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Susan D. Backman, N/K/A Susan D. Seaman v. Alan C. Backman

October 5, 2011

SUSAN D. BACKMAN, N/K/A SUSAN D. SEAMAN, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ALAN C. BACKMAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 12, 2011

Before Judges Ashrafi and Fasciale.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-13-2023-98C. Ira M. Senoff, L.L.C., attorneys for appellant (Mr. Senoff, of counsel and on the brief; Jeanette Russell, on the brief). Susan Backman, n/k/a Susan Seaman, respondent pro se.

In this post-divorce judgment matrimonial case, defendant-father appeals from a June 21, 2010 order reducing his parenting time, increasing his child support obligations, and awarding counsel fees in the amount of $32,077.50 to plaintiff-mother, now pro se. We affirm.

The parties were married in 1993, had one daughter together, and divorced in 1998.*fn1 After the divorce, the court awarded joint legal custody to the parties and residential custody to the mother. The father agreed to pay $1,000 in child support per month.

Immediately following the divorce, the father contended that he was an unemployed financial analyst. Although he was scheduled in 1998 to earn between $600,000 and $750,000 in a severance payment, he was eventually laid off. He continued to find employment in the financial industry for several years, and in 2004, the court reduced his child support obligation to $600 per month.

The father has remarried and currently lives in New York City. When the parties' daughter was a teenager, she visited her father on the weekends in New York City. During this time, his relationship with his daughter became strained. He was unmindful to changes in her personal, academic, and emotional growth as she entered high school, and he was unwilling to discuss alternative arrangements. On six occasions, he brought police to pick her up for visitation. As a result, his daughter resisted spending time with her father and eventually refused to visit him. This led the father to file a motion in aid of litigant's rights.

In the fall of 2007, the father filed a motion to modify his child support payments and to enforce his visitation rights. The mother filed a cross-motion to suspend his parenting time.

A Family Part judge entered an interim order dated December 3, 2007, requiring the parties to attend a visitation refusal evaluation by Dr. Mark White, suspending the father's visitation rights until that occurred, and directing the father to pay for the services of Dr. White.*fn2 The parenting time and support obligation issues raised in the cross-motions, therefore, remained outstanding.

Dr. White recommended that a parenting coordinator be selected; the daughter resume visitation with the father after a second therapy session; the father and daughter schedule lost parenting time; and that they immediately resume telephone and e-mail contact.

On September 12, 2008, the court entered an order establishing limited parenting time between the father and daughter from September 2008 to November 2008. The court also appointed a therapist for the daughter, designated a parenting coordinator, and scheduled a plenary hearing.

Between March 2009 and May 2010, the judge conducted several hearings and addressed the father's child support obligations and parenting time with his daughter. The judge listened to the extensive testimony of the parties and interviewed the daughter twice.*fn3

The judge found the father not credible concerning his flexibility in scheduling parenting time and his underemployment. The judge stated that "[the daughter] grasped the situation between . . . [her], her mother and her father. And she understands her father's role. And she has observed on her own that he is essentially trying to live through her." The judge stated that he did not "find in this case that the mother was obstructing, but in fact the things that she said with regard to what ...


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