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In the published Appellate Division opinion in NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY v. P.O. and M.C.D. A-1871-16, (App. Div.  Oct. 30, 2018), the AppellateIMG_1930-1-300x225 Division addressed the 2011 emergency removal of two children, ages 7 and 2, from their undocumented immigrant parents. While the two children remained in resource homes, the parents were removed from the United States. The mother was prohibited from returning to the U.S. for 10 years and the father was prohibited from returning to the U.S. for 20 years. In 2013, the parents appeared by telephone, represented by counsel, and entered into an identified voluntary surrender of their parental rights to a family they had identified to the Division as a potential resource placement. Both of the parents confirmed that in the event the family whom they identified for resource placement did not adopt their children, then  their parental rights would be reinstated and litigation would be reopened. Ten months later, the trial court ruled against moving the children to the family identified as a potential resource placement. Without notice to the parents, the trial court vacated the identified voluntary surrenders, reinstated the biological parents’ parental rights and reopened the guardianship litigation. Thereafter, the father was provided with services needed for reunification with the children.  The mother could not be provided with reunification services because she could not be located.  She failed to keep in contact with the Division after leaving the U.S.   She ultimately resumed living with the children’s father, but both parents were inconsistent in maintaining contact with the Division.

Neither of the children speak Spanish. One of the children had a language disorder that would make it difficult for him to learn Spanish if he were sent to live with his parents. Additionally, the children had bonded with the resource parents and wanted to be adopted by them. The trial court found that termination of parental rights was in the best interest of the children.

The parents appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that their due process rights were violated because they did not receive notice of the pending dissolution of the identified surrender and because many of the hearings that were before the termination trial and were not held on the record. Even though the parties did not raise these arguments in the trial court, the Appellate Division agreed that the parties should have been notified before the identified surrender judgment was vacated. More importantly, the Appellate Division stated that every proceeding should have been placed on the record even when the parents were in agreement with the provisions of the order being entered. All Children In Court proceedings resulting in orders should be on the record. Particularly when the parents, who have not unconditionally abandoned their rights, are not parties to the proceedings. Nevertheless, the failure to do so in this case was not fatal because the parents rights were restored and they were parties to a full trial on the merits.

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In the published opinion in the matter of T.M. v. R.M.W., FV-15-0506-18, the Family Court in Ocean County addressed a domestic violence case that included some interesting facts and issues offile000799318829-300x200 first impression.

In 2017, the plaintiff filed a domestic violence complaint against the defendant based on allegations of harassment and simple assault.  On her request for a restraining order she indicated that she and the defendant had a sexual relationship over the course of eight years.  The course of their relationship was limited to sporadic, casual encounters of consensual rough sex.  The parties never held themselves out as boyfriend or girlfriend, never developed an interpersonal relationship, never had expectations as to the future of their relationship or the permanence of their relationship. On the night in question, she invited the defendant over and while they were having sex, he laughed at her, told her he hated her, and punched her in the face.  She stated that she agreed to have consensual rough sex, and that this included slapping, choking and hair pulling, but that she did not consent to being punched in the face with a closed fist.  She repeatedly brought up to defendant that he had punched, her but she said he “brushed it off”.  She admitted the parties had never verbalized what their limits were.  She testified that she feared his impulsivity, that she feared he would show up again to the store where she worked, and that she wanted “other women” protected from him.  The defendant seemed to admit to their encounter, stating that she had messaged him at his job in a bar to have sex with her. They had sex, and he admitted to hitting her with a closed fist on the jaw, but stated that it was a playful and not designed to hurt her.  When she asked him about it afterward, he told her that he had meant it playfully and would not do it again.  Defendant denied that a restraining order was necessary as he had never come to the plaintiff’s home uninvited.  He added that after their last sexual encounter, the plaintiff sent a text message to his girlfriend to tell her that he had cheated on her, which led him to go to the store where she worked to talk to her about that.  He had only ever been there before to make an actual purchase. She told him to leave and he never returned there.  The court found that the defendant, who did not minimize his actions, more credible than the plaintiff, who was inconsistent in testifying about whether she had been punched more than once, and whether there was a history of domestic violence.

The court first assessed whether the plaintiff could be considered a “victim” under the Domestic Violence Act given that the parties did not really have a “dating” relationship, as defined by Andrews v. Rutherford, 363 N.J. Super. 252, 260 (Ch.Div. 2003). The judge noted that the statute includes as a victim “any person who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has had a dating relationship”, but the statute does not define “dating relationship”.  Moreover,  the statute states that its purpose is “to assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide.” N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18.  The court concluded that this secret, sexual relationship was sufficient to be considered a “dating” relationship.  The  judge felt the purpose of the domestic violence statute would be thwarted when it protected plaintiffs in non-sexual dating relationships if it did not also apply to plaintiffs who engaged in relationships that were only sexual with the defendant.  The judge did not base his decision on moral judgments on plaintiff’s decisions.

