On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cape May County, Docket No. FM-05-360-97.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 14, 2010 - Decided Before Judges Baxter and Koblitz.
Defendant Scott Freeman appeals from a March 1, 2010 Family Part order that denied his motion to terminate his child support obligation for his twenty-year-old daughter, Susan,*fn1 thereby rejecting his claim that she was emancipated. Defendant likewise appeals from portions of the same order that denied his request to: terminate his obligation to provide health insurance for Susan and to contribute to her uninsured healthcare expenses; and to eliminate his obligation to provide life insurance naming Susan as a beneficiary. We reverse.
Defendant was divorced from plaintiff Victoria Freeman on April 15,
1998. Because Susan was only eight years old at the time,*fn2
and her brother was only five, the judgment of divorce (JOD)
did not allocate the responsibility for the children's college
tuition. Instead, the agreement merely provided that it was the
parties' intention to afford their children a college education and at
the appropriate time, the parties would consult with one another and
reach agreement as to each party's financial responsibility.
Susan graduated from high school in June 2007 and enrolled at Gloucester Community College in the fall of that year. Based upon an agreement he had reached with plaintiff, defendant paid his share of Susan's tuition and books. However, he refused to make any further contribution toward Susan's college tuition until he received her grades for the fall 2007 semester. Plaintiff responded by moving for an order compelling defendant to contribute to Susan's college tuition for the spring semester; however, she refused to provide him with any of the information he had requested concerning Susan's grades.
Defendant filed a cross-motion seeking information concerning the status of the college fund the parties had established during the marriage and an explanation of why the college fund was not being used to pay for Susan's education. He also sought an order requiring plaintiff to provide him with Susan's grades from the fall 2007 semester.
The court set the matter down for a plenary hearing. In anticipation of that hearing, defendant served a subpoena on Gloucester Community College to obtain Susan's transcript. In response to that subpoena, defendant learned that Susan had taken the exact same courses for both semesters, and had failed all of them.
The plenary hearing was scheduled for June 30, 2008; however, before the hearing began, the parties entered into a consent order concerning Susan's college tuition.*fn3 In the course of negotiating the consent order, plaintiff advised defendant that although Susan had failed all of her courses at Gloucester Community College, she had enrolled in a summer remedial course at Atlantic Cape Community College for the summer of 2008. Based upon those representations, defendant agreed to pay seventy percent of: the outstanding bill at Gloucester Community College, the summer course at Atlantic Cape Community College, and the cost of books for the summer course, as well as seventy percent of any future tuition and book expenses for Susan, provided Susan was taking a minimum of twelve credits per semester. The consent order also obligated Susan to execute a release authorizing the college to provide her father with copies of her college transcript and grades. During the negotiations on the morning of the plenary hearing, plaintiff finally told defendant what happened to the college fund the parties had established during the marriage: Susan had used the college fund to purchase a car.
In the fall semester of 2008, rather than return to Gloucester Community College to complete her studies, Susan enrolled at the Prism Career Institute in Cherry Hill, ultimately graduating on June 6, 2009 with a certification as a medical assistant. Neither plaintiff nor Susan ever advised defendant that Susan was no longer enrolled in college.
In August 2009, defendant received notice from his health insurance provider that Susan's health insurance coverage would be terminated unless he established that she was currently enrolled as a full-time student. Defendant forwarded a copy of that letter to plaintiff's then-attorney, advising plaintiff that unless proof of Susan's status as a full-time student was provided to the insurance company by September 30, 2009, her health insurance would be canceled retroactively to September 1, 2009.
On November 10, 2009, having received no response from plaintiff to his inquiry concerning Susan's college enrollment, defendant filed the instant motion to declare Susan emancipated. He requested that Susan be emancipated retroactive to June 6, 2009. In keeping with his claim that Susan was already emancipated, defendant sought to terminate his obligation to provide her with health insurance and to terminate his obligation to provide $100,000 of life insurance naming Susan as a beneficiary.
Moreover, defendant maintained that the calculation of his reduced child support obligation should no longer be based on an annual income of $176,537, because he anticipated that his income would decline by approximately $16,000 to $160,534. Plaintiff cross-moved for an order compelling defendant to contribute to ...