Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County
Approved for Publication March 25, 2015.
Bianca M. Sangiovanni for plaintiff.
Brian Cameron, defendant, Pro se.
[440 N.J.Super. 161] L.R. JONES, J.S.C.
This case presents a legal issue of first impression regarding the statutory interpretation of N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.21(a) (" information provided to credit reporting agencies" ), and the reporting of child support arrears as a delinquency on an obligor's credit report. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, the court holds that the statute applies in cases where a parent fails to honor an existing child support order, but does not equitably apply in situations where an obligor suddenly owes arrears as the result of a retroactively imposed or increased support order.
Plaintiff and defendant divorced in 2008, following a long-term relationship and three-year marriage. At the time, the parties entered into a settlement agreement in which they agreed to share joint legal custody of their six year old daughter, K.C., with plaintiff having primary residential custody, and defendant serving as parent of alternate residence with reasonable parenting time. The parties further agreed that defendant would pay plaintiff child support of $75 per week.
Subsequently, K.C. began living with defendant, without objection of either party. This situation endured for a lengthy period of time. On July 18, 2014, defendant filed a post-judgment motion for a court order modifying the prior agreement, and formally declaring defendant to be the child's primary residential custodian. Additionally, defendant sought formal termination of his ongoing child support obligation to plaintiff, and the establishment of plaintiff's weekly child support obligation as the non-custodial [440 N.J.Super. 162] parent. Defendant further requested that the court make plaintiff's new child support obligation retroactive to the motion filing date of July 18, 2014, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23a.
Originally, the family court clerk's office scheduled defendant's motion for a return date of September 26, 2014. At that time, both parties appeared in court and participated in the proceedings, which involved disputed issues of custody and child support. For various reasons, including (a) the need to schedule an in camera child interview under Rule 5:8-6, and (b) the further need for the parties to submit updated case information statements and other relevant financial documentation for the child support analysis, the court carried
and continued the matter to November 17, 2014. In the interim, the court suspended defendant's child support obligation to plaintiff.
On November 17, 2014, the hearing continued. At the conclusion, the court entered an order retaining the parties' status as joint legal custodians, but granting defendant primary residential custody of K.C. Additionally, the court formally granted defendant's application to terminate his child support obligation, retroactive to his original motion filing date of July 18, 2014. Further, by applying New Jersey's Child Support Guidelines, Appendix IX-A to Rule 5:6A, the court established plaintiff's new child support obligation to defendant in the amount of $86 per week, retroactive to the original motion filing date of July 18, 2014, and payable through the Ocean County probation department.
The period between the July 18 filing date and the November 17 conclusion of the litigation totaled 122 days, or 17.43 weeks. As a result of the retroactive nature of the new child support order, plaintiff owed defendant $1499 in technical arrears ($86 per week x 17.43 weeks), and was directed to repay such arrears at an additional $14 per week on top of her ongoing, $86 per week prospective child support obligation, for a total child support obligation of $100 per week.
Plaintiff ultimately accepted both her retroactive child support obligation, and the arrearage repayment schedule, without objection. [440 N.J.Super. 163] She raised a concern through counsel, however, about the negative consequence such arrears might have if reported as a delinquency. The court found the concern to be legitimate and relevant under the circumstances, particularly given the negative effect which delinquent child support arrears may have on one's credit report.
Under a strict interpretation of the statutory language in N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.21(a) and (b), an obligor who owes child support arrears is potentially subject to various legal consequences, including probation's reporting of the arrears to credit reporting agencies. The question, however, is whether the terms and spirit of the statute require the reporting of technical arrears against a non-custodial parent who has never violated a support order or missed any legally specified payments, in the same manner as against an obligor who has failed to make payments or otherwise violated an existing order. The court holds that the answer is no.
As regarding the interplay between child support arrears and credit reporting, the applicable statutory provisions are N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.21, sections ...