J.B. v. W.B. (069972) ( 2013 )


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  •                                                        SYLLABUS
    
    (This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the
    convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the
    interest of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized.)
    
                                               J.B. v. W.B. (A-111-11) (069972)
    
    Argued March 11, 2013 -- Decided August 20, 2013
    
    CUFF, P.J.A.D. (temporarily assigned), writing for a unanimous Court.
    
             In this appeal, the Court considers for the first time the role of a special needs trust for the benefit of an
    adult, unemancipated, disabled child and under what circumstances a child support obligation under an existing
    negotiated agreement may be modified to allow for the creation of a special needs trust.
    
              Plaintiff J.B. and defendant W.B. were married in 1985 and have two children. A.B., who was born in
    1988, is autistic. J.B. and W.B. divorced on October 10, 2002, and entered into a comprehensive post-settlement
    agreement (PSA) which addressed child support obligations but deferred issues regarding post-secondary school
    education. The parties recognized that A.B. likely would never be emancipated, and J.B. agreed to continue paying
    his expenses, including medical, psychological, and special education costs. While establishing life insurance terms,
    the parties contemplated creation of a special needs trust to protect the proceeds A.B. eventually would receive.
    
              In 2009, A.B., who was twenty-one, began attending a post-secondary school in Connecticut for persons
    with special needs. Later that year, J.B. moved to direct his child support payments for A.B. into a special needs
    trust designed to fund A.B.’s educational and living expenses. J.B. asserted that his salary had decreased since
    creation of the PSA, the parties should prepare for the possibility of his untimely death, and W.B. should not receive
    A.B.’s support payments now that A.B. resides at school. He further asserted that A.B. would be ineligible for
    certain government benefits if the support payments were not paid into a special needs trust. The trial court denied
    J.B.’s motion, finding that he failed to show changed circumstances warranting relief from the PSA.
    
              J.B. appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The panel noted that the PSA contemplated many of
    the hypothetical situations posed in J.B.’s modification request. Moreover, both parties understood that A.B. likely
    never would be emancipated and J.B.’s obligations to him would remain throughout his life. J.B. also did not
    establish with certainty that a special needs trust would render A.B. eligible for any government benefits. Rather,
    the panel saw J.B.’s motion as nothing more than a self-serving effort to revise the PSA in a manner favorable to
    him. Finally, because A.B. was not a party and there were no issues involving parenting time or custody, the panel
    rejected J.B.’s argument that the trial court should have appointed a guardian ad litem. The Court granted J.B.’s
    petition for certification. 
    210 N.J. 217
     (2012).
    
    HELD: A parent seeking to modify a negotiated agreement for the support of a disabled child through the
    establishment of a special needs trust must present a specific plan and demonstrate how the proposed trust will
    benefit the disabled child. When a disabled child is the subject of a proposed special needs trust, it is within the trial
    court’s discretion to appoint a guardian ad litem.
    
    1. Special needs trusts allow disabled individuals to maintain eligibility for needs-based government benefits, a use
    that was authorized by Congress under the federal Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 and in New Jersey
    by N.J.S.A. 3B:11-37(b). Assets placed in a special needs trust by disabled individuals, or persons acting on their
    behalf, are not considered “available assets” for purposes of determining Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and
    Medicaid eligibility. Several requirements must be met in order for trust assets to be excluded from the disabled
    person’s income, including that the assets will supplement, not supplant, government benefits. In New Jersey, child
    support paid to a parent is considered an asset of the child and will disqualify the child from receiving government
    benefits. In light of the protections afforded by a special needs trust, it can be an effective tool in planning for the
    future of a disabled child, although parents may choose to fund their child’s future directly in order to avoid the
    limitations placed on trust funds and eliminate governmental intrusion. (pp. 15-21)
    2. Decisions regarding the modification of child support are reviewed for abuse of discretion. PSAs are enforced
    according to the parties’ original intent, and should not be modified by a trial court absent fraud, unconscionability,
    or overreaching during negotiations of the PSA. However, in the interest of ensuring fairness in the dissolution of
    marriages, courts retain the equitable authority to modify privately reached child support agreements. A party to a
    comprehensive negotiated PSA who is seeking to modify a support obligation must meet the threshold standard of
    changed circumstances. Changed circumstances are not limited to events unknown at the time of the agreement, and
    include changes in the needs of the child or the income of a parent. In crafting agreements terminating a marriage,
    divorcing parents are encouraged to anticipate the needs of their children beyond the present circumstances,
    although even the most thoughtful parents may not anticipate every future event. Therefore, even when a negotiated
    plan is in place, proposed modifications that may be more advantageous to the child should not be dismissed out of
    hand. The threshold changed circumstances standard assumes that the parties anticipated the event precipitating the
    application for modification of the PSA. However, although modification may be unfair if the PSA addresses the
    changed circumstance, the standard will not bar consideration of the motion for modification where resolution of an
    acknowledged issue was deferred. In such situations, the guiding principle is the best interests of the child.
    Redirecting a child support obligation from a parent to a special needs trust should not be considered exceptional or
    extraordinary relief if the plan is in the child’s best interests. (pp. 21-27)
    
    3. Here, the original PSA deferred the issue of post-secondary education, as well as the question of establishing a
    special needs trust. Because J.B. did not commit to fully fund A.B.’s post-secondary education or all future
    financial needs, his application to establish a special needs trust should have been evaluated in accordance with the
    best interests of the child standard. However, J.B.’s application presented little more than a concept, preventing the
    trial court from reaching an informed decision. Although the record suggests that A.B.’s long-term needs would be
    better met if he were eligible for government programs, it sheds little light on the fundamental question of whether
    the current support funds are sufficient to meet those needs. A parent seeking to modify a negotiated agreement for
    the support of a disabled child must present a specific plan and demonstrate how a proposed trust will benefit the
    disabled child. At a minimum, the trial court must have a complete understanding of the disabled child’s current
    needs, the cost to support those needs, and any available funding resources. When a proposed plan relies on access
    to government benefits, it must address eligibility rules, the timespan for attaining eligibility, the length of time
    before benefits are available once the child is eligible, and the means of defraying current costs without
    compromising the child’s eligibility. The plan also must designate a trustee and address the terms and conditions for
    disbursement of the corpus of the trust. Because J.B.’s proposed plan meets none of these requirements, the
    Appellate Division’s affirmance of the order denying his motion was proper. (pp. 27-29)
    
    4. No New Jersey rule or statute addresses the question of whether a guardian ad litem should be appointed for a
    dependent, disabled child who is the subject of a proposed special needs trust. The role of a guardian is to assist the
    court in determining the best interests of a minor or incompetent individual, and the decision to appoint a guardian is
    within the trial court’s discretion. When a proposed modification may fundamentally affect a disabled child’s
    future, the court should not hesitate to appoint a guardian, and also should seriously consider doing so when one
    parent resists the other’s application to establish a trust. Here, the court did not abuse its discretion by declining to
    appoint a guardian since the proposed plan was entirely speculative and lacked the detail required for an informed
    decision as to whether it was in A.B.’s best interests. In the event either parent presents a plan that permits an
    informed decision, the court should consider appointment of a guardian ad litem. (pp. 29-33)
    
             The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED AS MODIFIED.
    
          CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER; JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, HOENS and PATTERSON; and
    JUDGE RODRÍGUEZ (temporarily assigned) join in JUDGE CUFF’s opinion.
    
    
    
    
                                                               2
                                          SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
                                           A-111 September Term 2011
                                                     069972
    
    J.B.,
    
         Plaintiff-Appellant,
    
              v.
    
    W.B.,
    
         Defendant-Respondent.
    
    
              Argued March 11, 2013 – Decided August 20, 2013
    
              On certification to the Superior Court,
              Appellate Division.
    
              Bonnie C. Frost argued the cause for
              appellant (Einhorn, Harris, Ascher,
              Barbarito & Frost, attorneys; Ms. Frost and
              Christopher J. Roman, on the briefs).
    
              Paul A. Rowe argued the cause for respondent
              (Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith, and Davis,
              attorneys; Mr. Rowe and Lisa B. DiPasqua, on
              the briefs).
    
              Mary M. McManus-Smith argued the cause for
              amicus curiae Legal Services of New Jersey
              (Melville D. Miller, Jr., President,
              attorney; Ms. McManus-Smith, Mr. Miller, and
              JoAnne T. Mantz, on the brief).
    
    
         JUDGE CUFF (temporarily assigned) delivered the opinion of
    
    the Court.
    
         Plaintiff and defendant in this matter are divorced parents
    
    of an autistic son who has special needs.    Both acknowledged
    
    that he likely would never be emancipated.    At the time of their
    divorce, the parents negotiated a property settlement agreement
    
    (PSA) that deferred some issues about their son for a later
    
    date.   Several years later when their son enrolled in an out-of-
    
    state post-secondary school, the father filed a motion to
    
    establish financial responsibility for their son’s education and
    
    to establish a special needs trust.   Concluding that the PSA
    
    addressed the support issues before the trial court and that the
    
    father had not demonstrated changed circumstances to warrant a
    
    modification of his support obligation, the trial court denied
    
    the motion.   The trial court also observed that the proposed
    
    trust plan lacked sufficient detail to permit an informed
    
    decision about whether such a trust would be in the best
    
    interests of the child.   The Appellate Division agreed and
    
    affirmed.
    
        This case presents our first opportunity to consider the
    
    role of a special needs trust for the benefit of an adult,
    
    unemancipated, disabled child.   Although we acknowledge that any
    
    application to modify a support obligation must satisfy the
    
    threshold requirement of changed circumstances if the PSA fully
    
    addressed the issue, maturation of a child and his or her
    
    changing needs may satisfy the changed circumstances standard.
    
    Moreover, when the parties have deferred future financial
    
    arrangements to a later date, the applicant need not demonstrate
    
    changed circumstances to permit consideration of the merits of
    
    
                                     2
    the application.   In all instances, the best interests of the
    
    child is the guiding principle.
    
        In this case, the parties deferred certain issues regarding
    
    future support of their disabled son, and the father submitted
    
    an application to modify the PSA and address the deferred
    
    issues.   The application to establish a special needs trust,
    
    however, did not contain sufficient information to permit a
    
    Family Part judge to determine whether a trust funded by the
    
    father and used to supplement certain government benefits better
    
    met the son’s current and future needs than the arrangement
    
    adopted initially in the PSA.   Accordingly, we affirm the
    
    judgment of the Appellate Division denying the father’s motion
    
    to modify his support obligation and to create a special needs
    
    trust.    We also set forth non-exhaustive guidelines for
    
    consideration by the Family Part of an application to establish
    
    such trusts.
    
                                      I.
    
        Plaintiff J.B. and defendant W.B. married on October 19,
    
    1985.    Two children were born of the marriage:   A.B. on March
    
    11, 1988, and M.B. on July 30, 1991.    A.B. is autistic.
    
        Plaintiff and defendant divorced on October 10, 2002.
    
    After two years of litigation, the parties entered into a
    
    comprehensive PSA, which addressed most issues relating to the
    
    divorce, including child support obligations, but deferred other
    
    
                                      3
    issues, such as the parties’ respective financial obligations
    
    for post-secondary school education.   The parties agreed to the
    
    following child support terms:
    
              [T]he Plaintiff shall pay to the Defendant
              the sum of $4,166.66 per child ($50,000 per
              year, per child) as and for child support.
              The payments shall be made by the Plaintiff
              by way of automatic deposit into the
              Defendant’s bank account.
    
    Further, plaintiff agreed that his child support obligations for
    
    M.B. would continue until M.B.’s emancipation.1   In regard to
    
    A.B., however, the parties
    
              recognize[d] that [A.B.] is autistic, has
              special needs, and probably will never be
              emancipated.   Both parties are committed to
              a course of action which preserves, promotes
              and protects [A.B.’s] best interest.      The
              Plaintiff has paid and shall continue to pay
              for [A.B.’s] unreimbursed and uncovered
              medical,    dental,    hospital,    surgical,
              psychiatric,      psychological,      special
              education, and other similar expenses which
              are reasonable and appropriate for [A.B.]
    
         The parties agreed that both M.B. and A.B. should “attend
    
    and accomplish the highest level of schooling/education possible
    
    for that child.”   The parties, however, did not make specific
    
    arrangements in the PSA for the payment of each child’s post-
    
    high school education.   The parties agreed that, “[i]f the
    
    
    1
      Pursuant to the PSA, if M.B. took “[p]ermanent residence away
    from the residence of both custodial parents, . . . not
    includ[ing] residence while away at college,” he would be
    considered “emancipated” for purposes of plaintiff’s child
    support payments.
    
                                     4
    parties are unable to agree as to the payment of [post-high
    
    school] educational costs and expenses, either will have the
    
    right to apply to the [c]ourt for appropriate relief.”
    
        Plaintiff also agreed to continue A.B.’s medical insurance
    
    and to maintain life insurance policies naming the children as
    
    beneficiaries.   Plaintiff agreed to maintain a $1.5 million life
    
    insurance policy, which later increased to $2.5 million.    In
    
    establishing life insurance terms, the parties also contemplated
    
    the creation of a special needs trust, agreeing that, “[i]f the
    
    plaintiff elects to establish a life insurance trust to fulfill
    
    his life insurance obligations[,] . . . [t]he parties shall
    
    confer and agree as to the appropriate Trust language which will
    
    insulate the proceeds for the protection of the parties’ son,
    
    [A.B.], such as by creating a ‘Special Needs trust.’”
    
