A family court’s findings will typically be upheld as long as they are supported by adequate credible evidence. In Rubino v. Rubino, a New Jersey couple with two children divorced in 2006. At the time, the couple entered into a property settlement agreement (“PSA”) that was incorporated into their final judgment of divorce. The PSA provided each member of the former couple with joint physical and legal custody of their two children, outlined a visitation schedule, and stated the parents would pay equal portions of their children’s expenses in lieu of paying formal child support payments. The PSA also transferred the parties’ home to the former wife and required the woman to pay her former husband $80,000 in two installments within two years. Additionally, the agreement provided the former husband with the authority to extend the scheduled deadlines for any good reason including the welfare of the couple’s children.
Not long after the former couple’s divorce was finalized, the father was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child, stalking, and criminal sexual contact. As a result, the children’s mother was provided with full custody and her former husband was ordered to pay weekly child support. Both parents were also ordered to continue sharing monthly child care expenses.
Over the course of several years, the father unsuccessfully sought to reduce his child support obligation. In addition, the court ordered that the father’s past due support obligations be applied to the first property installment payment provided for in the parties’ PSA. The trial court also suspended the second payment indefinitely.
During this time, the former husband was accused of sexually assaulting a child and incarcerated for his purported probation violations. Despite the man’s alleged reduction in income, the court refused to retroactively reduce the father’s child support obligations or vacate the various cost of living adjustments (“COLA”) that were made. The court also declined to enforce the former husband’s right to receive the second property installment payment. Eventually, the father filed an appeal with the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
On appeal, the father argued that the lower court committed error when it refused to grant his motion to retroactively reduce his child support obligations, vacate the COLA adjustments, enforce his right to receive the property settlement payments, and modify the parties’ PSA. The Appellate Court first stated the standard of their review: It is NOT a trial of the issues as may have occurred before the trial judge in the Superior Court, which is New Jersey’s court of original jurisdiction (where most cases are filed and adjudicated). It stated that a trial court’s findings of fact are binding so long as they are supported by sufficient credible evidence. This is what the Appellate Court must determine as its threshold issue. The appellate court therefore turned to the facts of the case.
According to the court, the trial court judge did not commit error when she denied the father’s request to enforce his right to receive the second property installment payment. The Appellate Division stated it was reasonable for the judge to defer the payment because the father owed his former wife a significant amount of money and, forcing her to pay him would be detrimental to the welfare of the children. In addition, the court declined to overturn the trial court judge’s decision regarding the man’s request to retroactively reduce his child support obligations because he failed to supply the court with requested evidence in support of his first motion in which he sought to reduce the support. Similarly, the court denied the man’s subsequent motions because he failed, in those instances, to properly serve his former wife or participate in the discovery process.
As a result, the Appellate Court upheld the trial judge’s ruling with regard to the COLA despite that the father claimed he did not receive notice. The court found that the former husband was the cause of the reason why he did not receive the notice – because he failed to inform the Probation Department of his address change as required when he was incarcerated. The appellate court also upheld the trial judge’s refusal to modify the parties’ PSA because the father did not submit the appropriate evidence to the court in a timely manner.
Finally, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s order denying the father’s motion.
As you can see, there are many procedural rules and laws that must be followed to seek or defend these types of motions to modify support, modify a property settlement agreement (PSA), or a judgment of divorce. Failure to do so can cause you grave consequences. If you need to seek or defend a motion or application to modify the terms of your divorce settlement agreement (PSA or MSA) or a judgment after trial based on changed circumstances, an experienced New Jersey family lawyer can help. The hardworking attorneys at Goldstein Law Group have the experience and ability needed to help you reach an acceptable result. To request a confidential consultation with a dedicated family lawyer, please call Goldstein Law Group today at 732-967-6777 or contact us online.
Rubino v. Rubino, NJ: Appellate Div. 2015
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Court Rules Plenary Hearing was Merited Following Request to Modify New Jersey Alimony and Child Support Obligations, March 12, 2015, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog
New Jersey Court Affirms Order Allowing Primary Caretaker to Relocate Couple’s Twins Out of State, March 5, 2015, New Jersey Divorce Lawyers Blog