Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Jersey Supreme Court
New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Svcs. v. J.G.
A father, J.G., was incarcerated six months after the birth of his daughter. He was released five years and four months later, while a guardianship trial was in progress. The birth mother surrendered her rights in favor of her own mother. J.G. appealed the termination of his parental rights to the daughter. The trial court found that the Division of Youth and Family Services failed to prove its case for termination of the father’s rights by clear and convincing evidence. The majority of the Appellate Division panel reversed and entered judgment in favor of the Division. Judge Jonathan Harris dissented, agreeing with the trial court's conclusions drawn from factual findings. Upon careful consideration of the facts presented at trial, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Appellate Division majority, reinstated the judgment of the trial court, and remanded the case to the Family Part for further proceedings. View "New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Svcs. v. J.G." on Justia Law
Emma v. Evans
The divorced parents in this case had a dispute over changing their children's surname. Within months of the divorce, the husband discovered that the wife had modified the children’s surname from Emma to Evans-Emma on school and health-care records. He filed a motion seeking an order to prevent the use of the name Evans-Emma. The wife then filed a cross-motion seeking to change the children’s surname from Emma to Evans. The trial court denied the husband's request and granted the wife's. The appellate panel gave great weight to the fact that the parents agreed to joint legal custody, noting that such custody requires parents to share the responsibility of making major child-rearing decisions. In the panel’s view, the decision to change a child’s name was a significant matter that required, at a minimum, an attempt to agree. The panel reversed the trial court’s order and remanded for consideration of the wife's name-change request based on the best-interests-of-the-child standard without a presumption in her favor. After its review, the Supreme Court held that the party seeking to alter the surname jointly given to the child at birth bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the change is in the child’s best interest. Irrespective of whether the parents were married at the time of the child’s birth, the best-interests-of-the-child test should be applied in a renaming dispute without a presumption in favor of the custodial parent’s decision to change the jointly given surname of the child. View "Emma v. Evans" on Justia Law
N.J. Dep’t of Children & Families, Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. I.S.
I.S. and E.S. are the divorced biological parents of twin girls. Following a series of reported events, I.S. admitted she was overwhelmed and needed help, and acknowledged the children needed placement in a residential facility where they could receive medical supervision and intensive counseling. In 2007, the Division of Youth and Family Services conducted an emergency removal and sought custody of the twins. The trial court concluded that the Division failed to establish I.S. abused or neglected the children, but because she could not protect them from injury, the court ordered the twins' placement in a residential facility. Though the court found no evidence of abuse or neglect, it ultimately granted sole custody to one of the girls prior to E.S., and sole custody of the other to I.S. I.S. appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division judgment awarding E.S. custody to one of the twins. The Court reversed the trial court's order to the extent that it was based on continued jurisdiction under N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.50(c). View "N.J. Dep't of Children & Families, Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. I.S." on Justia Law
In an issue of first impression for the Supreme Court, the issue on appeal involved the precise standard that must be met to compel genetic testing to prove parentage when there is a presumed father. In April 2006, Richard and Diane's marriage apparently was going through a rough period. The two eventually filed for divorce. Richard discovered on Diane’s phone "some inappropriate text messages" from her then "current boyfriend." Richard confronted Diane believing that the messages were about "Mark," the son Richard presumed was his. The next day, Diane began "crying out loud" and stated, "I am sorry for what I did to you 20 years ago." By November 2006, when Diane moved out of the marital home, Richard began to notice that Mark did not look like him. At some later point, Diane admitted to Richard that she had sexual relations with "Donald" in the latter part of the summer of 1986. Mark was born in 1987. With his suspicions raised about Mark's paternity, Richard purchased a home DNA testing kit. At the time, Mark was battling alcohol and drug abuse problems. Richard made it clear to Mark that he had to remain clean while living under his roof, and under that guise had Mark provide a DNA sample, which he then submitted to a laboratory for paternity testing. In January 2007, Richard received the results, which revealed that Mark was not his biological son. Coinciding with Richard's May 2007 motion to compel genetic testing as part of his parentage action against Donald, Richard and Mark's relationship began to deteriorate. By April 2009, Richard and Mark had no relationship at all. At the same time, Mark had a good relationship with Donald – his "uncle" and putative biological father. The divorce and paternity actions also strained Richard's relationship with his daughter with Diane. All in all, a once intact family unit was totally fractured. With this family history as a backdrop, Richard, Diane, and Mark each gave testimony at a hearing to determine whether genetic testing should be ordered. The family court rejected Richard's request for the testing. The trial court found Richard failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the testing was in the best interests of Mark, and disagreed that Richard had a right to know Mark's paternity. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Donald's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Richard's third-party paternity action. Richard then appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the trial court nor the Appellate Division referenced the applicable statutory provision that addressed the circumstances that warrant an order of genetic testing when parentage is in doubt. "Event under the most generous view of the facts from Mark or Diane's perspective, there is an absence of good cause to deny genetic testing." View "D.W.v. R.W." on Justia Law
In the Interest of A.D.
