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Newkirk-Sanchez v. Newkirk

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

August 13, 2013

JOANNE NEWKIRK-SANCHEZ, Plaintiff-Respondent,
CHRISTOPHER K. NEWKIRK, JR., Defendant-Appellant.


Submitted July 16, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Sussex County, Docket No. FM-19-0119-12.

King and Petracca attorneys for appellant (Matthew R. Petracca, on the brief).

Joanne Newkirk-Sanchez, respondent, pro se.

Before Judges Ashrafi and St. John.


In this post-divorce matter, defendant-husband appeals from the Family Part's orders denying his motion to reduce his child support obligation and also sanctioning him $2, 000 in reimbursement of plaintiff-wife's attorney's fees. We affirm.

The parties were married in 2006 and divorced in 2010. They have one child, now six years old. At the time of their divorce, neither was represented by an attorney. They entered into a settlement agreement, documented as handwritten notations that the parties signed and which were incorporated into the judgment of divorce dated December 9, 2010. Implicitly, the notations contemplated that wife would be the parent of primary residential custody, and they provided that husband would have parenting time with the child on alternate weekends. They also stated that husband would pay $275 in biweekly child support. At the time of entry of the divorce judgment, a child support worksheet was prepared, and it reflected the husband's obligation under the guidelines would have been $34 per week. The parties' agreement was a deviation from that calculation. We have not been provided a transcript of the divorce hearing and must therefore assume that husband did not object or raise any questions at that time about the child support agreement.

Soon after the divorce judgment was entered, husband began filing a series of applications to the court to alter the parenting time arrangement and the child support order. By orders dated August 19, 2011; October 21, 2011; and October 28, 2011, the Family Part granted some of husband's requests, but it denied any substantial change in the parenting arrangement or in child support. The court referred the parties to mediation to iron out some details of the parenting arrangement. On January 10, 2012, husband and wife signed an agreement to modify the parenting time by also granting husband one weekday overnight with the child every other week and by fixing a schedule for holidays and other special dates. The modified parenting plan was approved by the Family Part in a consent order dated February 2, 2012.

Five months later, on July 2, 2012, husband filed yet another motion, this time by counsel, again to modify the parenting arrangement and to reduce his child support obligation. Wife filed a cross-motion, also by counsel. The court decided the motions by two separate orders, an order of July 27, 2012, granting some items of minor relief to husband[1]but also denying without prejudice the most significant aspects of his motion, another change in the parenting arrangement and a reduction of his child support obligation. By order dated August 24, 2012, the court ruled on wife's cross-motion. Pertinent to this appeal, the court sanctioned husband $2, 000, payable in installments, for filing a "frivolous and harassing" motion.

In his appeal before us, husband contends that he was entitled to a review and modification of his child support obligation because of changed circumstances pursuant to Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980). He claims that wife had changed her employment and thus he had a right to obtain financial information from her to determine her current income. He also contends that he had additional parenting time with the child as a result of the January 2012 mediation agreement, thus altering each parent's financial responsibility for the child. Husband argues further that he was not represented by counsel at the time of the divorce and did not understand that his agreement to pay $275 in child support every two weeks was a deviation from the child support guidelines. Finally, he argues that the $2, 000 sanction is unjust because, as a pro se litigant in his prior motions, he was unable "to navigate" through the court's procedures.

Child support is for the benefit of the child, not the parent. Ordukaya v. Brown, 357 N.J.Super. 231, 241 (App. Div. 2003) (quoting Monmouth Cnty. Div. of Soc. Srvcs. for D.M. v. G.D.M., 308 N.J.Super. 83, 95 (Ch. Div. 1997)). After the court determines the parties' actual or imputed incomes, it must compute child support in accordance with those determinations under the Child Support Guidelines. See Pressler & Verniero, Current N.J. Court Rules, App'x IX to R. 5:6A (2013). However, nothing in the guidelines or the law prevents a parent from paying more child support than the guidelines require.

Child support orders are statutorily subject to periodic review by the court. N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.9a ...

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