Cynthia Clark adv. Paul Trembly (2014)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hanan M. Isaacs defended Former Girlfriend (FG) in this unique family matter involving FG, Former Boyfriend (FB), and an adopted child. The couple dated and lived together for over a decade, but never married. At one point, they traveled together to Russia to pick up an identified child for adoption. FG asked FB to adopt the child along with her. FB refused to do so. FG adopted the child on her own. When the child was 4, the parties broke up. However, FG permitted FB visitation time with FG’s adopted son, including overnights and extended vacations overseas. FB was a loyal and dedicated father figure. FB was the only father the child ever knew. FB and the child bonded psychologically and emotionally.

Years later, FB asked FG to consent to his adoption of the child, to which she objected. Our legal research showed that New Jersey case law favored FB’s continued visitation, but not his “forcible” adoption of the child.

An unexpected and recent twist in this case involved our client FG’s becoming medically diagnosed with a progressive and serious debilitating illness, which has rendered her immobilized. FB asserted his rights in court as a psychological parent, which the Family Court acknowledged after a hearing. On a cooperative basis, the parties then engaged the services of medical and psychological experts to assess the probable effects of FG’s medical condition on primary custody and parenting time. The parties determined, with input from the experts and the child – who is almost college age — that it was best for FB to be the child’s primary custodial parent, with FG having supervised parenting time. FG consented to FB’s adoption of the child. The parties’ revised agreement was memorialized and filed as a Consent Order in the Family Court.

This case began with negotiations, moved to litigation, and ended up in a collaborative process that required no further court time. It involved intensive study and dialog with both parties, their extended families, the child, a legal guardian for FG, two creative lawyers, and a supportive Family Court system. It tested the limits of client advocacy in a situation where the child’s best interests diverged from our client’s initially stated “position”. At the end of the day, our client and her legal guardian yielded to the overwhelming evidence that the child’s best interests required a custodial change. The two households and the child have reportedly adjusted well to the change, although FG’s prognosis is not good.