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Pankaj Bhatnagar v. Sonia Bhatnagar

August 31, 2011

PANKAJ BHATNAGAR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
SONIA BHATNAGAR, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-1623-04.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued May 10, 2011

Before Judges Graves and Waugh.

In this post-judgment matrimonial matter, plaintiff Pankaj Bhatnagar appeals from an order dated July 30, 2010, which denied sixteen of his nineteen requests for relief in a motion to enforce litigant's rights. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.

Plaintiff and defendant Sonia Bhatnagar were married on December 23, 1994. They have two sons: R.B., now fifteen years old, and S.B., now ten.

Following a thirty-one day trial, the parties were divorced on January 11, 2006. Pursuant to an amended judgment of divorce (AJOD) dated March 28, 2006, the parties were granted joint legal custody of the children. Defendant was awarded primary residential custody, and plaintiff was granted parenting time on alternate weekends and designated weekdays. The AJOD provided that the parties "shall equally share important holidays and . . . vacation time with the children" and "continue to reside within close proximity of each other in Mahwah, NJ." Furthermore, Tobie Meisel, L.C.S.W., was ordered to serve as the parties' parenting coordinator and to assist in resolving "conflicts related to parenting issues."

Over the next year, plaintiff and defendant both filed post-judgment motions regarding financial and parenting time issues, and the court entered orders on March 2 and April 2, 2007. Additionally, on January 4, 2008, plaintiff was "adjudicated in violation of litigant's rights for failure to comply with provisions" of the March 2 and April 2, 2007 orders.

In November 2008, Meisel resigned as the parent coordinator. In a subsequent motion, plaintiff certified that defendant interfered with his parenting time and, without a parent coordinator, he was "entirely at the mercy of Defendant's whims." Plaintiff also claimed there were other child-related, financial, and enforcement issues that needed to be resolved. As a result, he filed a motion with nineteen specific requests for relief on May 18, 2010. Among other things, plaintiff sought an order: finding defendant "in violation of litigant's rights for her willful interference" with his parenting time and awarding him compensatory time with the children; modifying the parenting time schedule "based on the children's maturation"; compelling defendant to attend and participate in family therapy and to provide him with "notification and correspondence" from the children's schools; permitting him to move "within a 15 mile radius of Mahwah"; and appointing Cynthia Johnson as the new parenting coordinator.

In her opposition papers, defendant certified that plaintiff was attempting to relitigate issues that he had previously raised "during trial and after the trial." Defendant also stated that many of plaintiff's allegations were "blatant[] lies" and that his conduct was detrimental to the children's welfare because he prevented them from participating in school related activities during his parenting time. In her cross- motion, defendant asked the court to appoint Mary Ann Stokes, Esq., as the new parent coordinator.

Both parties requested oral argument. Nevertheless, the requests were denied without explanation, and the court entered a five-paragraph order that provided as follows:

1. Unless otherwise noted in this Order, the parties shall comply with the terms of their Judgment of Divorce, Property Settlement Agreement and all prior Orders of the Court.

2. The Plaintiff's motion to enjoin and restrain the Defendant from permitting the parties' son, [R.B.], to travel to Bangladesh during the summer of 2010 is denied as moot. . . .

3. The Plaintiff's motion to compel the Defendant to provide to the Plaintiff all notifications and correspondence from the parties' children's school is granted. The Plaintiff is entitled to full and complete ...


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