Therapeutic Reunification Process in New Jersey
April 26, 2017
In a recent New Jersey appellate case, a father appealed an order that suspended a therapeutic reunification process with his daughters that was being conducted through Skype. The order awarded the defendant’s former wife attorneys’ fees, penalized the defendant with a $10,000 penalty, and required the defendant to give information about his convictions for financial fraud.
The case arose after the parties married in 1999. The defendant was English, and the plaintiff was Canadian. They lived in England until the plaintiff relocated to the United States with their two daughters, who were 17 and 15 at the time of the appellate court’s opinion. The defendant stayed behind in England and was put in jail for 2 1/2 years for financial fraud.
While in prison, the defendant threatened the plaintiff over the telephone. As a result, the court entered a final restraining order under the Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17-to-35. Under the order, the defendant wasn’t permitted to contact the plaintiff or their kids. An amended order was later issued, allowing the defendant to have contact with his kids in letters. Reunification visitation therapy was supposed to start. The result was Skype sessions. The defendant started treatment for psychiatric issues, and a reunification therapist was appointed. The defendant’s mother came to New Jersey to visit the kids once.
In 2014, an expert doctor suggested contact through visits in the U.S., England, or Canada. The United States restricts visitors who have criminal histories, but the defendant didn’t take up the suggestion. The doctor recorded sessions and shared them, but this stopped because the kids expressed their discomfort with photographing.
The mother brought the kids to the expert doctor’s office in 2015 for a Skype visit. The mother talked to the doctor beforehand and told him that the defendant’s therapist had commented he’d seen a recording of a father-daughter Skype session. The session with the expert doctor didn’t take place. The doctor told the court that if the issue had been raised earlier, he would have had time to handle the problem without confusion.
The record was unclear about what had happened and whether the kids refused to visit with the father or the mother decided not to stay. The defendant later said he’d recorded one Skype session because he wanted to show it to this therapist to obtain more detailed feedback on how to interact with the kids.
There was no order in place to stop the defendant recording the session, but he’d done so without consent. He agreed not to record future interactions on Skype. In 2012, the judge had ordered the defendant to give information about his convictions. However, subsequently, the plaintiff kept trying to get more discovery about the defendant’s parole status and the charges. The discovery orders also required the defendant to give information about paperwork he’d provided to get a visa to come to the United States. Nothing in the record indicated the reason for the order, although the plaintiff’s attorney said they were trying to establish whether the defendant was credible.
The judge also didn’t explain why he suspended therapeutic visitation in 2015. The order stated it was in the kids’ best interest. The court also granted the mother’s request that an adverse inference be taken against the father in determining future parenting time. The father’s request that the doctor’s recommendations would have binding authority was denied on the basis that the defendant had violated several past court orders.
The appellate court explained that neither of the judges who entered orders had made findings of fact or law, and it couldn’t see a connection between the defendant’s white collar convictions and his contact with his kids. The court noted that the children had expressed fear and loathing of the father in the appendix that seemed disproportionate to their family history, but even if the father was convicted of a crime, he was entitled to contact with his kids. The court found that the father in this case was entitled to therapeutic reunification visitation.
The court didn’t agree with the father that the court-appointed expert doctor’s recommendations were binding on the court. However, the record didn’t show why these recommendations weren’t accepted after the defendant agreed he wouldn’t record sessions. The court also reversed the ruling on the issue of an adverse inference against the defendant, since the record and precedent didn’t support this order. The 2015 order was reversed, returning the parties to the status quo on visitation prior to it.
If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about your children, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive child custody attorney to seek an appropriate outcome. Contact the lawyers of Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or through our online form. We have attorneys available who can handle all aspects of a divorce.