January 20, 2012
GAIL SCHMIDT, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
CARL SCHMIDT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FM-15-1208-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued October 13, 2011 -
Before Judges Cuff and St. John.
Defendant Carl Schmidt appeals from a June 11, 2010 order of the Family Part denying his request to have plaintiff Gail Schmidt reimburse him for certain medical expenses incurred by him on behalf of their daughter, and to sanction plaintiff and seize her account at Bank of America, N.A. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Plaintiff and defendant were married on September 21, 1992, and have one child, a daughter born in 1997. They were divorced on February 27, 2002. Defendant has legal and physical custody of their daughter. The parties' final judgment of divorce requires plaintiff to provide health insurance coverage for their daughter and the parties are equally responsible for paying any uncovered medical expenses. The dispute between the parties arose out of the health insurance coverage and reimbursement obligations.
Their daughter was covered under plaintiff's health insurance policy from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon) obtained through plaintiff's employment. Defendant, by way of a motion to enforce litigant's rights, asserted plaintiff did not reimburse him for their daughter's medical expenses as required. On November 13, 2009, the motion judge ordered plaintiff to reimburse defendant in the amount of $2895.04 for medical expenses, plus $50 for filing fees and costs. On January 21, 2010, a bench warrant was issued as a result of plaintiff's failure to pay the medical expenses ordered in November. On February 1, 2010, defendant filed a motion seeking the previously ordered $2895.04, and $826.90 in additional medical expenses which he had incurred since the last order, plus an award of fees and costs. Defendant also alleged plaintiff cancelled their daughter's insurance coverage.
On March 12, 2010, the motion judge entered an order directing Probation to add $3338.49 to plaintiff's child support arrears to be paid at the rate of $75 per week, effective as of February 1, 2010. That amount included $413.45, representing plaintiff's share of unreimbursed medical expenses incurred from the date of the November order, $30 for filing fees, as well as $2895.04, representing the amount ordered on November 13, 2009. Further, the court noted "[i]f it is determined that [insurance] coverage is available for the child, but [p]laintiff has willfully failed to obtain coverage, or she cancelled it, she will be responsible for 100% of these . . . medical expenses hereafter." The order also gave defendant a "limited power of attorney" to sign the necessary authorizations to access their daughter's information at Horizon, and to sign any documentation necessary to obtain insurance for her. The bench warrant was vacated.
In an order dated April 16, 2010, the motion judge held plaintiff responsible for 100% of their daughter's medical expenses until she is covered by medical insurance, and imposed an additional payment of $1000 per month ($250 per week) to defendant "to purchase an insurance policy on [daughter's] behalf." However, if plaintiff returned her daughter to her employer's insurance plan, that obligation would cease. Defendant also proved an additional $1968 in medical expenses, plus $50 in court costs and fees, which the court added to plaintiff's arrears, modifying the weekly support payments to $199 for support, $250 for medical insurance, and $75 towards arrears; a total of $524 per week. Defendant also alleged plaintiff received reimbursement checks from Horizon on behalf of her daughter and either returned the checks to the insurer or cashed them without sending the proceeds to him. The court ordered "Horizon [to] forward any and all correspondence regarding parties' daughter . . . to [d]efendant[.]"
On the June 11, 2010 motion date, defendant sought payment for a $22,176 medical bill from the Center for Advanced Surgery and Pain Management (the Center) arising from services rendered for the parties' daughter on January 25, 2010, as well as payment for eighteen other medical bills totaling $10,361.91, and an order seizing plaintiff's bank account. Defendant claimed he was unsuccessful communicating with Horizon, notwithstanding the court order granting him limited power of attorney to access medical information. Defendant stated he attempted to submit the order to Horizon, but the company would not include him in their correspondence.
The motion judge refused to issue a second similar order because defendant was unable to show "any proof that [he had] contacted [Horizon] with a copy of th[e] [existing March 11, 2010] order." The motion judge advised defendant he would not favorably entertain defendant's monthly enforcement requests if they were not supported by appropriate facts.*fn1
Following the hearing, the motion judge issued the order, which is the
subject of this appeal. Addressing the $22,176 medical bill from the
Center, the motion judge determined the daughter "was covered under
[p]laintiff's insurance at the time the cost was incurred and the bill
should be submitted to [Horizon] for payment." Regarding the
additional $10,361.91 in medical bills, the motion judge determined
those obligations were either already included in plaintiff's arrears
under prior court orders or were incurred after defendant purchased
insurance for his daughter with the court ordered funds.*fn2
The motion judge explained the first $250 weekly payment
[plaintiff's] obligation to pay additional monies for ongoing medical
expenses incurred by [daughter] where there was no insurance." Thus,
"any uncovered medical expenses after that time would be split between
the parties." The court also refused to grant an order seizing
plaintiff's bank account.
Defendant appeals, challenging the motion judge's denial of his request to order plaintiff to pay $32,537.91, consisting of the $22,176 medical bill from the Center, plus the eighteen other medical bills amounting to $10,361.91.
We note Family Court judges have special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters; therefore, we should accord deference to a Family Court's fact finding. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 413 (1998); N.H. v. H.H., 418 N.J. Super. 262, 279 (App. Div. 2011). We "grant substantial deference to a trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law, which will only be disturbed if they are 'manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence.'" Crespo v. Crespo, 395 N.J. Super. 190, 193-94 (App. Div. 2007) (quoting Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974)). Settled principles provide that we will reverse only when our review discloses findings that "'are so wholly un-supportable as to result in a denial of justice[.]'" Colca v. Anson, 413 N.J. Super. 405, 413 (App. Div. 2010) (quoting Meshinsky v. Nichols Yacht Sales, Inc., 110 N.J. 464, 475 (1988)). On the other hand, we are not obliged to defer to the Family Part's legal analysis because "the trial judge's interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts" are not entitled to any special deference. Barr v. Barr, 418 N.J. Super. 18, 31 (App. Div. 2011) (citing Zabilowicz v. Kelsey, 200 N.J. 507, 512-13 (2009)).
"'[T]he enforcement, collection, modification and extinguishment of unpaid arrearages in . . . child support payments are matters addressed to the sound discretion of the court.'" In re Rogiers, 396 N.J. Super. 317, 327 (App. Div. 2007) (quoting Mastropole v. Mastropole, 181 N.J. Super. 130, 141 (App. Div. 1981)). The exercise of this discretion must entail a "careful examination and weighing of all of the essential facts." Mastropole, supra, 181 N.J. Super. at 141.
After a careful review of the record, we determine that the decision of the motion judge is supported by competent, relevant, and reasonably credible evidence. We see no reason to disturb his exercise of discretion, findings of fact, or conclusions of law.