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Kenneth Mullarney v. Kristen Mullarney (N/K/A Williams).

October 24, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-13-1952-98.

Per curiam.


Submitted May 29, 2012

Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Ashrafi.

In this appeal from an order on post-divorce motions, we follow up on issues we discussed in a prior decision addressing child support obligations when the parties' teenage daughter moved from one parent's house to the other's. Mullarney v. Mullarney, Docket No. A-0980-09 (App. Div. Nov. 30, 2010). Defendant-mother, Kristen Williams, appeals from an order requiring that she reimburse plaintiff-father, Kenneth Mullarney, a total of $2,713.14, and also to pay $500 toward his attorney's fees. We affirm.

The marriage was of short duration, the parties separating one year after their only child's birth in 1994. They divorced in 1999, a marital settlement agreement being incorporated into the judgment of divorce. Their daughter lived with mother until May 2009, at which time the parties agreed that she would move to father's house with the intent to improve her school grades. Several months later, mother agreed to reimburse father for any of his child support payments collected by the Probation Department and paid to her after August 1, 2009.

When mother failed to keep her promise, father filed a motion on September 8, 2009, for change of custody, termination of his child support obligation as of the date of the daughter's move in May, and child support to be paid by mother. On September 25, 2009, the Family Part heard argument and entered an order granting temporary custody of the daughter to father for one school year, suspending his child support obligation as of the September 25 date of the order, and obligating mother to pay three dollars per week child support. Id. slip op. at 4-5.

Father appealed, arguing primarily that he should receive reimbursement of child support dating to May 2009 when the parties agreed that the child would live with him.

In our prior opinion, we affirmed the Family Part's rulings in part but reversed and remanded to fix a date for termination of father's child support obligation of either August 1, 2009, when both parties had allegedly agreed to the change in child support, or September 8, 2009, the date on which father's motion had been filed. Id. slip op. at 11-12.

After the remand, neither party immediately sought relief from the Family Part. In May 2011, the daughter's last year of high school, father and daughter had a serious argument about her school grades. Because of her poor performance, father took away her Blackberry. Daughter's intransigence led father and his wife to ask her to leave their house. Daughter left and stayed at a friend's house for one night. She communicated with her mother by text message and phone calls, stating that she could not live with her father. Mother was in agreement with daughter's wishes to drop out of high school. Eventually, mother, father, and father's wife all agreed that daughter would no longer live at father's house but instead would move back to mother's house.

When mother came to pick up the daughter, father presented her with a form consent order prepared by his attorney. The order stated the parties had agreed that daughter would be emancipated immediately and that child support obligations would be terminated. The recitations of the order indicated the parties' understanding of their rights to ask the court to consider issues pertaining to their daughter and their voluntary agreement to the terms of the order. According to mother, however, father compelled her to sign the form consent order as a condition of taking daughter and her belongings back to her home. On May 17, 2011, a Family Part judge executed the consent order emancipating the daughter and terminating child support.

Before she received a copy of the executed consent order, mother filed a pro se handwritten motion on May 31, 2011. On the notice of motion, she checked off four items of relief that she was seeking: (1) decreasing child support payments, (2) change of custody arrangements, (3) change of visitation arrangements, and (4) emancipation of the child. In the body of the motion, mother wrote that she wanted to "emancipate [daughter] from father." She also stated she was seeking "custody until she turns the age of 18 . . . [and daughter] wishes not to ever see Mr. Mullarney again . . . ."

Father filed a cross-motion seeking to compel mother to reimburse him $2,180 for overpayment of child support and $533.14 for her share of unreimbursed medical expenses of the child. Father also asked that the court deny mother's motion and charge her with his attorney's fees for having to file the motion to enforce his monetary entitlements. In response to the cross-motion, mother filed an unsworn document on June 16, 2011, stating her version of events leading up to the motions. She stated further that she viewed matters to have been resolved between the parties by the filing of the consent order, a copy of which she received after filing her motion, and that she wished to withdraw her motion. Father's attorney wrote to the court that father did not agree to withdraw his cross-motion for reimbursements and attorney's fees.

On June 24, 2011, the Family Part entered an order requiring that mother pay father within thirty days $533.14 for unreimbursed medical expenses, $2,180 for overpaid child support, and $500 in attorney's fees. The order stated that father could apply for a bench warrant for her arrest if she failed to comply. In a statement of reasons attached to the June 24th order, the Family Part judge indicated that he relied on a provision of the parties' marital settlement agreement requiring equal sharing of unreimbursed medical expenses and that he ...

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