Changes or modifications to child custody agreements are a common part of the co-parenting process. A change in schools or jobs, one parent moving or remarrying: All of these life events may result in altering a custody agreement.
In some cases, child custody may change due to concerns about a child's safety or health. Custody may need to be changed quickly or temporarily. As with any custody agreement, the central concern is what's in a child's best interests.
Custody orders can sometimes take months to finalize. New Jersey allows emergency orders in situations when a child's safety or well-being is at risk, and immediate action is needed.
The goal of an emergency custody order is to:
- Remove a child from a dangerous or potentially harmful situation and
- Place the child in a safe environment, either with a parent or another trusted individual's custody
New Jersey courts refer to any case involving “urgent issues of a child's safety” as emergent hearings. Parents or other concerned parties may file a new request or request to modify an existing or pending court order.
An emergency order must state the reasons why a child is in a potentially harmful situation or why a parent no longer has the capacity, either temporarily or permanently, to care for the child. Individuals may file for emergency custody when a custodial parent ends up in police custody. The exact requirements of an emergency custody order can vary by county in New Jersey.
Parents may file an emergency custody order if the other parent takes the child without permission or if the other parent's residence is not habitable. Parents should not file an emergency custody order without evidence of why a child's health or safety is at risk, as it may result in them having reduced custody.
Expedited custody closely relates to emergency custody. For both, circumstances require that the normal procedures for determining custody be suspended, at least temporarily. The goal of an expedited custody request is to remove a child from a potentially dangerous situation.
If a court denies a request for either emergency or expedited custody, the request moves to the regular docket. Parents will still have an opportunity to present their evidence and request a change to custody as part of a regular custody hearing.
For both expedited and emergency custody requests, evidence is important. You must be able to show why a court should bypass normal custody procedures to grant your request.
It's not enough to say you're worried or think a child is in danger. You must have evidence that shows a child's health and safety are either at risk or may be at risk if not removed from a parent's care. Some examples of evidence:
- First-hand accounts and/or witness statements
- Text messages, emails, social media posts, or other written documents
- Videos or photos
- Police reports
- Testimony from parents, custodians, or child psychologists
- Medical reports
A lawyer can help you understand what evidence is admissible in a court and will help you build a case. Failure to provide sufficient evidence can result in a court not changing custody.
Modifications occur when the current custody agreement no longer works for the children and/or parents. Sometimes, these modifications are easy, with both parents agreeing to the change and signing off on them.
In other situations, parents may agree a change is needed but disagree as to the new terms of the custody agreement. Or one parent may want a change, but the other does not.
Mediation is often the best choice for disagreements about custody modification. A neutral third party can help parents reach an agreement.
If and when mediation fails, the case will go before a judge who will make a ruling. When courts become involved, parents may have less say in the modifications and the new custody agreement.
Modifications are not unusual. A child attending a different school, parents moving, or even a change to a parent's work schedule may all result in a need to modify custody.
While a child's well-being is the paramount concern in any custody dispute, New Jersey encourages maintaining and supporting the parent-child relationship. In some situations, however, either a court or parent may choose to terminate parental rights.
Termination of parental rights is permanent and not a decision to be made lightly. Once a parent's rights are terminated, either voluntarily or involuntarily, they cannot be restored.
A parent initiates a voluntary termination of their rights. The most common reason for a voluntary termination is adoption.
For an involuntary termination, a court, usually by trial, will determine that a parent is unfit. Depending on the actions that necessitated involuntarily terminating a parent's rights, a parent may face separate criminal charges, such as neglect or abuse.
Even after their rights are terminated, parents may still have child support obligations, including paying back child support. In other words, a parent cannot terminate rights to escape previously unpaid child support.
Termination is the last resort for child custody decisions. As the decision is permanent, courts will not make this decision lightly, and parents should be clear that this decision, once made, cannot be changed.
For parents facing the involuntary loss of their rights, they should be prepared to show why such a step isn't needed or would be detrimental to the child. They may want to show why temporarily modifying custody, such as giving the other parent sole physical and legal custody for a period of time, is better for the child.
Protect Your Parental Rights
Parents may choose to modify or change child custody for a variety of reasons. In some cases, modifications are the result of changing schedules. In more serious cases, a change needs to occur quickly to protect a child, or either a parent or court may choose to permanently end a parent's legal rights.
The Lento Law Firm Family Law Team works with parents, whatever their circumstances. We focus on solutions that support our client's goals and their child's best interests. Call us or fill out our online form to learn more about how we can assist you.