On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FD 15-1427-99.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 4, 2009
Before Judges Wefing and LeWinn.
Plaintiff, Deborah Doll, appeals from the December 4, 2008 order of the Family Part, which denied her motion to stay an order of October 23, 2008, enforcing her obligation to pay a prior counsel fee award to defendant, and to reconsider an order entered on June 21, 2000, permitting defendant to relocate to Florida with the parties' son who is now fourteen years old. We affirm.
The pertinent factual background of this matter may be summarized as follows. Following a plenary hearing between January and April 2000, a Family Part judge entered an order on June 21, 2000 awarding primary physical custody of the parties' son to defendant and permitting him to move to Florida with the child. That order further provided that plaintiff was to share joint legal custody and to have reasonable and liberal supervised visitation in the State of Florida. Plaintiff was ordered to submit documentation to the New Jersey Division Youth and Family Services, (DYFS) demonstrating that she had successfully completed a parent education training program, and to submit to "an independent and complete psychiatric evaluation through a DYFS approved psychiatrist, and have the results of said evaluation submitted to DYFS." This order referred to a sixty-two page decision rendered by the judge at the conclusion of the plenary hearing.
It appears that on June 26, 2000, the judge entered an order awarding defendant $6000 in counsel fees from the hearing, and that defendant docketed that order as a judgment on March 20, 2002.
In August 2008, plaintiff filed a motion seeking to regain custody of the parties' son and to compel his return from Florida. In support of that motion, plaintiff alleged that defendant had submitted "fraudulent" statements and evidence at the 2000 hearing, which caused the judge to grant his custody and removal requests.
Defendant filed an opposing certification, in which he set forth the history of this litigation from June 2000 forward. In his certification, defendant noted that plaintiff came to Florida in 2004 and filed several motions for unsupervised visitation in that state; when the Florida judge learned that plaintiff had failed to comply with the conditions in the New Jersey court's order of June 21, 2000, plaintiff's requests were denied. Defendant further certified as to the counsel fees that plaintiff was ordered to pay him in June 2000, which he claimed she had made no efforts to pay.
On October 23, 2008, Judge Michael Guadagno issued an order denying plaintiff's motion, stating that New Jersey "does not have jurisdiction . . . ." The judge further granted defendant's request to enforce the prior counsel fee award and required plaintiff to immediately "make such payments consistent with the prior schedule or the th[e] court will consider sanctions." This order further noted: "Plaintiff's motion is frivolous. If she continues to ignore prior orders of this court with similar filings, this court will . . . on its own initiative, impose sanctions sufficient to deter repetition of such conduct."
On appeal, plaintiff asserts that she should be permitted to present evidence of defendant's allegedly fraudulent conduct in the 2000 plenary hearing; she also raises arguments attacking defendant's "credibility and character . . . ."
Plaintiff unfortunately fails to comprehend the law governing this situation. The controlling statute is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-53 to -95 (UCCJEA), which governs interstate child custody disputes. Jurisdiction over such disputes generally lies in the state which is considered the child's "home state," defined as "the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding." N.J.S.A. 2A:34-54. Clearly, when plaintiff filed her motion in August 2008, Florida was the child's home state pursuant to this definition. Therefore, Judge Guadagno properly denied her motion for lack of jurisdiction.
At the time of the June 2000 custody/removal decision, New Jersey was the child's home state, thereby giving the New Jersey court jurisdiction to render such a determination. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-65 provides that "a court of this State has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination only if . . . this State is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding . . . ." Plaintiff must understand that, because her son has been living in Florida since 2000, New Jersey is no longer the child's home state. Apparently, plaintiff understood this fact at some point, as defendant certified that she filed applications in the Florida Family Court in 2004 seeking visitation.
In her motion for a stay and/or reconsideration of the October 23, 2008 order, plaintiff certified that she was "denied the opportunity to be heard and present her side of the issues. She was denied the opportunity to argue the facts and present evidence to support her case and to disprove the defendant[']s case as well." Plaintiff reiterated ...