Something happened today that has happened only once before in my 33 years of law practice, and it stands for why I chose to practice law in the first place.
A parent of a 13 year old came to me a few months ago stating that her ex husband was physically and emotionally abusing the child – the same way he had abused the mother when they were married. The mother is the primary custodial parent and lives with the child in New York. The father resides in Central Jersey and sees the child on alternating weekends.
The child has been acting out for several months, has been self mutilating, and threatens harm to the mother and herself. The father’s interaction with the daughter is clearly a big part of the problem.
The father filed a court application to change custody and alternatively to enforce his parenting time weekends. The mother cross-filed to suspend the father’s parenting time pending court review, based largely on a certification from a treating psychiatrist for the daughter that further father-daughter interactions were putting the child at serious risk of physical and emotional harm.
Both parties also filed emergency applications, even before the regular motions could be heard. In response to both Orders to Show Cause, the trial court ordered continued father-daughter parenting time, despite the psychiatrist’s certification, which was clear as a bell.
My office today filed an emergency appeal, seeking Appellate Division intervention to stop the father-daughter parenting time this weekend (yes, it is Father’s Day weekend), based upon the likelihood of irreparable harm and the probability of success on the merits. The regular motions will be considered next week. We were worried about what could happen this weekend, without the possibility for judicial intervention or review.
The Appellate Division emergent judge said “No”.
So we filed an emergency appeal to the NJ Supreme Court. At 7 p.m. this evening, Justice Albin, for the court, REVERSED the Appellate Division and suspended the father’s parenting time, pending trial court review next week.
Fifteen years ago, I filed a similar application on behalf of a deserving litigant in similar circumstances. The trial and appellate courts there had also said no, and one Supreme Court Justice changed the result, just like that.
Lightning struck twice.
We have to be thankful for a system with multiple checks and balances, and for the independence of the judiciary of this State. We also have to celebrate when the system works, because there are lots of times when it doesn’t.