By: Victoria Paone Rosa, Esq.*
Some of the most difficult family law cases involve parental alienation whereby children are estranged from one parent due to the actions of the other parent. These cases are difficult to remedy in Court due to the massive amount of time and money required to adequately address this complex issue. Notwithstanding, parties experiencing parental alienation cannot bury their heads in the sand and hope to achieve a positive outcome down the road.
Time is of the essence when addressing parental alienation cases, which point was reinforced in the recently published New Jersey Appellate Division decision, Freedman v. Freedman. In Freedman, the divorced parents were arguing over the division of their deceased son’s ashes. The mother argued that she should have control of the ashes because she had a close relationship with their son and the father had not had a relationship with their son for a period of five years before his death. Meanwhile, the father argued that he was alienated from their son due to the mother’s interference. Ultimately, the Appellate Division sided with the mother based on her undisputed close relationship with the parties’ son before his death and declined to remand the alleged alienation issue to the trial court for a hearing.
Although the Appellate Division recognized that there was a dispute as to how the relationship between the parents and their son unfolded, the panel explained that the father “had ample opportunity to seek relief in the Family Part from the mother’s alleged conduct when his parenting time and ability to communicate with [their son] was curtailed or prevented from 2016 until [their son’s] eighteenth birthday; however, he chose not to do so.” Essentially, the Appellate Division stated that the father sat on his rights while their son was alive and that his current efforts to rectify this parenting time issue posthumously was too little, too late. The Appellate Division deemed the issue of the alleged alienation to be stale and waived by the father.
The important lesson from the Freedman case is that if a parent is being alienated from a child, the correct course of action is to pursue legal action to address the alienation and repair the relationship as soon as possible. To do nothing, no matter the motivation, leaves the Court to conclude that the failure to have a relationship with a child rests with the alleged aggrieved party.
* Victoria Paone Rosa, Esq. is an associate at the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy working out of the firm’s Red Bank office, located at 120 Maple Avenue. Victoria limits her practice to divorce, child support, child custody, equitable distribution, alimony, domestic violence, palimony, and all other family law issues.