On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FM-20-2040-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Reisner, Yannotti, and Harris.
Defendant Dina Friedman appeals from the May 31, 2011 post-judgment order of the Family Part (1) reducing plaintiff Michael Neuberger's child support obligation, (2) fixing the parties' responsibility for college expenses to reflect an equal sharing, and (3) denying reallocation of counsel fees and costs. We affirm.
The parties were married in May 1992. Two daughters were born during the marriage: Julia, born in 1993; and Sarah, born in 1997.*fn1
The parties separated in March 2003, and a final Judgment of Divorce (JOD) was entered December 15, 2003. The JOD incorporated a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) executed by the parties on September 16, 2003. The PSA obligated Neuberger to initially pay child support in the sum of $3000 per month, with an increase to $3500 per month as of January 2004.*fn2 The PSA stated: "Child support is being paid by [Neuberger] based upon his current earnings of $166,000 per year ($100,000 base salary and $66,000 annual bonus in 2002) and [Friedman's] anticipated earnings of $164,000 per year."*fn3
The child support obligation was not calculated based upon any stated methodology referenced in the PSA, and the parties expressly "acknowledge[d] that they ha[d] been advised by their respective attorneys as to the amount of child support payable pursuant to the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines," and that they "underst[ood] why the child support set herein differs from the Guidelines, if it does."
After their divorce, both parties married others. Neuberger and his second wife (and her daughter from a prior relationship) reside in New Jersey, and have one child together: Rachel, born in 2007. Friedman and her second husband reside in New York, and also have one child together: Chloe, born in 2007. Friedman has been the primary residential parent of Julia and Sarah.
At the time the trial judge decided this case, Julia was scheduled to begin her undergraduate studies in September 2011 at a private college in Ohio, where she will reside for approximately nine months each year. The PSA required the parties to pay for their daughters' undergraduate education "in proportion to their ability to pay," considering "income, expenses and savings."
In March 2011, Neuberger filed an application in the Family Part seeking (1) a reduction of his child support obligation;
(2) additional parenting time during the summer;*fn4 (3) a determination of the parties' respective financial obligations towards college tuition and related expenses; and (4) attorneys' fees. He based his claim for an adjustment in the level of child support on (1) his "current family obligations," (2) an "anticipated significant obligation to [Julia's] college," (3) "the fact that [Julia] will be residing at college," and (4) "the obvious lack of need by [Friedman.]"
Two months later, Friedman cross-moved for, among other things, (1) a recalculation of child support; (2) a declaration that "the parties split 50/50 the cost of [Julia's] college expenses . . . including tuition, room and board, and activity fees"; and (3) an order "[d]irecting [Neuberger] to pay [Friedman's] counsel fees and costs incurred in bringing this application."
On May 20, 2011, Judge Thomas J. Walsh heard oral argument and reserved decision. On May 31, 2011, the judge issued a nineteen-page written opinion, reducing Neuberger's child support obligation from $3500 per month to $2481 per month, and granting Friedman's request for a 50/50 allocation of Julia's college expenses. Both parties' ...