September 3, 2013
CYNTHIA STEWART TAMIS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
KENNETH GOLDKLANG, Defendant-Respondent.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted August 28, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-1545-98.
Santo J. Bonanno, attorney for appellant.
Michael J. Pasquale, attorney for respondent.
Before Judges Waugh and Haas.
Plaintiff Cynthia Stewart Tamis appeals the Family Part's December 16, 2011 order granting a cross-motion filed by defendant Kenneth Goldklang. The order emancipates their daughter following her graduation from college. We affirm.
We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal.
The parties were married in December 1984 and divorced in October 1998. They have one daughter, who was born in September 1990. Both parties have remarried. The record reflects that both parties had college and post-graduate educations.
The property settlement agreement (PSA) attached to the judgment of divorce provided for the daughter's custody and support. It gave Tamis custody of the daughter, with parenting time to be arranged between the parties, and required Goldklang to pay child support. The PSA also required each party to maintain a life insurance policy in the amount of $250, 000 for the daughter's benefit until she became emancipated.
The PSA specifically addressed the issue of the daughter's education, under the heading "COLLEGE AND POST-HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION." The parties agreed to "be responsible for all such educational expenses, " based upon "their respective financial abilities to do so at the time of the expense" (emphasis added).
At the time the present dispute arose, Goldklang was required to pay for thirty percent of his daughter's unreimbursed college expenses. Tamis engaged in considerable motion practice seeking to enforce Goldklang's obligations with respect to the daughter, although we note that there were also problems concerning Tamis's compliance with the requirement that she provide documentation concerning college expenses to Goldklang.
At the time the most recent motions were filed, Goldklang was suffering from advanced Parkinson's disease, which resulted in significant physical and mental disabilities. His income at the time was approximately $48, 000, including Social Security and disability insurance benefits. According to his wife, he has a relatively short life expectancy.
In November 2011, Tamis filed a motion seeking to enforce Goldklang's child and educational support obligations, either by means of appointment of a special master to fix the amount of those expenses or, in the alternative, a plenary hearing. Goldklang filed a cross-motion seeking to terminate his obligation to pay educational expenses and to recalculate child support. Tamis opposed that application, arguing that Goldklang should be compelled to contribute to the remainder of the daughter's college expenses, as well as her post-graduate educational expenses. She further argued that emancipation should not take place until the daughter had finished her postgraduate education.
The matter was heard on December 16, 2011. In an oral decision following argument, supplemented by a statement of reasons annexed to the implementing order, Judge Margaret M. Foti granted Tamis's motion to require Goldklang to contribute to the daughter's remaining college expenses, subject to the requirement that she provide him with supporting documentation. The judge denied Tamis's motion for appointment of a special master and for counsel fees. Significantly for the purposes of this appeal, the judge granted Goldklang's request that his daughter be emancipated as of her graduation from college at the end of the 2011-2012 academic year and that he have no obligation to contribute to post-graduate expenses.
Tamis's motion for reconsideration was denied in an order dated January 20, 2012. This appeal followed.
On appeal, Tamis argues that the motion judge placed too much weight on the lack of relationship between father and daughter and that his income was sufficient to continue paying child support and contributing to educational expenses. She further argues that the PSA called for post-college educational support, and that the judge should at least have required the continuation of child support during the daughter's postgraduate education.
Although 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 Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995)), 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)). Family Part judges exercise equitable powers and implement the State's statutory scheme for the protection of dependent spouses and children. See Sedarous v. Sedarous, 285 N.J.Super. 316, 325 (App. Div. 1995), certif. denied, 144 N.J. 172 (1996).
Contrary to Tamis's assertion, the PSA does not require that Goldklang contribute to post-graduate educational expenses. Nevertheless, there is no question that the motion judge had the authority to require contributions to post-graduate education under appropriate circumstances. Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529, 544 (1982). The issue before us is whether she abused her discretion by refusing to do so.
It is quite clear from the record, particularly the daughter's undated letter attached to the cross-motion and her certification in opposition to the cross-motion, that Goldklang and his daughter have had virtually no relationship since she was eleven years old. The daughter blames "her genetic father" and his second wife for that lack of relationship. She repeatedly refers to her father as "Mr. Goldklang" and her mother's second husband as her "father." At this stage, it matters less who was responsible for the breach than that there is one and that the filial relationship is and has been nonexistent for years.
Albeit with some judicial prodding, Goldklang has fulfilled his obligation under the PSA to contribute to his daughter's college education, despite his serious illness and reduction in income during the time she was in college. At this point, Goldklang's deteriorating medical condition and reduced income weigh heavily in favor of emancipation and against creating an obligation to support education beyond the college degree that Goldklang had agreed to and did help finance. In addition, as noted, there is and has been long-term antagonism between the daughter and Goldklang, with no meaningful relationship for many years. Consequently, we see no abuse of discretion in Judge Foti's thoughtful decision to grant Goldklang's cross-motion and emancipate the daughter as of her graduation from college with no obligation to contribute to post-graduate education.