In a previous article, we explored the intricacies of the “best interests” doctrine applied in child custody cases. We discovered that the way in which the best interest of a child is determined is a convolution beyond each parent's idealizations, or even what appears to be reasonable, so long as judges base a decision off of New Jersey's statutory guidelines. A recent case in a New Jersey family law court exemplifies just how quickly your custody arrangement can change.
An issue involving physical custody, or where a child primarily resides, is significant. In a dramatic turn of events, physical custody between two New Jersey parents was modified without holding a “best interests” hearing.
When plaintiff A.J. and defendant R.J. split after five years of marriage, they had already borne two children together. The parents agreed to a marital settlement agreement that designated A.J. as the custodial parent and granted R.J. parenting time every other weekend and one midweek overnight. According to the decision, the parties also agreed to share major holidays, and they each planned to spend one week of summer vacation with the children.
After the divorce, A.J. a tenured school teacher, remarried and had a third child. She, her new husband, and her three children shared a two-bedroom apartment in Elizabeth. When A.J. decided it would be best to relocate to Mount Holly, R.J. was livid. He lives in Union and works in New York City. Although the move is intrastate, R.J. would have to commute approximately 60 miles to see fulfill visitation guidelines - a situation he claims is totally unfair to him and the children.
In response to the move, R.J. filed a court order requesting that the relocation be barred and that custody be modified. He sought for A.J. and the children to return, a transfer of physical custody, and the termination of his child support obligation. The trial court judge, Union County Superior Court Judge Thomas Walsh ruled that R.J. be granted temporary parenting time three weekends each month, ordered mediation and scheduled a plenary hearing to determine if A.J. would be permitted to remain in Mount Holly. The judge also ruled that the children are to continue attending school in Elizabeth. Shortly after, Judge Walsh found that R.J. met his burden for the transference of custody, stating that it was in the best of the children, and adding that an order of the court had been violated.
A.J. requested to appeal the decision, claiming that Judge Walsh modified custody without a best interest hearing and without warning. She argued that the wrong standard had been applied.
It turns out that Judge Walsh had mistakenly made a decision without inquiring about a best interest hearing, which is required of parents who wish to relocate intrastate.
The appellate court claimed overall that the best interests of the children required more thoughtful investigation and a best interest hearing before a custody transfer was ordered.
Are You Involved in a Child Custody Hearing? Contact Us Today
As you can see, child custody cases are unpredictable and can change at any time should a judge see fit. This is why you need the help of an experienced family law attorney. Had A.J. not had challenged Judge Walsh's decision she would have been subjected to an unfair outcome and would have lost physical custody of her children. Don't let this happen to you. Contact the Lento Law Firm today online or by phone at 888-525-3686.