On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FM-03-844-03X.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 7, 2011
Before Judges Lisa and Alvarez.
Defendant Gerard Traynor appeals from the March 26, 2010 denial of his application to become the parent of primary residence (PPR) of the parties' then eleven-year-old daughter, and the award of $1530 in counsel fees to plaintiff Lisa M. Traynor, n/k/a Dallara. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
The parties divorced on May 19, 2003. Since that time, they have sought post-judgment relief on at least twelve occasions. Six of these proceedings were before Judge Haas, who rendered the decision now appealed. This was defendant's third application to become PPR since 2008.
The child has expressed a preference to live with her father, although she currently does very well both in- and outof-school. She enjoys a good relationship not only with her biological parents, but with her step-parents and her blended families. When the child was approximately eight years old, she was given the mistaken impression, by one or both of her parents, that she had the right to choose the home where she preferred to live. As Judge Haas found, however, there are indications defendant may be unwittingly pressuring the child to live with him. An example of this conduct was his gift to the child of a backpack bearing the logo of the grade school in his district.
After defendant's initial application in 2008, evaluations were completed and a parenting coordinator, Kim Fendrick, was appointed. Fendrick's summary issued in May 2009.
The court's most important subsequent directive was that the parties and the child engage in counseling because, regardless of the outcome of the motions, they would need assistance in adjusting to the status quo, particularly the child. No such counseling has occurred.
On appeal, defendant raises the following points:
POINT I: JUDGE HAAS ABDICATED HIS ROLE AS PARENS PATRIAE POINT II: JUDGE HAAS ABUSED HIS DISCRETION BY INDICATING THAT INTERVIEWING WITH A 12 YEAR OLD WOULD BE "SCARY" AND BY REFUSING TO CONDUCT THE INTERVIEW POINT III: JUDGE HAAS ABUSED HIS DISCRETION BY FACT FINDING IN THE FACE OF CONTESTED CERTIFICATIONS POINT IV: JUDGE HAAS AWARDED ATTORNEY'S FEES TO THE PLAINTIFF WITHOUT ASCERTAINING NEED AND ABILITY TO PAY AND OTHER STATUTORY FACTORS POINT V: JUDGE HAAS ABUSED HIS DISCRETION BY FAILING TO REQUEST A REPORT FROM PARENTING COORDINATOR KIM FENDRICK We affirm, essentially for the reasons stated in Judge Haas's thorough, detailed, and considered statements of reasons. We principally rely upon his factfinding and legal analysis, and make only the following brief comments.
The standard of review on matters of custody and parenting time is highly deferential. The conclusions of trial judges regarding child custody are "entitled to great weight and will not be lightly disturbed on appeal." DeVita v. DeVita, 145 N.J. Super. 120, 123 (App. Div. 1976); see also Sheehan v. Sheehan, 51 N.J. Super. 276, 295 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 28 N.J. 147 (1958).
In his first two points, defendant asserts Judge Haas "abdicated his role" by refusing to interview the child. We do not agree. Rule 5:8-6 vests in the trial court only the discretion to interview a child if there is a genuine and substantial issue of custody. It does not impose a mandate. As defendant has not established changed circumstances since entry of the 2008 order, and as the only basis for his ...