A recently published case establishes new rules for resolving preschool disputes between divorced parents. The court recognized that this particular issue had never been addressed before. An ordinary dispute between divorced parents can sometimes land you in an unexplored area of New Jersey law. It is important to hire a knowledgeable family law attorney to help navigate your parental rights disputes.
The case of Madison v. Davis involves parents who were married for four years before they were divorced. They have joint custody of a child, “L.D.”, with L.D.’s mother assigned as the primary residential custodian. Until recently, L.D. attended a preschool that was chosen by both parents. This school (referred to as “Preschool A”) violated state regulations by improperly allowing L.D.’s father to pick the child up from school when he was not authorized. L.D.’s mother promptly took the child out of “Preschool A” and enrolled her in “Preschool B.”
L.D.’s father objected, claiming that his parental rights were violated because he was denied input in the decision, and he was not informed until after the change was made. Relying upon a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in Beck v. Beck as well as New Jersey custody laws found in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4, he asserted that preschool is an educational matter, and joint custody grants both parents equal rights in educational matters. He demanded that L.D. should be placed back in “Preschool A,” and that L.D.’s mother should be restrained from this type of unilateral decision making.
L.D.’s mother relied upon the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in Pascale v. Pascale, which said that primary residential custodians have the right to choose daycare providers and babysitters. L.D.’s mother said that preschool is primarily a daycare service, and not part of the “K-12” curriculum. She cited Pascale v. Pascale, which states that primary residential custodians should not have to engage in “endless discussions with the secondary caregiver” over such mundane decisions.
The court noted that these two New Jersey Supreme Court cases address different issues. Beck v. Beck addresses formal education, and Pascale v. Pascale addresses daycare. But preschool lies at an overlapping boundary between daycare and a formal education. Thus, the court created a hybrid set of guidelines that blended rules found in both of the prior New Jersey Supreme Court decisions.
The court ruled that the primary residential custodian generally has the right to choose the child’s preschool, but that right is limited because the decision must reflect a reasonable choice made in the best interest of the child. Furthermore, the secondary custodian must be informed of the choice in a reasonably timely manner, unless there is a restraining order or another reason why the secondary custodian should not be given such information.
The court went on to say that if a secondary custodian finds a preschool objectionable, he or she can file a motion with the court. In doing so, the secondary custodian must provide an alternate plan that is more reasonable and that addresses the best interests of the child. The court will then evaluate both proposed preschools and uphold the choice that is more reasonable and keeps the child’s best interests in mind.
In applying these criteria to Madison and Davis, the court found both “Preschool A” and “Preschool B” reasonable. Based on this finding, the court upheld the primary residential custodian’s choice of “Preschool B.” The court also noted that both parents would continue to split preschool expenses in accordance with prior agreements between the parties.
The court added that if either parent abuses this process, that parent may be ordered to pay his or her opponent’s legal fees. However, the court said both Madison and Davis had genuine questions of law, and both sides were reasonable in believing they were right. This is an important point, since often parents engage in genuine disputes where both sides hold sensible but conflicting points of view.
When you need help resolving a dispute with an ex-spouse, you should hire a New Jersey family law attorney who can help you understand your rights and work to resolve the conflict. An experienced family law attorney can help you negotiate outside the courtroom in addition to representing you in court. When you are in a dispute regarding your parental rights, contact the child custody attorneys at Goldstein Law Group by calling 732-967-6777, or use the contact link on this page to request a consultation.
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New Jersey Law Tries To Address Grandparent Visitation Disputes, October 11, 2014