According to the recent decision of the New Jersey appeals court in S.L.R. v. M.J. P., the answer is “no.
A child’s refusal to attend parenting time with a non-custodial parent is one of the most difficult issues faced by New Jersey Family Court Judges. While each Judge may handle the situation differently, the Appellate Division in S.L.R. v. M.J.P. made it clear that the Judge can’t simply ignore a teenage child’s preference.
In that case, the parties had been divorced in 2002. Two of their daughters lived with their mother and, as of 2013, were 17 and 13 years old.
The girls’ father filed a Motion to enforce his existing court-ordered parenting time rights, after receiving a letter from the mother’s attorney, who advised him that the girls had decided that they would no longer attend parenting time with him because his anger upset them, they objected to his restrictions on them, and he micromanaged his parenting time with them.
The girl’s mother opposed that Motion and asked the Court to interview the two girls to better understand the reasons for their objection to spending time with their father.
The New Jersey Family Court Trial Judge denied the mother’s request for the interview, reasoning that it would be inappropriate to put the children in the middle of their parents’ dispute. The Judge also directed the mother to ensure that the children attend the court-ordered parenting time with their father. The Judge believed that the father and the daughters should work out any issues “with no interference from mom.”
The Appellate Division disagreed, finding that the Trial Judge had failed to consider the genuine issues raised by the mother’s Certification as to the father’s behavior with the girls. It therefore remanded the case back to the Trial Judge for further proceedings, to determine whether there were changed circumstances that would warrant a modification of the father’s parenting time with his daughters.
If your children are refusing to spend time with your former spouse, you need the help of an experienced New Jersey divorce attorney who is familiar with the law about parenting time in New Jersey.
Salvaggio Law Group LLC devotes its entire practice to New Jersey Divorce and Family Law matters, including parenting time issues.
If you want to talk, please call us at (973) 455-1220 or fill out the Contact Form on our website.