Moss v. Nedas

Citation674 A.2d 174,289 N.J.Super. 352
Parties, 108 Ed. Law Rep. 787 James MOSS, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Anne C. NEDAS, (formerly Moss) Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date20 February 1996
CourtNew Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division

Mills & Mills, Morristown, for appellant (John M. Mills, III, on the brief).

William J. Courtney, Flemington, for respondent (Mr. Courtney, Flemington, on the brief; Elizabeth B. Moshier, also on the brief).

Before Judges P.G. LEVY and EICHEN.

PER CURIAM.

This is an appeal from a post-judgment order entered in the Family Part on January 20, 1995, following plaintiff's motion to enforce litigant's rights. The order terminated plaintiff's obligation to further contribute to the costs of his daughter Leigh's college tuition. We affirm.

The parties were divorced on June 9, 1980. A property settlement agreement providing for the parties to share college education costs "in proportion to their ability to contribute" was incorporated into the judgment. Leigh, now age twenty-one and visually impaired, was five years old at the time of the divorce.

We review the more recent events leading to this appeal. On May 16, 1994, following a plenary hearing, the Family Part judge, who entered the instant order, issued a lengthy detailed written opinion concluding that plaintiff was obligated to pay $12,000 toward the $27,000 annual cost of Leigh's education at Sarah Lawrence College. The judge noted that "[i]n comparison, Rutgers University costs about $9,000 per year." Plaintiff had not objected to paying his fair share of Leigh's college education but questioned the necessity for her attendance at Sarah Lawrence College because of the expense.

At the time of the hearing, Leigh had already completed one semester at Sarah Lawrence College and the court was reluctant to require her to change schools in view of her disability and apparent success there. Notably, the court heard testimony from Leigh herself. The judge observed "[t]he benefits of Sarah Lawrence to Leigh are its small size; location ...; faculty/student ratio; small class size and individualized course of study; and housing alternatives." She found that Leigh is "committed to her college education, ... has shown remarkable independence in her educational goals, ... [and] has been successful in her courses at Sarah Lawrence."

The court reviewed both plaintiff's and defendant's financial circumstances, as well as Leigh's financial social security disability payments, the fact that she has the "ability to work during the summer," and that "financial aid is available, through grants, scholarships or loans." Observing that plaintiff's and defendant's gross incomes were essentially the same in 1993, $59,000 for plaintiff and $57,000 for defendant, at least prior to her taking a voluntary leave from her job and moving to Florida with her husband, the Family Part judge directed plaintiff to pay $12,000 toward the $27,000 tuition and other related costs at Sarah Lawrence. Accordingly, on June 20, 1994, the judge entered an order requiring plaintiff to pay "$6,000 ... twice a year directly to Sarah Lawrence College, on a timely semester basis."

In the written decision, the judge also noted that "Leigh's relationship to her father appears one of affection, care, shared goals as to her education, and responsiveness to one another, although it is not a close and intense relationship. Leigh had lived with her father for about six years after the divorce."

Thus, in determining the amount of the contribution, the Family Part judge considered the factors enumerated in Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529, 443 A.2d 1031 (1982), noting "the financial [factors were] determinative," but also acknowledging the relational factor under Newburgh. In this context, the judge also observed:

[Plaintiff] had made it clear ... that it was too expensive and that he could not afford that type of educational expense. He was not consulted any further even when Leigh was actually accepted. (emphasis added)

In the fall, plaintiff was surprised to learn that Leigh had applied to and received approval of a transfer of her credits to Skidmore College. He also learned that the application had actually been filed prior to the May 12, 1994 hearing and that Leigh had been accepted to Skidmore prior to the court's June 20, 1994 order. Thus, neither the court nor plaintiff had been told of these changed circumstances despite their existence at the time of the hearing. When plaintiff did not pay the tuition to Skidmore, defendant filed a motion to enforce litigant's rights. Plaintiff responded by cross-motion seeking a new plenary hearing to redetermine the apportionment of the college education costs between the parties.

On September 6, 1994, the Family Part judge denied plaintiff's motion to enforce litigant's rights and granted plaintiff a modification in the amount of college expenses he would be obligated to pay for the school year 1994-95 at Skidmore. The judge issued a written letter decision explaining her reasons for the modification. We reproduce the decision here essentially in its entirety. This time the judge emphasized the relational factors in determining to reduce plaintiff's proportional share of college expenses.

