Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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In this appeal, the issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was one of first impression: whether an indigent parent who faces termination of her parental rights in a contested private adoption proceeding has a right to appointed counsel. "Because of the nature of the right involved - the invaluable right to raise a child - and the risk of an erroneous outcome without the help of an attorney, we hold that indigent parents are entitled to appointed counsel in a contested private adoption matter under the due process guarantee of the State Constitution." View "In the Matter of the Adoption of a Child by J.E.V. & D.G.V." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Peter Innes and his wife, Maria Jose Carrascosa, were involved in a contentious divorce and custody battle over their daughter Victoria. Innes was a citizen of the United States; Carrascosa was a Spanish national and a permanent resident of New Jersey. Victoria was a dual citizen of the United States and Spain. During the course of their domestic relations litigation, the parties entered into an agreement whereby Carrascosa's attorneys would hold Victoria's United States and Spanish passports in trust to restrict travel outside of the United States with Victoria without written permission of the other party (the Agreement). Carrascosa discharged her first attorney and retained defendants Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, Esq., and Lesnevich & Marzano Lesnevich, Attorneys at Law. Defendant Marzano-Lesnevich received Carrascosa's file, including the Agreement and Victoria's United States passport. In December 2004, Carrascosa obtained Victoria's United States passport from defendants, and used the passport to remove Victoria from the United States to Spain. Innes filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction for Victoria's return to the United States and traveled to Spain for a hearing on the petition. The Spanish court denied the petition and ordered Victoria to remain in Spain until age eighteen. Meanwhile, the parties' domestic relations litigation continued in New Jersey. The Family Part judge entered a judgment of divorce and granted Innes sole legal and residential custody of Victoria. The judgment gave Carrascosa ten days to bring Victoria back to the United States, but Carrascosa failed to comply with the order. Innes filed a complaint in the Law Division against defendants alleging, in part, that they improperly released Victoria's passport and intentionally interfered with the Agreement. Innes requested relief, including damages and attorneys' fees. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted defendants petition for certification, limited to the issue of whether the attorney-defendants could be liable for attorneys' fees as consequential damages to a non-client, and found that yes, defendant attorneys could be held liable for counsel fees if, as trustees and escrow agents for both Innes and Carrascosa, they intentionally breached their fiduciary obligation to Innes by releasing Victoria's United States passport to Carrascosa without Innes' permission. View "Innes v. Marzano-Lesnevich" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-grandparents filed an action under N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1 in the Family Part, seeking an order compelling defendant-mother to allow them periodic visits with their granddaughter. The trial court determined that in their complaint, supplemented by their testimony, plaintiffs failed to present a prima facie showing that the child would be harmed unless visitation were ordered. It found that plaintiffs had improperly instituted litigation before defendant had denied visitation with finality, and dismissed the complaint. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court's determination and remanded for reevaluation of the sufficiency of plaintiffs' complaint. In this appeal, the issue this case presented for the Supreme Court centered on the procedures by which a Family Part judge determines whether a grandparent has made a prima facie showing of harm to the child sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss, and manages the case if it continues beyond the pleading stage. The Supreme Court held that in order to overcome the presumption of parental autonomy, grandparents who bring visitation actions must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that denial of his or her application would result in harm to the child. If the grandparent meets that burden, the presumption in favor of parental decision-making is overcome, and the court sets a visitation schedule in the best interests of the child. In this case, plaintiffs alleged in detail their involvement in their granddaughter's life prior to the death of their son (the child's father) and contended on that basis that their alienation from the child caused her harm. The trial court should have denied defendant's motion to dismiss and given plaintiffs the opportunity to satisfy their burden to prove harm. View "Major v. Maguire" on Justia Law

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In May 2013, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency filed an Order to Show Cause for Care and Supervision of T.E. (Tommy), the six-year-old son of K.N.(mother) and K.E.(father). The Family Part investigated allegations of domestic violence and drug use in Tommy's home and awarded temporary custody of Tommy to the Division. The Division temporarily placed Tommy in the home of his maternal grandmother, where he had been residing for several months, and conducted an on-site evaluation of the home. A later evaluation revealed that Tommy's maternal step-grandfather had been the subject of a domestic-violence complaint, which was dismissed. The Division substantiated the domestic violence claim and determined that the maternal grandparents home could not be licensed under the Resource Family Parent Licensing Act. As a result, the Division removed Tommy from his maternal grandparents' home and placed him with his maternal great aunt who was eligible to be licensed as a resource family parent and receive financial assistance under the Act. At the permanency hearings that followed Tommy s placement with his maternal great aunt, the Law Guardian argued that Tommy should be returned to the home of his maternal grandparents because Tommy was developing attachment issues and experiencing personality changes. The Division maintained that Tommy could not be returned to the home because the maternal step-grandfather had been the subject of a domestic violence complaint that was substantiated by the Division. At the conclusion of the hearings, the Family Part judge ordered the Division to return Tommy to the home of his maternal grandparents and to provide them with the financial assistance available to a resource family parent licensed under the Act. The Division filed an emergent appeal to stay the Family Part s order. The Appellate Division held that the Family Part had the authority to place Tommy with his maternal grandparents, but remanded the matter for further consideration of all relevant statutory and regulatory factors to determine the suitability of the placement. The Supreme Court affirmed, substantially for the reasons expressed in the Appellate Division opinion, that the Family Part judge had the authority to determine that the child s best interests were served by his continued placement with a relative not licensed as a resource family parent under the Act, and that the Family Part judge did not have the authority to compel the Division to pay financial assistance under the Act to a relative not licensed as a resource family parent. However, because the Division returned Tommy to the care and custody of his mother, the Court dismissed as moot the Appellate Division's remand to the Family Part to consider factors relevant to a placement review, including the claim of prior domestic violence involving the maternal step-grandfather. View "New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. K.N." on Justia Law