NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION UPHOLDS DECISION TO SUSPEND FATHER’S PARENTING TIME WITH NO SHOWING OF ABUSE OR NEGLECT
Docket No. A-271-21
Decided August 22, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Family Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division of New Jersey affirmed a trial court’s order suspending defendant’s parenting time until the child matured due to the child’s best interests, with no showing of abuse or neglect.
In P.V.P. v. F.J.C., there was a complex and tortured history of litigation between the parties, involving several matters that were appealed and returned to the trial court for further evaluation. This matter picks up as the remand judge appointed Dr. David Brandwein to conduct a psychological evaluation of the parties’ son, John, meet once with plaintiff and defendant, and render a recommendation on parenting time.
Brandwein met with John on three occasions during the summer of 2020, and spoke with plaintiff, defendant, and Dr. Charles Katz, John’s treating psychologist. Brandwein concluded that John had a poor relationship with his parents, but he demonstrated positive feelings toward plaintiff and negative feelings toward defendant. Brandwein noted John’s history of anxiety attacks. John told Brandwein that he did not want to visit with defendant, and the panic attack he suffered prior to a scheduled visit with defendant on September 11, 2019, caused his grades at school to decline. John said he never wanted to see defendant again.
Brandwein opined that John’s anxiety played a “profound role” in his refusal to visit with defendant, and this anxiety needed to be addressed before defendant’s parenting time resumed. Brandwein recommended reunification therapy for John and defendant.
On January 27, 2021, the judge held a conference and entered an order approving Grace Abounds Counseling, LLC, to provide family and reunification therapy. Heiki E. Fischbach, the reunification therapist at Grace Abounds, sent a letter to the court in March advising that John refused to meet with defendant, even in a therapeutic setting, and that he did not wish to have visits with defendant in the future.
Based on Fischbach’s letter, the judge concluded that “there’s nothing to do until [John] matures.” In response, after meeting with plaintiff and John, Fischbach sent another letter to the court. He reiterated that John refused to meet with defendant due to his anxiety; John cried when the meeting was proposed. Fischbach wrote that John’s position must be “respected and honored” in order to “protect him emotionally,” and concluded that in time, John might “come to terms with his past” and contact defendant, but this will not occur “via ongoing judicial actions taken by [defendant].”
On August 6, 2021, the judge interviewed then thirteen-year-old John on the record via Zoom and invited the parties to watch. On August 26, 2021, the judge entered an order suspending defendant’s parenting time and telephone contact with John.
Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed, finding that despite the fact that defendant has a right to a relationship to his child, there was no basis to disturb the court’s decision based on the extensive history, failed reunification, and the best interest of the child to protect him from anxiety attacks.
Parents have a constitutional right to a relationship with their children in New Jersey. However, parenting time can be suspended under certain circumstances. Usually this would be a finding of abuse or neglect. Although it is rare, the Court does have the power to suspend parenting time on the best interests of the child even without a finding of abuse or neglect, as shown above.
If you have questions about suspension of parenting time, best interests of the child, enforcement, changes in circumstance requiring a modification, parenting time, alimony, child support, divorce and custody, or appeals, contact the experienced matrimonial divorce attorneys at Hark & Hark today.
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