October 22, 2007
CATHERINE WELLINGTON, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
FREDERICK DECESARE AND LISA CLARK, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FD-20-377-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued October 9, 2007
Before Judges Lintner, Parrillo, and Sabatino.
This matter is before us on leave granted defendants Frederick Bruce DeCesare and Lisa Clark to appeal from a December 12, 2006 order of the Family Part denying defendants' motion for dismissal of the complaint of plaintiff Catherine Wellington for grandparent visitation pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1, and granting plaintiff's motion to have her expert perform an evaluation of the two grandchildren, A.D. and E.D., with optional expert evaluations by defendants. Upon further consideration following briefing and argument of the parties and full review of the record, we conclude that interlocutory appellate review of the Family Part's December 12, 2006 order is not appropriate, and consequently, that our order of March 12, 2007 granting such review was improvidently entered. See R. 2:5-6; S.N. Golden Estates, Inc. v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 317 N.J. Super. 82, 89-92 (App. Div. 1998). We discern no interest of justice to be served by piecemeal adjudication of the central issue of grandparent visitation in this case. See R. 2:2-4; CPC Int'l, Inc. v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 316 N.J. Super. 351, 365 (App. Div. 1998), certif. denied, 158 N.J. 73, certif. denied, 158 N.J. 74 (1999). In our view, the interests of justice will better be served by an expedited and "'uninterrupted proceeding at the trial level with a single and complete review'" if necessary. See S.N. Golden Estates, supra, 317 N.J. Super. at 88 (quoting State v. Reldan, 100 N.J. 187, 205 (1985)).
In such a fact-sensitive, conflicted and dynamically evolving matter as this, determining the issue of grandparent visitation should be deferred until these factual disputes have been adjudicated by the trial court. Indeed, judicial review in this matter will benefit from a complete record. In this regard, the parties should be afforded the opportunity to conduct discovery in view of the nature and complexity of the ultimate issue presented. As to the immediate issue of expert evaluation, the trial judge should consider whether any material facts that may have arisen since the December 12, 2006 order obviates or enhances the need for such discovery, and whether a preliminary assessment by a court-appointed expert may be warranted before allowance of child interviews or evaluations conducted by experts retained by the parties. As to the latter, we perceive no irreparable harm from such interim relief to warrant our interference, by way of interlocutory review, in the trial process. See Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, comment 2.3.2 on R. 2:2-3 (2008).
We emphasize that our disposition today does not prejudice further review of the issue on appeal from a final judgment. See Pressler, supra, comment 3 on R. 2:2-2(b). To provide an adequate foundation for plenary appellate review, the trial court on remand is required to make specific findings as to, among other issues, the existence vel non of specific identifiable harm to the children as a result of the denial or severe curtailment of grandparent visitation, with or without parental supervision. Given the passage of time, the hearing is to be conducted expeditiously.
Accordingly, we vacate that part of our March 12, 2007 order granting leave to appeal as improvidently entered, dismiss the appeal from the interlocutory order of December 12, 2006, and remand the matter to the Family Part for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction.
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