Do I Have To Pay For A Court-Appointed Parenting Time Coordinator?
Most likely and yes if you are court ordered to do so. In many of the child custody cases handled by the lawyers at our New Jersey law firm require experts in the field. One expert who has become more and more popular amongst New Jersey family law attorneys and judges is the appointment of a parenting time coordinator. Often this is memorialized in a court order. All told, even if you do not agree with the recommendations of the expert, they have an expectation to be paid. In the following case involves a parent who asked a judge of a New Jersey Family Court to relieve them of their responsibility to pay the parenting time coordinator. As the expert is not a party to the litigation (only the two parents are parties) family court was not the place to address the issue. In fact, the parenting coordinator had filed a law suit in a civil court. Finally, this outstanding payment is not what a N.J. Family Court is designed to deal with. As the lawyers at our law firm also embrace, the welfare of the children is always first and foremost.
In Drees v. Drees, the parties were married in 2001. The parties had two children born of the marriage. Karen Drees, the wife, filed for divorce in 2012. In her complaint, Mrs. Drees sought alimony, child support, and primary residential custody, meaning the children would live with their mother. Mrs. Drees also sought joint legal custody, which would allow both parties to make important decisions regarding the children, such as medical decisions, together. Lastly, Mrs. Drees sought equitable distribution, which is a fair distribution of the parties’ marital property and debt. Mr. Drees made a counterclaim and sought alimony, child support, attorney’s fees, and primary residential custody.
Before a Judgment of Divorce was entered, the parties disagreed on many matters, and the court entered orders regarding finances, custody, and parenting issues. In May 2014, Mr. and Mrs. Drees participated in an Intensive Settlement Conference (“ISC”), which is a meeting at the courthouse between the parties, the attorneys, and the judge assigned to the case who gives guidance to the parties on the issues that have not been settled. During the ISC, the parties agreed on all issues except three. The agreed upon terms of the ISC were put on the record on May 22, 2014. The parties agreed to issues such as debts, retirement accounts, and parenting time and custody. The issues that were not resolved during the ISC included the division of Mr. Drees’ e-trade account, retroactive pendente lite support, which is temporary financial support given to one party during the course of the litigation, and additional pendente lite support. After testifying at trial, the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Part judge allowed the parties to file additional documentation. Mrs. Drees’ attorney proposed a Dual Final Judgment of Divorce and sent it to Mr. Drees’ attorney, who did not respond. Pursuant to the five-day rule under New Jersey Rule 4:42-1(c), Mrs. Drees’ attorney filed the proposed Dual Final Judgment of Divorce with the court.
The Family Part held a hearing on June 19, 2014 and addressed unresolved issues such as retirement accounts and alimony duration. On the issue of alimony, the court set the duration of alimony at seven and a half years, and recommended that the parties address the matter in a post-judgment motion if there were any issues with the duration. The court also advised that it was going to sign the proposed Dual Final Judgment of Divorce and entered an order the following day. The order awarded $25,000 in attorney’s fees to Mrs. Drees based on the factors of Williams v. Williams, which include need, ability to pay, and good faith. The order also stated that the court determined that no additional or retroactive pendente lite support was necessary because Mr. Drees paid the mortgage and marital credit cards during the course of the litigation. Furthermore, the court determined that Mrs. Drees was entitled to half of the e-trade account, totaling $42,050.50.
An Amended Dual Final Judgment of Divorce (“AFJD”) was entered on July 2, 2014, which included the trial court’s determinations of the unresolved issues from May 22, 2014. The AFJD ordered Mr. Drees to pay $37,650 per year in alimony for a duration of seven and one half years. Mr. Drees was also ordered to pay child support, attorney’s fees, repairs to the marital residence, and half of the e-trade account. Shortly after the order was issued, Mr. Drees asked the court to reevaluate the order. The trial court heard oral argument on August 29, 2014 and denied Mr. Drees’ motion on October 6, 2014.
On appeal, the New Jersey Appellate Division agreed with the trial court. Mr. Drees argued on appeal that the trial court did not settle a dispute regarding a parenting coordinator before continuing to trial. Mr. Drees also argued that the trial court did not use the correct legal standard when deciding Mr. Drees’ motion for reconsideration, and that the trial court incorrectly entered the AFJD without holding additional hearings. The Appellate Division noted that it must follow the findings of the Family Part unless the evidence suggests that the Family Part’s decision was unjust.
The Appellate Division found that the trial court correctly entered the AFJD on July 2, 2014 because the parenting coordinator issue had been resolved. The Appellate Division explained that the parenting coordinator, Dr. Hatton, sued Mr. Drees outside of the Family Part, under a separate docket, for unpaid fees in the amount of $30,624.55. The Appellate Division further explained that in an earlier court proceeding, Mr. Drees claimed that he did not owe Dr. Hatton any money. The Family Part judge initially decided a hearing should be held to determine the disputed issue, but later decided Mr. Drees’ motion should be filed outside of the Family Part because Dr. Hatton is not a party to the Drees’ family court issue. The Appellate Division agreed with and affirmed the trial judge’s decision because Dr. Hatton was a third party, and not a litigant to the Drees’ family lawsuit. The Appellate Division explained that Dr. Hatton was not a party to this lawsuit because Dr. Hatton filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Drees in the Law Division and did not file a motion for outstanding fees in the Family Part. Furthermore, the Appellate Division found that the parenting coordinator matter was immaterial to any of the unresolved issues at the time of trial. Therefore, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the trial court.
Additionally, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision because it found that the trial court set alimony at a duration of seven and one half years prior to entering the order. The Appellate Division also reasoned that the duration of alimony that the trial court set was reasonable and fair. Lastly, the Appellate Division found that the trial court did not enter the order prior to deciding the issue of the retirement accounts because the issue was settled on May 22, 2014 when the parties put their ISC agreement terms on the record. The Appellate Division stated that both parties were present when the terms were placed on the record and that the AFJD incorporated those terms; therefore, the issue was resolved prior to entering the judgment.
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