        On October 12, 2005, a Family Part judge entered a consent
    
    order modifying the parties’ judgment of divorce to incorporate
    
    the written PSA.   From 2005 until 2009, the parties followed the
    
    terms of the PSA, and plaintiff paid his support payments
    
    directly to defendant.
    
        In 2009, A.B., at the age of twenty-one, finished his
    
    education at a state-funded, special needs school, N.J.S.A.
    
    18A:46-6, -13, and began attending a school in Connecticut for
    
    persons with special needs.   A.B.’s enrollment in the out-of-
    
    state program gave rise to the current litigation.
    
    
                                     5
                                    II.
    
        On November 20, 2009, plaintiff filed a notice of motion in
    
    the Superior Court, Family Part, seeking to direct his child
    
    support payments for A.B. into a special needs trust.
    
    Specifically, he requested the court: (1) “[e]stablish[] a
    
    Special Needs Trust to fund the educational and living expenses
    
    of [A.B.] at [the Connecticut school]”; (2) appoint a parent
    
    coordinator to assist in establishing the trust; (3) compel
    
    defendant to cooperate in the creation of the trust; (4) split
    
    the cost of the parent coordinator equally with defendant; (5)
    
    “eliminate[] any direct child support obligation to Defendant
    
    for the benefit of [A.B.], retroactive to the filing date of the
    
    application, based upon the recent enrollment of [A.B.] in a
    
    full-time residential facility”; (6) determine the financial
    
    contributions of the parties towards A.B.’s educational expenses
    
    on a proportional basis; (7) modify the PSA to decrease the
    
    amount of life insurance coverage plaintiff is required to
    
    maintain and compel defendant to maintain life insurance on her
    
    life for A.B.; (8) compel defendant to pay for counsel fees; and
    
    (9) provide other relief.
    
        In his certification supporting the motion, plaintiff
    
    related that he was no longer an owner of his agency and no
    
    longer earned the same salary as he earned at the time of the
    
    divorce.   He also suggested the parties should prepare for the
    
    
                                     6
    possibility of his untimely death.   Plaintiff also related that
    
    A.B. now resides at a school and, therefore, child support
    
    payments should not be made directly to defendant.   Plaintiff
    
    further asserted that A.B. is not financially prepared for “a
    
    time when [plaintiff is] earning less income and ha[s] fewer
    
    available resources.”   Finally, plaintiff asserted that A.B.
    
    will be ineligible for certain governmental benefits, including
    
    Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, if the child
    
    support payments are not paid into a special needs trust.
    
    Plaintiff stated that A.B. “may be eligible for certain
    
    government benefits programs now and in the future.”   Plaintiff
    
    submitted a letter from an attorney with whom both parents
    
    consulted that outlined the purpose of a special needs trust and
    
    the government benefits and programs in which A.B. could
    
    participate.
    
        In her response to plaintiff’s motion and in support of her
    
    cross-motion to determine the parental financial obligation for
    
    A.B. and M.B., who was applying for college admission at that
    
    time, defendant informed the court she did not object to the
    
    formation of a special needs trust and, in fact, had already
    
    attempted to form one with funds A.B. received from his maternal
    
    grandfather.   She did, however, object to the termination of
    
    direct payment of child support to her before A.B. became
    
    eligible for government benefits and programs.
    
    
                                     7
           The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion to establish a
    
    special needs trust, finding plaintiff failed to show changed
    
    circumstances warranting relief from the terms of the PSA.       The
    
    court found “[t]he parties absolutely knew that [A.B.] was not
    
    going to be emancipated” and, therefore, the parties
    
    contemplated that plaintiff would always pay at least $50,000 in
    
    child support for A.B.    The court also found plaintiff had a
    
    life insurance policy in place that would benefit A.B. in the
    
    case of the “unfortunate demise” of plaintiff.    The trial court
    
    emphasized that the parties negotiated the inclusion of life
    
    insurance at “arms length.”
    
           Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion
    
    to redirect his support obligation into a special needs trust.
    
    Plaintiff also raised the issue of whether the trial court, on
    
    its own motion, should have appointed a guardian ad litem for
    
    A.B.
    
           The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s denial of
    
    plaintiff’s motion to allow payment of child support into a
    
    special needs trust.    In affirming the trial court’s
    
    determination, the panel acknowledged the standard for
    
    modification of the PSA is changed circumstances and noted
    
    plaintiff did not demonstrate any circumstances to warrant
    
    modification of the PSA.
    
    
    
    
                                      8
          The panel determined that the parties entered into the PSA
    
    with an understanding of A.B.’s future needs, that child support
    
    payments would cover A.B.’s day-to-day needs exclusive of
    
    schooling, and that “[t]he amount struck by the parties of
    
    $50,000 per year in child support reflected that understanding.”
    
    The panel noted plaintiff further understood he would be
    
    responsible for the cost of A.B.’s special education.
    
          The appellate panel remarked that plaintiff’s arguments in
    
    favor of modification, such as a decrease in salary, were mired
    
    in hypotheticals.   Additionally, the appellate panel noted that
    
    the parties contemplated many of the situations set forth by
    
    plaintiff.   In regard to the assertion that plaintiff may die
    
    prematurely, the panel referred to plaintiff’s agreement in the
    
    PSA to maintain a life insurance policy to benefit A.B.
    
          The panel also remarked that the parties could have
    
    established a special needs trust in the PSA but chose not to do
    
    so.   Instead, they chose to name A.B. as the beneficiary of a
    
    $2.5 million life insurance policy.   The parties also
    
    contemplated that, one day, plaintiff would be responsible for
    
    the costs of A.B.’s special needs education.   The parties
    
    understood that A.B. would likely not be emancipated and,
    
    therefore, that plaintiff’s obligations would remain throughout
    
    his lifetime.
    
    
    
    
                                     9
        In regard to the governmental benefits available to A.B.,
    
    the panel concluded that the facts presented did not establish
    
    with certainty that A.B. would be eligible for governmental
    
    benefits if plaintiff paid child support into a special needs
    
    trust.    The panel characterized plaintiff’s motion as “a self-
    
    serving effort to revise the terms of the PSA to make them more
    
    favorable to him” and affirmed the denial of his motion.
    
