Articles Posted in Child Custody And Visitation

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

What is Physical Child Custody in NJ?

Physical child custody is also known as residential custody. A child lives with the parent who has physical custody. The parent who the child lives with is called the Parent of Primary Residence (PPR).

What is Sole Physical Child Custody in New Jersey?

A parent may have sole physical custody of the child, meaning that the child lives only with one parent. In this arrangement, the child often has visitation time with the other parent, but does not stay overnight.

Can We Have Joint Physical Child Custody in NJ?

Yes, in New Jersey parents can share physical custody. The child will split time equally between both parents’ homes. A common example of this custody arrangement has a child living with a parent for a week, and then living with the other parent the next week. Continue reading


Divorce is an ugly word but an unfortunate circumstance in many families today. While a divorcing couple can typically navigate the process with as few hurt feelings as possible, it is often impossible to keep children completely out of the battlefield when parents start considering separation and divorce. It is easy to let your children slip to the back of your mind when you are preparing to go through a divorce, simply because there is so much for you to worry about. One thing you simply cannot do, however, is stop worrying about your children. They are going through the divorce with you and your spouse – even if you try to keep them as far from the process as possible.

If you and your spouse are giving serious thought to ending your marriage and you would like to spare your children as much anguish, confusion, and heartache as possible, here are several important things to remember when you begin the process.

Reinforce your love for your children.  Children of divorce often feel that they are at fault in some way for their parents’ divorce, while this is usually never the case. It is critical that you and your spouse constantly reinforce your love for your children while you are going through the process of divorce. They need to know that they are important to you and that the reason why mommy and daddy are no longer together has absolutely nothing to do with them at all. Continue reading

The Bisbings entered into a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) that contained specific provisions about relocation of the children. The provision was quite detailed, including specifics about proximity of local relocation distance limits as well as out of state relocation requiring agreement of the parties or court order. The parties considered relocation for employment purposes, though not for re-marriage. At the lower court level, the parties agreed that the children’s quality and style of life are equally provided by both parents.

The lower court allowed relocation of the children, to Utah, with the mother. There was no hearing whatsoever on the issue of relocation. The lower court made a further order for a parenting plan, again, with no hearing whatsoever.  The father appealed. The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court’s decision returned the case to the lower court to hear the matter and apply the appropriate standards in so doing. Unfortunately, it did not return the children to New Jersey while the matter was pending.

One of the pivotal issues in this appeal was whether the wife had acted in good faith in the negotiation of a settlement agreement, including custody and a non-relocation provision. Looking at the timeline of events, it is clear why that was an issue. Here are the basic facts: Continue reading

Whether you divorce by settlement agreement or a judge orders divorce terms after a trial, the resulting judgment is a legally binding court order. Your settlement agreement is incorporated into your judgment. If your ex doesn’t abide by its terms, either for custody or child support, you have a few options.

Problems With Child Support

If your ex isn’t paying child support, your easiest remedy is to sign up for your state’s child support services. State services collect from your ex, often through an income withholding order, so it’s more difficult for to fall behind with his payments in the first place. His employer must deduct his support from each of his paychecks and forward it to the state. The state then transmits the payments to you and keeps track. If your ex falls behind for such reasons as being out of work, the state may intercept his tax refund, report to the credit bureaus, or place liens against his property.

But state services can be slow because they often labor under a huge caseload. If you want your money sooner rather than later, you can take your ex back to court yourself. Your ex will have to appear before a judge and explain why he hasn’t paid. The judge may work with him if he’s suffered some financial hardship that genuinely prevents him from paying child support. This doesn’t mean the judge will vacate or erase the support terms of your divorce judgment so you won’t get paid. It means he’ll put a plan in place by which your ex can eventually catch up with his arrears (the unpaid balance he owes you) and get back on track. Continue reading

For many issues pertaining to child custody in New Jersey it is difficult to find straightforward answers to legal questions. When asking what are assumed to be easy questions, clients often hear from attorneys that “it depends on the circumstances of the case.” Attorneys give this answer not because the attorney does not know the answer, or because they are trying to put their client off, but rather because the way the law is written there is rarely an easy answer. Child custody laws, for example, often give judges guidelines for determining child custody issues, but they often allow the judge discretion to determine what is the best interest of the parties involved. It is rare when there are clear-cut answers to questions about child custody without knowing all of the facts of the case. In the case of child custody and religion, however, we have a very clear answer to the question of who determines the religion of a child.


New Jersey case law makes it clear that the child’s primary caretaker has the power to decide on the religion of the child. Also called the Parent of Primary Residence, this is the parent who spends more than 50% of time with the child. Even in cases where the parents have joint custody, the primary caretaker still has the power to make religious decisions for the child. The religion that the parents raised the child with before the divorce is irrelevant in the eyes of the courts; the sole power lies with the primary caretaker. Continue reading

Parenting time, historically widely known as visitation, permits a noncustodial parent and a minor child the ability to maintain a meaningful relationship. When custody is established in a divorce or paternity case, a parenting time schedule usually is established for the noncustodial parent.

Unfortunately, there are instances when an issue can arise in regard to parenting time or visitation. One such problem is a noncustodial parenting arriving to pick up a child for parenting time who apparently is intoxicated.

Deescalate the Situation

The first step to take when a person arrives for parenting time intoxicated is to try to deescalate the situation. At the very least, a solid effort should be made to avoid inflaming the emotions of the parent who appears to be intoxicated.

Discuss Away from the Child

If at all possible, the state of affairs should be discussed away from the child. Addressing a parent’s intoxication in front of a child benefits no one and can actually be harmful to the child. The focus must always be kept on what is in the best interests of the child. Continue reading

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