NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
This opinion shall not "constitute precedent or be binding upon any court ." Although it is posted on the
internet, this opinion is binding only on the parties in the case and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3.
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-2407-19
MARISSA K. YALANGO,
Submitted January 20, 2021 – Decided February 8, 2021
Before Judges Fisher and Gummer.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey,
Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County,
Docket No. FM-12-1477-07.
The Weir Law Firm, LLC, attorneys for appellant
(Bonnie M. Weir, on the briefs).
Law Offices of Ira C. Kaplan, PC, attorneys for
respondent (Ira C. Kaplan, on the brief).
In this appeal of a post-judgment matrimonial order, defendant Marissa
Yalango argues that the motion judge's disposition of plaintiff Adam Yalango's
application for reimbursement of health insurance premiums on his employer-
sponsored plan was erroneous because the judge: misapplied the terms of the
parties' marital settlement agreement; failed to apply the doctrine of laches to
Adam's claim; mistakenly overlooked that the costs in question were
encompassed by the child-support guidelines; and granted retroactive relief
contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23(a). Marissa also argues that the judge erred
in awarding Adam counsel fees. Because we conclude the judge misinterpreted
the parties' marital settlement agreement regarding the cost of health insurance
for their child, we reverse that part of the order under review, vacate the grant
of counsel fees, and remand for further proceedings regarding the parties'
competing claims to counsel fees.
The record reveals that the parties have one child, Kayla, who was born
in 2000. The parties married in 2004 and divorced by way of a judgment entered
on July 27, 2007, that incorporated a marital settlement agreement (MSA). An
order entered in October 2019 deemed Kayla emancipated as of August 24,
In June 2017, Adam moved to increase Marissa's child-support obligation
and for other relief, not clearly revealed by the record on appeal; the judge
denied that motion on July 20, 2017, because Adam had failed to provide
sufficient information to illuminate whether he was entitled to relief. Adam
didn't return to court requesting child-related relief until he filed a motion for
enforcement on January 31, 2019, seeking Marissa's payment of past-due child
support and what Adam believed was Marissa's share of the cost of health
insurance premiums. The motion was decided in part, without an evidentiary
hearing, by an order entered on March 8, 2019. That order granted relief to
Adam concerning Marissa's child-support obligation and memorialized his
determination that the MSA obligated Marissa to share in the cost to Adam for
maintaining his employer-provided health insurance coverage for the child.
On November 21, 2019, the judge conducted a hearing to resolve, among
other things, the amount owed by Marissa to Adam for his maintenance of
health-insurance coverage for the child on his employer-provided health
insurance plan. The judge heard testimony from both parties, and Marissa's
mother. He expressed his factual findings by way of an oral opinion on January
15, 2020, and entered that day an order that held Marissa responsible for half
the health-insurance costs incurred by Adam between April 2015 and March
2019; he fixed this amount at $16,094.56. He also awarded Adam $10,540 in
Marissa appeals, presenting for our consideration the arguments recounted
at the start of this opinion. We agree that the judge misinterpreted the parties'
agreement about health-insurance coverage 1 and, therefore, reverse the January
15, 2020 order and vacate the award of counsel fees, without reaching Marissa's
arguments about laches, the statutory bar on retroactive modification of child
support, or whether the child-support obligation encompassed the costs Adam
sought for maintaining his employer-provided health insurance for the child.
Marissa's first point turns on the health insurance provision of the parties'
MSA, the first four sentences 2 of which state:
 [Adam] shall be responsible for providing health
insurance for the benefit of the minor child so long as
it is employer provided.  In the event that [Adam]
loses this insurance or [Marissa] can obtain comparable
coverage at a lower rate, [Marissa] shall be responsible
Although, as noted, the judge conducted an evidentiary hearing, by that time
he had already interpreted the MSA's health-insurance provision as requiring
Marissa to equally contribute to the cost of maintaining Adam's employer-
provided coverage. Because the judge's decision was based on his reading of
the provision – and not by resorting to any intrinsic or extrinsic evidence – our
review is de novo. See Kieffer v. Best Buy,
205 N.J. 213
, 222-23 (2011);
Jennings v. Pinto,
5 N.J. 562
, 569-70 (1950).
We have numbered the four sentences for the reader's ease in following our
discussion about the provision's meaning.
to cover the child with insurance.  If this is not
possible and there is no coverage available that the
parties can afford, the parties agree that the child shall
be registered for KidCare.  If any money is to be
paid for this coverage, the parties shall share this cost
Because Adam maintained employer-provided health insurance coverage for the
child throughout the relevant period, as referred to in the provision's first
sentence, none of the other circumstances described in the next three sentences
ever arose and Marissa's obligation to contribute – as defined in the fourth
sentence – was never triggered.