This case required the Court to address the standard to be applied by Family Part judges when they determine whether the prosecution has demonstrated probable cause under N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26(a)(2). It arose from a 2009 shooting in which one victim was killed and one seriously injured, allegedly by a group of men led by Angel Ramos, the father of one of the two juveniles in this case -- A.D. #1. Ramos was alleged to be a leader in a street gang. The incident closely followed a fight in which A.D. #1 and A.D. #2 were beaten by an uncle of A.D. #2 and others. According to the prosecution, the two juveniles, motivated by a desire for revenge following the fight, contacted A.D. #1's father and participated in a conspiracy to murder A.D. #2's uncle and others, precipitating an assault in which the targeted uncle was unhurt, but another uncle of A.D. #2 was killed and A.D. #2's mother was severely wounded. The two juveniles, both approaching their eighteenth birthdays, were charged with murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy and attempted murder, among other offenses. The trial court denied the prosecution's application to waive the juveniles into adult criminal court, concluding that the State had not demonstrated probable cause under N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26(a)(2). It found "no evidence" that the two juveniles had understood that their response to the fight would lead to murder. The State appealed, and an Appellate Division panel reversed the determination of the trial court, holding that the trial court had committed several legal errors in its application of the probable cause standard to the setting of this case. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division's decision: "the probable cause standard that governs waiver of juvenile complaints into adult criminal court under N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26 is similar to the standard that guides a grand jury's determination whether or not to indict. If the trial court finds that the State has presented evidence which, combined with reasonable inferences to be drawn from that evidence, leads to a well-grounded suspicion or belief that the juvenile has committed one or more crimes enumerated in the statute, the "probable cause" standard of N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-26 is satisfied. " View "In the Interest of A.D." on Justia Law
New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Services v. F.M.
Defendant F.M. (Fernanda) appealed the termination of her parental rights to her now five-year-old daughter, Quinn, and four-year-old son, Troy, Jr. Both children were born of a relationship between Fernanda and T.J. (Troy). The family court found that Troy had committed an act of domestic violence against Fernanda, had an intractable drug-addiction problem, and suffered from mental illness that induced delusional thoughts that he was God. On this basis, the court considered Troy a danger to the physical well-being of the children. The termination of Fernanda's parental rights was premised on the court's findings that she was incapable and unwilling to protect her children from the dangers presented by Troy. The court barred Troy from having unsupervised contact with Quinn, the only child born of their relationship at the time. In violation of court orders and earlier consent agreements with the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), Fernanda allowed Troy to have access to Quinn in her home. Fernanda's inability to shield Quinn from her father led to the child's removal from the home and later to the removal of Troy, Jr. after his birth. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that because Fernanda never raised any objection to "care or custody" before the family court, she was barred from doing so on appeal based on laches. Furthermore, the Court upheld the family court's determination to terminate Fernanda's parental rights, deferring to the lower court's findings as adequately supported by the record. View "New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Services v. F.M." on Justia Law
Segal v. Lynch
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case concerned the nature and extent of fees that may be recovered from a litigant in a matrimonial dispute by an individual who has been appointed to serve as a parenting coordinator. More specifically, the Court addressed the circumstances under which and the basis upon which a litigant who raises a grievance against the parenting coordinator may be called upon to answer for fees incurred by the parenting coordinator in responding to a grievance; in resisting discovery demands relating to the grievance; in participating in discovery about the grievance; in pursuing enforcement of a fee award in the trial court; and in participating in the appellate process. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division to the extent that it affirmed the trial court's order awarding fees to the parenting coordinator for her work responding to the grievances and to the extent that it affirmed the trial court's rejection of the husband's argument that he was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his grievances; in all other respects the judgment of the Appellate Division was reversed. View "Segal v. Lynch" on Justia Law
Gere v. Louis
