On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FD-20-001297-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 8, 2012
Before Judges Fuentes, Graves and Harris.
Plaintiff Yvette Johnson and defendant Leonard Mack are the parents of Allison,*fn1 who is now seventeen years old. The parties never married, and plaintiff had custody of Allison since she was born. Plaintiff appeals from an order dated February 17, 2011, which allowed Allison to reside with either her mother or her maternal grandmother, and an order entered on April 28, 2011, denying plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. Among other things, plaintiff contends that her right to due process was violated because the child's maternal grandmother was not a party to the action, and the court failed to conduct a proper evidentiary hearing. Plaintiff also contends that the court failed to conduct a best-interests-of-the-child analysis and failed to make adequate findings to justify its custody determination. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
On January 24, 2011, when she was a junior in high school, Allison went to her father's residence in Brooklyn, New York, and refused to return to her home in Plainfield where she resided with her mother, stepfather, and siblings. At that time, Allison was a member of the National Honor Society, a class officer, and the number one student in her class.
Plaintiff filed for custody on January 26, 2011, and defendant counterclaimed for residential custody. In his counterclaim, defendant stated: "[Allison] suffers verbal abuse and threats from her stepfather. The mother has left the child rearing up to him. My daughter wants to live with me."
The parties appeared in court on February 17, 2011. During an informal hearing, plaintiff expressed her desire to have her daughter returned to her care and custody. Plaintiff also indicated that she wanted the family to participate in counseling to deal with "regular family problems" because Allison believed that she should not "have to do chores or . . . watch her brother and sister." Defendant, on the other hand, withdrew his request for custody. He informed the court that Allison would prefer to live with her maternal grandmother in Plainfield because Allison did not want to transfer to a different high school.
With the parties' consent, the court then interviewed Allison in chambers. During the interview, Allison confirmed that she wanted to reside with her maternal grandmother:
So I'm staying with my . . . grandmother and I'll just continue in school. But it's like I just don't like the way they treat me. Like, they're always hollering at me. They don't listen to me. My stepfather, he says stuff like, "I'll kick you out of bed."