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Harlan E. Williamson v. Diane Rocca Mahon

June 20, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cape May County, Docket No. FD-05-387-00.

Per curiam.


Submitted June 13, 2012

Before Judges Rodiguez and Reisner.

Plaintiff Harlan Williamson appeals from a May 24, 2011 order of the Family Part emancipating the parties' daughter as of April 8, 2011, and ordering that plaintiff continues to be responsible for child support arrears of $5940. Plaintiff also appeals from a July 29, 2011 order denying his motion for reconsideration of the effective date of the termination of his child support obligation and denying his requests that defendant Diane Rocca reimburse him for alleged overpaid child support and that the court vacate plaintiff's support arrears.

The parties have one daughter who was born in March 1992. On October 5, 1995, at a time when plaintiff lived in Virginia and defendant lived in Massachusetts, the parties entered into a consent order in Virginia. They agreed that the parties would have "joint legal custody with the primary physical custody to the mother." Plaintiff agreed to pay child support of $150 per week "until the child reaches the age of 18, or if still in high school, 19; or is sooner emancipated." At some point, defendant and the child moved to New Jersey, while plaintiff remained in Virginia. The child graduated from high school in June 2010. On this appeal, plaintiff claims that he continued to pay child support "until October 2010 to eliminate a small arrears and in fact accumulated an overpayment of $2,420." However, he provides no citations to the record to support that contention.

Plaintiff contends that in April 2011, the Cape May County Probation Department sent him a demand for continued child support payments, which in turned triggered his filing of a motion, pro se, to terminate child support and vacate any arrears that had accumulated after the emancipation date set forth in the Virginia consent order. The trial court granted the emancipation motion as of the date it was filed, but declined to wipe out the arrears. The trial court's decision did not indicate that plaintiff invoked the Uniform Interstate Family Support Enforcement Act in his motion. Instead, the judge's decision indicates that plaintiff contended that the daughter "has been living with him in Virginia since August of 2010 and therefore his child support obligation should be terminated, effective last August." According to the judge's opinion, defendant contended that the daughter "has always resided with her" previously but was now living in a dormitory at a college in Virginia, and was not living with plaintiff. She also contended that plaintiff owed $5740 in support arrears. Plaintiff responded by citing the consent order and arguing that he had, in fact, been paying for the daughter's college expenses and that his support arrears, if paid to the mother, would reduce what he could continue to pay toward the daughter's tuition.

Reasoning that neither side had filed a Case Information Statement or any financial information that would allow him to reach a different support decision under Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), the trial judge enforced the consent order by emancipating the daughter effective as of April 8, 2011, but declined to wipe out the support arrears.

Through a New Jersey attorney, plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:4-30.65 to -30.123, and Va. Code Ann. §§ 20-88.32 to 20-88.82, New Jersey courts could not modify the Virginia support order, except pursuant to Virginia law. He also argued that unlike New Jersey law, under Virginia law a parent's child support obligation terminates when a child reaches age nineteen or graduated from high school. Va. Code Ann § 20-124.2(C). While conceding that he had "voluntarily" continued to make payments through October 2010, plaintiff claimed he had made an additional $1025 in payments under threats from the Probation Department. He asked the court to order defendant to reimburse him for that amount and asked the court to wipe out any additional arrears owed.

In a written statement of reasons, the trial court indicated that it only considered plaintiff's brief, and disregarded defendant's untimely response and plaintiff's reply to that untimely response. The court declined to grant the motion, primarily because "[a] child support obligation doesn't automatically terminate, a party must file to terminate his or her obligation" and plaintiff "did not actually file to emancipate his child until April 8, 2011." He also chose the April 8, 2011 date for reasons of equity, because the child was still in college.

In his pro se appellate brief, plaintiff raises essentially the same arguments he raised in his reconsideration motion. He also argues that even if he did not file his motion until April 2011, under New Jersey law, child support arrearages can be canceled if the arrearages accrue after a child reaches the age of emancipation.

Defendant, who is also pro se, argues that by virtue of an order dated August 9, 2001, in an action in which both parties were represented by counsel, Judge Batten modified the Virginia order and designated New Jersey "as the state which has jurisdiction as to custody, visitation and child support as said issues related to the parties' minor child." That order directed plaintiff to pay child support of $214 per week and set no cutoff date. Notably, although it was not designated a "consent order," the order recited that the court had "considered the consent of the parties." Defendant's appendix provided us with a copy of that order; on the other hand, plaintiff's appellate brief failed to so much as mention the 2001 order. Defendant's appendix also provided us with a copy of her opposition to the reconsideration motion, which represented that plaintiff had voluntarily agreed to continue to pay support in exchange for her agreement not to seek enforcement of his obligation to provide the child with medical insurance. Her opposition also included copies of prior consent orders in which plaintiff agreed to pay his support arrears.

Having reviewed the entire record, we conclude that plaintiff has failed to properly perfect this appeal by providing us with those portions of the record which would allow us to make a meaningful review of the trial judge's decisions. We also conclude that he has been less than candid with this court and with the trial court in failing to bring to either court's attention Judge Batten's 2001 order, in which the parties consented to New Jersey's jurisdiction over the child support issue and apparently agreed to modify plaintiff's support obligation. On this record, we can find no abuse of the trial court's discretion in ...

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