "when the trial court's conclusions are so 'clearly mistaken' or 'wide of the mark'" that we will intervene and make our own findings "to ensure that there is not a denial of justice." E.P., supra, 196 N.J. at 104. The court here meticulously followed the procedure outlined in Appendix IX-A(20) and we are satisfied that the court did not abuse its discretion in deciding to supplement the guidelines-based award by imposing responsibility for additional expenses upon Morros rather than requiring an additional amount in direct payment.