Modification of Parenting Time After Parental Relocation
In a recent New Jersey appellate decision, the defendant appealed after a lower court awarded legal custody to her child’s father and modified parenting time and child support. The plaintiff and defendant had never gotten married, but they were involved romantically and had a child in 2009. They ended their relationship in 2010.
In 2011, a lower court granted the father visitation on every other weekend and one weekday night a week. He was responsible for picking up the child and dropping the child off. He had to pay child support based on an earlier order in the amount of $800 each month, although the amount was decided without consideration of the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. Custody issues weren’t addressed.
The defendant lived in New Jersey at the time of the order and in 2015 relocated to live with her boyfriend. She enrolled the child in school but didn’t put the father on the emergency contact list. The father moved to modify the order and asked for joint legal custody and reduced child support. He also sought to claim the child on his tax returns and modify parenting time.
The mother moved for a memorialization of her role as the child’s legal guardian, for supervised parenting time for the father, for modification of parenting time, and for an increase in child support. The parties came to court for oral argument, and the judge ruled they should have joint legal custody. He explained that nothing they’d told him would suggest they should deviate from the New Jersey policy in favor of joint legal custody. He also required the mom to share in transportation and reduced the child support. He ordered the parties to go out and agree on how to alter the schedule as to parenting time, transportation, and vacation.
The defendant appealed. The New Jersey appellate court explained that it would defer to the family court, due to its expertise, and the family court’s findings would be binding as long as they had adequate, substantial, and believable support.
It explained that the family court’s order didn’t address custody. Generally, the preference is to award joint custody as being in the best interest of the child. In this case, the appellate court didn’t believe there was anything presented to show that joint custody wouldn’t be appropriate or that a plenary hearing on the child’s best interests would be necessary. It reasoned that a relocation from one location to another by a parent could have a significant impact on the relationship between the non-residential custodial parent and the child, which could amount to a significant change of circumstances for the purposes of custodial modification.
In this case, the defendant-mom had unilaterally decided to relocate, and therefore the judge found she should have to participate in transporting the child when the father had his parenting time. The mother argued it was an abuse of discretion to reduce the father’s child support obligation. The appellate court disagreed, noting that the original child support order had failed to use the support guidelines, which contravened the rule that the guidelines had to be used to establish child support. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s order.
If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about child relocation or visitation, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive child relocation 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.