Defendant Frank A. Louis, Esq. represented Plaintiff Julia Gere in connection with Plaintiff's divorce from Peter Ricker. Pursuant to the property settlement agreement, Plaintiff had a six month window, which ended in October 2000, to decide how she wished to proceed with respect to the parties' ancillary real estate investments. Plaintiff's understanding was that she would retain a one-half interest in those assets unless she affirmatively advised Ricker within six months that she did not wish to do so. One of those assets was Navesink Partners, which owned both the real estate and business operations of a marina. Based on Louis's interpretation of Plaintiff’s wishes after a discussion with her friend, Louis sent a letter dated October 11, 2000, to Ricker's attorney stating, "this will confirm that except for the Marina, Mrs. Ricker wishes to maintain one-half interest in all other properties." Subsequently, a dispute arose in which Ricker maintained that Plaintiff had waived any interest in Navesink Partners, and Plaintiff contended that she did not waive her interest, that she wanted to continue her ownership interest in the marina's real estate, and that she was entitled to fair value for her interest in the marina's business operations. Plaintiff ultimately sued Louis for malpractice over the purported waiver of her interests in the marina property. The issue before the Supreme Court on appeal was whether "Puder v. Buechel" (183 N.J. 428 (2005)) barred Plaintiff's malpractice action against her former attorney and whether that claim was time-barred. The appellate division affirmed the trial court decision that Plaintiff indeed was time barred, and that she voluntarily entered into a settlement agreement regarding the marina property which she testified was "fair and reasonable." Upon review, the Supreme Court found Plaintiff's case was materially distinguishable from "Puder," and that her legal malpractice claim was not barred.
J.D. v. M.D.F.
In 2006, Plaintiff J.D. and Defendant M.D.F. terminated a long-term relationship that resulted in the birth of two children. J.D. continued to live in the house the parties had purchased, along with the children, and she became involved in a new relationship with a boyfriend, R.T. In 2009, J.D. filed a domestic violence complaint. The complaint alleged that J.D. and R.T. observed M.D.F. outside of J.D.’s residence to harass her. When asked about the incident, M.D.F. requested that R.T. be sequestered and that he be given an opportunity to question him. After the court sequestered R.T., M.D.F. did not deny that he had gone to the residence and had taken pictures, but claimed that his purpose was not harassment, but to obtain evidence to support a motion to transfer custody. The court found that line of attack irrelevant and, without allowing M.D.F. to question R.T., granted a Final Restraining Order. As explained by the court, M.D.F. conceded that he had been taking pictures and, in light of the nature of the earlier incidents, his acts constituted harassment. The Appellate Division affirmed in an unpublished opinion. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether M.D.F.'s due process rights were violated during the proceedings that resulted in the Final Restraining Order. The Court found that the trial court failed to sufficiently articulate its findings and conclusions, and the record contained insufficient evidence to sustain the Final Restraining Order. The Court remanded the case to the trial court for a re-hearing to protect M.D.F.’s due process rights and to permit the trial court to evaluate the testimony and the evidence.
Division of Youth & Family Services v. R.D.
This appeal arose from the termination of Defendant R.D.âs parental rights to his two youngest children. In November 2004, defendantâs adult step-daughter reported to the New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services (DYFS) that defendant had been sexually molesting one of her step-sisters. A DYFS investigation resulted in the emergency removal and temporary foster care placement of the children. DYFS filed a complaint, and the Chancery Division issued an order to show cause for protective services, determining that removal was necessary to avoid an ongoing risk to the children. On the return date, the court reaffirmed its determinations and scheduled a fact-finding hearing, noting that the burden of proof "is preponderance of the evidence or clear and convincing" evidence. The court eventually concluded that it was in the children's best interests to place them outside the home. After further proceedings, the Title Nine court determined that termination of parental rights followed by adoption was an appropriate plan because defendant had failed to complete services, and thus there continued to be a risk of harm to the children. Defendant never appealed the Title Nine courtâs determinations. The central issue in this appeal was whether determinations made in the adjudication of an abuse or neglect proceeding under Title Nine can be given collateral estoppel effect in a later guardianship/termination of parental rights proceeding under Title Thirty. The Supreme Court held that unless the parties are on notice that Title Nine abuse or neglect proceedings are to be conducted under the "clear and convincing" evidence standard constitutionally required for guardianship/termination of parental rights proceedings under Title Thirty and appropriate accommodations are made for the fundamentally different natures of these proceedings, Title Nine determinations cannot be given preclusive effect in later Title Thirty proceedings.