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B.L v. P.D

August 3, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FM-04-339-08.

Per curiam.


Submitted: July 5, 2011

Before Judges Axelrad and Lisa.

Plaintiff appeals from the portion of the Family Part's December 10, 2010 order requiring the parties to attend family reunification therapy. We reverse.

The parties have had a tortured and litigious relationship, particularly regarding defendant and the children. We limit our recitation of the facts and procedural history to the narrow issue involved in this appeal. The parties were married in 2000 and divorced in 2008. They have a daughter, now nine, and a son, now almost seven. The parties have joint custody and plaintiff is the parent of primary residence. Defendant initially had unsupervised parenting time.

Ultimately, when it became apparent the parties could not communicate on any level, by order of January 26, 2009, the court precluded the parties from having any "oral, written or personal contact with each other" and appointed a parenting coordinator. Based on plaintiff's certifications and the recommendations of Kim Fendrick, the parenting coordinator, by order of May 4, 2009, the court mandated supervised parenting time between defendant and the two children and permitted him to choose one of his relatives to be the supervisor at his sister's home. By order of September 5, 2009, however, the court found defendant "willfully violated" the requirement of supervision and his "actions were not in the children's best interest." Accordingly, the court required supervised visitation to continue and defendant to attend individual therapy to address anger management and parenting issues.

Following a trial, a final restraining order (FRO) was entered against defendant on October 28, 2009. Supervised visitation continued and defendant was ordered to undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation and complete a psychiatric evaluation, with compliance with all recommendations, and attend a batterer's intervention program. By order of March 12, 2010, the court granted plaintiff's enforcement motion. Based in large part on the recommendation of the parenting coordinator, by another order of the same date on an emergent application by plaintiff, the court suspended defendant's parenting time and telephone contact with the children. In her March 11, 2010 report, the parenting coordinator stated, in pertinent part:

The abuse level sustained by the [D.] children has reached the intolerable point and as a responsible adult as well as the Court appointed Parenting Coordinator, I need to do everything in my power to protect these children.

Seven-year old [] told me on March 9, 2010, in my office that she wanted to "light her hair on fire" following another upsetting phone conversation with her Father on March 3, 2010. She also stated that she never wants to spend any time with her father again and does not want to speak with him by phone because she is afraid of him.

In view of Father's repetitive and unchanging behaviors, I strongly recommend that Father's visitation time and phone contact with the children be eliminated at this time.

On the March 25, 2010 return date, plaintiff appeared in court with witnesses and experts. In lieu of a trial, defendant, represented by counsel, voluntarily agreed to continue suspension of his contact with the children pending "compliance with all recommendations in totality." Following a psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Baruch, defendant filed a motion to resume parenting time with his son and establish a timetable to resume parenting time with his daughter.

By order of July 28, 2010, by consent, defendant's motion to resume parenting time with his son was granted on the condition it be supervised pursuant to the prior order, and subject to review after three months. His motion regarding his daughter was denied without prejudice. The order required their daughter to continue with her individual therapy with both parties' participation being directed by her therapist. The therapist was directed to focus on the reunification of defendant and his daughter. Moreover, defendant was permitted to contact his daughter's therapist in reference to her status and the therapist was required to make a recommendation as to the resumption of defendant's parenting time with his daughter. The order further provided that the parties would attempt to resolve the issue based on the therapist's recommendation and if they could not, either party could make an application to the court.

Defendant filed a subsequent motion pertaining to reunification with his daughter. Plaintiff presented an October 6, 2010 report of Lori Mattison, the children's therapist, which did not recommend reunification between defendant ...

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