When May I Disclose What Is In A Confidential Custody-Parenting Time Report?

You may disclose aspects of the report only upon a court order or a prior agreement. If it is agreed upon then your attorney would state that both parents consent in a Consent Order signed by a judge of the Family Part, Superior Court of New Jersey. One of many reasons that you should hire a lawyer who only handles family law cases is because of highly technical aspects of New Jersey child custody law such as confidential and/or protective orders. The lawyers at our East Brunswick, New Jersey law firm only handle divorce and family law cases.

In M.P. v. E.S., the parties had one child who was seven years old at the time of the appeal. The parties attempted to resolve disputes related to child support, custody and visitation in the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Part. The Family Part judge ordered that E.S. and the child participate in reunification therapy, which is meant to reconcile a parent and child. The judge also denied E.S.’s request to lift an earlier protective order that restricted the use of the Bergan Family Center’s custody-parenting-time report. E.S. wished to lift the protective order so that he could use its contents to decide whether to file a lawsuit against the Bergen Family Center in another forum. M.P. opposed E.S.’s motion, stating that the information that she and her child disclosed to the Bergen Family Center evaluators was confidential. The judge denied E.S.’s motion primarily because the parties agreed to the evaluation with the understanding that anything that was disclosed would remain confidential. Also, the judge reasoned that the report’s purpose was limited to aiding the Family Part in deciding the parties’ custody and parenting-time issues.

On appeal, E.S. argued that the trial judge abused his discretion by not lifting the protective order, not including important factual findings under Rule 1:7-4, and by originally granting the order based on false allegations. The New Jersey Appellate Division found that E.S.’s second and third arguments were meritless. Specifically, the Appellate Division found that the trial judge’s written opinion denying E.S.’s request to lift the protective order, though short, sufficiently complied with Rule 1:7-4(a), which states that the court should state its legal findings in an oral or written opinion. The Appellate Division agreed with the trial judge’s decision regarding E.S.’s first argument, as well. The court rejected E.S.’s first argument because E.S. requested relief too early.

The Appellate Division reasoned that E.S.’s request would have been appropriate if an administrative or civil lawsuit had been initiated; however, E.S.’s issue has not yet developed into something to be argued in court. The court noted that if E.S. were to bring a lawsuit against the Bergen Family Center in the future for improper or unethical conduct, he could then file a motion in that forum to lift the protective order. If such a lawsuit is filed, the court would then determine if lifting the protective order and disclosing the information within the report is appropriate. However, the Appellate Division noted that M.S. and the child’s interests, as well as the reasons behind the need for confidentiality, should be deeply considered by the court when deciding whether to lift the protective order at that time.

Ultimately, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial judge and found that denying E.S.’s request to lift the protective order was appropriate. The court held that E.S. sought relief prematurely and that the report was meant to be confidential and utilized to determine custody and parenting time only.