Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Is it child abuse to leave your child in the car seat, in a locked car, while you run a quick errand?

The New Jersey Appellate Court said yes to that question, in certain circumstances.  Read the opinion here.

Grandparents' and Siblings' Rights in New Jersey

In a tragic New Jersey case, the appellate court reversed a trial court decision to dismiss a Grandparents' Complaint for Custody time with their child.  The Appellate Division approved the opinion for publication, which means it can be cited and has precedential value.  You can read the entire opinion here: R.K. and A.K. versus D.L., Jr.  The 55 page opinion, while lengthy, provides an excellent review of the New Jersey law in this area and is a must read for anyone embarking on litigation concerning a grandchild.

In this case, the Maternal Grandparents sued their son-in-law, the Father of their grandchild, Olga, for the right to have contact with their grandchild.  Olga's Mother had recently died.  Mother and Father had been married.  When they divorced, the court awarded custody of Olga, and her younger infant brother, to Mother, who resided with Maternal Grandparents.  Mother had a history of drug addiction so the Maternal Grandparents provided support and assistance to Mother in the raising and caring of the two children.  While Father still saw the children, he remained bitter that, considering Mother's history of drug abuse, the trial court still made her primary residential parent.

Only a few months after the trial court awarded Mother of the two children, the parties' infant son, Charles, drowned in a koi pond on the property, after managing to slip out of the house unnoticed and falling into the one foot deep pond.  After this devastating incident, Father sued for primary custody of Olga, alleging that Mother and Maternal Grandparents were incapable of caring for her.  Again, his request was denied by the trial court.

About six (6) years later, Mother was diagnosed with a "heart valve problem" and ended up in the hospital for a month.  Father then took custody of Olga but did not allow her to visit her mother even once during the month long stay.  Mother died at the end of the month.

Olga, who by now was twelve (12) years old, remained in Father's custody after Mother's death.  Over the next year or so, Father permitted Olga to call Maternal Grandparents only nine (9) times before cutting off all communication whatsoever.  Father believed he was justified because he felt Maternal Grandparents, as well as Mother when she was alive, placed Olga in danger and abused and neglected her.

Grandparents finally filed a Complaint for Grandparent Visitation.  Unfortunately, after a number of procedural anomalies, the trial court eventually dismissed Grandparents' Complaint, without a full hearing.  As spelled out in the opinion, the Appellate Court reversed the decision and sent it back to the trial court to give Grandparents and opportunity for a full hearing.

This family's sad tale of loss and ensuing bitterness resulted in a completely fractured relationship wherein Father cut off communication with his child's Grandparents while she was still dealing with the unexpected loss of her Mother at such a young age.  Notably, this child had also suffered the loss of her young brother. In the midst of all of this devastation, the legal battle ensued.  By now, both parties have undoubtedly spent significant sums on the litigation --- and they have not even gotten to the trial stage.

Most lawyers, when faced with grandparent cases, first attempt to work out some type of a resolution without the need for court intervention.  Because the families are usually so fractured, litigation is the last thing they need.  However, when attempts at an amicable solution do not result in an agreement, the parties are left with the expense, uncertainties and pain of litigation.  Notably, even though we have a statute on the subject in New Jersey, a grant of visitation to grandparents is not automatic.  Likewise, a parent, despite the autonomy inherent in that role, cannot always prevent a grandparent from obtaining visitation time.  The best first step, if you find yourself in this situation, is to understand the law and consult with an attorney who can explain the process and the strengths and weaknesses of your case.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How much can you afford to pay in rent?

Separation and divorce often means moving and possibly renting a new place, even if only temporarily. What other expenses should be in your budget besides rent?  One of my favorite websites, Apartment Therapy, posted a great article today:  What Rent Can You Really Afford?  Budgeting for Extra Monthly Costs.



Friday, January 03, 2014

Divorce through the eyes of a child

Henry James published his novel about a young daughter caught in the crossfire between warring parents,  What Maisie New, in 1897.  Hollywood updated the story and set it in modern day Manhattan in the film version of What Maisie Knew.  While the parents in this story are sensationally irresponsible and unkind, any parent going through a separation or a divorce might see themselves in the story, even if only a little bit.

Here is the movie trailer: