Articles Posted in Visitation

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In the case of Slawinski v. Nicholas, 448 N.J. Super. 25 (App. Div. 2016), the Appellate Division addressed a dispute involving parents who entered into a consent order establishing rights to grandparent visitation but then later wished to abrogate those rights. In this case, a motion was brought by the mother to terminate the visitation rights of the fraternal grandparents, claiming that the children were being harmed by the visits. The Appellate Division reversed the decision of trial court and stated that a parent could not unilaterally modify the consent order granting rights of grandparent visitation. The Court rejected the mother’s argument that, “[T]here is no burden that [mother] has to do anything other than say this is not working out, I tried.” The Appellate Division addressed grandparent visitation, as follows:

“We recognize that a parent’s fundamental right to raise a child as he or she sees fit encompasses the authority to determine visitation by third parties, including grandparents. See Moriarty v. Bradt, 177 N.J. 84, 114-15 (2003), cert. den., 540 U.S. 1177 (2004). Yet, that autonomy gives way to the need to protect the child from harm. Id. at 115. Thus, “grandparents seeking visitation . . . must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that denial of the visitation they seek would result in harm to the child.” Id. at 88. “If the court agrees that the potential for harm has been shown, the presumption in favor of parental decision making will be deemFAye_and_Dick-300x230ed overcome.” Id. at 117.

Still, proof of harm involves a greater showing than simply the best interests of the child. Id. at 116 (stating that a dispute between a “fit custodial parent and the child’s grandparent is not a contest between equals[,]” Consequently “the best interest standard, which is the tiebreaker between fit parents, is inapplicable”). Substantively, it is a “heavy burden.” Major v. Maguire, 224 N.J. 1, 18 (2016); cf. Fawzy v. Fawzy, 199 N.J. 456, 479 (2009) (“The threat of harm is a significantly higher burden than a best-interests analysis”). The harm to the grandchild must be “a particular identifiable harm, specific to the child.” Mizrahi v. Cannon, 375 N.J. Super. 221, 234 (App. Div. 2005). It “generally rests on the existence of an unusually close relationship between the grandparent and the child, or on traumatic circumstances such as a parent’s death.” Daniels v. Daniels, 381 N.J. Super. 286, 294 (App. Div. 2005). By contrast, missed opportunities for creating “happy memories” do not suffice. Mizrahi, supra, 375 N.J. Super. at 234. Only after the grandparent vaults the proof-of-harm threshold will the court apply a best-interests analysis to resolve disputes over visitation details. Moriarty, supra, 177 N.J. at 117.

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On August 15, 2017, the New Jersey Appellate Division approved for publication the decision in the matter of E.S. v. H.A (A-3230-14T2 and A-3256-14T2), in which the Appellate Division addressed whether a parent may be required to admit to a crime as a condition for that parent to be able to make an application for visitation with one’s child.  The Appellate Division concluded that parents cannot be required by the state to forego their Constitutional right against self-incrimination as a condition to seek custody or visitation with their child.

In this case, the parties divorced in 2009, but they had been unable to resolve their custody and parenting time dispute over their son, Richard, by the time of the divorce.  During the litigation, Plaintiff’s two requests for domestic violence restraining orders against Defendant were denied.  During the litigation she reported to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) that Defendant had sexually abused Richard on two occasions, leading to the suspension of Defendant’s visitation.   One month after the divorce, DCPP determined that the “abuse was substantiated for sexual molestation” of Richard by Defendant as to one of the two alleged incidents.  While Defendant pursued an administrative appeal of the DCPP findings, Plaintiff filed an application in the family court seeking to reinstate a suspension of Defendant’s parenting time.  The family court scheduled a hearing to determine whether it was in Richard’s best interest for parenting time with Defendant to resume, and appointed a psychologist to conduct an evaluation.

By the time of the hearing in 2012, Defendant had withdrawn his appeal of the DCPP findings.  The family court in 2013 issued an oral opinion, finding that there was clear and convincing evidence that Defendant had sexually abused Richard.  The court granted Plaintiff sole legal and physical custody of Richard and denied Defendant parenting time.  As recommended by the psychological experts, the court further ordered that if the Defendant (1) admitted wrong-doing; (2) submitted to a psycho-sexual evaluation; and (3) participated in individual therapy, he could apply for a consideration of future parenting time through Therapeutic Management Reunification.