        The panel similarly rejected plaintiff’s argument that the
    
    trial judge should have, sua sponte, appointed a guardian ad
    
    litem for A.B.   The panel concluded that Rule 4:26-2 only
    
    applies to minors or incapacitated persons who are parties to an
    
    action.   A.B. is not a party to the action.   It also concluded
    
    that this case does not involve a parenting time or custody
    
    dispute for which Rules 5:8A and 5:8B would allow the court to
    
    appoint a guardian ad litem.   The panel determined this case was
    
    ultimately about modification of child support that did not
    
    warrant appointment of a representative for A.B.
    
        This Court granted plaintiff’s petition for certification.
    
    
    210 N.J. 217
     (2012).   We also granted Legal Services of New
    
    Jersey’s (Legal Services) motion to participate as amicus
    
    curiae.
    
                                    III.
    
                                     A.
    
    
    
    
                                     10
        Plaintiff asserts that “[s]pecial needs planning is
    
    available to special needs children regardless of their wealth.”
    
    He further asserts that he wishes to pay his child support into
    
    a special needs trust to make A.B. eligible for governmental
    
    benefits.   Plaintiff states that he is not attempting to
    
    terminate his child support, instead he simply wants to redirect
    
    any child support he pays into a special needs trust in order to
    
    permit A.B. to qualify for means-tested benefits.   He asserts
    
    A.B. is the true beneficiary of the modification.
    
        Plaintiff argues that the Appellate Division’s opinion
    
    forecloses A.B. from ever receiving governmental benefits
    
    without his mother’s consent.   Plaintiff contends that the
    
    Appellate Division’s “precedent is dangerous not only to the
    
    parties, but even more so to other families who do not have
    
    significant financial means.”   He argues that a parent would be
    
    unable to prepare for the future of a special needs child
    
    without the consent of the other parent.
    
        According to plaintiff, although courts should uphold PSAs,
    
    the needs of a child should not be limited by his or her
    
    parents’ agreements.   Plaintiff states that the courts should
    
    have modified any terms “that were detrimental to [A.B.]” in the
    
    exercise of its parens patriae responsibility to protect the
    
    interests of children by scrutinizing consensual agreements.     He
    
    
    
    
                                    11
    states that the court should be driven by the best interests of
    
    the child.
    
        Further, plaintiff asserts that, without the representation
    
    by a guardian ad litem, “[A.B.] is . . . being deprived of his
    
    constitutional right to governmental benefits without due
    
    process.”    He argues that “[a] guardian ad litem would be
    
    equipped to represent the best interest of [A.B.] before the
    
    court rather than his parents whose applications focused on the
    
    conflict between the two of them.”
    
                                     B.
    
        Defendant responds that plaintiff is attempting to
    
    terminate rather than modify his child support obligations.
    
    Nonetheless, defendant argues that the circumstances do not
    
    warrant an alteration to the PSA, a document which the parties
    
    took a long time to consider.   She argues that, at the time of
    
    the creation of the PSA, the parties had “a full understanding
    
    of their child’s special needs” and made detailed preparations
    
    for A.B.’s care.
    
        Defendant contends that A.B.’s interests are protected by
    
    enforcement of the PSA and by “ensuring that [A.B.] would not be
    
    relegated to a level of support provided by means tested
    
    government programs.”   She emphasizes that A.B.’s needs should
    
    be met “in accordance with the standard of living enjoyed by
    
    both of [his] parents.”   She asserts that the court’s ruling was
    
    
                                     12
    proper, considering plaintiff failed to present a plan of how
    
    A.B. would be supported without direct payment to defendant or
    
    whether A.B. even qualified for governmental benefits.
    
    Defendant also contends that, under the statutory language, she
    
    would not have access to the funds to pay for food or clothing
    
    for A.B.
    
        Finally, defendant asserts that the Appellate Division
    
    properly determined that a guardian ad litem was not necessary
    
    in this case and agrees that this appeal is about nothing other
    
    than child support.
    
                                    C.
    
        Amicus curiae Legal Services argues that “the child support
    
    statute, the child support guidelines, and the state and federal
    
    laws on special needs trusts” all authorize the payment of child
    
    support to a special needs trust instead of directly to the
    
    custodial parent.   Legal Services points to the 2005 amendment
    
    to the child support statute, see L. 2005, c. 171, § 1 (codified
    
    as amended at N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a)), which directs that child
    
    support continue past the age of twenty-one for the disabled
    
    child and authorizes courts to order the creation of a trust.
    
    That amendment, Legal Services argues, “broadened the scope of
    
    authority . . . to generally promoting the well-being of the
    
    disabled adult child.”
    
    
    
    
                                    13
        Turning specifically to special needs trusts, Legal
    
    Services contends that those trusts are specifically allowed to
    
    enable a disabled person to enjoy a better standard of living.
    
    It argues that special needs trusts have been affirmed as a tool
    
    “to undertake planning to preserve assets and maximize public
    
    benefits.”
    
        Legal Services analogizes this case to In re Keri, 
    181 N.J. 50
    , 61-62 (2004), where this Court held that, “when a Medicaid
    
    spend-down plan does not interrupt or diminish a ward’s care,
    
    involves transfers to the natural objects of the ward’s bounty,
    
    and does not contravene an expressed prior intent or interest,
    
    the plan, a fortiori, provides for the best interests of the
    
    ward and satisfies the law’s goal to effectuate decisions an
    
    incompetent would make if he or she were able to act.”    Legal
    
    Services suggests the standard articulated in Keri may be
    
    instructive here.
    
        Legal Services also contends that the Legislature intended
    
    to encourage the creation of special needs trusts to enable
    
    persons with disabilities to benefit from government programs,
    
    while still receiving supplemental support.   According to Legal
    
    Services, although plaintiff would not gain financially, the
    
    benefits to A.B. would be significant.   Legal Services argues
    
    that “[t]he total financial benefit of obtaining SSI and the
    
    related Medicaid, in New Jersey[,] is approximately $30,000.00
    
    
                                   14
    . . . annually.”   Legal Services does recognize, however, that
    
    here, where plaintiff agreed to continue providing health
    
    insurance for A.B., the value of Medicaid is not readily
    
    apparent.
    
                                    IV.
    
         In order to evaluate whether the trial court should have
    
    modified the child support agreement to allow plaintiff to pay
    
    child support directly into a special needs trust, we begin with
    
    a general examination of special needs trusts.
    
                                    A.
    
         A special needs trust is a trust that is intended to allow
    
    a disabled individual to maintain eligibility for certain needs-
    
    based government benefits.2   See Waldman v. Candia, 317 N.J.
    
