Articles Posted in Child Custody And Visitation

Divorce is never simple or easy. Maybe you wrestled with the decision for years before finally deciding to proceed with a divorce. Perhaps your former spouse made the decision for you. Maybe you and your partner chose to end things on amicable terms. No matter how your divorce came to be, it’s important that you take the time to work through your emotions and feelings regarding the separation. Then you’ll be able to help your children cope with their own emotions, as well.

Whether your children are infants or teenagers, they’re going to experience a variety of emotions regarding the separation. Their entire life will change when you get divorced, so it’s important that you help them deal with it as effectively as possible. No matter how old your children are, there are several steps you can take to help them face these new changes.

First off, make sure you avoid talking negatively about your former spouse. While it can be easy to point fingers and place blame during a divorce, try to remember that to your children, this is their beloved parent. Even if your partner has been terrible to you, try to avoid saying anything that would stress out your children or make them feel like they’re being placed in the middle of your divorce. If you can’t say anything positive about your former partner, simply avoid saying anything at all to your children. Continue reading

Unfortunately, in matters of family law, there are circumstances in which a parent’s rights to their children are under investigation, and parental rights can be terminated. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) is the agency charged with ensuring the protection of children, and are typically the party requesting involuntary termination of a parental rights. Recently, they were involved in an appellate case, DCP&P v. PD and AW, which covered a breadth of issues, including international treaties and constitutional due process.

Background

In 2006, AW, the mother, gave birth to a child called SD. Several days later, DCP&P got word that there were adults abusing alcohol and drugs in the same apartment the children were living. SD tested positive for cocaine. As a result, SD was removed from AW’s custody on an emergency basis, and the child was put in a resource home. The DCP&P then filed a complaint with the court requesting care, custody and supervision of SD. The court approved their request, and AW agreed that she was responsible for neglect of the child. SD was then placed in the care of KA and RA, maternal relatives. PD was proven to be SD’s father, after a paternity test. He was offered supervised visitation, which eventually had to be held at the offices of the DCP&P given the fractious relationship between the resource parents and the biological parents. Eventually, SD was returned to AW’s care, with the DCP&P remaining involved. The court entered an order preventing PD from having any access to the child in March of 2007 until he had participated in various evaluations and programs to get access to SW reinstated. He did participate, until he was charged with a probation violation, and stopped attending the programs. In 2008, the court determined that AW and PD were to share legal custody of the child, with AW having physical custody. PD received charges for aggravated assault at some point, and was sentenced to three years in prison. In December 2008, PD was deported back to Cape Verde, Africa.

In 2012, DCP&P received another report of violence between AW and a man called JG. AW was charged with neglect and SD was placed in the care of the DCP&P, at which point PD was notified. SD was eventually placed once again with KA and RA, and PD was notified of the child’s placement. DCP&P considered placing the child with PD, but there was difficulty in determining whether his home would be suitable, given his international location. An international home study was carried out in November 2013, and the court found it inadequate, particularly in light of concerns regarding PD’s criminal history. There was no recommendation for SD to be placed with PD. In January 2014, the court approved of the DCP&P’s plan to terminate PD and AW’s parental rights. In December 2014, AW surrendered her parental rights to KA and RA. The court held trial on the DCP&P’s complaint concerning PD’s parental rights in June 2015. PD was still in Africa, so did not participate in trial on day one, but participated by phone and gave sworn testimony on day 2. He opposed his parental rights being terminated, and asked the court for SD to live with him.   Continue reading

Settling on a custody and visitation schedule can be the most difficult part of a divorce. Your kids are the most important part of your life, and it’s natural to want to fight for as much time with them as possible. However, when you consider issues of custody, you have to keep your children’s best interest as your top priority.

Here are five tips for making a co-parenting arrangement work for the kids in your life.

Give kids a voice.

Unless your children are very young, they will have preferences about where they want to spend their time. While custody arrangements are not decided by children, it’s important to make them feel that their opinions are valued.Talk to your kids about splitting time between Mom’s house and Dad’s. Are there particular nights of the week that your child has sports or another activity? Are you being sure to take this into account when you plan the schedule? Divorce can shake a child’s life to the core. It’s important to keep as much consistency in their lives as possible. They shouldn’t be forced to give up activities because of the divorce. When a family is going through turmoil, children often feel like they have no control. Giving them a voice will help them cope. However, do not sign-up your child for activities with the intent interfere with your ex-spouse’s parenting time. Continue reading

Child custody evaluations are often used by the court when the case has a highly contested custody matter before it. The evaluator is able to speak to both parties with an objective perspective, as well as the children, and as a result their opinion is very important to the judge.

Do all the Easy Stuff

The easy stuff is things that you should be doing that goes without saying: showing up on time to the child custody evaluation and dressing appropriately, for example. You should act like you’re going on a job interview. Do not lie to the evaluator. They will be able to catch you if you are dishonest, and they usually have a sixth sense about whether someone is telling the truth. This goes double for any psychological tests you may be given, because they are designed to detect malingering, lying, and other defense mechanisms.

