June 11, 2012
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FD-04-2630-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 11, 2011 --
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Ashrafi.
Appellant, K.H., appeals pro se from the October 8, 2010, Family Part order against her, which provides that "[K.H.'s] motion to terminate child support order is denied[,] as motion to emancipate child is denied. Child is 7 yrs old."
This application was opposed by the Camden County Board of Social Services on behalf of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). At the appellate level, the Attorney General has indicated on behalf of DYFS, that DYFS "takes no position regarding [K.H.'s] appeal."
Because the only party before this court is a pro se litigant with a history of mental instability, the procedural history is incomplete and hard to piece together. Moreover, K.H. refers to trial court orders in two different actions: a guardianship proceeding and this child support action. In short, the brief submitted by K.H. is sparse and confusing. However, we can glean the following basic facts.
On January 13, 2004, around two months after K.H. gave birth to her son, B.W.H., the Family Part entered an order in K.H. v. C.N., No. CAM-FD-04-1830-04, ordering that: (a) C.N.'s paternity of B.W.H. was established by default; (b) setting support to be paid to K.H. by C.N. at the rate of $120 per week; and (c) ordering that arrears by C.N. were payable at the rate of $20 per week.
On June 15, 2009, a new order was entered under No. CAM-FD-04-2630-09, directing K.H. to pay child support to DYFS in the amount of $65 weekly, plus $5 a week towards arrears. No intervening orders relating to support for B.W.H. between January 2004 and June 2009 have been provided, nor is there any explanation why two different docket numbers were assigned to these orders.
K.H.'s parental rights to B.W.H. were terminated in August 2009. See DYFS v. K.H. and C.N. and In the Matter of B.W.H., No. CAM-FG-04-81-09 (Ch. Div. August 4, 2009). The August 4, 2009 guardianship judgment indicates that C.N. voluntarily executed an identified surrender of B.W.H. to K.H.'s aunt and uncle so they could adopt the boy.*fn1 The judgment also contains the following language: "the parent's responsibility for child support is _____ as of ___, 20__." The language has not been crossed out of the judgment nor the blanks completed. This court has not been provided with a subsequent judgment or order, under No. CAM-FG-04-81-09, setting an amount of support.
From these facts we surmise that K.H. has a continuing support obligation to B.W.H., pursuant to either the prior support orders or the guardianship judgment. She sought termination of this obligation by the present motion. She used the term "emancipation" incorrectly to indicate that she no longer had a duty of support. The judge denied the motion.
On appeal, K.H. contends that the denial of her request should be reversed. We conclude that this matter must be remanded.
We start our analysis by noting that when parental rights are terminated in a guardianship proceeding, the Family Part has the discretion to terminate or continue any existing child support obligation of either birth parent. There is no automatic termination of child support when the court enters a judgment of guardianship. N.J.S.A. 9:2-20. Thus, the court must make an affirmative determination regarding child support on the guardianship judgment.*fn2 Ibid.
However, N.J.S.A. 9:3-50 provides that an adoption judgment finally terminates the obligation to support the child and severs inheritance rights.
This matter is remanded to the Family Part, Camden County, for a factfinding hearing to determine: (1) whether K.H.'s child support obligation is terminated by operation of law because B.W.H. has been adopted; or (2) whether elimination or modification of K.H.'s support obligation is warranted for any reason, including her current financial situation. See N.J.S.A. 9:17-53(e). The Camden County Board of Social Services and DYFS shall provide to the Family Part all pertinent information regarding K.H.'s application. We do not retain jurisdiction.
Remanded to the Family Part, Camden County.