New Jersey Divorce Order Restricting Wife from Taking Child Out of the Country
August 15, 2017
In a recent New Jersey divorce decision, an ex-wife appealed from aspects of a divorce judgment that concluded her marriage of five and a half years. The couple had married in 2006 and had a five-year-old daughter. The husband was a 38-year-old employee of J.P. Morgan Chase, and the wife was a 41-year-old civil engineer employed in the United States but born in China. She came to the country at age 26, and she married two years after meeting her husband. Six months before their marriage, the husband bought a home for the couple, using savings and a loan from his parents to make the down payment.
During the marriage, the wife engaged in domestic violence against the husband. Weeks after they got married, she slapped her husband and bit him in the back of the neck while he was holding their child. She pressured him to write to the prosecutor’s office, asking it to drop the charges. This estranged the husband from his family.
In another incident, the wife got angry with her husband for offering to videotape something for the neighbors. She cornered him and screamed at him for nearly two hours until he lost his temper and punched her in the chest. She had to go to the hospital but wasn’t seriously injured. He was frightened by his anger at her and wrote to her, saying he was going to get professional help, but if it didn’t help, he would leave and assume the expenses to allow her to keep living in their house. He said he would give her the money in their accounts.
The letter became the basis for the consent order drafted by the wife’s attorney before the complaint was filed. The husband was not represented by counsel. The order was revised four times before it was signed. It stated that in case of divorce, the husband would keep paying the mortgage, homeowners’ insurance, and property taxes, until the mortgage was paid off or the property was sold. If they sold the property, the consent order stated all of the proceeds would be paid to the wife. The couple agreed to joint legal custody of their daughter. The mother would be the parent of primary residence, and the husband would have substantial parenting time and pay $3,000 in child support. The wife was to get $70,000 — all that was in their bank accounts, regardless of the title on the account.
The judge found that the husband signed the agreement only after getting an email from the wife’s attorney stating no court would enforce it. The husband testified that the wife used the domestic violence to gain a financial advantage and to threaten him about custody of their daughter. She claimed she would go back to China and take their daughter with her.
The wife tried to enforce the consent order, and the husband opposed this effort and tried to increase his time with their daughter. The court required him to pay child support and the mortgage and to pay half of the money in their account to the wife in cash. The husband argued she’d already taken $70,000 from their account and wasn’t entitled to an additional $35,000.
The wife tried to enforce the terms of the order, but the husband cross-moved to get parenting time and for designation as the parent of primary residence. The court denied his request. The wife defied the order three months after the order was entered by taking their daughter on a Bermuda cruise.
A joint custody evaluator was retained to conduct an evaluation of the child’s best interest. He found both parents were fit, but neither was perfect. He testified that the mother should continue to be the parent of primary residence, but the father’s parenting time should be increased. He also testified that the child would be harmed if she were separated from the father and relocated to China.
The court ordered increased parenting time for the father and restrained the mother from making relocation applications to return to China with the child for at least five years. The court found that the father signed the agreement based on the lawyer’s opinion it was unenforceable. Certain obligations were struck, including the child support obligation. The father lost his job, but the judge imputed some money to him. The court also struck the part of the agreement that made the father responsible for tuition for a private school. Among many other decisions, the court applied the factors of N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 and awarded limited durational alimony. It also found most of this alimony obligation had already been met.
The wife appealed, arguing that it was a mistake for the judge to order her not to file an application to relocate to China for five years and that the evidence didn’t support his decisions about a number of issues. The appellate court rejected her arguments, including the argument related to alimony. It didn’t find any errors in the treatment of the consent order. The lower court’s order was mostly affirmed, with a limited remand back to the lower court because the father didn’t oppose the restriction on future applications to relocate to China.
If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about alimony or visitation, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive 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.