Decision To Award Sold Custody of Children Appealed
- August 9, 2015
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In Wu v. Liu, the Defendant appealed the decision of the New Jersey Family Court awarding sole child custody to his ex-wife and other issues. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the Family Court. The Plaintiff and Defendant were married in 1995 and emigrated to the United States from China shortly after that. They were married and divorced once before when they lived in China. In 1996, the Plaintiff gave birth to a daughter and a son was born in 2001. In 2011, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint for divorce. The parties represented themselves in the divorce and the matter was tried as to all issues in the Family Court. In 2014, the judge issued the final judgment of divorce and awarded the Plaintiff with sole legal and residential custody of the children, ordered the Defendant to pay $297 a week in permanent alimony, and equitably distributed the parties’ real property in Belle Mead and Princeton. The Defendant hired an attorney and an appeal was filed. The Defendant supplied transcripts of the divorce proceedings and his brief referenced the proceedings, but the Family Court judge’s finding of fact and conclusions of law were not contained in the brief. Further, no statement of reasons were included with the divorce judgment. The Plaintiff, who represented herself in the appeal, filed her brief in opposition, the Appellate Court became aware that the Family Court judge had forwarded the judgment to the parties on the day it was filed along with a recording of his statement of reasons which were orally placed on the record. The Appellate Division, exercised its discretion not to dismiss the appeal, although the Defendant clearly violated the court rules. N.J. Court Rule 2:5-3(b), requires, with limited exception, that the “transcript shall include the entire proceedings in the court . . . from which the appeal is taken.” Instead, the court ordered the Defendant to provide transcripts of the Family Court judge’s findings and conclusions – which the Defendant complied with. The Defendant argued that the Family Court judge erred in denying his request for legal and physical custody of the children, amongst other issues. The Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the Family Court, citing that it applied the deferential standard that “[T]he decision concerning the type of custody arrangement [is left] to the sound discretion of the trial court[.] Nufrio v. Nufrio, 341 N.J. Super. 548, 555, 775 A.2d 637 (App. Div. 2001); Pascale v. Pascale, 140 N.J. Super. 583, 611, 660 A.2d 485 (1995). Further, “Custody issues are resolved using a best interests analysis that gives weight to the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c).” Hand v. Hand, 391 N.J. Super. 102, 105, 917 A.2d 269 (App. Div. 2007). The Defendant claimed that the judge ignored his evidence and relied “primarily” on the report of a psychologist who was appointed to evaluate the case by the judge pursuant to Court Rule 5:3-3. The expert’s report cited the Defendant’s repeated belief that a person in China whom the Defendant was calling “Mawei” was directing witchcraft at the family which caused all of the problems between he and his wife and children. The expert recommended that the Plaintiff have custody of the children, subject to supervised parenting time with the Defendant. According to the Appellate Division, the judge did much more than simply rely on the report as a basis for his custody decision in that the judge addressed all of the relevant statutory factors in detail, as well as, cited to the testimony of the parties and making credibility determinations as a result. The Appellate Division affirmed the judge’s decision finding no reason to disturb the ruling. Child custody and parenting time cases are of the most emotional and difficult cases in all of family law. If you feel that it may be beneficial to you to submit an application to the court for a modification of your current child custody or parenting time 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, equitable distribution, divorce or other family law matters in New Jersey visit the DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.