Appointment Of Retired Judge As Parenting Coordinator In Custody Matter Is Appealed
- December 31, 2014
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In Cestone v. Cestone, the Plaintiff appealed from a series of Family Court Orders with regard to the agreement to appoint a retired New Jersey judge to serve as a parenting coordinator in a child custody dispute. The Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the lower court. The parties in this case were divorced in 2007 and at that time executed a custody agreement as part of their divorce. Three (3) children were born of the marriage and pursuant to the custody agreement that was filed with the divorce judgment, the parties were to share joint custody of the children, and the children would live primarily with the Plaintiff at her residence. As part of their agreement, the parties agreed to use the mediation services provided by a New Jersey law firm and a retired judge to resolve disputes regarding custody. In 2012, the Family Court denied the Plaintiff’s Motion to disqualify the retired judge as the parent coordinator. Also in 2012, the Family Court denied the Defendant’s application for sole custody of the parties’ two younger children, to restrict the Plaintiff’s contact with them, and to appoint various therapists for the children. The trial court held that the Plaintiff was in violation of litigant’s rights for refusing to comply with the aforementioned Court Orders. On appeal the Plaintiff argued that the court erred in denying the Motion to recuse the parent coordinator because he had a conflict of interest as a mediator and retired judge in violation of Directive 5-08. According to the Appellate Division, Directive 5-08 prohibits retired judges from serving as attorneys in contested matters in New Jersey state courts, testifying as expert character witnesses, and accepting fee-generating court-initiated appointments except when both qualified through training and experience and providing the first two hours of mediation at no cost to the litigants. Further, communications and conduct during mediation are confidential, unless confidentiality is expressly waived by all parties or substantially outweighed by the need for disclosure. Lehr v. Afflitto, 382 N.J. Super. 376, 391 (App. Div. 2006); N.J.C.R. 1:40-4; N.J.S.A. 2A:23C-8. According to the Appellate Court, nowhere in her legal argument did the Plaintiff provide support for her position that the retired judge was conflicted or in violation of Directive 5-08. Although a parenting coordinator does some mediation techniques, it serves to facilitate day-to-day parenting issues that very commonly arise within the context of life. Further, the parties chose and agreed that this particular retired judge would be their parenting coordinator and there was never a suggestion that he was unqualified to do so therefore, the court did not find a basis to overturn the Family Court’s decision. Child custody and parenting time cases are of the most emotional and difficult cases in all of family law. If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for a modification of your current child custody arrangement it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about child custody, parenting time, child support, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.