Parenting Time Plan Upheld By NJ Appellate Division
- July 23, 2015
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In N.S. v. D.O., the Defendant appealed from a Court Order which set forth a parenting time schedule because he felt that the Order did not provide him with the “full measure of his parental rights” by denying him liberal and reasonable parenting time. In 2010, the Plaintiff obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Defendant under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. At the same time she filed a Complaint for Divorce against him. The Family Court judge assigned to the case referred the matter to the Bergen Family Center (BFC) for the purpose of conducting a custody/parenting time evaluation. In 2011, the BFC issued a very detailed written report documenting its evaluation and recommendations. The evaluator interviewed the parties, the children, the grandparents, the Defendant’s treating psychologist, the treating pediatrician of the children, a DYFS worker who investigated a prior claim that the Defendant made (after losing parental rights) that the parties’ daughter was sexually abused by her maternal grandfather, and many others. The evaluator acknowledged that the case was “a highly charged situation for everyone involved,” and although the Defendant had not had access to his children since the FRO was issued, the evaluator recommended that the prohibition against him having parenting time with his children should “be modified at this time,” and that reunification with his children should proceed under the guidance of the son’s therapist. Finally, it was recommended that after at least six (6) sessions without contradictions the Defendant should be permitted supervised visitation which should continue for at least six (6) months. After this, the Defendant could petition the court for the supervision to be lifted. The parties executed a Consent Order on May of 2011 that tracked the recommendations of the BFC evaluator. It was later ordered that both parties submit to the court proposed parenting time plans. Upon the submission of both parenting time plans, the judge observed that there was “not that much of a difference” between their proposed plans and described their argument regarding holidays as “minor.” The judge then indicated that she would prepare an Order that blended their two proposals providing them with “something [they] both [could] live with . . . that allows both of [them] to continue to work together.” Subsequently, the judge prepared a very detailed Order concerning custody and parenting time that provided that the Defendant receive unsupervised visitation on alternate weekends, without overnights, until the 2014 school year when the weekend visitations were to become overnights. The Defendant appealed arguing that the schedule was unreasonably restrictive without providing any reasons for being so. The Appellate Division disagreed. According to the Appellate Court, in reviewing the Order of the Family Court, it “defer[ed] to the factual findings of the trial court,” N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. E.P., 196 N.J. 88, 104, 952 A.2d 436 (2008). In doing so it recognized the “family court’s special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters.” N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. M.C. III, 201 N.J. 328, 343, 990 A.2d 1097 (2010); Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 413, 713 A.2d 390 (1998). It is only when the Family Court’s conclusions are “. . . so ‘clearly mistaken’ or ‘wide of the mark'” that the Appellate Division will intervene and make its own findings. In this case, the court found that the Family Court judge held that the parenting plans submitted by the parties were not that different and the differences that did exist were minor. The judge’s stated goal of blending the proposals to create an equitable Order that each party could live with was achieved and therefore there was no reason to disturb the Family Court’s Order. Custody and Visitation are extremely sensitive issues wherein an appropriate balance between the needs of the child with the existing situation of each parent. If you believe that a modification to your custody or parenting time may be beneficial to you it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about post-judgment modification, 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 if an attorney.