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In my last blog post I summarized some of the recent Court Rule amendments that went into effect this September. While there were only a limited number of changes in the Part V Rules affectingRule-Book-225x300 Family Part practice, I noted that there were amendments made in other sections of the Rules which had a direct or indirect impact upon Family Part practice in some fashion. In this blog post, I will discuss one of the more significant changes – those relating to actions to change the name of an adult and/or minor under Rule 4:72.

Several years back I wrote a blog post “What’s In A Name” in which I highlighted some of the practical and procedural considerations involved in effectuating a name change incident to a divorce. While at common law, any adult or emancipated person was at liberty to adopt any name as his or her legal name except for fraudulent or criminal purposes without resort to any court, if someone wished to change their name, that person was required to institute an action in “Superior Court” under N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1, et seq. by the filing of a verified complaint accompanied by a sworn affidavit. Court Rule R.4:72-1, et seq. further detailed the procedures to be followed in actions for a name change. However, neither the statute nor the rule specified which division or part of the “Superior Court” such name change actions were to be filed and heard, except for actions seeking a name change for a minor who was the subject of a pending family action or one concluded in the preceding three years, and in which case they were to be transferred to the Family Part in the vicinage in which that family action was pending or was concluded.

Consistent with the theme of most of the recent Rule amendments to delineate and clarify which Division or Part certain types of actions should be filed and heard, R. 4:72-1, et seq. has been substantially amended to address where such name change actions should be filed and heard. Further, the changes to this Rule also address the procedures relating to requests for a change of name incident to divorce which were silent in both N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1 and the prior versions of R. 4:72. Finally, the procedures governing the name change of minors were substantially modified as well.

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While the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that same sex marriage is now legal all across the country, the states are still addressing with the newly accepted concept of a family in other contexts aslimo-suv-wreck-300x225 well.  This is demonstrated in the recent published opinion of the Appellate Division in Moreland v. Parks, A-4754-16, which was decided on August 17, 2018.   In this matter, Valerie Benning and I’Asia Moreland were a same sex couple.  Ms. Benning was living with Ms. Moreland and her two children, along with Ms. Benning’s godson.  After leaving a Disney on Ice show at the Sun Bank Arts Center in Trenton, the couple witnessed a pick-up truck hit Ms. Moreland’s two year old daughter, I’Maya, and kill her.    Ms. Moreland and Ms. Benning were not married.   Ms. Benning and Ms. Moreland filed a civil suit, which included a count by Ms. Benning for bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress.  The trial court dismissed Ms. Benning’s claim for bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress on the basis that she did not present enough evidence of an “intimate familial relationship” with the the child to bring a claim under Portee v. Jaffee, 84 N.J. 88 (1980).

Ms. Benning was not married to Ms. Moreland, who was I’Maya’s mother.  Ms. Benning was not biologically related to I’Maya, nor did she have custodial rights.  She began dating Ms. Moreland in 2007 and began to live with Ms. Moreland and her children in 2008.   Within a few months, both of Ms. Moreland’s children began referring to Ms. Benning as “Mom”.   I’Maya was killed in 2009.  Ms. Benning and Ms. Moreland became engaged in 2011 and they married in 2014.   A psychologist who evaluated Ms. Moreland’s son, I’Zhir, noted that he considered Ms. Benning and her godson members of his family, and that he felt safest when with his two mothers and his grandmother.   Two year old I’Maya was holding Ms. Benning’s hand in January, 2009 to cross the street when she was struck by the truck and killed.  Ms. Benning’s godson’s legs and ankles were broken in the accident as well.   In the ambulance after the incident, Ms. Benning was able to describe to the paramedics I’Maya’s medical history. I’Zhir told hospital staff that he had two mothers.   Ms. Benning was so distraught when told of I’Maya’s death that the hospital had to put her in restraints.  Benning helped pay for I’Maya’s funeral and borrowed money from her family to help pay for it.

The trial court referred to Ms. Benning and Ms. Moreland as lovers, but found that the case of Portee v. Jaffee requires a showing of an intimate family relationship, not merely an intimate relationship.   The trial judge rejected the contention that Ms. Benning was a psychological parent to I’Maya.  The trial judge noted that in the case of Dunphy v. Gregor, 136 N.J. 99 (1994), a decedent’s fiance was permitted to bring a claim for bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress.  However, the trial judge distinguished this matter because Ms. Moreland and Ms. Benning had not been engaged at the time of the I’Maya’s death, and he found no evidence of a permanent bond between them or one that was “deep, lasting and genuinely intimate.”

