MELISSA WILSON, Plaintiff–Respondent, v. MARK CUNNINGHAM, Defendant–Appellant.
DOCKET NO. A–4814–11T3
-- September 06, 2013
Mark Cunningham, appellant pro se. Respondent Melissa Wilson did not file a brief.
Plaintiff Melissa Wilson and defendant Mark Cunningham are the unmarried parents of a now fifteen-year-old child. Defendant appeals from an April 18, 2012 order denying his request for a change of venue from Somerset County to Burlington County. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
According to defendant,1 the child has lived with plaintiff in Newark since the parties separated and moved from Somerset County approximately fourteen years ago. Defendant currently lives in Burlington County.
Several years ago, plaintiff filed for and received child support in Somerset County. On July 29, 2011, a hearing officer in Somerset County reviewed the parties' income and determined that defendant should pay $82 per week in child support. The court approved the recommendation and entered an order on August 1, 2011.
On or about March 15, 2012, defendant filed an application to reduce his child support payments, adjust arrearages, and to transfer venue to Burlington County. At the hearing on April 18, 2012, the court reduced defendant's child support payments and modified his arrearages. These issues are not on appeal. Plaintiff opposed the application to change venue, and stated, “I live in Newark. [Defendant] lives in Burlington County. This is midway, because we both used to live in Somerset․ It needs to stay in the middle.”
The court denied the motion to change venue, reasoning as follows: “I can't change the venue to make it more convenient to one party or another. I know at this point Somerset only makes sense because it's in the middle.” The court entered an order memorializing its decision that same day.
Defendant argues on appeal that the trial court should have granted his request to change venue in order to end Somerset County's practice of “carrying out vicious revengeful acts toward [him].” We cannot agree.
Rule 4:3–3 provides 2 :
[A] change of venue may be ordered ․ if there is a substantial doubt that a fair and impartial trial can be had in the county where venue is laid[,] for the convenience of parties and witnesses in the interest of justice [or] in Family Part post-judgment motions, if both parties reside outside the county of original venue and application is made to the court by either party to change venue to a county where one of the parties now resides.
The word “may” indicates the court has discretion to grant or deny the motion depending on the particular circumstances. Cf. R. 4:3–2 (“Venue shall be laid by the plaintiff in Superior Court actions ․ in the county in which the cause of action arose, or in which any party to the action resides [.]” (emphasis added)); see also State v. Collins, 2 N.J. 406, 411 (1949) ( “Motions for a change of venue ․ are addressed to the sound discretion of the court.”).
Furthermore, Intercounty Child Support Case Management Policy, Administrative Directive # 3–05 (Jan. 31, 2005), which “establishes uniform standards regarding transfer of child support cases among the vicinages,” provides in relevant part:
[U]pon establishment of a child support order in the Family Division, that case will presumptively be assigned to the Probation Child Support Enforcement (PCSE) unit in that county, regardless of the residence of the obligor. If at some point the obligor moves to another county, the case will not ordinarily be transferred to the new county of residence.
Our scope of review of a “trial court's fact-finding function is limited.” Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411 (1998). “The general rule is that findings by the trial court are binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial, credible evidence.” Id. at 411–12. “Because of the family courts' special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters, appellate courts should accord deference to family court factfinding.” Id. at 413. “Reversal is warranted only when a mistake must have been made because the trial court's factual findings are ‘so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice.’ ” Reese v. Weis, 430 N.J.Super. 552, 567 (App.Div.2013) (quoting Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974)). This is not such a case.
1. FN1. Plaintiff has not responded to defendant's pro se appeal, and the record provided by defendant is incomplete.
2. FN2. Pursuant to Rule 5:2–2, a “[c]hange of venue in family actions shall be governed, as applicable, by ․ R. 4:3–3 (civil actions).”