On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FM-14-24-99.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 19, 2012
Before Judges Reisner and Hoffman.
In this post-judgment matrimonial case, defendant Gertrude Lauredan appeals from the July 28, 2011 Family Part order ruling on her application to compel payment of college tuition and expenses. Plaintiff Bernier Lauredan cross-appeals from a separate order entered the same date on his motion for emancipation of the parties' oldest child. Because the trial court failed to fully address defendant's college-cost application, we are constrained to reverse and remand on that issue. As to the court's emancipation ruling, we affirm.
The parties were married in 1985, separated in 1988 and divorced in 1992. They had two children, a daughter born in 1985 (the daughter) and a son born in 1987 (the son). There is a long history of conflict between the parties. Defendant was granted custody of the children in the Final Judgment of Divorce. In 1998, plaintiff filed to change custody resulting in a full custody trial. By then, plaintiff had utilized over a dozen attorneys. Plaintiff was unsuccessful and defendant was awarded over $21,000 in counsel fees and costs.
The divorce judgment was silent on the issue of college expenses. The first order in the record addressing college expenses was a September 14, 2004 consent order. The order required plaintiff to pay one-half of the daughter's net college costs after deduction of loans and/or scholarships.*fn1
The daughter graduated from college in May 2008, at the age of twenty-three, and the son graduated from college in May 2009, at the age of twenty-two.
Since 2004, plaintiff, a physician, had been paying child support through probation at the rate of $400 per week. Plaintiff continued to pay child support at the same rate until May 2010, when he stopped paying child support for both children. The record contains no explanation for plaintiff's failure to address his child support obligation upon the graduation of each child. When plaintiff stopped making the $400-weekly payment, he took no action to formally terminate the existing child support order. As a result, a warrant issued for his arrest. Plaintiff immediately filed an order to show cause to cancel the warrant. He also sought retroactive emancipation of the children to the time of their graduation.
On December 15, 2010, the trial court entered an order emancipating the son, effective June 1, 2009, and ordering the parties into mediation to try to resolve the issue of the daughter's emancipation date. The mediation never took place, with each party blaming the other for this failure.
Plaintiff then filed a further application to address the issue of the date of the daughter's emancipation, and to seek a refund of overpayments. Defendant filed a cross-motion requesting "[e]nforcement of order for plaintiff to pay for one-half of children's college tuition and expenses."
On July 28, 2011, the trial court decided the motions under review, without oral argument, and signed two orders.*fn2 The first order emancipated the daughter and terminated child support for her, effective June 1, 2009, and required defendant to reimburse plaintiff a total of $16,800 in child support overpayments for both children. The second order, on defendant's college-expense motion, granted "[e]nforcement of order mandating plaintiff to pay for half of children's college tuition and expenses." (emphasis added). Additional language in the order, as well as the judge's statement of reasons, would indicate the judge intended only to grant relief on defendant's cross-motion for the daughter's college expenses in the amount of $6,612.40, representing only her first year, and as to that figure, the judge left the door open to adjustment ...