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The rumor is we did have a summer this year. Besides what seemed like a few nice days, what passed for summer flew by like a flash. Suddenly it was Labor Day, which for most people signals theRule-Book-225x300 arrival of Fall. What else arrives each Fall? The annual Amendments that have been approved by our Supreme Court to the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey arrive. Historically, any significant changes in the Part V Rules affecting Family Part practice are made every other year. This was an off-cycle year, meaning there was a paucity of amendments to the Family Part Rules this year. However, there were a number of Rule amendments in other sections of the Rules that either have a direct impact upon Family Part practice in some fashion, or may have some general application to aspects of this practice. I will summarize and discuss these Amendments over the course of several blog posts.

Besides an addition to Rule 5:22 involving juvenile matters, the only actual Amendment in Part V dealing with Family Part Practice is in regards to Rule5:1-2.  Rule 5:1-2(a) generally defines what types of “Family Actions” are to be filed and heard in the Chancery Division, Family Part. The prior version of this Rule, after delineating certain specific types of actions, included not once but twice catch-all language to include “all civil actions in which the principal claim”, as well as “all other civil actions and proceedings” which were “unique to and arising out of a family or family-type relationship”. Very broad language indeed. While the recent Amendments to this Rule may seem subtle, they represent an attempt to better define what types of Family Actions are cognizable in the Family Part. While continuing to include reference “all actions in which the principal claim is unique to and arises out of a family or family-type relationship”, the recent Amendment deleted reference to the term “civil” actions, and deleted the catch-all “all other civil actions and proceedings” language at the conclusion of the Rule. Palimony actions were added to those which should be filed and heard in the Family Part. Most importantly while the amended rule continues to include reference that “such action shall include all actions and proceedings referenced in Chapters II and III of Part V”, the language “unless otherwise provided in Rule 4:3-1(a)(4)” was added. What does this mean? This language was added for the purpose of cross-referencing those actions excepted from Family Part jurisdiction in light of the contemporaneous adoption of Rule 4:3-1(a)(4).

Please remember that the Part IV Rules are intended to govern Civil Actions generally, and which includes most Family Actions unless otherwise specifically addressed in the Part V Rules. Before turning our attention to Rule 4:3-1(a)(4), Rule 4:3-1(a) delineates generally which Court or Division a certain type of action should be instituted. Rule 4:3-1(a)(3) delineated the types of actions which were to be instituted in the Chancery Division, Family Part. However, it is curious to note that the language of this Rule was also subtlety amended to track some of the language changes to Rule 5:1-2(a), i.e. deleting the reference to “civil” and adding a reference to palimony actions, yet curiously continued to include the catch-all “all other actions and proceedings unique to and arising out of a family or family-type relationship” although deleted from Rule 5:1-2. What this means or whether it was an oversight or intentional is unclear. However, the language of the Rule referencing actions cognizable in the Family Part to “include all actions and proceedings referenced in Part V of these rules” is now followed by the limiting language “unless otherwise provided in sub-paragraphs (a)(4) of this rule”, referring in this instance to the newly enacted Rule 4:3-1(a)(4). This new rule sub-paragraph specifically refers to variety of actions named therein which may be associated with Family Actions, but which constitute exceptions from the normal Family Part practice. Said another way, while they may generally arise out of a family or family-type relationship, Rule 4:3-1(a)(4) attempts to delineate which Division or Part certain types of actions should be filed and heard, and not necessarily in the Family Part. Rule 4:3-1(a)(4) identifies nine (9) such types of actions. I will briefly comment on each of them.

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As an attorney who practices family law, I can attest to how painful battles for custody over children are when couples separate.   Even more painful are disputes between adoptive and biological14688d11364778879628f618a4504f40-300x169 parents fighting over custody of a baby.   Among the most famous and newsworthy of such disputes was the New Jersey case of “Baby M”, which was decided ultimately by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1988 in In re Baby M,109 N.J. 396 (1988).   In that case, a couple hired a surrogate mother to give birth to their child, after which the surrogate mother claimed that the surrogacy contract was invalid and that her parental rights were improperly terminated, and the child improperly adopted by the biological father’s wife.   The Supreme Court in In re Baby M, invalidated the surrogacy contract and restored the surrogate mother’s biological rights.   This case was splayed out in the news at the time, but was ultimately still a dispute between biological parents.

