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Outside of Court with a Settlement Agreement, divorcing spouses can efficiently and effectively resolve some or all of the issues related to their divorce. The contracts allow the spouses to decide between themselves how assets will be divided, custody will be handled, and any support payments will be calculated, rather than leaving these questions to a judge. It’s important to remember that, once you sign an agreement, you are responsible for living up to it. That was the main takeaway from a recent Superior Court decision in which the court enforced an agreement requiring former spouses to pay for their child’s college expenses. old-books-1057004

Mother and Father divorced in 2001, following roughly eight years of marriage in which the couple had one daughter. They entered into a settlement agreement as part of the divorce, under which the former spouses agreed to split the costs for Daughter’s post-high-school education proportionately. The obligation, according to the agreement, was to be based on each parent’s gross income, as determined by tax returns and other forms of verification.

Unfortunately, the Court said Father and Daughter did not have much of a relationship after the divorce. Although they were ordered to attend counseling sessions, those fizzled out while the Daughter was in high school. She was later accepted to an engineering school, and the Wife went back to court asking a judge to force Husband to pay his share of the expenses. Husband responded by filing a motion to compel Daughter to go to a less expensive school. The trial court eventually ordered Husband to pay 77 percent of the college costs, based on his gross income.

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Child support and visitation are just some of the issues that regularly come up in New Jersey family law cases. Although many of these issues can often be resolved by agreement between spouses or parents, some must eventually be hammered out by a judge. If you are not satisfied with the Trial Court’s decision, you have the right to appeal it.   You should, however, carefully consider the factors on appeal.  It is a costly and time-consuming process that must make sense to pursue.  As a recent case out of New Jersey’s Superior Court shows Appeal Courts are often highly deferential to a trial judge’s findings about the facts of the case.  Family Court judges have wide discretion.

child-on-the-beach-1505504Mother and Father divorced in June 2013, following roughly 17 years of marriage. They eventually agreed to share legal custody of their children, with Mother retaining primary physical custody of the kids. Father agreed that his visitation time with the children would be supervised. Five years later, he later went back to court to have the supervision lifted. After hearing testimony from a number of parenting and custody experts, the trial judge sided with Father. The judge found that there was no reason that Father’s time with the children should be supervised.

The trial judge also reduced Father’s monthly support payments. He had been paying Mother more than $600 per month in child support based on the original Order; however, the Trial Court found that Father should have been responsible for about $200 less a month based on child support guidelines that are used to set support levels. The Court felt there was a prior mistake in the child support figure.  As a result, the court also credited Father for the over payments.

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