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Steven Steel v. Gina Steel


July 25, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FM-15-142-95-W.

Per curiam.


Submitted: July 5, 2011

Before Judges Axelrad and Lisa.

In this post-judgment matrimonial matter, plaintiff Steven Steel appeals from portions of a September 10, 2010 order of the Family Part emancipating his three children retroactive to December 2009, and setting a weekly arrearage payment. Plaintiff's primary argument on appeal is that each child's circumstances warranted earlier dates of emancipation. We are not persuaded, and affirm substantially for the reasons articulated by the motion judge with the following additional comments.

The record is scant. The parties have three children -- a son born in l988, a daughter born in l989, and another daughter born in l99l. Their November 28, 1995 final judgment of divorce incorporated a property settlement agreement designating defendant as the primary custodial parent and obligating plaintiff to pay child support until each child's emancipation. The parties subsequently relocated to various states.

In March 2007, plaintiff apparently filed some type of motion for emancipation in New Jersey, which by order of May l8, 2007 was dismissed by the Family Part judge, providing, in pertinent part:

The Court dismisses Plaintiff husband's motion and Defendant wife's cross-motion without prejudice with leave to refile in Kings County, New York, where Defendant wife resides. In the meantime Plaintiff shall continue to pay his current child support obligation.

According to plaintiff, no motion was filed in New York and defendant subsequently returned to New Jersey. In August 2010 plaintiff filed a motion to emancipate his children retroactive to their high school graduation and to direct probation to audit, adjust, and close his child support account. Plaintiff had a current child support obligation of $298 per week and an approximate arrearage balance of $44,000. Plaintiff represented that his son graduated high school in June 2006, his older daughter graduated high school in June 2007 and attended college for one year, and his younger daughter graduated high school in 2009 and attended one semester of college. Defendant filed a response.

Following telephonic argument on September 10, 2010, Judge Millard ordered emancipation of all three children retroactive to December 30, 2009, the most recent point of time for any of the children's emancipation. In a memorializing order and statement of findings, as well as in an amplifying opinion, R. 2:5-1(b), Judge Millard provided an ample factual and legal recitation, noting, in particular, the following:

Plaintiff argues that his child support obligation would have been reduced upon the emancipation of each child and that his significant arrearages should be credited for the overpayments he had made, or more accurately, overcharges of arrears, beginning with his oldest child's emancipation. Plaintiff did not file this Motion until August l6, 2010. In order to comply with Plaintiff's argument, his child support obligation would have had to be recalculated at the time of emancipation for each child, once in June of 2006, once in June of 2008, and again in June of 2009. However, Plaintiff failed to provide the Court with any financial information for either party for any of those time periods. Child support orders are also heavily "front loaded" for the first child, where support is paid for multiple children. By example, an Order for $150 per week for three (3) children does not become $100 for two (2), and $50 for one (l) child. [Plaintiff] provided no information for either his or his ex-wife's income for 2006 and 2008.

Based on our review of the record and applicable law, we discern no abuse of discretion or misapplication of law by the Family Part judge in utilizing December 30, 2009 as the date of emancipation of all three children under the circumstances of this case. See Kingsdorf v. Kingsdorf, 351 N.J. Super. 144, 157 (App. Div. 2002) ("A court of equity has considerable discretion, applying equitable principles, to condition the relief it gives a litigant.")



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