On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cumberland County, Docket No. FM-06-364-00.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves, Sabatino and Kestin.
The parties are divorced with two children: a sixteen- year-old daughter and a fourteen-year-old son. Plaintiff S.S. appeals from an order dated September 22, 2008, dismissing his application for a hearing to determine whether custody of the children should be transferred to him. Plaintiff also appeals from various other rulings by the trial court, including an order requiring him to pay a portion of defendant's counsel fees. After reviewing plaintiff's contentions in light of the record, we affirm.
In August 2007, defendant D.G.-S. filed a motion for enforcement of litigant's rights, and plaintiff filed a cross- motion seeking enforcement of his parenting time and permission to retain a parental alienation expert to "address the effects of prolonged periods of interference with his bonding and parental time." Plaintiff also requested a hearing "to determine whether custody should be transferred based upon defendant's continued refusal to transport the children for parenting time, encouraging the children not to exercise parenting time, and planning other activities to [compete] with plaintiff's parenting time."
In a certification in support of his cross-motion, plaintiff explained how his relationship with his daughter, who was then thirteen, had deteriorated:
Things between my daughter and I deteriorated over [her] boyfriend. I had called one evening when it was my parenting time and she... and her boyfriend were there alone. I asked her, "who was there? Where was her mom? Was there an adult present?" She told me she didn't need an adult present and I disagreed. We argued and she has not had parenting time with me since then. I have expressed my frustration. At 13 years old, I don't feel that I should have to compete with her boyfriend to exercise my parenting time. Of course, she has made it clear that her mother is on her side. On April 20, 2007 I received the most disgusting e-mail from her that I have ever read in my life. The language is horrendous.... I cried for hours. There are no words to describe my pain. I am certain that the defendant is delighted. However, most responsible and normal parents would read this e-mail and know that my daughter is out of control. The defendant created this [by] empowering her to make decisions that a child should not make, particularly decisions about my parenting time and whether time with the boyfriend should replace my parenting time. My daughter tells me she is 13 and can make her own choices. What responsible parent allows a 13 year old to feel that they can make their own choices over issues like this. It's time for drastic measures. If the Court does not do something immediately to break the stronghold that the defendant has created and allowed, I am going to lose my children.
Recently, a friend of mine and a friend to the children described my children as victims of the casualties of a war. I've given that some thought and I understand why she said it.... Without quality and unimpeded time with my children, I am helpless. I need the Court to enforce its orders and give me the months of parenting time that I have been denied.
Following oral argument, the parties were ordered to either "agree on a visitation coordinator/facilitator" or to submit names of "proposed facilitators" to the court. The court also ordered that plaintiff was to have ten days of parenting time with the children at the home of his parents.
In a thirteen-page "order of disposition" dated September 21, 2007, the court denied plaintiff's cross-motion to hold defendant in violation of litigant's rights for refusing to allow plaintiff's parenting time and plaintiff's request for an immediate hearing. However, the court granted plaintiff's request to retain a parental alienation expert, noting that both parties believed the other party was at fault "for the clear problems illustrated by these filings."
Clearly there is a "chemistry" developing here between the parties and the children that appears to be unhealthy. In the last oral argument between the parties, it was shown by one of the daughter's emails that she is attempting to "manipulate" the parents, writing DAD when she is mad at MOM; writing emails to DAD when she is upset with him. When you couple possibly manipulative teenagers, as smart and sophisticated as the children are, with the thinly veiled and more often than it should be overt animosity of the parents toward each other, it makes for a sad situation for all.
Does the court believe that the MOTHER... at times "stokes the fires" of ill feeling of the children towards their FATHER both overtly and subliminally? Probably.
Does the court believe that the FATHER, of strong personality, busy and stressed, at times may behave in a gruff and apparently coarse and uncompromising manner with the strong willed, highly intelligent and very busy teenagers in a way that interferes with the relationship between them? Probably.
Are the children at time resistant to coming to the Vineland area, away from their friends and events and the excitement, and [the] far more appealing to them area of Cherry Hill, Camden County, for weekend or other visitation? Away from perhaps a boyfriend or ...