Answer What is Being Asked

This means listening to the questions you are being asked. Do not make assumptions, and if you are unclear about anything the evaluator is asking you, do not be afraid to ask for clarification. If the answer is something you think the evaluator may not want to hear, then just be direct and sincere. Do not embellish or try to explain away the facts. Be frank about your strong and weak qualities as a parent, and concentrate on the strong ones. Admit any errors you think you have made when questioned about them, and display remorse. A child custody evaluation asks you to take an honest look at the circumstances of your family. With that said, make sure you do not provide extraneous information. If you are afraid there will be some issues that do not get covered, bring a short list with you. If the evaluator does not ask you about some of your concerns, ask them if it would be alright if you could discuss these with them. But remember, these are professional people, and their time is important. This is not a counseling session or a chance to vent. Continue reading

In New Jersey, family law cases always provide courts the opportunity to create new law, particularly when it comes to child relocation laws in NJ. One very recent case, Bisbing v. Bisbing, added an interpretation for what is necessary to establish “cause” to allow a child to permanently relocate out of state with the child, even if the other parent objects to the move.

The parties agreed in Bisbing v. Bisbing to a marital settlement agreement when they separated. The agreement included that the mother, Jaime, would have primary residential custody with their twin daughters. The agreement also mentioned a relocation provision, stating that “[n]either party shall permanently relocate with the Children from the State of New Jersey without the prior written consent of the other.” About a year after the divorce was final, Jaime told her ex that she intended to marry another man, who lived in Utah. Significantly, the wife had been dating this gentlemen prior to the resolution of the agreement. She requested that her ex-spouse consent to the relocation of the children with her to Utah. Her ex-husband said she was free to go, but the children must remain in New Jersey with him.

Plaintiff in Bisbing v. Bisbing went to court, filing a motion under N.J.S.A. 9:2-2, requesting that she be allowed to permanently relocate to Utah with her children. In response, her ex-husband argued that she had negotiated the agreement in bad faith, knowing she was planning on relocating without telling him so he would agree to give her primary residential custody. Child relocation laws in NJ at the time, under the Baures standard, required the parent who is requesting relocation despite opposition from the other parent to show that there is a good-faith reason to move and that it will not negatively affect the child’s interests. At trial, the court agreed that the move was in good faith and the children would not be harmed by it, and granted plaintiff’s request. She promptly moved to Utah, and enrolled the children in school. Continue reading

A recent case out of New Jersey gives a great overview of the myriad child custody laws in NJ, particularly concerning jurisdictional aspects. The case, BG v LH, concerns three children. The eldest son has mental health issues, but lives in Israel and is now an adult. The younger son has extreme cerebral palsy. He has a wheelchair, cannot speak, and can communicate only using facial expressions, various noises, and a DynaVox. His physical disabilities are severe, and almost all of his daily functions are performed by someone else on his behalf. On June 30, 2014, the children’s parents were officially divorced upon the issuance of a Dual Final Judgment of Divorce (DFJOD), but prior to this, the court had entered a final judgment concerning the custody and parenting time issues, which the parties had consented to. Within this custody order, the mother had asserted that the father had agreed that she be allowed to relocate with her children to Massachusetts, specifically in the Boston/Newton area. She did move, and the parties continued to share custody and visitation of the children pursuant to the order.

However, in November 2016, the father picked up the younger son, then on the way back to New Jersey, traveled to Connecticut to retrieve his daughter who was at a school retreat. The daughter wanted to drive back with her friends and go visit her father from there, but the father refused, which of course, led to a confrontation. Although it was eventually resolved, the daughter’s anger discolored the entire weekend, and upon a week of returning the children to Massachusetts, the department of children and family received complaints, alleging that there was sexual and physical abuse upon the children by their father. Eventually, the complaints were said to be unsubstantiated, although the mother had already filed suit to amend custody in Massachusetts by that time, and the judge there restricted the father to have supervised parenting time only.

Courts interpreting child custody laws in NJ are bound to also follow the New Jersey Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or NJUCCJEA. Essentially, the law provides that because New Jersey entered the initial orders concerning custody, that New Jersey can now be the only jurisdiction that is able to determine if it has lost jurisdiction. The children moved and currently reside in Massachusetts, so under the act, Massachusetts is the child’s home state. However, the court was required to go through a three-part analysis to determine whether it had appropriate jurisdiction to make custody determinations. Continue reading

The court in Sacklow v Betts very recently encountered the issue of a legal name change in NJ for a transgender child. In this case, the Plaintiff (Sacklow) petitioned the court to change their only child’s name from Veronica Betts to Trevor Adam Betts. The plaintiff argued that the name change was in the child’s best interest because the child is transgender, identifies as male and was undergoing treatment for gender dysphoria. Before puberty, Trevor had been a quintessential tomboy. But during puberty, he changed – he did poorly in school, began engaging in minor criminal enterprises such as vandalizing school property, and fighting. Given the drastic change in his behavior, Trevor was referred to a psychological team, who with their help, he announced that he was transgender and identified as male. At the age of 12, he began requesting that he be referred to as Trevor, rather than Veronica, and from that day forward, his wishes were respected. In fact, the only people who continued to call him Veronica were his father, his stepmother and his step-siblings. Because Trevor felt that this name better reflected his identity, he requested a legal name change.

