On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-260-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and Guadagno.
Plaintiff Emran Salahuddin Sheikh appeals from portions of a Family Part order entered December 28, 2011, denying his motion to modify custody and parenting time. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
The parties were married on July 23, 2000. Their only child, a daughter, was born on October 7, 2001. Within days of the child's birth, defendant moved out of the marital home in Missouri, taking the child. While defendant briefly returned, she relocated to Pennsylvania in March 2002. Plaintiff remained in Missouri to complete his medical training and saw his daughter on the average of once a month. The parties were divorced in Pennsylvania on October 19, 2004.
Prior to the divorce, the parties submitted to the first of several extensive psychological evaluations to assist the court in determining custody. The parties agreed with the conclusion of the evaluator, Peter H. Thomas, Ph.D., that the child should remain in the primary physical custody of her mother. They also agreed to a monthly visitation schedule.
In 2004, plaintiff relocated to Brigantine, New Jersey and set up a medical practice in the area. Plaintiff petitioned the Pennsylvania court to modify custody to a shared parenting arrangement. A second evaluation was conducted by Dr. Thomas in November and December 2004, which included a home study and input from a licensed social worker. Dr. Thomas recommended against a shared parenting arrangement as the child was "developing well" and, at her young age, she needed a "primary home base with steady and stable relationships." While Dr. Thomas was "happy" that plaintiff "vigorously approaches his daughter and tries to have more time with her[,]" he found it "destructive" if his "vigorous approach amounts to perpetual conflict."
Less than two years later, with the child approaching her fifth birthday, plaintiff again applied for a change in custody, seeking to be named the primary custodial parent. Dr. Thomas was commissioned again. He conducted an extensive evaluation and a lengthy report ensued. Dr. Thomas did not find an "adequate rationale" for changing residential custody as the child displayed "greater attachment" to her mother. Dr. Thomas concluded:
The overwhelming negative is that [defendant] and [plaintiff] are doing so poorly. This is the third time for this family to be with this evaluator. The dysfunction between mother and father must be addressed.
Plaintiff remarried in 2007 and shortly thereafter he again sought a change in custody. A fourth evaluation was conducted in February 2008. Dr. Thomas concluded that he did not see a reason for a major change in the child's life but noted:
This family has been repeatedly evaluated here. . . . However, repeated court conflicts are counterproductive. In my judgment, [plaintiff] and [defendant] need to accept the basic structure of the program and work to maximize it and to improve cooperation between them, not to keep pursuing efforts to change the basic structure.
On October 30, 2008, a Pennsylvania court entered an order continuing primary physical custody with defendant and providing a detailed visitation schedule.
Defendant remarried in October 2008 and planned to move to Bergen County to be closer to the school her husband was attending. A fifth evaluation was conducted. In a report dated June 8, 2009, Dr. Thomas noted that plaintiff suggested that the defendant's relocation to Bergen County was a "fork in the road" that supported transferring custody to him, as the child was familiar with his neighborhood and would not know anyone in the new location. Dr. Thomas recommended continuing the mother as the custodial parent as she "has always fulfilled this role and [the child] is prospering . . . ." Once ...