Second Amended Final Judgment of Divorce Reversed on The Issue of Child Support
Docket No. A-4226-18
Decided November 29, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Divorce Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s second amended final judgment of divorce on the issue of child support after the court failed to explain its reasoning for removing an adjustment for equally shared parenting time.
In Smith, the parties were married on September 19, 1997, and have three children born in 2000, 2002 and 2005, respectively. Plaintiff filed for divorce on August 13, 2015. Defendant filed an answer and counterclaim for divorce. They agreed to joint legal and residential custody of the children in a Custody and Parenting Time Agreement (Parenting Agreement). Parenting time was equally divided, however, the oldest child resided with defendant from September 2015 to April 2018.
A pendente lite support order was entered on November 3, 2017, that required plaintiff to pay defendant $500 per month in non-taxable support. He was ordered to continue paying all Schedule A and B expenses, child support “in the same manner that he has been paying,” “all health care, unreimbursed medical expenses, all extracurricular activities, clothing, . . . for the parties’ children,” and insurance expenses.
The divorce case was tried over a period of ten days in April through July 2018. The parties stipulated to the appraised values of the marital residence and to plaintiff’s residence on Sussex Turnpike, agreeing to value them at $520,000 and $350,000, respectively. The trial court entered a Final Judgment of Divorce (FJOD) on October 1, 2018, supported by a written statement of reasons.
Defendant filed a motion for a new trial and for enforcement. Plaintiff filed a cross-motion in opposition and to clarify certain issues. On March 29, 2019, the trial court entered an Amended Final Judgment of Divorce (AFJOD) supported by a written statement of reasons, which made significant changes in the FJOD regarding alimony, alimony arrears and equitable distribution. The court found “there was clearly and convincingly a miscarriage of justice on certain issues previously decided by [the] [c]ourt.”
Counsel for the parties and the court conducted a phone conference about issues they raised regarding the AFJOD. On May 9, 2019, the trial court issued the SAFJOD, which again made changes, and issued another written statement of reasons.
In the FJOD, the trial court found “for all intents and purposes, the parties have 50/50 responsibilities for their children” and that “the parental responsibilities are the same for both parties.” It ordered plaintiff and defendant to continue to share joint legal custody of the three children and to follow their Parenting Agreement. Plaintiff was ordered to pay $93 per week in child support for the two younger children based on the Child Support Guidelines (Guidelines), “adjusting for the Wunsch-Deffler computation.”
The AFJOD resolved issues raised in defendant’s motion for a new trial. In the AFJOD, the court again found the parties equally shared responsibilities for the children although defendant testified the oldest child (S.S.) did not stay overnight with plaintiff during the fall of 2017 to early 2018. The court used new income figures to recalculate child support. Under the AFJOD, plaintiff’s child support obligation increased for the two younger children from $93 to $131 per week.
The SAFJOD was issued in May 2019 after the court conducted a phone conference with the parties. The court did not change the child support calculation, but reiterated the parties had equal responsibilities regarding their children. It explained it had removed the Wunsch-Deffler credit in the AFJOD because the adjustment would “cause an unjust result.”
Both parties appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed, finding the trial court did not explain why the Wunsch-Deffler adjustment was applied and then removed.
This case is important to understand child support is governed and calculated by the child support guidelines in New Jersey. However, the guidelines are not perfect. When there is an equal amount of parenting time, there is an adjustment made in Wunsch-Deffler to account for both parties paying for expenses equally.
If you have any questions about child support, alimony, student loans, divorce, counsel fees or any other issues, contact the experienced attorneys at Hark & Hark today.
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