The court in Sacklow v Betts provides a succinct overview in the procedural aspects of acquiring a legal name change in NJ for a child. An application must be filed by first filing a verified complaint which sets out the reasons why the child is requesting a name change. It should include the child’s date of birth, and also notify the court that the application is not filed in order to defraud creditors, avoid prosecution, or for other illegitimate reasons. The complaint should also include whether or not the child has been involved in some sort of delinquency. If they have, then the complaint needs to be clear on the nature of the crime and punishment. To that end, of course the complaint should include if the child is currently facing delinquency charges. There are additional requirements if the child is part of a family law action, or had been part of one within three years before filing the complaint. In the instant case, there were no errors on the face of the complaint. Continue reading

Child custody cases can often be contentious, expensive, and lengthy. Because of this, New Jersey courts have developed programs like mediation to assist parents in settling their differences outside of the courtroom. The Custody Neutral Assessment Program exists in some areas of New Jersey, mostly in the southern part of the state, though it is not specifically provided for in the child custody laws in NJ. A custody neutral assessment is used in a child custody case if the parents fail to reach an agreement through the initial mediation process, and is thought to be a less expensive and less time consuming of a process than otherwise lengthy custody evaluations. The assessment process takes approximately 3-4 hours, and costs vary depending on the location, but cost around $1,000 to perform (each parent paying half of the cost), which is significantly less than other options.

The Assessment Procedure

The assessment itself is conducted by a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist or social worker that is prequalified by the court to have the experience and skill necessary to conduct such an assessment. Despite the fact that mental health professionals perform the assessment, the assessment is not a psychological evaluation or testing, and does not involve treatment. The assessor meets with the parties to discuss the issues that cannot be agreed upon. The assessor will sometimes include the children or others involved in the family situation such as step-parents, if deemed appropriate considering the circumstances.

Scope of Assessment – Recommendations

At the conclusion of the interview(s), the assessor will prepare his or her recommendations about how to resolve the issues in dispute by the parents and deliver them to the court. The clinician’s recommendations may include parenting time and custody, as well as referrals for substance abuse evaluations, anger management classes, or related issues that are preventing the parties from agreeing on custody matters. The court will then schedule a case management conference and at that time determine whether it will accept, modify, or reject the recommendations of the evaluation. The recommendations are not binding on either party, each still has the ability to perform a full custody evaluation. Continue reading

For many people, the holidays are a time of family gatherings and happy memories.  However, for recently divorced couples with children, the holidays present a myriad of issues.  Who will have the kids on Christmas morning? How will visits with extended family members be managed? Who decides what to buy and how much to spend on Christmas gifts? Can the ex-spouses manage to be in the same room together? Even after a divorce in NJ, the holidays can be a joyful time if the divorced parents intentionally keep it that way. If the problems get out of hand with your former spouse, you need to speak to an experienced NJ child custody lawyer.

 

Preparation is key.  Conversations about visitation schedules, gifts, and special events should be had weeks, if not months ahead of time. Talking to your ex might still be painful.  Keep conversations focused on the task at hand.  Resist the urge to take jabs at one another or to bring up old wounds. Try to remember that you both love your children and that moving forward in a healthy co-parenting dynamic will benefit them immensely.

 

Provide opportunities for your children to spend time with both sides of the family.  This may mean that your holidays are more hectic than they used to be.  If so, talk with extended family members about your concerns.  Do your best to allow opportunities for family celebration, but don’t sacrifice all your time with your children on the altar of extended family relationships.  Continue reading

New Jersey Statute – Grandparent Visitation

According to the Grandparent Visitation statute, N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1, a grandparent who is deprived of visitation can seek an order of visitation from the court. In order to do so, the statute states that the grandparent must demonstrate that visitation is in the best interest of the grandchild. As a general rule, however, parents have the right to raise their children the way they wish to, without interference. We call this parental autonomy.

Validity of the Grandparent Visitation Statute – Moriarty v. Brandt

To better understand the current status of grandparent visitation in the state, we need to discuss a case called Moriarty v. Maguire. In Moriarty, the court dealt with the apparent clash between the Grandparent Visitation Statute and parental autonomy. The court in Moriarty ruled that in order for a grandparent to gain visitation against a parent’s wishes, the grandparent must show by a preponderance of the evidence that without the visitation the child will face harm.

Grandparent Visitation Litigation – Major v. Maguire

In Major v. Maguire, grandparents Anthony and Suzanne Major sought visitation under the Grandparent Visitation Statute. The Major’s son, Chris Major, was separated from their granddaughter’s mother, Julie Maguire, when he passed away in 2013. During the separation, the Major’s said they had a close relationship with their granddaughter, including weekly or bi-weekly visits, attending dance recitals, and family trips. Suzanne stated that she frequently took care of her granddaughter while Chris was dying, even living with them in the final weeks. Since Chris’s death, the grandparents stated that they have only seen their granddaughter twice for short visits. Continue reading

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