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.
Several months later, the mother filed a motion to modify the father’s child support obligation. According to a ruling in a New Jersey case called Lepis v. Lepis, a child support order can be altered when there is a change of circumstances. Typically, Lepis is applied to cases when a parent wants to reduce his or her obligation after losing a job or experiencing a similar financial setback. But in this case, the change of circumstances was related to the imposition of a new child custody order.
Upon hearing the case, the family law court denied the mother’s request for a child support modification. The court explained that the Lepis decision does not necessarily apply to a “temporary” change of circumstances, and that the mother had been awarded “temporary sole legal and residential custody.” A judge is generally allowed to reject a request for modification if it is based on a temporary change in circumstances.
As the mother’s attorney in this case, our firm, Goldstein Law Group believed the judge made a decision that was inconsistent with the law. When this happens, a litigant has the right to appeal the trial court’s decision. On behalf of our client, the mother, we took her case to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. We successfully argued that the word “temporary” lacked a clear meaning, and that her children are entitled to sufficient support. We further explained that according to the New Jersey Court Rules on child support guidelines, child support should be recalculated if, over time, there is non-compliance with a shared parenting time agreement which the parties had previously used in order to calculate the amount of child support the father was to pay.
Although judges are usually granted discretion in these types of decisions, the Appellate Court ruled that the family court went too far by dismissing the mother’s claim. The Appellate Court said that because there was a change in the ongoing child custody arrangement, a modification of the child support obligation is allowed. Even though the arrangement was designated as “temporary,” the children are still entitled to a change in support obligations to help balance out the mother’s increased custody-related expenses. The Appellate Division reversed the family court decision, sending the case back to the family court to determine what changes in child support were appropriate, given the needs of the children and the financial capacities of the parents.
When you need to change your divorce and custody agreements, you should seek advice from a knowledgeable attorney. A change in these agreements can sometimes trigger other important issues. And, if you received a ruling from a judge that may not seem correct, you may want to consider the filing of an appeal. There are strict timeframes within which a judge’s decision must be appealed. If you need help solving a post-settlement dilemma, or need to consider filing an appeal of a trial judge’s decision, call the experienced New Jersey child support and appeal attorneys at Goldstein Law Group. Call 732-967-6777, or use the contact link on this page to request a consultation.
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