Divorced New Jersey Parent’s Right to Take a Vacation with Kids
February 15, 2017
Under 9:2-4 of the New Jersey Code, the rights of both parents are considered when making custody determinations. Their rights are equal with respect to the child. Usually, custody determinations or agreements must include some consideration of parenting time in relation to a child’s vacations.
In a 2016 New Jersey appellate court decision, a father appealed from an order that denied his request to modify his parenting time, take his kids on vacation, and undergo a custody neutral assessment. The couple had married in 2000 and had two kids. They divorced in 2011 and entered into an amended judgment of divorce in 2011. The amended judgment incorporated their settlement agreement.
Among other things, the parties agreed that holidays and extended vacations would take precedence over regularly scheduled access. During even-numbered years, the mother would choose vacation weeks first, and the defendant would do so in odd-numbered years. They would have to give each other their written itineraries, and the noncustodial parent would still get two phone calls every week. The couple agreed that if there were a dispute about any of the custody provisions in the judgment or agreement, they would try to resolve the matter by talking about it and through mediation if they could agree upon this at the time. Otherwise, it would be resolved through a motion to the court.
In 2013, an order clarified that neither parent would remove the kids from school during his or her parenting time. In 2014, the mother moved to prohibit the father from taking the kids on a vacation during school. The father moved to modify his parenting time through a custody-neutral assessment and take the kids on vacation from February 15-20. A judge granted both motions in part. She denied the father’s request to take the kids on vacation during their school time, since it violated the 2013 order. She also denied the request for a custody-neutral assessment and determined that the parties should first attempt mediation. She also denied the request to modify the father’s parenting time.
The defendant appealed in 2015. The judge subsequently filed an amended order, elaborating on her findings in a statement of reasons. She stated that under the language of the agreement, certain issues had to be mediated before the father or mother could get relief from the court. The appellate court deferred to the factual findings.
It explained that settlement agreements are consensual and voluntary and are entitled to considerable weight with regard to their validity. Generally, they are enforced as intended unless they need to be reformed due to fraud, unconscionability, or overreach. The court is supposed to apply a rational meaning to the language and consider what is written in the context of the circumstances that attended the drafting of the agreement.
The father argued on appeal that it was a mistake for the judge to decide the mediation provision was controlling. He argued that the provision only applied to custodial provision disputes and that requesting a custody-neutral assessment and a modification of vacation didn’t fall within the scope of that provision.
The appellate court explained that a modification of vacation and parenting time fell within the language of “custodial provisions.” Additionally, the judge had the discretion to determine that the parties had to mediate their dispute under the settlement agreement. The judge’s decision was affirmed.
If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about parenting time, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive child custody attorney to seek an appropriate outcome. Contact the lawyers of Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or through our online form. We have attorneys available who can handle all aspects of a divorce and post-divorce family law matters.