SUPERVISED PARENTING TIME UPHELD DESPITE UNFOUNDED CLAIM OF ABUSE FROM DCP&P
Docket No. A-1127-21
Decided April 24, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Family Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division of New Jersey affirmed an order requiring defendant to have supervised parenting time and attend reunification therapy with the parties’ child.
In S.R. v. L.N., Jr., the parties were never married. Plaintiff S.R. gave birth to Andrew in January 2013. Pursuant to an August 31, 2015 order, the parties agreed to share joint legal custody of Andrew, with plaintiff designated as the parent of primary residence (PPR) and defendant named the parent of alternate residence (PAR).
In April 2021, plaintiff moved to suspend defendant’s parenting time, based on allegations he physically and emotionally abused Andrew. She claimed defendant would hit Andrew when he did not do well at sporting events and that Andrew was scared to be with his father.
On June 25, 2021, the trial court heard argument on the parties’ cross-applications. During the hearing, plaintiff’s attorney represented that plaintiff had arranged for Andrew to engage in weekly virtual counseling sessions to address the child’s fear of defendant. Counsel also stated Andrew’s counselor contacted the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division) to report defendant’s alleged “inappropriate punishment” of Andrew.
On September 2, 2021, the Division sent defendant a letter, informing him the allegations against him were deemed unfounded and the Division would not be providing further services to Andrew or defendant’s family. When the parties and their respective counsel appeared in court on September 22 for a review hearing, a Division liaison also reported that the allegations of physical abuse against defendant were “unfounded.” The liaison explained “there [were] no marks or bruises on the child” when the allegations were investigated, but defendant “was counseled about corporal punishment, and not to . . . use it, . . . [and] to be cautious about what he may do in dealing with . . . punishment.”
Also, during the September 22 hearing, plaintiff’s counsel told the judge reunification therapy had not occurred because the counseling entity chosen by the parties “was not able to accommodate it.” Because the parties did not agree on whether defendant’s parenting time should remain supervised, the judge elicited further input from their counsel about the parenting time dispute before lifting his supervised parenting time.
Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division upheld the Court’s decision, finding no abuse of discretion.
This opinion is important to understand that decisions regarding the nature and duration of parenting time, such as length and whether it be supervised or not, are protected on appeal so long as the decision is supported by the substantial credible evidence at the hearing. As seen here, the decision to maintain supervised parenting time was upheld despite a finding of no abuse from DCP&P, but because the defendant made the child upset with his behavior. Despite the unsubstantiated findings, the Court was still upheld.
It is vital to have an experienced attorney for custody on your side prior to decisions like these being made, as it is likely too late to change. If you have questions about legal custody, residential custody, parenting time, supervised visitation, unsupervised parenting time, divorce, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, or mediation, contact the experienced custody attorneys at Hark & Hark today.
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