Recent Case Law on Unpaid Child Support in New Jersey
Decided on January 13, 2016, both parties being represented by counsel, in Matison v. Lisnyansky, the court imposed the legal doctrine of fugitive disentitlement to dismiss defendant’s appeal while a bench warrant for unpaid child support. The legal doctrine of fugitive disentitlement is the balancing of justice, that is, a fugitive from justice may not seek relief from the judicial system whose authority he or she evades.
The parties in Matison v. Lisnyansky had two children born in 2004. The plaintiff came to the United States in March 2006 and lived with the children and defendant in Franklin Lakes home purchased by defendant. Defendant returned to Europe to conduct business, sold the Franklin Lakes home, but continued to provide significant support while plaintiff and their children resided in Tenafly. In 2012, after defendant stopped supporting his children, plaintiff obtained a court order for child support. The order stated: “The Warrant for defendant’s arrest shall remain outstanding until he satisfies his support arrears and complies with the other terms of this Order.”
After many adjournments and four day hearing on plaintiff’s claims for palimony and child custody, on May 1, 2013, the trial court entered a default judgment. One-day before the one-year limit set forth in R. 4:50-2, defendant filed a motion to vacate the default judgment through counsel as he could not appear due to the still outstanding bench warrant, which was denied. Defendant then appealed this Order.
The Appellate Division dismissed based on the legal doctrine of fugitive disentitlement and stated that “a father may not obtain the protection of our judicial system to appeal a palimony and custody default judgment while he remains outside of the country avoiding arrest on an outstanding child-support bench warrant.” The Appellate Division noted that defendant had been avoiding his court-ordered responsibility to support his two children, while seeking to appeal the issues of palimony and custody resulting from the same litigation. The Appellate Division noted that the doctrine may be inconsistent with a proper analysis of the best interest of the child. However, under these facts the defendant had supervised parenting time, defendant failed to offer an alternative custodial plan, nor did he complain about custody throughout the litigation. And, he waited until the absolute last possible date to file a motion to vacate default judgment.