Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

What Can I Do If My Ex Refuses To Cooperate With Reunification Therapy With My Child?

            Under New Jersey law in a case wherein one parent refuses to cooperate with reunification therapy that has been ordered by a judge of the Family Part, Superior Court of New Jersey, your attorney may seek financial sanctions against the intentionally non-complaint parent.  A court often orders reunification therapy when parental alienation (i.e., when one parent is found to be purposefully “brain-washing” their child’s affection towards their other parent) comes to light.  The lawyers at our law firm in East Brunswick, New Jersey are always aggressive in any child custody case in which our client is the victim of parental alienation as it is not only against our client’s interest but also not in the best interests of the child.  The following is an analysis of a recent case discussing the consequences a parent may face if they fail to comply with court orders or are involved in ongoing parental alienation of the other parent. 

            In Brinkrode v. Brinkrode, the parties were married and had one child born of the marriage.  The parties divorced in 2013 and agreed to share joint legal custody of their child, meaning the parties would make all important decisions together regarding the child’s care.  The parties also agreed that the ex-wife would be the parent of primary residence, meaning the child would live with the ex-wife the majority of the time. 

            After the divorce, the ex-wife began alienating the parties’ child from the ex-husband.  The ex-husband proved alienation in court and the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Part ordered that the parties participate in reunification therapy, which is meant to reunite an alienated parent with his or her child.  The court ordered that the therapy be held with a licensed social worker.  The ex-wife, however, refused to assist with the therapy and declined to sign the retainer agreement required by the therapist.  Therefore, the trial judge entered an order on June 4, 2014 to compel the ex-wife to sign the therapist’s retainer agreement.  The enforcement order also required the ex-wife to split and pay the therapy costs with her ex-husband within three weeks.  The order stated that if the ex-wife failed to comply, she would be charged five dollars per day until she signed the retainer and paid the therapy fees.

            The ex-wife did not comply with the trial judge’s order despite the possibility of sanctions.  Due to the ex-wife’s failure to comply, the ex-husband’s relationship with the parties’ child continued to decline.  On August 27, 2014, the judge enforced the sanctions ordered in the June 4, 2014 order.  The judge also told the ex-wife that the sanctions would increase to $100 per day if she continued to fail to comply with the orders and continued to be uncooperative with the therapy.  Additionally, the ex-wife was now not informing the ex-husband of developments in the child’s life, which she was required to do on a weekly basis.  The trial judge warned the ex-wife that if she continued to defy her obligation to keep the ex-husband informed, she would be faced with sanctions of $250 per day.  The judge also awarded the ex-husband attorney’s fees.

            Despite the threat and enforcement of sanctions, the ex-wife continued to defy the order.  The judge entered another enforcement order on October 10, 2014, and increased the ex-wife’s sanctions to $250 per day and awarded the ex-husband additional attorney’s fees.  The judge allowed the ex-husband to collect the sanctions by reducing the amount out of the ex-husband’s monthly alimony payment to the ex-wife by the amount that the ex-wife owed in sanctions.  The ex-wife then filed a motion with the court for reconsideration of the judge’s order to enforce sanctions.  On January 16, 2015, the judge denied the ex-wife’s motion for reconsideration of the orders.

            On appeal, the ex-wife argued that the sanctions ordered by the trial judge were unfairly burdensome and that the judge ordered the sanctions without considering the ex-wife’s ability to pay.  Also, the ex-wife argued that before the judge ordered sanctions, he should have held a plenary hearing.  A plenary hearing is held when there are issues of material fact and the parties’ testimony is needed to resolve the issues.  The New Jersey Appellate Division agreed with the trial judge and affirmed the trial judge’s decision.

            The Appellate Division stated that its review of the trial judge’s decision to impose sanctions is under an abuse of discretion standard.  The Appellate Division found that the ex-wife purposely and continuously refused to comply with the orders to cooperate with the reunification therapy, which was necessary for the ex-husband to restart parenting time with the parties’ child.  Furthermore, the Appellate Division stated that the trial judge gave the ex-wife ample time to comply with the orders and started out with small monetary sanctions.  The Appellate Division noted that the trial judge warned the ex-wife before imposing larger sanctions, but it quickly became clear that the ex-wife was not going to comply.  The Appellate Division also stated that a plenary hearing was not necessary in this case because there was no dispute of material fact, especially since the ex-wife voluntarily disclosed that she did not comply with the trial judge’s orders.

            Lastly, the Appellate Division stated that the trial judge considered the ex-wife’s ability to pay the daily sanctions and allowed the sanctions to be offset by the ex-husband’s alimony obligation.  The Appellate Division noted that the trial judge’s method was a practical way to deal with the ex-wife’s failure to comply.  Therefore, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the trial court.

       Our law firm is here to help you or a loved one if they a facing a situation of parental alienation.