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R.O. v. L.O.

August 18, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FM-04-1037-06.

Per curiam.


Argued May 3, 2010

Before Judges Rodríguez and Yannotti.

L.O. (mother) appeals from the November 7, 2008 post-divorce-judgment order denying her motion. We affirm.

Mother and R.O. (father) were married in 1995. One child was born of the marriage, K.O., a girl now age fourteen. The parties were divorced pursuant to a Pennsylvania decree. They were granted shared legal custody with mother having primary physical custody.

K.O. began displaying anger towards her mother around the time that she became aware of the parties' custody dispute. Consequently, mother placed K.O. in counseling. However, K.O. has been treated by six therapists due to the parties' inability to reconcile their differences.

On December 7, 2005, New Jersey obtained jurisdiction over the parties' post-judgment dispute regarding custody. Mother moved to compel father to contribute towards K.O.'s counseling. Mother alleged that father was discussing the litigation with K.O., which was the cause of her behavior. Father disputed these allegations.

Judge Frederick J. Schuck heard oral argument on the motion. He ordered that father be responsible for 2/3 of future therapy costs. Father's counsel represented that father's annual income was $110,000. Subsequently, the judge appointed Dr. Ronald S. Gruen to provide therapy and act as the court's expert to render therapeutic services to K.O. Dr. Gruen was also granted permission to communicate with the judge.

Father moved for the court to order that K.O. be permitted to play softball and to allow father to coach K.O. in little league. By order dated March 2, 2007, Judge Richard Wells granted father's motion.

Mother then moved for an order requiring an expert to conduct a parental alienation evaluation of K.O. She contended that father was responsible for utilizing "programming tactics" that influenced K.O. to distance herself emotionally from mother.

Father cross-moved to request that: Dr. Gruen's court ordered services be terminated; to hold mother in contempt for denying parenting time; modification of custody; K.O. remain in her school district; and K.O. be permitted to carry a cell phone supplied by father.

Judge Wells conducted a hearing. During the hearing, father informed the judge that he was currently unemployed because he had been laid off. Consequently, the judge held that the parties would split the costs equally for the evaluation. The parties again appeared before Judge Wells, who ordered that the parties shall undergo an evaluation with Dr. Gregory Joseph to assess parental alienation. The judge terminated father's obligation to contribute towards Dr. Gruen's counseling fees due to the appointment of a new therapist.

Dr. Joseph's report indicated that both parties' conduct contributed to K.O.'s anger towards mother. Dr. Joseph recommended that the judge mandate the parties and K.O. participate in ongoing family counseling and K.O. should be permitted to speak with either parent while staying with the other parent. Reasonable restrictions should be placed on her contact with father and step-mother during certain time periods and/or for a specified amount of time. Dr. Joseph further recommended that K.O. should be provided privacy to talk with either parent.

Father then moved to enforce the March 2, 2007 order and allow K.O. to participate in softball in 2008. Judge Wells so ordered and awarded attorney's fees in the amount of $1,200 to father. Judge Wells also entered a protective order pertaining to Dr. Joseph's report. The judge permitted a copy of the report to be provided to counsel and Dr. Gruen for review.

Mother then moved to:

1. Require father to participate in counseling and/or therapy and to contribute an appropriate share of the associated costs.

2. Dr. Gruen to opine to whether he believed that he could appropriately serve as counselor for father and mother and if not, who he would recommend to serve in the capacity; whether a parenting coordinator would be appropriate in the matter and who he would recommend; whether father's parenting time should commence at 8:30 a.m. or at a later time due to father's work schedule on days that K.O. has off from school; what measures and rules should be adopted regarding K.O.'s cell phone; and that he prepare a comprehensive report that includes all issues listed above and outline K.O.'s progress, challenges and any other issues he deems appropriate for the court;

3. The court hold a conference with counsel for the parties to discuss Dr. Gruen's opinions and reports to determine how to proceed after Dr. Gruen provides his findings to the court;

4. Father pay an appropriate share (2/3 or eighty percent) of Dr. Gruen's counseling fees for K.O., both prospective and retroactive pursuant to R. 4:50-1 to the October 24, 2007 order;

5. Sanction father if he fails to comply with the order(s) and/or for his failure to comply on a going forward basis with ...

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