As a New Jersey divorce lawyer for nearly twenty years, I know firsthand that the courts strive to always get the right outcome for every case. However, just because the outcome might be correct does not always necessarily mean that it is fair to all parties. While the New Jersey family court system does work strenuously to provide fairness to all parties in a divorce proceeding, it is a difficult task. One particular situation in which fairness is always tough to rule on is when a divorcing couple starts to bring around new partners in front of the children. If mom decides she is going to bring Joe over for dinner with the children, shouldn’t dad be entitled to bring Sally home too? What can be even more complicated is when one parent tries to prohibit the other parent’s new significant other from being around the kids point blank.. Recently in the case of Krenicki v. Krenicki, an unreported Superior Court case, the judge was faced with a similar situation to the one described above. Let’s explore.
In Krenicki, the parties were married in 1996 and divorced in 2007. Two daughters were born of the marriage. The plaintiff mother had primary physical custody of the children upon the divorce. In May of 2012, the defendant father applied for an order to show cause requiring the plaintiff to stop living with her boyfriend D.C. The defendant certified that he had hired a private detective to investigate the situation between his former wife and her new supposed lover. While on the job, the investigator discovered that D.C. had been previously charged with, and served jail time, for countless drug-related offenses. Furious when told this news, the defendant petitioned the court for the order so that the plaintiff would cease cohabitation with D.C.
When the plaintiff learned of this, she counter-argued that she did not have a boyfriend with whom she was cohabitating. She submitted certifications from D.C. to the court recognizing his past drug addiction and legal complications; however, in those certifications D.C. claimed that he was drug-free and rehabilitated for years. After reviewing the facts presented, the judge ordered a social investigation by the Bergen County Probation Department. Temporary restraints were placed on the plaintiff, which forbid unsupervised contact between her boyfriend and her children.
In June of 2012, the judge heard oral argument on the defendant’s order to show cause. The defendant wanted the temporary restraints to become permanent so that D.C. could not be around his children. During oral argument, the attorney for the defendant presented to the court that D.C.’s record revealed five drug related arrests and seven driving under the influence charges, two of which took placed after his so called rehabilitation. After hearing the oral arguments, the judge concluded that D.C. did have lingering substance abuse issues and therefore was forbidden to be alone with the defendant’s children. However, the judge also inquired into the defendant’s personal life. Given the fact that he too had begun seeing someone after the divorce, the judge felt that it was only fair to impose the same restrictions on the defendant’s girlfriend as he had imposed on D.C. The judge stated that he was “going to be fair. She’s not going to be alone with the children either because I’m going to be fair to both of you.”
Shocked by the judge’s ruling, the defendant appealed. He argued that the judge’s decision to restrict his girlfriend from being alone with his children was ungrounded and not based on any findings of fact. On appeal, the court reversed. It stated that “the special jurisdiction and expertise of the family court requires that we defer to factual determinations if they are supported by adequate, substantial, and credible evidence in the record.” The motion judge clearly stated that she had no factual information about the defendant’s girlfriend and was therefore making an ungrounded decision. For this reason, is was only equitable to reverse the decision and to permit the defendant’s girlfriend to spend time with the children unsupervised.
While this case does not establish a precedent in this area of New Jersey divorce law, it clearly illustrates the dilemma’s the courts are constantly faced with. It is the role of the courts to be equitable and fair, but sometimes recognizing what is actually fair can be a difficult task. For more legal questions on introducing your children to a new girlfriend or boyfriend, please do not hesitate to contact my office today. Thank you.