An opinion issued by Judge McGann in Monmouth County in December 2008 was released for publication in June 8, 2009. In the case of Centanni v. Centanni, the Court held again that child support could be modified retroactively in limited circumstances.
In this tragic case, one of the parties’ children died in a car accident in October 2007. The father did not file a motion to modify his child support per the parties’ 2004 Property Settlement Agreement until January 2008.
While typically the law is that child support cannot be retroactively modified, there are limited circumstances where it is possible. However, prior to this case, there were no reported decisions dealing with the death of a child. Judge McGann held that:
Upon the tragic death of the parties’ daughter, the duty to pay support for her ceased. Nothing within the four corners of the statute evinces an intent on the part of the legislature to bar retroactive modification upon such an occurrence. Moreover, there are other equities at work here. To bar retroactive modification would be to punish financially an obligor who has thoughtfully, and in good faith, allowed an appropriate period of grieving and healing to take place before seeking redress in court. Consequently, a bar on retroactive modifications would encourage an inopportunely-timed filing while families are still in the midst of coping with the tragedy.
Given the previous reported decisions allowing retroactive modification in certain circumstances, for instance, upon emancipation, one has to wonder why the mother fought the retroactive termination of support. Certainly, the legal fees that she expended were going to substantially cut into if not exceed the support at issue.