Articles Posted in Child Custody

My spouse and I would like to legally separate before deciding whether to divorce. Can we do this?

The legal separation of married couples is technically not permitted in the State of New Jersey.  Instead, spouses may choose to separate informally, enter into a separation agreement, or consider a limited divorce. In a “divorce from bed and board,” (also known as  Limited Divorce) a married couple has the option to end their marriage from a financial standpoint while still remaining legally married. Since it may be revoked, a limited divorce makes it easier for spouses to later reconcile. Similarly, such a divorce may be converted into a standard judgment of  (Absolute) divorce. Since all support determinations and asset distributions are made when a “divorce from bed and board” is granted, property and financial issues are no longer an issue if a New Jersey couple ultimately chooses to end their marriage after engaging in a limited divorce.

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I keep reading about celebrity co-parenting in the news. What does it mean?

Unfortunately, no one is immune from divorce. Couples across all walks of life from celebrities to your favorite friends or neighbors choose to end their marriages every year. Regardless of the cause, it is important for divorcing parents in New Jersey to work together to ensure the best possible outcome for their children. Although ending a marriage is no doubt difficult for the divorcing couple, parents should remember that their children are likely experiencing similar feelings of loss, anger, betrayal, and emotional pain.

Most couples in New Jersey and elsewhere don’t consider on their wedding day that they may divorce. Similarly, many parents never pictured themselves negotiating parenting time or alternating holidays with their children. In order to provide kids with the stability they need, many former couples choose to co-parent. While effective co-parenting can be difficult at times, working towards this common goal is often vital for a child’s well-being. How do you do that? Good question!  Here’s how.

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My children are on summer break from school, and I would like to take them on vacation. May I do so?

Due to work, summer camp, vacation, and other obligations, a child’s schedule can vary wildly during the summer. Since it is common for parents to disagree about summertime custody and parenting time  schedules, all divorced or separated parents in New Jersey should have a clearly defined summertime child custody and parenting time arrangement. Such an agreement may be formal or informal, depending on the needs of the parties.

Normally, a family switches to a summer custody schedule when the school year ends. Others choose to wait until Memorial Day or the first day of summer. Regardless, a variety of tools from simple written calendars to smartphone apps can help separated or divorced parents stay abreast of a child’s often changing summer schedule. Even if summer activities do not have a direct effect on parenting time, it may be helpful for parents to communicate with each other in order to stay informed or ensure that particularly active weeks are followed by more low-key events.

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I suffer from a mental illness and my spouse wants a divorce.  Can this hurt my chances for gaining custody of our children?

In general, the best interests of the child are of paramount importance in a New Jersey child custody matter.  In some situations, a parent’s physical and mental health history may be relevant when child custody is determined.  For instance, if a parent’s mental health issues have a negative impact on his or her ability to parent a former couple’s children, a family court will normally take this into account.  In order to utilize such medical information, however, medical records must be obtained.

In particularly contentious child custody matters, a psychologist may be engaged to evaluate each parent and make a custody recommendation to the family court.  In order to make such a recommendation, the psychologist will need to obtain access to each parent’s medical and mental health records.  Sometimes, such records are also required in order to confirm or refute the other parent’s mental illness claims.

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I am a member of the United States military who just learned that I am being deployed overseas. Will I lose the right to see my children?

In general, each New Jersey parent has the right to a specified amount of parenting time. Courts will typically make this determination based on the best interests of a former couple’s child. For parents who are members of the military, this right can be interrupted as a result of deployment. If you recently received notice of your deployment, you probably have a lot of questions. Of paramount importance is — what happens to your children while you are away?.

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A primary caretaker’s job offer warranted the removal of a divorced New Jersey couple’s minor children to another state. In a recent Appellate Division ruling, a couple married in 2005 and had twins in 2009. At the time of their marriage, both spouses were employed by an investment banking firm. Not long after their wedding, however, the husband lost his job and remained unemployed until he filed for divorce in 2011. During this time, the wife earned about $300,000 per year.