    Super. 464, 472 (App. Div.), certif. granted, 
    158 N.J. 686
    
    (1999), appeal dismissed, 
    166 N.J. 599
     (2000).   The use of
    
    special needs trusts to protect eligibility for government
    
    benefits was first authorized by Congress when it passed the
    
    federal Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (OBRA ‘93),
    
    Pub. L. No. 103-66, § 13611(b), 107 Stat. 312, 625 (codified as
    
    
    2
     Our discussion is confined only to a special needs trust
    because plaintiff’s motion discussed only that type of trust.
    This Court recognizes that other types of trusts may be suitable
    to address the needs of disabled, dependent children. See Gary
    Mazart & Regina M. Spielberg, Trusts for the Benefit of Disabled
    Persons: Understanding the Differences Between Special Needs
    Trusts and Supplemental Benefits Trusts, N.J. Law. Mag., Feb.
    2009, at 25-26 (discussing supplemental benefits trusts).
    
                                    15
    amended at 42 U.S.C.A. § 1396p(d)).    OBRA ‘93 identified certain
    
    types of trusts into which disabled individuals, or persons
    
    acting on behalf of such individuals, can place assets without
    
    those assets becoming “available assets” for purposes of
    
    determining Medicaid eligibility.     See ibid.   One such trust is
    
    what is known as a special needs trust.     See 42 U.S.C.A. §
    
    1396p(d)(4)(A).   In 1999, Congress extended the protections
    
    afforded by the use of a special needs trust, finding that the
    
    contents of that type of trust are not considered “resources” or
    
    “assets” for purposes of determining eligibility for SSI.       See
    
    Act of Dec. 14, 1999, Pub. L. No. 106-169, § 205(a), 113 Stat.
    
    1822, 1833 (codified as amended at 42 U.S.C.A. §
    
    1382b(e)(6)(C)(i)).
    
        Recognizing that the law in New Jersey did “not
    
    specifically authorize the establishment of these trusts[,]”
    
    N.J.S.A. 3B:11-36(d), in 2000, the Legislature adopted N.J.S.A.
    
    3B:11-37(b).   L. 2000, c. 96, §§ 1, 3.    The statute provides
    
    that, “[u]pon the request of an interested party, a court may
    
    establish an OBRA ‘93 trust for a person who is disabled . . .
    
    and may direct that the assets of the person with a disability
    
    be placed in the OBRA ‘93 trust.”     N.J.S.A. 3B:11-37(b).
    
        The contents of a special needs trust, however, may be
    
    excluded from the disabled person’s income calculation only if
    
    the trust satisfies certain specific requirements.     See N.J.A.C.
    
    
                                    16
    10:71-4.11(g)(1).   The most important requirement, recognized at
    
    both the state and federal level, is that the state must
    
    “receive all amounts remaining in the trust upon the death” of
    
    the trust beneficiary “up to an amount equal to the total
    
    medical assistance paid on behalf of the individual under a
    
    State plan.”    42 U.S.C.A. § 1396p(d)(4)(A); accord N.J.A.C.
    
    10:71-4.11(g)(1)(xii).    The implementing regulations contain
    
    additional requirements for a trust to qualify as a special
    
    needs trust.   See generally N.J.A.C. 10:71-4.11(g)(1)(i)-
    
    (xviii).   The trust must “specifically state that the trust is
    
    for the sole benefit of the trust beneficiary[,]” N.J.A.C.
    
    10:71-4.11(g)(1)(ii), and the trust must be irrevocable,
    
    N.J.A.C. 10:71-4.11(g)(1)(viii).      The trust must also
    
    “specifically state that its purpose is to permit the use of
    
    trust assets to supplement, and not to supplant, impair or
    
    diminish, any benefits or assistance of any Federal, State or
    
    other governmental entity for which the beneficiary may
    
    otherwise be eligible or which the beneficiary may be
    
    receiving.”    N.J.A.C. 10:71-4.11(g)(1)(iii).    A special needs
    
    trust is meant to supplement, rather than supplant, government
    
    benefits; therefore, if the money placed in a special needs
    
    trust is used for “food, clothing or shelter,” those
    
    expenditures will be considered in-kind support and maintenance
    
    and will count as a set amount of income attributable to the
    
    
                                     17
    child.   N.J.A.C. 10:71-4.11(g)(1)(iii)(1), -5.4(a)(12); see also
    
    Mazart & Spielberg, Trusts for Disabled Persons, supra, at 24
    
    (discussing special needs trusts).
    
        Individuals other than the beneficiary may place assets
    
    into a special needs trust.   On the other hand, such a trust
    
    only qualifies as an OBRA ‘93 trust if it contains the assets of
    
    the beneficiary.   See 42 U.S.C.A. § 1396p(d)(4)(A) (noting
    
    exception applies to “trust containing the assets of an
    
    individual under age 65 who is disabled”).   In New Jersey,
    
    “child support belongs to the child[,]” Pascale v. Pascale, 
    140 N.J. 583
    , 591 (1995); accord Martinetti v. Hickman, 261 N.J.
    
    Super. 508, 512 (App. Div. 1993); therefore, child support paid
    
    directly to a parent is considered an asset of the child in the
    
    nature of unearned income and will disqualify the child for
    
    government benefits, see Mazart & Spielberg, Trusts for Disabled
    
    Persons, supra, at 29-30.
    
        Because of the protection a special needs trust affords
    
    disabled individuals, it can be used as an effective tool to
    
    plan for the future of a disabled minor or adult child.   See
    
    Jennifer Brannan, Comment, Third-Party Special Needs Trust:
    
    Dead or Alive in a Uniform Trust Code World, 16 Tex. Wesleyan L.
    
    Rev. 249, 250-51, 255-56 (Winter 2010).   The effectiveness of
    
    special needs trusts has led to express recognition of their
    
    importance by the majority of states, including New Jersey.      See
    
    
                                    18
    N.J.S.A. 3B:11-36(a) (“It is in the public interest to encourage
    
    persons to set aside amounts to supplement and augment
    
    assistance provided by government entities to persons with
    
    severe chronic disabilities.”); see also In re Jennings v.
    
    Comm’r, N.Y.S. Dep’t of Social Servs., 
    893 N.Y.S.2d 103
    , 109
    
    (App. Div. 2010) (explaining that New York Legislature codified
    
    supplemental needs trust3 definition in N.Y. Est. Powers & Trusts
    
    Law § 7-1.12); In re Riddell Testamentary Trust, 
    157 P.3d 888
    ,
    
    893 (Wash. Ct. App. 2007) (“The law invites, rather than
    
    discourages, the creation of special needs trusts . . . .”);
    
    Parkhurst v. Wilson-Coker, 
    848 A.2d 515
    , 516-17, 519-21 (Conn.
    
    App. Ct. 2004) (explaining purpose of special needs trusts).
    
