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Francine Monique White v. Richard St. Paul

January 4, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FD-04-1497-08.

Per curiam.


Argued October 27, 2010 - Decided Before Judges Lihotz and J. N.Harris.

Plaintiff Francine Monique White appeals from certain provisions of two Family Part orders that address rights and obligations regarding the parties' young child. Plaintiff asserts the motion judge erred by: 1) directing reunification therapy between defendant Richard St. Paul and the child; 2) granting defendant additional time to provide life insurance to secure his child support obligations; 3) modifying child support after defendant provided information regarding another child to whom he provides support; 4) allowing a portion of defendant's child support obligation to be paid directly rather than through a wage order; 5) requiring plaintiff to provide medical authorization forms to defendant, which allowed him access to the child's medical care information; 6) denying a portion of plaintiff's request for counsel fees; and 7) declining to "conform" its orders to include statements made during the hearings.

We have considered each of the arguments presented by plaintiff in light of the record and applicable law. We agree defendant's entire child support obligation should be paid by wage execution through Probation Services if the garnishment would not exceed the federal limitations imposed by 15 U.S.C.A. § 1673(b)(2)(A) and remand for further review of this issue. In all other respects, we affirm.

The parties' child was born on February 20, 2008. To aid our review of plaintiff's motion, we briefly recite the necessary facts and litigation history involving these never-married parents.

On May 7, 2008, plaintiff filed a complaint seeking sole custody and an award of child support.*fn1 Defendant neither appeared at the hearing before the child support hearing officer (CSHO) nor attended two scheduled paternity tests. On September 25, 2008, a CSHO entered a finding of paternity by default order and the court accepted the hearing officer's recommendation to fix child support at $277 per week with a $23 per week payment toward the $5540 accumulated arrearages. Child support was ordered to be paid by wage execution through Probation Services.

Defendant initially moved to set aside the September 25, 2008 order. He was afforded the opportunity of genetic testing but again did not appear. Ultimately, defendant admitted paternity but continued to seek modification of the amount of child support. Plaintiff filed motions for enforcement.

Plaintiff also filed motions for sole custody of the child, payment of her $30,313.63 in unpaid pre- and post-natal medical expenses, a life insurance policy on defendant's life naming the child as beneficiary and payment of her counsel fees and costs. Various orders were entered that awarded plaintiff sole legal and physical custody of the child, ordered defendant to pay sixty percent of outstanding medical expenses and to obtain and provide proof of $300,000 in life insurance coverage by a certain date.*fn2

When defendant failed to comply as ordered, plaintiff sought enforcement of litigant's rights. On August 21, 2009, the court reviewed the parties' cross-motions. Defendant's requests to modify custody and the amount of the life insurance obligation were denied. Defendant's application for parenting time with the not yet two-year old was denied without prejudice, pending his successful participation of unification therapy with the child and the court's review of a parenting report. Defendant was again ordered to produce proof of the previously ordered life insurance found necessary to secure his support obligation. The motion judge reserved decision on his request to modify the amount of his child support obligation, until defendant supplied documentation of his earnings. Plaintiff was ordered to supply "any necessary authorizations" to allow defendant to "pay his share" of the outstanding medical bills.

The parties returned to court and an order was entered on September 17, 2009. At that time, defendant had supplied documentation to verify support he paid to one of his four other children. Specifically, defendant provided the court with pay stubs, which reflected a wage execution for support of this child. Defendant did not submit a certification reciting "all claimed dependants," as previously ordered. Nevertheless, the court was satisfied with the proofs and recalculated the child support obligation accounting for the prior support order, and reduced payment for the benefit of the parties' child to $267 per week plus $23 toward arrearages. The order also provided defendant would pay $50 directly, with the remaining $240 subject to wage garnishment.

Further, defendant was ordered to supply proof of the life insurance policy previously ordered to be put in place. Plaintiff's enforcement motion for payment of defendant's share of outstanding medical expenses was granted, subject to plaintiff's provision of authorizations allowing defendant to contact the health care providers to make payment arrangements. Plaintiff's request to "conform" past orders to include "pronouncements made during motion hearings" was denied. Finally, the motion judge awarded plaintiff counsel fees and costs for enforcement of the medical costs.

Plaintiff appealed, challenging provisions of the August 21 and September 17, 2009 orders. On March 26, 2010, we ordered defendant's brief suppressed.

In our review, we recognize the "family courts' special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters." N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. M.C., 201 N.J. 328, 342-343 (2010). We are obliged to accord deference to the trial judge's factual findings. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998). Reversal is required only in those circumstances where the trial court's findings were "so wide of the mark that a mistake ...

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