On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FM-07-1542-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sabatino and Ashrafi.
In this post-divorce appeal, plaintiff L.S., formerly L.C., ("plaintiff" or "the mother") appeals from orders of the Family Part dated December 22, 2010, and August 1, 2011, that modified the parenting time arrangements for the parties' three children. She argues that the court violated her due process rights by increasing the parenting time of defendant V.C. ("defendant" or "the father") and by changing the residential custody status of two of the children without holding an evidentiary hearing. We disagree that the Family Part violated plaintiff's rights and affirm the orders.
The case has a troubling history. The parties were married in 1999, separated in 2005, and divorced in 2007. They have two daughters, now ages twelve and nine, and one son, age seven. Since the parties' separation, the older daughter has adamantly rejected having a relationship with her father. The other two children have more normal relationships with both parents in the midst of a highly disputatious divorce, but they, too, have exhibited negative effects of the hostility between their parents.
The father has sought to rehabilitate his relationship with the older daughter through therapy and reunification strategies, but those efforts have been unsuccessful so far. The mother states that she wants her children to have better relationships with their father, but she is immutably distrustful of him, and anyone else who does not view the situation as she does and therefore has sided with him in plaintiff's eyes. Plaintiff accuses her ex-husband of domestic violence against her and reports judicial support of that accusation, although a final adjudication of domestic violence was never entered. A temporary restraining order that she obtained at the time of their separation was dismissed after a contested hearing.
She also accuses him of physical abuse of the children, but investigations by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) have not resulted in any such finding. Neutral evidence has failed to corroborate the mother's accusations, including video recordings from security cameras in the father's home and the statements of observers hired for the express purpose of monitoring the father's visits with the older daughter. The father has a history of failing to control his anger, and he has displayed insensitivity to his children's needs and feelings, but the substantial weight of evidence indicates verbal and minor physical excesses by the father, not physically abusive conduct toward the children.
Distressingly, the children are deeply involved in the acrimony and have become active participants in their parents' animosity. They misbehave and are disrespectful and sometimes physically aggressive toward their father. The older daughter has defied her father and then reported physical and verbal abuse that is contradicted by the video evidence and the accounts of third parties. The younger daughter has manifested signs of joining in the older daughter's campaign against her father out of a sense of loyalty to her sister. The boy has misbehaved and shown aggression of various kinds.
The mother's pro se brief on appeal is coherently written, but it is not an appropriate document for purposes of litigation. It is mostly a lengthy diatribe making unfounded accusations of error or corruption against all who do not agree with her. She justifies her singular point of view by the need to protect herself and the children against violence and abuse. But instead of arguing from the record to prove her allegations, she presents a personal narrative of perceived wrongs - by her ex-husband, by her ex-husband's attorneys, by the court-appointed psychologist assigned to evaluate the family and to propose a therapeutic parenting plan, by several other therapists, by the two judges who have heard parts of the case and have both now recused themselves because of actions taken by her, by the retired judge who serves as parenting coordinator, by the guardian ad litem assigned by the court to protect the legal rights of the children, by the professional observers who have been engaged to make certain that the older daughter is not mistreated while in the company of her father, by DYFS which has not substantiated abuse, by the nanny who helps care for the younger children during the father's parenting time, and by the father's father who admittedly slapped the six-year-old boy when he repeatedly called his grandfather a vulgar name containing the f*** word.*fn2
Most of the factual statement in plaintiff's brief is not supported by citation to the record, a requirement of our appellate rules of procedure, R. 2:6-2(a)(4). Where citations to the appendix or transcript appear, they are often references to a phrase or statement taken out of context to mean something that clearly was not meant when the phrase or statement was uttered.
Plaintiff accuses the Family Part judge who entered the orders from which this appeal is taken of being insensitive and biased against her. She argues that a simple reading of the crucial August 1, 2011 hearing transcript demonstrates the judge's bias and his alleged lack of concern for the dire needs of her children. Our reading of the transcript demonstrates just the opposite. Throughout the August 1, 2011 hearing, Judge Troiano showed diligence, concern, fairness, patience, and evenhanded consideration of issues and arguments presented by attorneys for both parties.
Similarly, plaintiff perceives bias by the court-appointed parenting evaluator, David Brodzinsky, Ph.D. She contends that his report is full of omissions and distortions. Our reading of the seventy-nine-page report leads us to a different conclusion. Dr. Brodzinsky documented every piece of evidence he reviewed - a seven-page list of items - and he recounted detailed narratives of every clinical evaluation and every interview he conducted before reaching his conclusions and making his recommendations. Dr. Brodzinsky spoke to at least twenty-two persons who might have some knowledge of relevant facts about this family. Besides evaluating the parties and the children through extensive personal contact as well as the study of recorded information, he spoke to the family's therapists, the professional observers of the father's parenting time, family members of both parties, the nanny, school personnel, and persons as far removed from the divorce case as the children's dentist and their karate teacher. Our reading of Dr. Brodzinsky's report indicates an exhaustively detailed account of the doctor's findings, comprehensively explained conclusions and recommendations, and no favoritism in assessing the parents' joint responsibility for the family's troubles.
Plaintiff's accusations against the retired judge who has been engaged by the parties to serve as parenting coordinator are particularly vituperative. Both parties originally consented to have the retired judge serve as parenting coordinator and they agreed that the father would pay his fees. Yet as events developed and the parenting coordinator did not adopt her views, plaintiff began and has ...