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Thursday, January 15, 2015

D.A. VS. R.C. A-4030-12T2

D.A. VS. R.C.
In this custody and parenting time case, we reverse the custody order entered by the Family Part and remand for the judge to refer this matter to mediation as required under Rule 5:8-1. The informality that permeated all of the court's interactions with the parties and their respective attorneys precluded the court from adjudicating this hotly disputed custody case, and ultimately undermined the solemnity and decorum necessary for effective courtroom management.
The Family Part judge did not interview the fourteen-year- old boy at the center of this custody dispute, despite allegations that: (1) the custodial parent used excessive corporal punishment and a confrontational parenting style as a means of disciplining the child; and (2) the non-custodial parent regularly exposed the child to domestic violence. Under
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Rule 5:8-6 and N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c), the judge had a duty to interview this teenage boy, or place on the record the reasons for his decision not to interview him.
Finally, the judge entered a final custody order awarding residential custody of this fourteen-year-old boy to each parent on a 50/50 basis, without placing on the record the factual findings and conclusions of law explaining how this decision was in the best interest of this child or how he resolved the conflicting material factual assertions made by the parties in their respective certifications without conducting a plenary hearing, as required by N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(f) and Rule 1:7-4(a).