September 29, 2011
SEBASTIAN I. FONT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
CHERYL L. FONT, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FM-12-2551-07D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 19, 2011
Before Judges Parrillo and Skillman.
Plaintiff appeals from the parts of a December 22, 2010 order of the Chancery Division, which denied his motion for the reduction of his child support obligation and the elimination or reduction of his alimony obligation.
This order was based on factual findings contained in an oral opinion the trial court delivered following an evidentiary hearing at which both parties testified. The court found that plaintiff's testimony regarding the reduction in his income after the loss of his prior employment was not credible. The court concluded that plaintiff had not "provided sufficient testimony to convince the [c]court that he sought a comparable job with which to sustain his support obligations." The court also noted that plaintiff himself expressed the belief that his alleged reduction in income was only temporary and that "he'll be able to swing back up with his consulting business." Based on these findings, the court concluded that plaintiff "has not met his burden of demonstrating a change in circumstances."
A party seeking a modification of his or her support obligations has the burden of demonstrating "'changed circumstances' as would warrant relief." Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139, 157 (1980) (quoting Martindell v. Martindell, 21 N.J. 341, 353 (1956)). Plaintiff based his motion for modification on a change in his financial circumstances, specifically the loss of his position as Director of Technology Audit and the reduced income alleged generated by his new consulting business. However, the trial court found that plaintiff's testimony regarding his change in financial circumstances was not credible.
A trial court's factual findings "are binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial, credible evidence." Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 412 (1998). "Because of the family courts' special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters, appellate courts should accord deference to family court factfinding." Id. at 413.
The trial court identified various reasons for not crediting plaintiff's testimony regarding his alleged change in financial circumstances. The court referred to plaintiff's conflicting testimony about the amount of income he was earning as a consultant, first claiming that his business was making no money but then later admitting that his business was producing some income. The court also found that plaintiff's credibility was undermined by his vague testimony regarding the extent of his domestic and foreign travel both for business and personal purposes. Based on the trial court's finding that plaintiff's testimony regarding the alleged change in his financial circumstances lacked credibility, the court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that plaintiff had failed to demonstrate the changed circumstances required to justify a modification of his support obligations. See Larbig v. Larbig, 384 N.J. Super. 17, 21 (App. Div. 2006).
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