On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-117-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 1, 2012
Before Judges Parrillo and Fasciale.
In this post-divorce matrimonial case, defendant Joseph T. Marra
appeals from three orders*fn1 finding him in violation
of litigant's rights for failing to maintain life insurance for the parties' unemancipated son and imposing various sanctions.*fn2
We affirm the imposition of sanctions, but remand for further
proceedings regarding the parties' tax exemption status.
On May 13, 2011, the judge entered a judgment for $24,964.13 against defendant representing "additional [c]hild
[s]upport arrearages." On July 8, 2011, the judge denied defendant's motion for reconsideration of the judgment amount without prejudice. On September 26, 2011, the judge denied defendant's motion to vacate the May 13, 2011 judgment.*fn3
The judge then entered the three orders under review. The crux of the orders is that defendant was adjudged to be in violation of litigant's rights by failing to obtain life insurance in the amount of $500,000 for the parties' son, who was born in 1999. On October 7, 2011, the judge restrained defendant from "transferring title, encumbering, selling or otherwise affecting his home . . . until he shows compliance with the [o]rders of the [c]court." Then, on November 3, 2011, the judge compelled defendant to "continue to pursue reinstating [the] life insurance policy." On November 29, 2011, the judge invoked her equitable powers and imposed a sanction of $10,000, "which shall be set up in a fund for [the child]," and amended the judgment of divorce (JOD) to permit plaintiff to claim the child as a tax exemption each year until he is emancipated.
On appeal, defendant argues that the judge abused her discretion by imposing the sanctions and preventing him from declaring the child on his income taxes.
"The Family Court possesses broad equitable powers to accomplish substantial justice." Finger v. Zenn, 335 N.J. Super. 438, 446 (App. Div. 2000), certif. denied, 167 N.J. 633 (2001). The Appellate Division "accord[s] great deference to discretionary decisions of Family Part judges." Milne v. Goldenberg, ___ N.J. Super. ___, ___ (App. Div. 2012) (slip op. at 14) (citing Donnelly v. Donnelly, 405 N.J. Super. 117, 127 (App. Div. 2009)). This court, however, will not defer to a family court's decision where the court abused its discretion. See, e.g., State ex rel. J.A., 195 N.J. 324, 340 (2008). "An abuse of discretion arises when a decision is 'made without a rational explanation, inexplicably departed from established policies, or rested on an impermissible basis.'" Milne, supra, slip op. at 15 (quoting Flagg v. Essex Cnty. Prosecutor, 171 N.J. 561, 571 (2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
"Generally, the special jurisdiction and expertise of the family court requires that [the appellate court] defer to factual determinations if they are supported by adequate, substantial, and credible evidence in the record." Id. at 14 (citing Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 413 (1998)). The trial judge's legal decisions, however, are subject to this court's plenary review. Crespo v. Crespo, 395 N.J. Super. 190, 194 (App. Div. 2007).
We begin by addressing defendant's argument that the judge abused her discretion by restraining him from "transferring title, encumbering, selling or otherwise affecting his home . . . until he shows compliance with the [o]rders of the court."
Family Part judges may enforce litigants' rights pursuant to Rule 5:3-7(b), which provides in part:
On finding that a party has violated a . . . child support order the court may, in addition to remedies provided by R[ule] 1:10-3,*fn4 grant any of the following ...