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Roder v. Roder

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 31, 2013

DONALD RODER, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
LINDA RODER, f/k/a LINDA TERRY and n/k/a ADRIAN MICHAEL ASHFORD, Defendant. ESTATE ADMINISTRATOR LAWRENCE SULLIVAN, Appellant.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued June 11, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-13-152-96.

Neil A. Malvone argued the cause for appellant Estate Administrator Lawrence Sullivan.

Daniel H. Brown argued the cause for respondent Donald Roder (Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Brown, attorneys; Mr. Brown, of counsel and on the brief).

Schwartz & Schwartz, attorneys for respondent Matthew Merkel, join in the brief of respondent Donald Roder.

Before Judges Fisher and Grall.

GRALL, P.J.A.D.

This case involves a dispute about whether child support arrears owed to a decedent should be paid to the decedent's estate or to the decedent's emancipated son. The administrator of the estate appeals from an order directing payment to the son. Because the obligor's debt was undisputed and there was no question of ongoing support, we conclude that the Family Part should have enforced the child support order by directing payment of the asset to the estate for distribution subject to the supervision of the Probate Part. Accordingly, we remand for entry of an order in conformity with the direction provided in this opinion.

I

Donald Roder and the decedent, Adrian Michael Ashford (formerly known as Linda Roder and Linda Terry) were married in 1987. Roder adopted Ashford's son Matthew soon after the marriage, but Matthew has always been known by a surname not used by either of his parents. Roder and Ashford divorced in 1997.

The dual final judgment of divorce incorporates the parties' agreement. They agreed that Ashford would have custody of Matthew; Roder would have visitation if Matthew was willing; and Roder would pay $150 weekly child support, through the appropriate Probation Department, until Matthew's emancipation. They further agreed that Roder's obligation to pay weekly support would continue beyond Matthew's eighteenth birthday if he were to attend college "on a full-time basis." The agreement did not require either parent to contribute to Matthew's college expenses; it was silent on that point.

Probation records of Roder's child support charges and payments do not reflect any charge for college expenses. The only increases in his weekly $150 support obligation are consistent with cost-of-living adjustments apparently made in conformity with Rule 5:6B.

Commencing in 2002, there was protracted post-judgment litigation about Matthew's emancipation. Ultimately, in July 2009, the Family Part determined that Matthew had pursued his college degree full-time after high school, graduated from college on May 21, 2008, and was emancipated as of that date. The court directed Probation to audit Roder's child support account and fix arrears as of May 21, 2008, and Probation determined that Roder owed Ashford $40, 648.53. Matthew did not intervene in that post-judgment litigation at any point. See Blum v. Ader, 279 N.J.Super. 1, 4 (App. Div. 1994) (recognizing the right of an adult child to enforce his or her right to continued support while in college).

In December 2010, about one month before Ashford's death on January 12, 2011, this court dismissed Roder's appeal from the Family Part's July 2009 determination. Thereafter, Roder promptly contacted Probation and commenced paying his arrears at a rate of ...


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