DENISE QUINN, Plaintiff–Respondent, v. RICHARD QUINN, Defendant–Appellant.
Defendant Richard Quinn appeals from a January 10, 2013 order of the Family Part denying his motion for a parental alienation evaluation and to compel therapy for the parties and their children. We affirm.
By way of background, plaintiff Denise Quinn and defendant were married on August 22, 1986, and have three children: a daughter born in 1994; a son born in 1996; and another daughter born in 1997. They separated in October 2006 when defendant left the marital home and divorced one year later by a final judgment of divorce (FJD) dated October 30, 2007.1 A property settlement agreement (PSA) incorporated into the FJD provides that the parties share joint legal custody of their three children with plaintiff having “sole residential custody” subject to defendant's parenting time.
While the parameters of defendant's parenting time are explicitly set forth, the PSA acknowledges the children's desires and affords them the opportunity for input, especially concerning overnight visitation. Thus, as to the latter, the PSA provides:
Husband's parenting time ․ shall be every other weekend including overnights commencing after school up until 7:30 p.m. on Fridays through 7:00 p.m. on Sundays, only if the children wish to stay at their father's home overnight. In addition, the Husband shall have parenting time during the week (not to be overnight) at any time that the children do not have any planned activities and they wish to spend time with their father. If they do not wish to sleep at their father's home, or any one particular child, or children did not choose to sleep overnight at their father's home, he shall see that child or children during the day of his weekend parenting time. Additionally, the Husband shall have parenting [time] during the summer months to commence at 6:00 a.m. on Fridays on his alternating weekends, if agreed upon by the parties and their children.
[ (Emphasis added).]
The PSA also provides a mechanism and forum for the parties to discuss and address issues concerning their children:
The parties agree to retain Dr. Peter Schild as their parent coordinator to discuss anything concerning their children, the cost to be equally shared between the parties. In the event either party refuses to attend any session with Dr. Schild, that party will forfeit his/her say concerning any particular issue.
Less than eighteen months later, on April 8, 2009, plaintiff obtained a final restraining order (FRO) against defendant, barring defendant from plaintiff's residence and the children's schools, but continuing his parenting time arrangements with his children as per the PSA, with curbside pick-up and drop-off.
According to defendant, since issuance of the FRO on April 8, 2009, his oldest daughter has ceased visiting with him. His son had discontinued visitation after an incident in August 2008 and his youngest daughter apparently never regularly attended parenting time with defendant since the divorce. Believing the children's resistance to visitation is being “fueled and cultivated” by their mother, who, he claims, actively prevented them from communicating with him, on November 14, 2012, defendant filed a motion seeking the appointment of a psychologist to perform a parental alienation evaluation, and to compel the parties and their children to attend individual and family therapy. At the time the motion was filed, the parties' oldest child was eighteen years old and attending college; their son was sixteen years old and their youngest daughter was fifteen years old.
Plaintiff opposed the motion. She denied any attempt on her part to alienate the children from their father and instead attributed their resistance to visitation to defendant's “erratic, aggressive behaviors” towards the family. In addition to claiming no basis for the relief defendant seeks, plaintiff asserts that the PSA allows the children to make their own choices regarding visitation and, being over the age of fifteen, all of them are fully capable of rendering an informed decision in this regard.
Following argument on January 10, 2013, the Family Part judge denied defendant's motion, reasoning:
The Court finds that the parties['] PSA provided Defendant with a method to address the concerns raised by Defendant. In this matter, the Defendant acknowledges that all of the children are clearly angry with him. He believes that their anger stems from Plaintiff's influence over the children. At this juncture Defendant has not provided the [c]ourt with an explanation as to why he has waited so long without invoking any of the general remedies available when the alleged parental alienation by Plaintiff started in 2006. The children are of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision regarding visitation. An evaluation to determine whether there has been alienation does not address the feelings already expressed by the children. Accordingly, Defendant's requests regarding therapy and reunification are denied.
Given the assertions of the Defendant that Plaintiff has engaged in a course of conduct designed to alienate the children, he offers no explanation as to why he has waited so long to seek general remedies. As such, given the passage of time, the age of the children and their acknowledged unwillingness to have a relationship with the Defendant, the relief sought is not only impractical, but unlikely to garner any positive results.
This appeal followed.
Family courts have “special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters”; accordingly, we accord deference to their fact finding. Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 413 (1998); N.H. v. H.H., 418 N.J.Super. 262, 279 (App.Div.2011). Thus, their “findings of fact and conclusions of law ․ will only be disturbed if they are ‘manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence.’ ” Crespo v. Crespo, 395 N.J.Super. 190, 193–94 (App.Div.2007) (quoting Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974)).
Moreover, “we accord great deference to discretionary decisions of Family Part judges.” Milne v. Goldenberg, 428 N.J.Super. 184, 197 (App.Div.2012). Such discretion “ ‘takes into account the law and the particular circumstances of the case before the court.’ ” Ibid. (quoting Hand v. Hand, 391 N.J.Super. 102, 111 (App.Div.2007)). It is “[o]nly when the trial court's conclusions are so ‘clearly mistaken’ or ‘wide of the mark’ ” that we will “intervene and make [our] own findings to ensure that there is not a denial of justice.” N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. E.P., 196 N.J. 88, 104 (2008).
Governed by these standards, we are satisfied that the Family Part judge properly denied defendant's motion to compel family therapy and a parental alienation evaluation. Simply put, defendant has offered no legitimate basis for either form of relief. We therefore affirm substantially for the reasons stated in Judge Andrea G. Carter's written statement of reasons dated January 10, 2013.
1. FN1. A pendente lite order of February 16, 2007, required defendant to undergo random alcohol testing prior to any visitation with the children and further directed that the children have no contact with defendant's paramour during his parenting time.