It is still heartbreaking when there are disputes between biological and adoptive parents over custody of a child.  A recent unpublished decision of the Appellate Division in the case of In re Adoption of a Child by R.C.W. and S.M.W., A-2907-17 (App. Div. Aug. 7, 2018) has recently been in the news in New Jersey, though not with the same attention as the “Baby M” surrogacy case.   In this case, the biological mother of “Baby J” sought to set aside the adoption of her biological child by its adoptive parents.  The Appellate Division addressed the heartache head-on, writing “Few cases have so much potential for calamity.  The adopting parents could lose their only child, the child they have nurtured since birth, and in consequence suffer a lifetime of emotional pain and heartbreak. The birth mother could see her decision to surrender her child upheld, have her parental rights terminated, and in consequences suffer a lifetime of regret and sorrow.  The child could be abruptly removed from the only parents and home it has ever known, placed in the hands of a virtual stranger, and in consequence suffer permanent emotional damage.”  The Court’s statement acknowledges the weight and impact of the decision before it.

In this case, the 19 year old birth mother “Mya” was a full-time college student, with a part-time job, and living with her mother.  She had terminated two prior pregnancies at the request of her mother, and indicated that she was surprised by this pregnancy as she used birth control.  She did not tell her mother other family members about this pregnancy, fearing that she would lose the support of her mother.   Moreover, after she and her mother were evicted from their apartment and she came to live with her sister and her sister’s family, Mya did not feel that she would be financially able to care for the child, and expressed that she needed to finish college.  She told only a new boyfriend and a teacher/mentor about the pregnancy.

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In this Appellate Division case entitled New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. S.K., A-2734-15 (App.Div. August 31, 2018), the defendant argues the Family Part Judge file000388004075-200x300improperly drew an adverse inference against him when he invoked his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and this New Jersey’s evidence rule, N.J.R.E. 503, in response to DCPP’s (the “Division”) request to call him as a witness in the fact-finding hearing. This issue has not been addressed in a published opinion by any court in New Jersey. The Appellate Division held that a Family Part Judge may not draw an adverse inference of culpability against a defendant who invokes his right against self-incrimination to refuse to testify at a Title 9 fact-finding hearing.

In this case, after an interview with the Division caseworker, the defendant’s two daughters, Jane and Kate, were taken to the police station for interviews as a result of Jane claiming that the defendant abused her when she was younger. Jane told the detective that the sexual abuse began when she was six years old and continued until she was approximately eleven. When the detective asked her if she could tell him what happened, she answered: “No. It’s . . . I don’t actually remember, I have[a] bad memory.” She also claimed she could not remember the last time he molested her.  Through the use of drawings of male and female bodies and pointed to specific body parts to ask Jane where the defendant had touched her, Jane told the police that the defendant touched specific body parts with “his hand and dick.”She claimed he kissed her lips while she was laying down, and touched her “boobs”with his hand, and her vagina with his “dick and hand.” With respect to her vagina, she claimed he touched her “on the inside.” She estimated the molestation occurred less than 20 times.

The detective also interviewed Kate, who at first claimed that Jane did not tell her about the abuse but after the detective pressed, Kate claimed that Jane may have told her something a while ago but she could not remember.

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A frequent post-divorce concern or criticism often heard from the parent who has primary residential custody of child is that their former partner does not exercise their parenting time and thatvisitation-300x200 the failure of their partner to keep to the schedule has negative monetary and lifestyle implications. I have always viewed a failure to exercise parenting time as a matter that needed to be addressed economically.   Many matrimonial attorneys and judges, however, relying on a 2006 case encaptioned J.S. v. L.S, 389 N.J. Super. 200 (App.Div. 2006), have opined that the failure a parent to exercise parenting time did not give rise to a right for economic relief. Continue reading

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The Jolie/Pitt “Fight Club” continues. I previously blogged about the Jolie/Pitt divorce in “Fight Club: What You Can Learn From Angelina Jolie’s and Brad Pitt’s Long Term Relationship With Short Marriage“.  This week the media was abuzz with news of Angelina Jolie’s claims that Brad Pitt is not paying “meaningful child support,” which begs the question, what is “meaningful child5d984e7b33cffbf6bc1f5cd9b12b51d5-300x200 support”? Clearly, Jolie and Pitt are not your average parents. They both earn a significant amount of money. And, even though Jolie may very well be able to support their children on her income alone, that does not negate Pitt’s obligation to support the children.  I have blogged before about New Jersey child support when the parties earn more than the income stated in the Child Support Guidelines. Continue reading

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A few weeks ago The New York Times published an article about a divorce in the United Kingdom caught my attention.  The article was called  “Divorce on Demand? In the U.K., It’s Not Quite That Simple“.   Does the UK have “divorce on demand”?  What even is divorce “on demand”?   Can spouses in New Jersey get a “divorce on demand”? Continue reading