On appeal from the Superior Court on New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-2664-10, and Hudson County, Docket No. FM-09-1722-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued Telephonically November 15, 2012 -
Before Judges Reisner, Yannotti and Hoffman.
In this divorce case, defendant M.S.L. appeals from two interlocutory orders, dated November 19, 2010 and November 30, 2010, awarding custody of the parties' child to plaintiff A.K.L., and from the dual final judgment of divorce (JOD) dated March 11, 2011.*fn1
The orders resulted from a bench trial held before Judge Mary F. Thurber, on eleven days between April 2010 and August 2010. On November 19, 2010, the judge issued an order awarding plaintiff sole custody of the child, for reasons set forth in an oral opinion placed on the record on that date. On March 11, 2011, Judge Thurber issued a comprehensive written opinion setting forth her findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning the divorce judgment, including the custody issue. Having reviewed the record, we find that Judge Thurber's decisions are supported by substantial credible evidence, are consistent with applicable law, and do not represent an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, we affirm the orders on appeal.
The facts are set forth at length in Judge Thurber's opinions and need not be repeated here in the same level of detail. The parties are both immigrants from India and both have family still living there. They were married in 2002.
They have one child, who was born in 2005. They separated in January 2009, and plaintiff filed a divorce complaint in March 2009.
The post-filing events were contentious. In January 2010, A.K.L. sought to take the child with him on a trip to India. M.S.L. filed a motion opposing the trip, claiming that A.K.L. intended to kidnap the child and keep her permanently in India. Although the judge ordered that A.K.L. not take the child on the trip, she later determined that M.S.L. had submitted perjured certifications in support of her motion.
After hearing extensive trial testimony, the judge found that when the child was in M.S.L.'s custody, M.S.L. engaged in a pattern of force-feeding her. The court-appointed expert had opined that if M.S.L. had kept the child at the table for meals longer than a half hour, it would be a matter of concern to him. The judge found that M.S.L. kept the child sitting at the table for hours. Based on her evaluation of witness credibility, the judge found these facts*fn2
The court finds that M.S.L. committed a number of extremely distressing acts related to feeding - force-feeding [A.L.], dumping food on her head, losing control and screaming at her, pulling her hair, cursing at her in English and Hindi, calling her stupid, idiot, slapping her. A.K.L. testified that when [A.L.] was younger (1-2 years old) he witnessed such out-of-control scenes one to two times per month. He stated that he, his mother-in-law ([S.S.]) and their nanny all had to intervene at various times to stop M.S.L. and to help her calm down. M.S.L. did not dispute that she sent A.K.L. an email promising not to hit [A.L.], or that she wrote a note stating "[A.L.] I am deranged, I will hurt you."
At trial M.S.L.'s mother denied ever having seen M.S.L. force-feed [A.L.] However, she had admitted in a taped conversation with A.K.L. that M.S.L. had recently told her ([S.S.]) many of the things she had done and [S.S.] was ...