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