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Apostolidis v. Tagidou

October 15, 2010


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FM-14-236-07.

Per curiam.


Submitted: July 13, 2010

Before Judges R.B. Coleman and C.L. Miniman.

Defendant Anastasia Tagidou appeals from one part each of two orders entered on June 26, 2009. First, she appeals the portion of the order entered on her post-judgment application that denied her request for an order compelling plaintiff John Apostolidis to notify her as to custodial arrangements for the children were he to be admitted into a hospital. Second, she appeals from the portion of the order on plaintiff's cross-motion that compels her to pay $1000 in counsel fees to plaintiff. Because we are satisfied that there was no abuse of discretion in entering the two provisions from which defendant appeals, we affirm.

Plaintiff and defendant were married on February 6, 1991, in the Town of Boonton. Three children were born of the marriage, two in New Jersey in 1992 and 1993, and one in Greece in 2000. The two oldest children are citizens of Greece and the United States; the youngest child is a citizen of Greece. The parties were divorced in New Jersey on July 3, 2007. An amended judgment regarding custody was entered on February 5, 2008. Plaintiff was awarded sole legal custody of the eldest and youngest children, and defendant was awarded custody of the middle child. Prior to entry of the amended Judgment of Divorce (JOD), the parties litigated on two fronts-New Jersey and Greece. Defendant appealed and we affirmed the amended judgment.

There have been two post-judgment applications respecting parenting time and related issues. The first was filed on April 13, 2009, as an order to show cause why defendant should not have parenting time with her sons during a trip to the United States. Plaintiff filed an answering certification. At oral argument on April 24, 2009, the parties entered into a consent order, which afforded defendant parenting time for three consecutive days during her visit to New Jersey. The consent order obligated each party to notify their relatives to advise the other party of any terminal illness or death.

The second post-judgment application was filed on May 15, 2009. This time defendant sought to have vacation parenting time with her sons in Greece for two weeks. Other relief was a request for a webcam communication schedule with the two children in the United States and an order compelling plaintiff to notify defendant with respect to the custodial arrangements he might make for the children upon his admittance into a hospital. Plaintiff filed a response and cross-motion on May 27, 2009, for an order denying the relief sought in defendant's motion, finding her in violation of litigant's rights, compelling her to pay the February 13, 2008, counsel-fee award by a date certain, ordering a custodial evaluation by a court-appointed expert, and compelling defendant to pay plaintiff's legal fees in connection with the application.

Oral argument took place on June 26, 2009. The Family Part judge granted defendant's request for webcam communications and denied her request for summer parenting time in Greece. The judge, however, did permit defendant to see the children in New Jersey for the last two weeks in August 2009 with the initial visit to be supervised by Dr. Kalellis, who was to thereafter make recommendations to the court respecting additional parenting time during the two-week period. No appeal was taken from any of these rulings, except for the court's denial of defendant's application to compel plaintiff to communicate with defendant as to the custodial arrangements he might make for the children upon his entry into a hospital and an award of $1000 in counsel fees in favor of plaintiff.

Before making his award, the judge placed his decision on the record. In pertinent part, he summarized the history of the two parallel proceedings in New Jersey and Greece and then addressed the merits of each issue on the two motions before him. With respect to defendant's request that plaintiff notify her of custodial arrangements for the children in the event of plaintiff's hospitalization, the judge said:

I'm also not going to order the plaintiff to immediately notify the defendant upon any admissions to the hospital. There's nothing she can do about it. She's not established to me that she would immediately come to this country and... as I've already just indicated, I'm not sure that I would even order the kids to stay with her while he's in the hospital because there's been virtually no relationship.

So, therefore, there's no obligation for him to notify her when he goes to the hospital. He has an obligation to take care of the children. He has a network of relatives in Boonton. And he satisfied me that he would do that....

The judge had earlier indicated that he would not grant a two-week vacation in Greece for a number of reasons, including the children's lack of familiarity with defendant as a parent. He stated that if defendant were in New Jersey and had had a separation as long as the one in this case, he would order only a gradual reintroduction of the children to the parent and would not permit a two-week vacation without such a reintroduction. He also expressed concern about the animosity between the parties as requiring careful reintroduction. He also noted that "something obviously happened when [defendant] was here with the kids. Maybe it was the plaintiff, maybe it was the defendant. I have an opinion, I'm not going to suggest - - all I know is it didn't go as well as we had hoped. So clearly there's got to be a reorientation part."

The judge then turned to the issue of plaintiff's application for an award of counsel fees. He ...

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