In a typical New Jersey divorce, when parents fight over issues of child custody and parenting time, it’s because each parent wants to spend more time with his or her child than the other parent wants to allow. But what happens when the non-custodial parent refuses to see the child, even though both the child and the custodial parent want to foster and develop that important relationship?
Conventional wisdom and judicial practice has long been that a New Jersey court cannot force a non-custodial parent to take an interest in the child.
However, in the unreported case of R. R. vs. L.A.C., a New Jersey trial court examined its own authority “to fulfill a Child’s request to hug and see her Father.”
The facts of the case are heartbreaking. The mother and father had a tumultuous and troubled relationship, living separate and apart throughout most of the marriage. When they did live together, they didn’t get along and argued. The parties’ daughter, Gabriela, was then 15 years old and in the 8th grade. She had no recollection of her father or their parents’ troubled relationship. Present in the courtroom for her parent’s divorce, Gabriela asked the Court whether she could see her father and give him a hug.
The Judge closed the proceeding and spoke with the girl’s parents. Gabriela’s father expressed concern about seeing his own daughter, stating that he wasn’t ready and that he needed help to address his own issues. The Court helped the Father find low-cost counseling and a program designed to educate him in fathering skills, and directed him to participate in both of these things. In a very unusual step, the Court also directed the Father to call his daughter frequently and see her weekly.
At the end of the proceeding, Gabriela was brought back into the Courtroom to see her father. The two embraced and shared their first hug in many years, tears streaming down both of their faces.
It is not often the case that a divorce results in such a positive outcome. Perhaps we can all learn something from the courage of this 15 year old girl and the Judge who inspired to do the unconventional to reunite her with her father.
Salvaggio Law Group devotes its entire practice to New Jersey Divorce and Family Law matters. If you want to talk, please call me at (973) 455-1220 or fill out the Contact Form on my firm’s website.