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Earlier this month, a March, 2017 written opinion by family court judge the Honorable Russell J. Passomano, J.S.C. was approved for publication in the matter of BG-v-LH (FM-07-468-13).   In this published opinion the court addressed issues of296050aba1c021ff4a7e4cab0ed498d2-1-300x200 jurisdiction in a custody and parenting time dispute where one party had relocated with the children out of the state of New Jersey, but the parties had reached an agreement as part of their divorce that future custody disputes would be decided under New Jersey law and in New Jersey courts.  This case contains a detailed analysis that a family court undergoes to resolve jurisdiction issues and the application of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Continue reading

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I was at a social event recently. A woman attending that event, after learning that I was a divorce attorney, came up to me. She told me that her ex-husband had just filed court papers seeking to modify or terminate her alimony payments. With indignation in her voice she explained that “He can’t do that because I have permanent alimony!” It was obvious that this person had taken the word “permanent” literally, and believed that her alimony rights were forever immutable. She seemed genuinely shocked when I explained, without getting into the details of her case, that even “permanent” alimony may be modified or terminated upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. Continue reading

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A new situation comedy is about to premier on HBO simply titled “Divorce” starring Sarah Jessica Parker, who also serves as an executive producer. We all know that divorce is a serious, life-altering event. Like many situation comedies that find humor in dysfunctional marriages or family situations, it is understandable why television would want to extend those notions to the divorce arena. While litigants may not see the humor of it, many times we as lawyers, looking at it from the outside, shake our head in disbelief of the types of things that otherwise good and reasonable people will do or say to try to get back at, or get one over on, their spouse, a person they used to love but now despise. Continue reading

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On September 20, 2016, the Internet was buzzing with reports of Angelina Jolie-Pitt filing for divorce from her long time partner of twelve years and husband of two years, Brad Pitt. The demise ofJoliePitt Angelina Jolie-Pitt’s and Brad Pitt’s two year marriage raises questions about the division of their assets in divorce. “The couple have six children together–and more than half a billion dollars worth in cumulative earnings,” according to Forbes.com. “Since their marriage in 2014, the duo have earned a combined $117.5 million before taxes and fees, per Forbes’ estimates. Continue reading

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The 18th century educational writer, W.E. Hickson, is credited with popularizing the proverb: “’Tis a lesson you should heed: Try, try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, Try, try, try again.”  On IMG_0187June 10, 2016 the New Jersey Appellate Division decided the case of KL-v-DL, in which after nearly three years of continuous litigation, a father succeeded in having the trial court reconsider its prior order relating to additional visitation with his daughter.  The protracted litigation began not long after the divorce complaint was filed on June 14, 2013.   Continue reading

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547eb27fd9ff1_-_gays-and-baby-0810-3-lgn[1]In a recently published decision, D.G. and S.H. v. K.S., FD-1386-14S, the Honorable Stephanie M. Wauters, J.S.C., issued what could prove to be a groundbreaking decision as the definition of family continues to develop and evolve with the ever changing times.  The original ninety-six page decision decision was abridged to twenty-two pages for the published decision in this matter. In this particular case, the Court was presented with a situation the litigants creatively referred to as a “tri-parenting” relationship, wherein three friends agreed to conceive, raise and take care of a child, O.S.H., together as one unit in two households.  Continue reading

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Earlier this month, the New Jersey Appellate Division took up the issue of whether or not a litigant living as a fugitive outside the United States has standing to challenge a default judgment entered by the trial relating to custody and support. The case of Yvietta Matison v. Mark Lisantary, involved an appeal by the father from the trial court’s June 20, 2014 order denying his motion to vacate a May 1, 2013 default judgment, which awarded the mother palimony and custody of the couple’s twin children, who were born in 2004. The court based its ruling on the facts submitted by the mother because the father did not participate in the litigation. According to the mother, “Before she came to the United States in March 2006, the father purchased a home valued at approximately $1.9 million in Franklin Lakes and paid for substantial renovations to the home. He also provided a nanny, interior decorator and secretary. During this time, [ the father] returned to Europe to conduct business and [the mothejudger] remained in the Franklin Lakes home with the children and the nanny. He subsequently sold the property, and plaintiff and the children moved to Tenafly where the children were enrolled in private school. [The father] continued to provide support to plaintiff from abroad. Continue reading

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You know the song: “Here’s the story … of lovely lady …who is bringing up three very lovely girls. . . Here’s the story of a man named Brady who was raising three boys of his own. . . .” Most of us are familiar with the television show “The Brady Bunch”. In the show, Mike Brady had three sons from a previous relationship (Greg, Bobby and Peter Brady), and Carol Brady, his wife, had three daughters from her previous relationship (Marcia, Jan and Cindy).   They became what is popularly referred to as a “blended family” upon the marriage of Mike and Carol. Carol’s daughters took Mike’s last name and the family became known as “The Brady Bunch.” Mike and Carol’s respective children also referred to their stepmother and stepfather as “Mom” and “Dad”. Continue reading