About one year after the father initiated divorce proceedings, his former wife lost her job effective December 31, 2012. She was also promised a bonus and severance package worth approximately $200,000. Following a divorce trial, the couple reached a custody settlement that was incorporated in their Dual Final Judgment of Divorce (“DJOD”).  In September 2012, the family court entered a final judgment of divorce which provided that the mother was designated as the Parent of Primary Residence (the “PPR”) and the father as the Parent of Alternate Residence (the “PAR”).

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A mother’s extreme difficulty in obtaining international travel documents to allow her children to visit their father at his home in Brazil did not warrant changing the parents’ custody arrangement from joint to sole custody, according to a recent Appellate Division ruling. While the family’s travel complexities were a new development, they did not rise to the level of a “substantial change in circumstances,” as needed to modify an existing child custody arrangement. As this case highlights, courts, in the interest of stability for the children, require significant showings in order to change custody arrangements.

The custody dispute involved two former spouses, Paulo and Sandra Costa, who divorced in 2006 after 12 years of marriage. At the time of the divorce, with both of the Costas living in New Jersey, they agreed to joint custody of their two children, who were six and nine. Three years later, though, the father relocated to a small town near Sao Paolo, Brazil.

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In a recent New Jersey family law case, a divorced man tried to compel a paternity test to determine whether or not he was the father of his ex-wife’s children. Although he once had an opportunity to file a motion to verify the children’s parentage in the past, he waived that right. As a result, New Jersey legal doctrine and an agreement signed by the ex-husband now bar him from demanding a paternity test. When you are negotiating a child custody issue, it is important to work with a family law attorney who can fully explain the ramifications of a proposed post-separation agreement.

Mark and Jane had been married for seven years, during which time Jane gave birth to two children:  Randi and Kim. Mark had often suspected that Jane was having a sexual affair with Mark’s friend Jim. Eventually Jim died in a car accident, but the strain of suspicion lingered ,and Mark and Jane eventually got a divorce.

When filing for divorce, Mark brought up his suspicion that the children were not his. The family law judge even paused the case so that Mark could “amend his divorce complaint and for [an] order to compel a paternity test.” But Mark decided not to pursue a paternity test, and after a contentious period of negotiation,  Jane and Mark came to an agreement regarding their divorce. Their Post-Separation Agreement (PSA) mentioned the paternity dilemma several times, noting that Mark was unsure about the children’s parentage, and that he would pay reduced child support and surrender his custody rights due to the uncertainty of the situation. Continue reading

Changes in child custody orders can affect a parent’s financial obligations in a number of ways. In the recent New Jersey appellate case of Cowie v. Cowie, which was filed by our firm, a mother had already obtained sole custody of her children, and she made a motion to have the father’s child support obligation re-evaluated. But challenges arose when the new custody arrangement was deemed “temporary,” and the family court denied her motion. But the appellate court sided with the mom, noting that child support orders are designed to benefit the child, and that the change in custody warranted a fresh look at the father’s child support obligation. If your custody situation is changing, you should talk to an experienced New Jersey family law attorney to see if the new arrangement will have an impact on other aspects of the divorce and child custody agreements.

A divorced mother and father had joint custody of their children, with equal custodial and financial rights and obligations. But the father began to suffer from mental health issues, which began to strain the parents’ prior “50/50” custody arrangement. So a court intervened and awarded the mother “temporary sole legal and residential custody.” Because of a new supervised parenting schedule, the father no longer kept the kids overnight. Eventually, the father stopped seeing the children altogether. With the child-rearing responsibilities shifted solely to the mother, the mother’s expenses increased substantially.  Continue reading

Child support negotiation involves a number of issues that can complicate the process. For example, some divorced parents want to waive or reduce a child support agreement as part of a larger divorce settlement deal negotiated between the parents. New Jersey judges can intervene by altering the child support amount or changing the date on which child support terminates. In some cases, judges can even void an otherwise mutually acceptable agreement. These thorny problems can be resolved by working with an experienced New Jersey family law attorney.

Sometimes divorced parents want to negotiate an agreement that reduces or eliminates a child support obligation in exchange for some other benefit, but problems can emerge because New Jersey courts recognize that the right to child support belongs exclusively to the child. This fact doesn’t change even when both parents agree to modify or terminate a child support agreement. The New Jersey Appellate Court case of Faro v. Heyden held that “even an explicit waiver agreement cannot vitiate a child’s right to support.”  Continue reading

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