    Indeed, in Hamilton v. Laine, 
    67 Cal. Rptr. 2d 407
    , 408 (Ct.
    
    App. 1997), the Court of Appeal of California provided an
    
    example illustrating the benefits of a special needs trust:
    
              Without [a] special needs trust, if the
              minor’s cost of care is $6,000 and the month
              annuity is $5,000, the annuity pays the
              first $5,000 of the minor’s cost of care and
              [Medicaid] covers the $1,000 difference.
              With [a] special needs trust, [Medicaid]
              covers the entire $6,000 and the $5,000
              monthly annuity can then be used for the
              minor’s special needs.
    
         Despite the benefits, there are reasons why parents may
    
    choose not to employ use of a special needs trust and may
    
    3
      Some jurisdictions refer to special needs trusts as
    supplemental needs trusts. Both are distinguishable from
    supplemental benefits trusts.
    
                                   19
    instead choose to fund their child’s future directly.    Direct
    
    parental support avoids the use limitations placed on funds in
    
    special needs trusts.     See Craig P. Goldman, Render unto Caesar
    
    That Which Is Rightfully Caesar’s, but not a Penny More than You
    
    Have To:   Supplemental Needs Trusts in Minnesota, 23 Wm.
    
    Mitchell L. Rev. 639, 674 (1997) (“For example, money may not be
    
    spent for the benefit of others and thus the funds could not be
    
    used to pay for travel of family members to visit the
    
    beneficiary . . . or to pay for the college education or wedding
    
    of another child.”     (Alteration in original) (internal quotation
    
    marks omitted)).     Opting not to create a special needs trust
    
    also
    
               eliminates    governmental   intrusions into
               private   family matters, avoids disputes
               about eligibility for government benefits
               during the life of the adult child with a
               disability,     does     not    require   an
               understanding of Medicaid and SSI, and
               allows parents to fulfill what they may view
               as their moral obligation to provide for
               their child.
    
               [Gail C. Eichstadt, Essay, Using Trusts to
               Provide for the Needs of an Adult Child with
               a Disability: An Introduction to Family
               Concerns for Lawyers and a Primer on Trusts
               for Parents, 
    45 S.D. L
    . Rev. 622, 637
               (1999/2000).]
    
                                      V.
    
    
    
    
                                      20
        With that understanding of special needs trusts in mind, we
    
    next turn to the law regarding modification of child support
    
    arrangements, beginning with the appropriate standard of review.
    
                                    A.
    
         “When reviewing decisions granting or denying applications
    
    to modify child support, we examine whether, given the facts,
    
    the trial judge abused his or her discretion.”    Jacoby v.
    
    Jacoby, 
    427 N.J. Super. 109
    , 116 (App. Div. 2012).    The trial
    
    court’s “‘award will not be disturbed unless it is manifestly
    
    unreasonable, arbitrary, or clearly contrary to reason or to
    
    other evidence, or the result of whim or caprice.’”     Ibid.
    
    (quoting Foust v. Glaser, 
    340 N.J. Super. 312
    , 315-16 (App. Div.
    
    2001)).
    
                                    B.
    
        “New Jersey has long espoused a policy favoring the use of
    
    consensual agreements to resolve marital controversies.”
    
    Konzelman v. Konzelman, 
    158 N.J. 185
    , 193 (1999).     Courts
    
    recognize the contractual nature of those matrimonial
    
    agreements.   Pacifico v. Pacifico, 
    190 N.J. 258
    , 265 (2007).     As
    
    contracts, PSAs should be enforced according to the original
    
    intent of the parties.   Id. at 266.   Therefore, as a general
    
    rule, “absen[t] . . . unconscionability, fraud, or overreaching
    
    in negotiations of the settlement,” a trial court has “no legal
    
    or equitable basis . . . to reform the parties’ property
    
    
                                    21
    settlement agreement.”     Miller v. Miller, 
    160 N.J. 408
    , 419
    
    (1999).
    
        PSAs, however, “must reflect the strong public and
    
    statutory purpose of ensuring fairness and equity in the
    
    dissolution of marriages.”    Id. at 418.   As such, courts
    
    historically have maintained “[t]he equitable authority” to
    
    modify child support agreements privately reached between
    
    parties.   Conforti v. Guliadis, 
    128 N.J. 318
    , 323 (1992); see
    
    also Patetta v. Patetta, 
    358 N.J. Super. 90
    , 95 (App. Div. 2003)
    
    (“While courts are predisposed to uphold property settlement
    
    agreements, this enforceability is subject to judicial
    
    supervisory control.” (citations omitted)); N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23
    
    (support orders “may be revised and altered by the court from
    
    time to time as circumstances may require”).    Allowing such
    
    modification ensures that the arrangements are “fair and just”
    
    to all parties involved.     See Petersen v. Petersen, 
    85 N.J. 638
    ,
    
    642 (1981).
    
        When a party to a comprehensive negotiated PSA seeks to
    
    modify any support obligation, that party must meet the
    
    threshold standard of changed circumstances.     Lepis v. Lepis, 
    83 N.J. 139
    , 146-48 (1980).    Events that qualify as changed
    
    circumstances to justify an increase or decrease of support
    
    include an increase in the cost of living, an increase or
    
    decrease in the income of the supporting or supported spouse,
    
    
                                      22
    cohabitation of the dependent spouse, illness or disability
    
    arising after the entry of the judgment, and changes in federal
    
    tax law.   Id. at 151.   In addition, an increase in the needs of
    
    a child or emancipation of a child may constitute changes in
    
    circumstances that will trigger an examination of the support
    
    obligation.   Id. at 151-52.
    
        Changed circumstances are not confined to events unknown or
    
    unanticipated at the time of the agreement.    Dolce v. Dolce, 
    383 N.J. Super. 11
    , 19 (App. Div. 2006).   On the other hand, care
    
    must be taken not to upset the reasonable expectations of the
    
    parties.   Ibid.   When a PSA addresses the changed circumstance,
    
    modification of the PSA may not be equitable or fair.     Lepis,
    
    supra, 83 N.J. at 153.   When one or both parents have agreed to
    
    undertakings advantageous to a child beyond that minimally
    
    required, the public policy favoring stability of arrangements,
    
    see Smith v. Smith, 
    72 N.J. 350
    , 360 (1977); Dolce, supra, 383
    
    N.J. Super. at 20, usually counsels against modification.
    
