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Robyn Russ Meek v. Anthony Meek

June 30, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FM-14-14-09.

Per curiam.


Argued December 13, 2010

Before Judges A.A. Rodriguez and LeWinn.

In this post-judgment matrimonial matter, defendant appeals from the April 5, 2010 order of the Family Part denying his motion to reduce his child support obligation and awarding counsel fees to plaintiff. Because the parties' certifications were conflicting and, despite both parties' requests for oral argument, the judge resolved all issues on the papers, we reverse and remand for further proceedings commencing with oral argument and, if necessary, a plenary hearing.

The parties have been divorced since 1999. They have two children who were seventeen and fourteen years old, respectively, at the time of the proceedings that are the subject of this appeal. Neither party has provided us with their judgment of divorce or the agreement or order setting defendant's original child support obligation. The earliest official documentation of that obligation is in an order entered on June 24, 2005, noting that "[c]hild support shall continue at $1433.00 per month, as set forth in Probation's records." That order also required defendant to "pay for the extraordinary expenses of the children in the amount of $982.00 per month, effective as of February 1, 2005 . . . through the Probation Department[,]" thus making his total monthly obligation $2415.

An order of November 2, 2005 provides that "[c]hild support shall continue in the amount of $2,415.00 as per the prior order." That order further required garnishment of defendant's disability insurance benefits to pay ongoing support and arrears.*fn2

A March 16, 2009 order states that defendant "is under a [c]court [o]rder to pay $2742.00 . . . monthly" in child support, plus $200 per month toward arrears. In his motion papers, defendant explains that the increase in the monthly amount was "due to cost of living increases."

On December 17, 2009, defendant filed a motion to modify his child support obligation. His notice of motion indicated that he requested oral argument "only if the motion is contested."

Defendant certified that at the time of the divorce he was "not employed but had previously worked as a money broker." Child support had been "based upon [his] prior income" and was increased in 2001-2002 "because of [his] increased income from [his] employment in London, England, where [he] was employed as a money broker."

Defendant asserted that in 2005 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and "developed a dependence on alcohol." As a result, he was "unable to work and applied for and received disability from a private insurance policy [he] ha[s]." He stated that he had been "hospitalized at least eight times since 2005" and was currently in therapy. He has "made efforts to pay [his] child support obligation since [his] loss of employment but . . . cannot afford to pay child support that is based on a former six-figure income." He has "had to borrow [a] significant amount of funds from friends to help [him] cover [his] living expenses and to pay some of the child support arrears," and defendant attached a letter from Dr. Julie Lieb, his treating psychiatrist, dated November 17, 2009, supporting his allegations.

Defendant appended to his certification a current Case Information Statement (CIS), reflecting no income earned in 2008; however, he appended a disability insurance "benefit explanation" form dated July 23, 2009, reflecting a monthly payment of $5,703.47. The form also indicated a "[d]isabilty [d]ate of March 9, 2009." This CIS listed defendant's total monthly expenses as $6355, which included his child support obligation of $2942. Defendant did not append a copy of his CIS from 2005 when the last child support order had been entered.

Regarding plaintiff's earnings, defendant certified that she had been "doing her second residency at the time of the divorce[,]" and "currently has a family practice . . . as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and is affiliated with Hackettstown Regional Medical Center."

Plaintiff filed a cross-motion seeking numerous forms of relief all related to securing defendant's payment of child support and arrears. She also sought to have defendant provide his current financial information to enable their daughter to apply for financial aid for college. Plaintiff further asked that a sanction of $50 per day be imposed on defendant for "each day that he is in violation of any ...

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