When it comes to custody issues incident to a divorce case, they have always been dealt with in New Jersey’s Chancery Division, Family Part. Unfortunately, if a parent doesn’t comply with a Court Order there are generally no serious consequences.
Recently, a frustrated father has tried something new. He has sued his ex-wife for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress in the Law Division due to her alleged alienation of their children‘s affection. In Law Division cases, you may seek damages for either negligent or intentional actions, and in this case, the father is requesting compensation and punitive damages for the psychological distress associated with his damaged relationship with his children.
The parties had originally lived in Toronto, Canada as common law husband and wife and had two children. In 2001, the parties separated and in 2006 the wife moved to Morris County, New Jersey. She apparently changed her phone number, blocked emails from the children’s father and cut off all contact between the children and their father.
As a result, the father filed suit in the family court in Morris County to resume visitation. After 14 months of litigation, he filed a suit for damages in the Law Division.
There is no legal precedent for bringing this type of action in New Jersey and it remains to be seen whether a new marital tort will be created in New Jersey for alienation of children’s affection or whether his suit will be dismissed, leaving the father to pursue his rights in Family Court.