On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FD-02-1017-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Reisner, Yannotti and Chambers.
Plaintiff Deborah J. Hatkins appeals from an order entered by the Family Part on August 22, 2008, as amended by an order of August 29, 2008, which awarded defendant Jorge Hernandez sole legal and residential custody of two minor children, M.H. and T.H. We affirm.
The following facts are pertinent to our decision. Between 1996 and 1998, defendant and Darlene Bonilla (Bonilla) were involved in a romantic relationship. Bonilla ultimately became pregnant and she gave birth to twins, M.H. and T.H. Defendant is the children's biological father. Plaintiff and defendant met in March 1999 and soon were living together in plaintiff's home. At the time, M.H. and T.H. were residing with Bonilla. From July 1999 through June 2000, defendant exercised parenting time with the children three or four times per week at plaintiff's home.
In June 2000, Bonilla disappeared with the children. Defendant filed an abduction report with the police but did not pursue the matter further. In late October or early November 2000, defendant was told that Bonilla was living in Florida. He later learned that the children had been placed in foster care in Florida. It appears that Bonilla had been drinking heavily and left the children unattended. The children were found wandering in a parking lot, partially dressed, without shoes and with sores on their feet.
The children remained in foster care until June 29, 2001, when a Florida court granted defendant custody of the children. Bonilla was subsequently ordered to have no contact with the children, but her parental rights were not terminated. Defendant and plaintiff brought the children back to New Jersey, and they resided with the parties in plaintiff's home in Haworth.
In March 2004, plaintiff and defendant ended their relationship and defendant moved out of plaintiff's home. Defendant agreed, however, that the children could remain with plaintiff because she had been a good provider and he did not want the children to be moved again at that time. Over the next three years, plaintiff assumed virtually all responsibility for the day-to-day care of the children.
In 2004, defendant began working as a teacher in New York City and in July 2006, he married C.W. After the marriage, defendant exercised parenting time with the children every other weekend in C.W.'s home in New York State. In 2007, defendant informed plaintiff that he was going to take the children to reside with him after they completed the 2006-2007 school year.
On March 30, 2007, plaintiff filed this action against defendant and Bonilla seeking joint legal and sole residential custody of the children. After defendant received notice of this lawsuit, he refused to return the children to plaintiff following a weekend visit.
On April 17, 2007, on plaintiff's application, the court entered an order that required the immediate return of the children to plaintiff; designated plaintiff as the children's primary residential custodian and temporary sole legal guardian; and suspended defendant's parenting time. The court subsequently entered an order dated May 4, 2007, which ...