On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FD-03-988-96.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fisher and Waugh.
Defendant Charles Whitlock, III, appeals the Family Part's November 29, 2011 order requiring him to contribute to the college expenses of his daughter. We remand to the Family Part for further consideration consistent with this opinion.
We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal.
Whitlock and plaintiff Lauri Caruso are the parents of a daughter born in 1993. As of November 2010, Whitlock's child-support obligation was $81 per week, based upon his gross weekly income of $475 and Caruso's gross weekly income of $1020. The child-support worksheet that resulted in the $81 support order reflects that Whitlock's adjusted child-support obligation, taking into account his deduction for another dependent child not related to Caruso, would have been $86, but that it was reduced to $81 because of the self-support reserve. See Child Support Guidelines, Pressler & Verniero, Current N.J. Court Rules, Appendix IX-A to R. 5.6A at 2546 (2013) ("The self-support reserve is 105% of the U.S. poverty guideline for one person. It attempts to ensure that the obligor has sufficient income to maintain a basic subsistence level and the incentive to work so that child support can be paid."). In June 2011, the Family Part granted Caruso's application for an order requiring Whitlock to pay twenty-seven percent of unreimbursed medical expenses.
In August 2011, Caruso filed an application seeking to require Whitlock to contribute to their daughter's college expenses, as well as an order requiring him to bring his arrears current. The parties appeared before the judge assigned to the Family Part non-dissolution calendar on November 29, 2011.
The record of that hearing reflects that the daughter was already attending Rider University, that Caruso did not discuss the selection of the college with Whitlock because "he doesn't have a relationship with [the daughter] at all," that the daughter was receiving "minimal grants" of $1625, that the total tuition for one semester was $16,490, that there were student loans taken out by the daughter and a loan taken out by Caruso, that Whitlock testified he "had not been involved in any decisions in [the daughter's] life," that he was in favor of his daughter attending college, that the daughter received a settlement of $8000 from an automobile accident, that $2000 of those funds were used for college-related expenses, that the daughter considered Rutgers - The State University but preferred Rider because it was smaller, that the daughter owned two cars, that the parties blamed each other for the lack of relationship between father and daughter, and that Whitlock's wife had recently returned to work following a period of unemployment resulting from a layoff.
Based upon those facts, the judge entered an order requiring Whitlock to pay twenty-seven percent of the daughter's net college expenses. That percentage was based on Whitlock's percentage of the total child-support obligation as calculated on the 2010 worksheet. For the fall semester in 2011, his obligation was set at $3430. The judge required that Whitlock's reimbursement check be made payable directly to Caruso's lender. The judge also ordered that Whitlock pay $100 monthly for arrears in child support and medical expenses. This appeal followed.*fn1
On appeal, Whitlock argues that the judge (1) failed to make adequate findings of fact, (2) failed to fully consider the Newburgh factors,*fn2 and (3) failed to consider the needs of his other child. He also argues that the judge should have permitted discovery and held a plenary hearing.
We ordinarily accord great deference to the discretionary decisions of Family Part judges. Donnelly v. Donnelly, 405 N.J. Super. 117, 127 (App. Div. 2009) (citing Larbig v. Larbig, 384 N.J. Super. 17, 21 (App. Div. 2006)). Similar deference is accorded to the factual findings of those judges following an evidentiary hearing. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998). Although there was no formal trial or plenary hearing in this case, the judge heard testimony and argument from the parties while they were under oath. Finally, a judge's purely legal decisions are subject to our plenary review. Crespo v. Crespo, 395 N.J. Super. 190, 194 (App. Div. 2007) (quoting ...