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Lucarella v. Lucarella

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

August 23, 2013

ANN MARIE LUCARELLA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
NICHOLAS LUCARELLA, Defendant-Respondent.


Submitted March 4, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-13-0243-00.

Law Office of Edward Fradkin, LLC, attorneys for appellant (Stephanie M. Lombardi, on the briefs).

Law Offices of Peterson and Book, attorneys for respondent (Warren L. Peterson, on the brief).

Before Judges Sabatino and Maven.


Plaintiff Ann Marie Lucarella (mother) appeals from a Family Part order issued on November 4, 2011, which granted defendant Nicholas Lucarella (father) unsupervised parenting time, denied her request for the release of certain confidential records, and ordered her attorney removed from representing her in this post-judgment proceeding. We affirm.

This is the latest appeal involving this divorced couple and their continuing parenting time issues. The following is a brief recount of the relevant facts. As noted in prior opinions, pursuant to the parties' final judgment of divorce, the parties agreed to joint custody of their three children and mother was designated as the parent of primary residence.

A June 2002 post-judgment order granted mother sole legal and physical custody, and restricted father to supervised parenting time with no overnight visits.[1] During the ensuing years, 2002 through 2011, father was indicted and tried for, but not convicted of, attempted murder of his former matrimonial attorney. There were multiple motions in the Family Part by father seeking to lift the restrictions, and by mother objecting due to his allegedly continual inappropriate conduct and failure to follow the visitation rules. The trial court issued a series of orders addressing these matters. Our prior decisions have affirmed the trial court's constraints on father's parenting time with his sons.[2]

After three years of no contact with the children and following the dismissal of the criminal charges in 2011, father began to attend his supervised visits with his fifteen-year-old twin sons at the Healing Hearts Supervised Visitation Program[3](Healing Hearts) under the supervision of Richard F. Ponton, Ph.D., Director of Department of Human Services for the Township of Ocean. However, after six one-hour sessions, father was terminated from the program for poor and inappropriate behavior in September 2011.

Jessie Kauffmann, MSW, LSW, a Healing Hearts social worker and case supervisor, submitted the four-visit report on August 26, 2011. She first noted that the "purpose of the supervised sessions was to monitor the interaction of the parent and child[ren] for the purpose of facilitating positive communication and a nurturing relationship." She then reported that during the first visit on August 4, the boys and father were observed with tears in their eyes as they hugged, and father was appropriate in helping the boys address their concerns. During the second visit August 10, one of the sons reported that mother's paramour (who was also her attorney) called him names and touched him in a forceful manner. Dr. Ponton reported this accusation to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and mother. There were two more visits on August 15 and 22. Kauffman reported that all of the interactions she observed between the father and the boys during these visits were appropriate and positive, and there is no negative, emotional or physical indication that visitation needed to remain therapeutic.

Thereafter, Dr. Ponton wrote a letter, dated September 30, 2011, to the judge confirming the program's observations that the interactions between the father and the twins were "warm and engaging." He expressed, among other things, that the program had no concern about the safety of the boys or about parental abduction, and he had no direct concerns with visitation and the continuity of the father-child contact. Dr. Ponton, however, was particularly concerned with father's disruptive behavior and reaction in response to learning that restrictions on the visitation would not be lifted as he had anticipated. Based on Dr. Ponton's review of the session transcripts and video showing father's disrespectful conversations with the counselor and Kauffman, as well as his expressed negative attitude about the program, Dr. Ponton determined that "continuation of the visits at this site is not in the best interest of anyone involved." Dr. Ponton ultimately stated that he "see[s] no reason to continue supervised visitation" and that he believed "it is in the best interest of the children to resolve this matter quickly so as not to disrupt the continuity of contact between the father and sons."

After the discharge, in October 2011, mother filed an application with the court seeking the release of the records and video from Healing Hearts, and copies of any DCF reports and records pertaining to the family. A week later, father filed an Order to Show Cause (OTSC) seeking unsupervised parenting time and requesting the removal of mother's attorney from the case.[4]Father's motion for unsupervised parenting time cited, as changed circumstances, that the boys were much older, he had been acquitted of ...

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