Stated another way, the only sentence that imposes the obligation of one
parent to share in the premium costs expended by the other is the fourth sentence
– "[i]f any money is to be paid for this coverage, the parties shall share this cost
equally" – with the pivotal concern focusing on the words "this coverage." We
conclude that the only sensible meaning to be attributed to "this coverage" as it
appears in the fourth sentence, with an appreciation for the other sentences, is
that "this coverage" refers only to the health-insurance coverage described in the
third sentence, which is relevant only when neither party is able to provide
coverage under the first and second sentences.
The first sentence unmistakably imposes on Adam the health-insurance
obligation by declaring he "shall be responsible for providing health insurance
for the benefit of the minor child so long as it is employer provided ." This
sentence says nothing to suggest Marissa was obligated to contribute to that cost.
And the remainder of the parties' agreement imposes obligations only if Adam's
employer-provided coverage was lost or if Marissa couldn't find a cheaper
alternative, for which she would have been obligated to pay; then the parties
would enroll the child in KidCare. Only if the parties resorted to this last
alternative – KidCare – would there be a sharing of the cost. That is, the third
sentence requires both parties to obtain health-care insurance for the child with
KidCare "[i]f this is not possible"; in that context, "this" refers to Marissa
obtaining comparable coverage at a lower rate as an alternative if Adam lost his
employer-provided coverage, as described in the second sentence. The fourth
sentence imposes on the parties' the obligation to share the cost of obtaining
health-insurance coverage for the child via the method described in the third
sentence: "If any money is to be paid for this coverage, the parties shall share
this cost equally" (emphasis added). The words "this coverage" and "this cost"
undoubtedly refer to the last prior antecedent, which would be the KidCare
coverage and its cost, not the alternative coverage described in the first and
second sentences. See State v. Gelman,
195 N.J. 475
, 484 (2008) (holding that
"unless a contrary intention otherwise appears, a qualifying phrase . . . refers to
the last antecedent phrase"); see also Sutherland Statutes and Statutory
Construction § 47.33 at 487-88 (7th ed. 2007) (recognizing that "[r]eferential
and qualifying words and phrases, where no contrary intention appears, refer
solely to the last antecedent").
That is the plain meaning of the parties' agreement; in considering the
words used by the parties to memorialize their agreement, we find no plausible
alternative. Adam would have the court interpret the agreement as if the fourth
sentence said: "If any money is paid for any coverage provided for the child,
the parties shall share the cost equally." The word "this," which appears twice
in the actual sentence in the agreement, should be understood as referring only
to the one specific thing preceding it. See Oxford English Dictionary 962 (2d
ed. 1989) (defining "this" as "[i]ndicating a thing or person present or near
(actually in space or time, or ideally in thought, esp. as having just been
mentioned and thus being present to the mind)"); Black's Law Dictionary 1480
(6th ed. 1990) (defining "this" and "that" as referring to "different things before
expressed," with "this" referring "to the thing last mentioned"); see also Brown
v. State Auto. Ins. Ass'n.,
12 N.W.2d 712
, 716 (Minn. 1944); Stevens v. Haile,
162 S.W. 1025
, 1028 (Tex. App. 1913).
Our role is limited to enforcing the contract that "the parties themselves
have made." Kampf v. Franklin Life Ins. Co.,
33 N.J. 36
, 43 (1960) (quoting
Sellars v. Continental Life Ins. Co.,
30 F.2d 42
, 45 (4th Cir. 1929)); see also
Quinn v. Quinn,
225 N.J. 34
, 45 (2016). We are satisfied that the agreement
does not require Marissa's contribution for any cost incurred by Adam to
maintain the employer-provided health insurance for the child, and that the
judge's contrary interpretation was mistaken. 3
To summarize, we reverse paragraph one of the January 15, 2020 order,
which required Marissa to pay Adam $16,094.56 as reimbursement for unpaid
health insurance payments – since Marissa had no such obligation – and we
vacate paragraph two, which required Marissa to pay Adam $10,540 in counsel
fees, and paragraph four, which denied Marissa's application for counsel fees.
We remand solely for the judge's consideration of the parties' competing claims
to counsel fees in light of today's decision.
We would add that if Adam believed that the provision did not accurately
memorialize what he and Marissa agreed upon when they divorced, he should
have moved to reform the agreement in a timely fashion, see e.g., Solondz v.
317 N.J. Super. 16
, 20-21 (App. Div. 1998), rather than wait so long
to seek enforcement based on his misreading of the written agreement.
The January 15, 2020 order is reversed in part and vacated in part, and the
matter is remanded for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion. We
do not retain jurisdiction.