These motions are necessitated by the undisputed facts that months prior to the plenary hearing which focused upon [plaintiff's] obligation to contribute to the expenses of Sarah Lawrence College, Leigh had filed applications to other colleges for transfer; that as of the date of the plenary hearing, she was still considering a transfer out of Sarah Lawrence; that she was accepted as a transfer student to Skidmore College; that she actually accepted the transfer prior to the entry of the June 20, 1994 order; that neither Leigh nor [defendant] ever advised [plaintiff] of this process, and only when he was asked to contribute directly to [defendant] did he become aware that he would not be paying Sarah Lawrence.

Counsel for [defendant] contends that this Court's reasoning is as applicable to Skidmore as to any other college Leigh may attend, and that the $12,000 college contribution ordered must be to whatever school Leigh chooses to attend.

In response, the Court firmly disagrees. The decision was based upon a full review of all the factors in Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), only half of which directly relate to the financial commitment being undertaken. The others relate to the goals of the parent/child; their relationship; the type of education in view of the special needs, interest, and commitment of the child. What is directly affected by the discovery of the change in Leigh's commitment to Sarah Lawrence is this Court's specific finding that while [plaintiff] does have the ability to pay more than his present child support amount, he would have to assist in the expense of Sarah Lawrence far more than a more reasonable costs such as Rutgers because of Leigh's special reasons to select that school. It is astounding that throughout the entire hearing, and until a demand was made to pay Skidmore in July, [plaintiff] was never advised that a different school was being considered. While [defendant's counsel] may have advised his client not to raise the issue of a transfer during the hearing, there is simply no reason to suggest it is unimportant or nondeterminative. The actions prove only one thing--that the Court was not as perceptive to the total lack of communication on the issue of Leigh's education as has now been made very clear. [Plaintiff] is viewed solely as "a wallet" in regard to his obligation for college contribution, and the prior order of the Court shall be revised.

This Court shall deny the application for an order in violation of litigant's rights and the provisions requested as to payment; the Court shall grant the application to modify the June 20, 1994 order, and orders that [plaintiff] shall contribute no more than $9,000 to Skidmore College, the school year of 1994-1995. [Plaintiff] shall not be responsible for any further college education costs after this year unless and until he is fully advised of all choices considered by Leigh, receives all transcripts and information on her performance at Skidmore, participates in the process of considering Leigh's 1995 enrollment, and has an active role in financial aid, loan, grant, scholarship applications, none of which appear to even have been considered at the time of a possible transfer.

The judge concluded by cautioning defendant that meaningful communication with plaintiff concerning Leigh's education was a quid pro quo for requiring plaintiff to make future contributions to Leigh's educational expenses. The court then...

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6 cases
  • Black v. Walker
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • November 25, 1996
    ...Pascale, 140 N.J. 583, 591, 660 A.2d 485 (1995) (citing Martinetti ). This is but one factor in the analysis. Cf. Moss v. Nedas, 289 N.J.Super. 352, 674 A.2d 174 (App.Div.1996) (because father's interest in child's college plans were snubbed, father not obligated to contribute). In contrast......
  • Rasmussen v. Rasmussen
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • July 13, 2021
    ...college expenses as identified in Newburgh . . . ." Avelino-Catabran v. Catabran, 445 N.J.Super. 574, 591 (App. Div. 2016). In Moss, 289 N.J.Super. at 354, 356, the trial court initially required a father to pay a share of a daughter's college tuition in accordance with the parent's settlem......
  • Weinman v. Weinman
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • May 12, 2020
    ...only as a source of funds, that parent is relieved of the obligation to fund the child's college education. See Moss v. Nedas, 289 N.J. Super. 352, 356 (App. Div. 1996) (noting a parent cannot be viewed as a "wallet" and deprived of involvement in the college decision making process). We di......
  • Morales v. Morales
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • August 15, 2019
    ...the court need not apply the twelve Newburgh factors and "should enforce the agreement as written." The court found Moss v. Nedas, 289 N.J. Super. 352 (App. Div. 1996) inapposite to the facts in this case. The court determined Meghan was solely responsible for her federal loans totaling $33......
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1 firm's commentaries
  • College Financial Support When The Child Won't Speak To The Parent
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • March 13, 2013
    ...parent has not been part of the college selection process or the child's college progress. For example, in the case of Moss v. Nedas, 289 N.J. Super. 352 (App. Div. 1996), the court found that the father was not obligated to contribute to his daughter's education because the relationship be......

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