        The threshold changed circumstances standard assumes that
    
    the parties addressed the event precipitating the application to
    
    modify provisions of a PSA.    In some instances, the parties will
    
    acknowledge the existence of certain facts, express a desire to
    
    meet the needs of a child, or fashion a solution to the
    
    acknowledged issues but defer the resolution of these issues
    
    until a later date.    In such a situation, the changed
    
    
                                     23
    circumstances standard does not operate as a threshold barrier
    
    to address the motion before the court; the guiding principle
    
    for consideration of the motion is the best interests of the
    
    child.   That same principle informs consideration of a motion to
    
    modify a negotiated comprehensive PSA once the party seeking
    
    modification demonstrates changed circumstances.
    
                                     VI.
    
                                     A.
    
        Statutes and case law have recognized for some time that
    
    creation of a trust to permit continuation of support of a
    
    dependent spouse or child should be permitted in appropriate
    
    circumstances.   See N.J.S.A. 3B:11-36 to -37 (authorizing
    
    creation of special needs trust for disabled person); N.J.S.A.
    
    2A:34-23 (authorizing “creation of trusts . . . to assure
    
    payment of reasonably foreseeable medical and educational
    
    expenses”); see also Jacobitti v. Jacobitti, 
    135 N.J. 571
    , 574-
    
    75 (1994) (approving creation of trust to secure spousal
    
    support).   Nonetheless, this case presents our first opportunity
    
    to consider under what circumstances a parent may modify a child
    
    support obligation by establishing a special needs trust for a
    
    dependent child in place of some or all of the terms of an
    
    existing negotiated agreement.
    
        Plaintiff’s application to establish a special needs trust
    
    and to fund it with child support now payable to defendant
    
    
                                     24
    implicates certain basic principles regarding agreements that
    
    conclude a marriage and that govern the obligations and
    
    expectations of the parties to those agreements.     We encourage
    
    divorcing parents to anticipate the needs of their children
    
    beyond the parents’ and children’s present circumstances and
    
    needs, and we must respect the reasonable expectations of the
    
    parties.   On the other hand, we must guard against effectively
    
    freezing the means of providing for a child’s welfare to the
    
    plan adopted at one point in time and eliminating the
    
    possibility of crafting a support scheme more responsive to the
    
    needs of an adult, disabled child.     Indeed, this Court has
    
    recognized for some time that the increased needs of a child
    
    should be considered a changed circumstance.     Lepis, supra, 83
    
    N.J. at 151-52.   We must also recognize that even the most
    
    thoughtful parents may not anticipate every future event.       Their
    
    disabled child may or may not develop the skills required to
    
    live in an independent or semi-independent living arrangement.
    
    As the parents age, they may realize that their physical or
    
    financial resources cannot provide the level of care required by
    
    the adult, disabled child.     Moreover, changes in the terms and
    
    conditions of employment of one or both parents may compromise
    
    the scheme devised years before to provide for the current and
    
    future needs of their child.    Modification of a fully negotiated
    
    
    
    
                                      25
    agreement for the support of any adult, disabled child should
    
    not be undertaken lightly.
    
        Thus, when parents develop a plan that addresses the needs
    
    of their child or children that may be more advantageous to the
    
    child or children as they and their parents’ age, it should not
    
    be rejected out-of-hand because the parents have a negotiated
    
    plan in place.   Moreover, when the parties have a fully
    
    negotiated agreement but have deferred some issues, such as
    
    payment for post-secondary education or future support for a
    
    disabled, dependent child, care must be taken that the best
    
    interests of the child standard is applied to allow full
    
    consideration of a proposal that addresses the future needs of
    
    the dependent, disabled child.
    
        We reemphasize that “[t]he right to child support belongs
    
    to the child.”   Pascale, supra, 140 N.J. at 591; accord
    
    Martinetti, supra, 261 N.J. Super. at 512.     The parent who
    
    receives the support is obliged to expend the funds to support
    
    the child.   See J.S. v. L.S., 
    389 N.J. Super. 200
    , 205 (App.
    
    Div. 2006) (“The purpose of child support is to benefit
    
    children, not to protect or support either parent.”), certif.
    
    denied, 
    192 N.J. 295
     (2007).     A special needs trust in
    
    conjunction with a thoughtful plan to gain eligibility and
    
    receipt of government benefits, including Medicaid, SSI, and
    
    Division of Developmental Disability (DDD) programs, permits a
    
    
                                      26
    family to provide health care, income, housing, and vocational
    
    services for their disabled, dependent child.   The redirection
    
    of a child support obligation from a parent to a trust designed
    
    to meet the present and future needs of the dependent, disabled
    
    child should not be considered exceptional or extraordinary
    
    relief, if such a plan is in the best interests of the
    
    unemancipated child.
    
                                    B.
    
        In this matter, the original PSA deferred certain issues,
    
    such as payment of post-secondary education, and reserved the
    
    right of either party to seek appropriate relief from the court.
    
    The PSA was amended in October 2005 to incorporate certain
    
    agreements about future financial provisions for A.B. but
    
    reserved for a later date discussions about whether a life
    
    insurance trust or a special needs trust should be established
    
    for A.B.   While plaintiff committed to permitting A.B. to
    
    receive post-secondary educational opportunities, he did not
    
    commit to fully fund that level of education or all future
    
    financial needs of his son.   Plaintiff’s application to
    
    establish a special needs trust for the future financial needs
    
    of A.B. should have been evaluated in accordance with the best
    
    interests of the child standard.
    
        Plaintiff, however, failed to present a detailed plan by
    
    which the trial court could evaluate whether a special needs
    
    
                                    27
    trust furthers the best interests of A.B.   Plaintiff presented
    
    little more than a concept.   Such a sparse presentation did not
    
    permit the Family Part judge to reach an informed decision on
    
    whether continuation of the existing support provisions from the
    
    PSA are in the best interests of A.B. as he matures and moves
    
    beyond special education and transitional education programs.
    
        Plaintiff provides $50,000 each year to defendant for the
    
    support of A.B.   Plaintiff also maintains A.B.’s health
    
    insurance and holds a $2.5 million life insurance policy for
    
    A.B.’s benefit.   The child support is a considerable sum of
    
    money to provide for A.B.’s current needs, and the life
    
    insurance proceeds will provide a considerable sum of money to
    
    care for A.B. on his father’s death.   But A.B.’s needs are also
    
    considerable, and the record contains little information that
    
    addresses the fundamental question whether the funds currently
    
    paid for his support are sufficient to meet all of his needs.
    
    The record merely suggests that gaining eligibility for
    
    government programs, such as Medicaid, SSI, and DDD, are better
    
    suited to meeting the long-term needs of A.B.
    
