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Groninger v. Groninger

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

September 9, 2013

JACKLYN A. GRONINGER, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
CRAIG L. GRONINGER, Defendant-Appellant.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 3, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FM-03-6004-98.

John M. Holliday, attorney for appellant.

Respondent has not filed a brief.

Before Judges Harris and Fasciale.

PER CURIAM

Defendant appeals from a June 22, 2012 order compelling him to pay fifty percent of his daughter's college tuition and expenses and to reimburse plaintiff for out-of-pocket college expenses, and denying his request to modify his child support obligation. We affirm in part and remand in part.

On June 16, 1990, plaintiff and defendant married. They have two children: a daughter and a son, born in 1992 and 1995, respectively. On November 4, 1998, the court entered a final judgment of divorce (FJOD). The parties share joint legal custody of their children, and defendant is obligated to pay child support in the amount of $170 per week. In June 2011, the daughter graduated high school and is currently attending the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Defendant's relationship with the daughter has been estranged for the last four to five years.

On or about March 29, 2012, plaintiff moved to compel defendant to, among other things, pay an equal share of their daughter's college tuition and related expenses. On June 7, 2012, defendant opposed the motion and cross-moved for a modification of his child support obligation. On June 22, 2012, the court conducted oral argument and issued an order granting in part plaintiff's motion and denying in full defendant's cross-motion. The court directed defendant to, among other things, pay fifty percent of the daughter's college expenses and reimburse plaintiff for out-of-pocket college expenses, and found that defendant failed to demonstrate a change of circumstances necessary to modify his child support obligation.

On appeal, defendant argues that the court erred by (1) ordering him to pay fifty percent of the daughter's college tuition and expenses; and (2) denying his cross-motion to modify his child support obligation.

In general, "the special jurisdiction and expertise of the family court requires that we defer to factual determinations if they are supported by adequate, substantial, and credible evidence in the record." Milne v. Goldenberg, 428 N.J.Super. 184, 197 (App. Div. 2012). Such deference will be "disturbed only upon a showing that the findings are 'manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant[, ] and reasonably credible evidence' to ensure there is no denial of justice." Ibid. (quoting Platt v. Platt, 384 N.J.Super. 418, 425 (App. Div. 2006)).

Family courts "possess[] broad equitable powers to accomplish substantial justice." Finger v. Zenn, 335 N.J.Super. 438, 446 (App. Div. 2000), certif. denied, 167 N.J. 633 (2001). This court "accord[s] great deference to discretionary decisions of Family Part judges." Milne, supra, 428 N.J.Super. at 197.

This court will not defer to a family court's decision, however, where the court abused its discretion. See, e.g., State ex rel. J.A., 195 N.J. 324, 340 (2008). "An abuse of discretion 'arises when a decision is 'made without a rational explanation, inexplicably departed from established policies, or rested on an impermissible basis.'" Milne, supra, 428 N.J.Super. at 197 (quoting Flagg v. Essex Cnty. Prosecutor, 171 N.J. 561, 571 (2002)). Furthermore, the family judge's legal ...


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