Loro v. Colliano - Increase in Child Support: Sometimes Plenary Hearing's just aren't necessary...

Following a four (4) year marriage, Ms. Loro filed a Complaint for Divorce from her Husband, Mr. Colliano. One child was born from the marriage, Daria, on March 6, 1984. After a contentious litigation, the parties were finally divorced on June 13, 1991. Significantly, based upon Husband’s earnings of approximately $600,000 per year, Husband’s child support obligation to Wife was $500 per week for the parties’ seven (7) year old daughter.

Nine (9) years later, Wife requested an increase in Husband’s child support obligation. The change in circumstances arose from the maturation of Daria over a nine-year period and considerations of Daria’s significant issues with her health, including, but not limited to, an eating disorder, and other emotional and physical difficulties.

The trial judge granted Wife’s motion for an increase in Husband’s child support obligation and increased Husband’s child support obligation from $500 per week to $700 per week. The trial judge also ordered Husband to pay for Daria’s health insurance and unreimbursed medical expenses, pay for a “reliable and insured” car and cell phone for when Daria obtained her driver’s license, and pay for tickets to twenty (20) Philadelphia Flyers hockey games.

The trial court refused, however, to grant Wife’s request that Husband pay for the repainting of her home, recarpeting of her home, repair of closets, replacement of the washer and dryer and an upgrade of her vehicle. As a result, Wife appealed the Court’s order, and asserted that the Court erred in fixing the amount of child support at $700, erred in failing to conduct a plenary hearing, and failed to make appropriate findings.

The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s award of $700 per week. The Appellate Court opined that the needs of the child must be the centerpiece of any relevant analysis. When determining a child’s needs in these unusual financial circumstances (of one parent being a “high-earner”), a balance must be struck between reasonable needs while at the same time precluding an inappropriate windfall to the child. This consideration requires careful balancing of interests reflecting that a child’s entitlement to share in a parent’s good fortune does not deprive either parent of the right to participate in the development of an appropriate value system for a child. In concluding $700 per week, and the vehicle, the cell phone and twenty (20) tickets to Flyers tickets, and the fact that Defendant will be primarily responsible for any and all college costs for Daria, the Court determined that same was reasonable and addressed all of Daria’s “needs”. The Appellate Court also determined, however, that the trial court erred when failing to consider Wife’s requests for additional “nonessential” items. Specifically, the Court noted that

“[i]n considering these matters, the trial judge must determine if the primary recipient of the benefit is the Wife or the child and whether the benefit to Wife is “primary” or “incidental.” The child is entitled to live in an appropriate, clean and well-maintained home, which may require a contribution to the cost of repairs, long-term maintenance and even, where relevant, capital improvements. Certainly, a child is entitled to appropriate furniture rand personal items commensurate with her age and the ability of the supporting parent to pay for such items, which is not an issue here.” (Loro v. Colliano, 354 N.J.Super.212, 225 (App. Div. 2002).

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