        A parent seeking to alter a negotiated agreement for the
    
    financial support of a disabled child or seeking court approval
    
    of a plan to address deferred and unresolved issues concerning
    
    the support of a dependent, disabled child must present a
    
    specific plan and demonstrate how the proposed trust will
    
    
                                    28
    benefit the disabled child.     At a minimum, the Family Part judge
    
    must have a complete understanding of the current physical,
    
    psychological, educational, vocational, and recreational needs
    
    of the dependent, disabled child, the cost to support those
    
    needs, and the resources available to fund those needs.    If the
    
    plan relies on access to government benefits, the Family Part
    
    judge must be presented with a specific plan that addresses,
    
    among other considerations, eligibility rules, the time it will
    
    take to gain eligibility, and how long it will take to access
    
    benefits once eligibility is established.    The plan must address
    
    the means of defraying current costs without compromising the
    
    child’s benefits eligibility.    The plan must also address the
    
    terms and conditions for disbursement of the corpus of the trust
    
    and designate a trustee.
    
        The plan presented by plaintiff meets none of those
    
    requirements.   Due to the manifest deficiencies of the
    
    application presented by plaintiff, the Appellate Division
    
    properly affirmed the order denying plaintiff’s motion.
    
                                    VII.
    
        Although we have determined that plaintiff presented an
    
    inadequate plan to warrant modification or amendment of the PSA
    
    by the trial court, the record indicates that both parents
    
    recognize the wisdom of creating a plan to provide for the needs
    
    of their son now and as he and they grow older.    We, therefore,
    
    
                                      29
    address whether and under what circumstances a guardian ad litem
    
    should be appointed for a dependent, disabled child who is the
    
    subject of a proposed special needs trust.
    
        The need for an independent person to review certain
    
    applications that will affect the interests of a dependent and
    
    unemancipated child has been recognized by legislation and court
    
    rule.   Our court rules contemplate the appointment of a guardian
    
    ad litem in two contexts: an action to determine the incapacity
    
    of a person, R. 4:86; and actions to resolve custody or
    
    parenting time/visitation disputes, R. 5:8B.   “[T]he basic role
    
    of the guardian ad litem is to assist the court in its
    
    determination of the incompetent’s or minor’s best interest.”
    
    Adoption of a Child by E.T., 
    302 N.J. Super. 533
    , 539 (App.
    
    Div.), certif. denied, 
    152 N.J. 12
     (1997); accord In re M.R.,
    
    
    135 N.J. 155
    , 175 (1994).
    
        There are other contexts in which either a law guardian
    
    will be appointed or a third party will be required to conduct
    
    an investigation to assure that the best interests of the child
    
    or children are advanced and protected.   For example, a law
    
    guardian will be appointed for a child who is the subject of an
    
    abuse or neglect proceeding or a termination of parental rights
    
    proceeding.   N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(d), -8.23; N.J.S.A. 30:4C-
    
    
    
    
                                    30
    15.4(b).4   In an adoption proceeding where the child is received
    
    through private placement rather than from an approved agency,
    
    an approved agency must be appointed to investigate the
    
    circumstances of the placement and to perform an evaluation of
    
    the child and the adopting parents.   N.J.S.A. 9:3-48(a)(2).5   No
    
    rule or statute, however, directly speaks to the situation here.
    
         Certainly not every application affecting an unemancipated
    
    child requires appointment of a guardian ad litem.   See R. 5:8B
    
    (“In all cases in which custody or parenting time/visitation is
    
    an issue, a guardian ad litem may be appointed . . . if the
    
    circumstances warrant such an appointment.” (Emphasis added)).
    
    The decision to appoint a guardian ad litem is reposed in the
    
    discretion of the trial judge, see In re M.R., supra, 135 N.J.
    
    at 179, and rightly so because the decision is informed by the
    
    experience the judge gains as the judge sifts through a daily
    
    docket of contested matters.   A judge is also charged with
    
    protecting the best interests of a child.   The judge should not
    
    hesitate, therefore, to appoint a person to permit the
    
    
    4
      The basic role of the law guardian is to serve as an advocate
    for the minor child.
    5
      N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-92 also authorizes a Court Appointed Special
    Advocate (CASA) program in each vicinage. See also Rule 5:8C
    (authorizing appointment of special advocate from CASA program
    to assist Family Part judge in determining best interests of
    child); Administrative Directive #05-13 (July 16, 2013) (noting
    that CASA volunteers gather information about children who have
    been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect and
    present that information to court).
    
                                    31
    dependent, disabled child to have a voice in an application that
    
    may so fundamentally affect his or her future.   In certain
    
    situations, a court-appointed expert well-versed in special
    
    needs trusts may be the appropriate response.    When one parent
    
    resists an application by the other parent to establish a trust
    
    that may offer more financial security to the disabled,
    
    unemancipated child as the child matures, the judge should
    
    seriously consider resorting to the various available resources
    
    to protect the best interests of the child.
    
        In this case, however, as plaintiff’s application was
    
    presented to the court, we conclude that the trial judge did not
    
    mistakenly exercise the discretion reposed in him to appoint a
    
    guardian ad litem or other resource to investigate and report
    
    whether a special needs trust would protect and advance the best
    
    interests of A.B.   The plan was entirely speculative and lacked
    
    the detail to permit an informed decision on whether it
    
    protected and advanced the best interests of A.B.    When either
    
    parent submits a plan that permits an informed decision, the
    
    trial court should consider appointment of a guardian ad litem
    
    or other resource person, particularly if there is a suggestion
    
    that the parent proposing the trust is seeking to minimize the
    
    obligation to support A.B. or that defendant considers the child
    
    support currently paid to her as anything other than funds for
    
    the exclusive support of A.B.
    
    
                                    32
                                  VIII.
    
        The judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed as
    
    modified.
    
    
    
         CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER; JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, HOENS and
    PATTERSON; and JUDGE RODRÍGUEZ (temporarily assigned) join in
    JUDGE CUFF’s opinion.
    
    
    
    
                                   33
                      SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
    
    NO.      A-111                                  SEPTEMBER TERM 2011
    
    ON CERTIFICATION TO               Appellate Division, Superior Court
    
    
    J.B.,
    
            Plaintiff-Appellant,
    
                     v.
    
    W.B.,
    
            Defendant-Respondent.
    
    
    
    DECIDED               August 20, 2013
                      Chief Justice Rabner                        PRESIDING
    OPINION BY            Judge Cuff (temporarily assigned)
    CONCURRING/DISSENTING OPINIONS BY
    DISSENTING OPINION BY
    
    
                                         AFFIRMED AS
     CHECKLIST
                                          MODIFIED
     CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER                     X
     JUSTICE LaVECCHIA                        X
     JUSTICE ALBIN                            X
     JUSTICE HOENS                            X
     JUSTICE PATTERSON                        X
     JUDGE RODRÍGUEZ (t/a)                    X
     JUDGE CUFF (t/a)                         X
     TOTALS                                   7