Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cause of Action for Parental Alienation Exists

New Jersey Trial Court Determines that there is a Cause of Action for Parental Alienation.

In a recent trial court opinion issued by the Superior Court in Hudson County, Judge Gallipoli recognized that parents in New Jersey may have a right to collect monetary damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress when their relationships with their children are poisoned by former spouses or even grandparents who partake in alienating behaviors.

In a November 21, 2008 trial court decision, the court recognized the right of one parent to sue another, as well as grandparents, for what is known as the intentional infliction of emotional distress. In this particular case, the father sued the mother and maternal grandparents because they had alleged that the father sexually abused the children. The suit alleges that the ex-wife and her parents began alienating the children from the father during the pre-divorce separation in 2006. It further claims the defendants allegedly told the children, court-appointed psychiatrists and law enforcement officials that the father was a sex addict and had molested the children in the past. It also says the children are afraid to sleep at their father's home because they have been told they are in danger of being sexually abused.

The wife and her parents denied the allegations and argued, in motions to dismiss the suit for failure to state a claim, that the Heart Balm Act had eliminated the cause of action of alienation of affection. They argued that the term "alienating the children" is what the complaint calls the alleged wrong. Judge Gallipoli found that this claim was not a disguised claim for alienation of affections, which was banned in the state in 1935 by what is referred to as the Heart Balm Act.

This is the first time that a New Jersey Court has recognized the ability to bring such a claim. A prior suit was filed in the Morris County Superior Court but dismissed by Judge Rand on the grounds that the suit was nothing more than a disguised claim for alienation of affections. Noting Judge Rand's opinion in his own, Judge Gallipoli respectfully disagreed with Judge Rand's interpretation of the case law in this state and found that a claim existed for these types of behaviors. Since they are both trial court judges, Judge Rand's opinion was not binding upon Judge Gallipoli. Judge Gallipoli noted that the father would have to file an application in the family court seeking relief, however his claims against the maternal grandparents would proceed in the civil division.

Now what remains is how the Appellate Division and, perhaps, the state Supreme Court will view claims such as these. We will be following this case of if it is upheld will be filing similar suits in Indiana and other states.

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