On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Somerset County, FV-18-183-95.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Gilroy and Chambers.
Defendant Clarence Norwood appeals from two orders entered in these post judgment of divorce proceedings. He contends that the first order, an amended final restraining order dated December 20, 2007, should have provided him with more liberal parenting time. He maintains that the second order, dated March 7, 2008, requires him to make child support payments that are beyond his means.
We first address the order concerning parenting time. The parties, now divorced, had one son born of the marriage, who was fifteen years old at the time of the proceedings before the trial court. Plaintiff and the son reside together in New Jersey, and defendant resides in Philadelphia with his new wife and daughter.
Defendant, who had been enjoying supervised parenting time with his son, moved before the trial court for unsupervised parenting time. That application was opposed by plaintiff. After interviewing the son, the trial court granted the motion for unsupervised parenting time, but restricted it to locations in New Jersey. The trial court explained the reasons for this decision as follows:
[B]ecause of [the son's] lack of comfort in being in Philadelphia [where defendant lives] and taking into account the need to allow [the son] the opportunity to have unsupervised contact with his father in New Jersey so that his trust will grow, the court has determined that parenting time does need to be in the [S]tate of New Jersey at this time. To do otherwise is not consistent with [the son's] best interest.
The trial court ordered parenting time every other Saturday afternoon for five hours. The order also provided for telephone contact on Sunday evenings. In addition, defendant was allowed to attend his son's baseball games.
Defendant contends that his parenting time should be more extensive and should not be limited to New Jersey. In particular, he would like to bring his son to Philadelphia where numerous activities are available; to be allowed weekend overnight visits; and to have additional telephone access to his son.
We will "not disturb the factual findings and legal conclusions of the trial judge unless we are convinced that they are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice." Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974) (quoting Fagliarone v. Twp. of N. Bergen, 78 N.J. Super. 154, 155 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 40 N.J. 221 (1963)). Further, we give special deference to the factual findings of family court judges due to their expertise in this area. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 413 (1998). In resolving parenting time disputes between parents, it has been said that "the sole benchmark is the best interests of the child." Sacharow v. Sacharow, 177 N.J. 62, 80 (2003).
We find no abuse of discretion here. The trial court properly took into account whether the child would be comfortable going directly from supervised parenting time in New Jersey to unsupervised out-of-state parenting time, and determined that initially at least, the unsupervised parenting time should be within the State. Certainly, after a period of successful unsupervised parenting time within New Jersey, defendant may renew his application to eliminate that restriction, and the trial court may ...