Affirmed: Final Judgment of Divorce Regarding Custody, Parenting Time, Alimony, And A No Contact Order from Plaintiff’s Brother


Docket No. A-799-20

Decided September 6, 2022

Submitted by New Jersey Divorce Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division of New Jersey affirmed a final judgment of divorce regarding custody, parenting time, alimony, and a no contact order from plaintiff’s brother.

In Vieja v. Vieja, Ivan and defendant, Alejandra Bilbao La Vieja, were married on September 18, 2005. The parties’ first daughter, Rocio, was born in 2006. Their second daughter, Aliyah, was born in 2008. Alejandra had two children prior to the marriage. The breakdown of the parties’ marriage began in March 2013 when Alejandra’s daughter, S.S. (Sally)2 , reported that Limbert, plaintiff’s brother, had sexually molested her starting when she was eleven years old. s Ivan failed to inform her of his brother’s New York sex offense conviction and status as a registered sex offender.

Between May 2013 and the start of trial in August 2018, the court appointed a child custody expert, Dr. David S. Gomberg, to conduct an evaluation and prepare a report.

Via mediation in 2015, the parties partially agreed that Alejandra would pay Ivan $350 per month in child support, Ivan would pay Alejandra $1200 per month in spousal support for a term of three-and-a-half years, and the children would have no contact with Limbert. Prior to the JOD, no child support or alimony payments were made by either party.

The mediation agreement also set forth a “9-to-5” parenting time schedule, meaning that in a two-week period Ivan would have nine overnights with the children and Alejandra would have five. Alejandra agreed to this schedule in part because of the time commitments of her work as an advanced level nurse.

An October 5, 2016 court order confirmed this parenting time arrangement on a pendente lite basis and designated Ivan as the parent of primary residence (PPR). The agreement and court order granted Ivan residential custody of the girls, as well as legal custody for medical and extracurricular decisions. For all other decisions, such as religious and educational, the parties shared custody.

Moreover, on two occasions during the pendency of this litigation Alejandra alleged that Ivan had physically and sexually abused their daughters. In 2014 she brought Rocio to the hospital based on blood stains on Rocio’s bed sheets. In 2016 Alejandra brought her daughters to two separate hospitals again alleging sexual assault, this time due to rectal bleeding. No evidence of sexual assault was found either time, by the hospitals, the girls’ pediatrician Dr. Gabriel Lopez-Allen, DCP&P, or any other agency.

A ten-day trial took place on noncontinuous days starting on August 24, 2018 and ending on April 10, 2019. Several witnesses testified on behalf of both parties, including Dr. Gomberg, Dr. Lopez-Allen, Ivan’s fiancée Christine Judge, Ivan’s mother Nancy Bilbao La Vieja, Alejandra’s friend and co-worker Loquanda Filipe, Limbert, and both parties. In addition, the court conducted in camera interviews with both children, Rocio and Aliyah.

The court highlighted several parts of Dr. Gomberg’s testimony. In particular, the court emphasized his assessment that Alejandra is “unlikely to stop making frivolous allegations about the plaintiff abusing the children” and that Ivan and his family are in “strong denial about the potential dangers that Limbert poses to the children and cannot be trusted to supervise Limbert.” Dr. Gomberg made specific recommendations for custody and parenting time, many of which were reflected in the mediation agreement and pendente lite court order. This included the 9-to-5 schedule, sole legal custody for Ivan over medical and extracurricular activities, shared custody for educational and religious decisions, and making Ivan the parent of primary residence.

The court evaluated whether Alejandra’s unfounded accusations caused the girls significant emotional harm. It found that the allegations did not have “any significant adverse effect on either child or their relationship with their father.” The court’s “take away,” based on the interviews, was that the girls “view their mother’s claims . . . along the lines of oh, that’s just my crazy mother who hates my father.” But the court did find, overall, that “the emotional warfare between the parents has harmed the children.”

The court agreed with Dr. Gomberg’s legal custody recommendations. It found that Alejandra’s “judgment and fitness is compromised when it comes to medical issues and . . . extracurricular activities for the children[;]” therefore, it was in the best interest of the children for Ivan to have “sole legal custody” over these areas.

The court also addressed the mediation agreement. It disagreed with Ivan’s contention that the agreement was void from the start and found instead that the agreement was “valid and enforceable.”

Ivan appealed the FJOD. The Appellate Division upheld each portion of the Court’s opinion, finding no basis to disturb the custody determination, ruling the Court appropriate best interest factors.  What’s more, the Court also appropriately enforced the mediation agreement.

This court opinion is important to understand the deference family judges are given on appeal. As long as they make appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law, most likely their decisions will be upheld for issues like custody. It’s also important to note that the mediation agreement was upheld in this matter. Prior to signing or agreeing to anything in the context of divorce or a custody dispute, be sure to hire an attorney and understand each and every provision of the agreement, otherwise you might be stuck with an agreement you did not want.

If you have questions about divorce, custody, parenting time, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, or mediation, contact the experienced matrimonial divorce attorneys at Hark & Hark today.

In recognition of these trying financial times, we are reducing fees and working with clients to come up with manageable payment plans. Initial consultation is always free and we are available remotely.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing domestic violence charges similar to this circumstance, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties. We represent clients in all towns in New Jersey, including Bass River, Beverly, Bordentown City, Bordentown Township, Burlington City, Burlington Township, Chesterfield, Cinnaminson, Delanco, Delran, Eastampton, Edgewater Park, Evesham, Fieldsboro, Florence, Hainesport, Lumberton, Mansfield, Maple Shade, Medford Lakes, Medford Township, Moorestown, Mount Holly, Mount Laurel, New Hanover, North Hanover, Palmyra, Pemberton Borough, Pemberton Township, Riverside, Riverton, Shamong, Southampton, Springfield, Tabernacle, Washington Township, Westampton, Willingboro, Woodland Township, and Wrightstown.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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