The right to raise and maintain a relationship with one’s child is a fundamental right. In a recent case before the New Jersey Appellate Division, the court upheld the visitation rights of a father who had not seen his daughter in three years after an allegation of abuse. The mother and father in the case had divorced when the daughter was three years old. According to a settlement agreement, the mother was designated as the parent of primary residential custody, and the father was afforded parenting time.
After the divorce, the mother and father had a difficult relationship and filed several post-judgment motions concerning the father’s parenting time. At some point, there was an allegation that the father had inappropriately touched his daughter. However, law enforcement and the Division of Child Protection and Permanency did not find evidence to support the allegation. The mother later filed a motion for the recusal of the family judge. When the judge then scheduled a hearing, she requested an adjournment and then argued that she had appealed the decision on the motion for recusal and could not appear because the appeal was pending. The mother failed to appear for a scheduled hearing, and in her absence, the judge granted the father supervised parenting time. The court reasoned that the mother’s appeal was deficient because there was no decision on the motion, and thus, her failure to appear was unexcused. The father had filed a request for parenting time more than two years prior. The judge noted that the father and daughter had not seen each other in three years and found that the mother was purposely alienating the daughter from the father.
The mother appealed the decision, and the appeals court upheld the judge’s decision to grant the father supervised parenting time. The court reasoned that New Jersey law “favors visitation” and the right to visitation “is strong and compelling.” The court noted that the allegation against the father was not found to have merit by law enforcement or the courts, and the father and daughter had not seen each other in three years and thus upheld the judge’s decision.