Articles Posted in custody

It is not uncommon as a family law practitioner to experience a difference in the way the family courts handle cases involving the children of divorced or divorcing spouses (where they are 772bcf531a8ff5549f90c16a75fd1d7f-1-300x200matrimonial cases bearing an “FM” docket number) in the dissolution unit, and children of non-married parents in the non-dissolution unit (those bearing a docket number starting in “FD”).  Non-dissolution cases are typically far more summary in fashion and are handled more quickly than they are in the in the cases of divorcing parents.   The good part of this is that the children’s cases may be processed more quickly and there is less uncertainty in their lives because the children are not enduring a longer, more drawn out litigation than children of divorcing parents sometimes have to survive.  In non-dissolution cases, however, because they often are so summary, the court does not have the opportunity to become as familiar with the facts and circumstances.

In the recently published Appellate Division opinion in the matter of J.G. v. J.H., A-1312-17 (App. Div. Jan. 2, 2019) expressed some disagreement over how summarily a family court judge resolved a custody dispute between unmarried parents.

John was born in 2012 to mother Jane and father Joseph.  In 2014 the parties entered into a non-dissolution order that provided for their agreement to share joint legal custody of John, with Jane having primary residential custody and Joseph having liberal visitation with him.  In 2015 the parties attempted to reconcile and vacated that order.  The reconciliation did not last.  Jane became engaged to another man and became pregnant.  Joseph filed an order to show cause accusing Jane and her fiance of drug use and asserting that she should not leave John alone with her fiance, asserting that he was a known drug user and convicted felon.  Joseph was awarded temporary sole custody of John based on the concern for violence in Jane’s home. The court directed that Jane’s visitation with John be supervised and that it occur outside her home.

For family law attorneys, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . . fights over holiday parenting time.  The holiday season is often a time of stress, and sometimes of sadness, for everyone.  ForDSC05380-200x300 separating or divorcing parents or newly divorced parents, fighting over how to divide holiday time with their children, there is additional sadness and distress.   Every year as a matrimonial attorney I see the stress on separating couples and their children as they either try to adhere to traditional holiday celebrations for the sake of their  children, or as they try to adjust with their children to the inevitable new traditions that are going to have to be made as parents separate and cannot spend the full holiday season with they traditionally would, but have to share it.  The stress can be additional as grandparents weigh in and wish to spend time with their grandchildren, and when one or both parents begin new relationships that pulls on them or whispers in their ear at holiday time as well.

How can you avoid some of the pitfalls of disputes with your “ex” that can derail the holidays with your children?  Here, are a few tips:

  1.   Consider the stress and worry that you and your ex are putting the children under when you argue about holiday parenting time.   Parents usually want Christmas to be a magical time for the children.   It is not magical when they are aware that their parents are fighting over them.  Also, children often come to feel that they are the cause or the source of what their parents are arguing over.  This can create needless feelings of guilt, worry and unhappiness that can ruin the holidays for them.

In the published Appellate Division opinion in NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY v. P.O. and M.C.D. A-1871-16, (App. Div.  Oct. 30, 2018), the AppellateIMG_1930-1-300x225 Division addressed the 2011 emergency removal of two children, ages 7 and 2, from their undocumented immigrant parents. While the two children remained in resource homes, the parents were removed from the United States. The mother was prohibited from returning to the U.S. for 10 years and the father was prohibited from returning to the U.S. for 20 years. In 2013, the parents appeared by telephone, represented by counsel, and entered into an identified voluntary surrender of their parental rights to a family they had identified to the Division as a potential resource placement. Both of the parents confirmed that in the event the family whom they identified for resource placement did not adopt their children, then  their parental rights would be reinstated and litigation would be reopened. Ten months later, the trial court ruled against moving the children to the family identified as a potential resource placement. Without notice to the parents, the trial court vacated the identified voluntary surrenders, reinstated the biological parents’ parental rights and reopened the guardianship litigation. Thereafter, the father was provided with services needed for reunification with the children.  The mother could not be provided with reunification services because she could not be located.  She failed to keep in contact with the Division after leaving the U.S.   She ultimately resumed living with the children’s father, but both parents were inconsistent in maintaining contact with the Division.

Neither of the children speak Spanish. One of the children had a language disorder that would make it difficult for him to learn Spanish if he were sent to live with his parents. Additionally, the children had bonded with the resource parents and wanted to be adopted by them. The trial court found that termination of parental rights was in the best interest of the children.

The parents appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that their due process rights were violated because they did not receive notice of the pending dissolution of the identified surrender and because many of the hearings that were before the termination trial and were not held on the record. Even though the parties did not raise these arguments in the trial court, the Appellate Division agreed that the parties should have been notified before the identified surrender judgment was vacated. More importantly, the Appellate Division stated that every proceeding should have been placed on the record even when the parents were in agreement with the provisions of the order being entered. All Children In Court proceedings resulting in orders should be on the record. Particularly when the parents, who have not unconditionally abandoned their rights, are not parties to the proceedings. Nevertheless, the failure to do so in this case was not fatal because the parents rights were restored and they were parties to a full trial on the merits.

A frequent post-divorce concern or criticism often heard from the parent who has primary residential custody of child is that their former partner does not exercise their parenting time and thatvisitation-300x200 the failure of their partner to keep to the schedule has negative monetary and lifestyle implications. I have always viewed a failure to exercise parenting time as a matter that needed to be addressed economically.   Many matrimonial attorneys and judges, however, relying on a 2006 case encaptioned J.S. v. L.S, 389 N.J. Super. 200 (App.Div. 2006), have opined that the failure a parent to exercise parenting time did not give rise to a right for economic relief. Continue reading ›

On May 3, 2018 the New Jersey Appellate  Division published the case of DCPP VS. T.D., R.C. AND R.G., IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF M.G., B.C. AND A.G. (FG-20-0040-13, UNION COUNTY AND STATEWIDE)(CONSOLIDATED) (RECORD IMPOUNDED) (A-4918-c1b55e653e97997fd3f08500aae0ee83-225x30015T1/A-4923-15T1), an Opinion affirming the trial court’s decision to not terminate the parental rights of T.D., a mother suffering from multiple sclerosis, and R.C., the father of her two youngest children, born in 2012 and 2014, and removed from the care of their parents soon after birth.  The Appellate Division, in denying the appeals of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division), and the Law Guardian on behalf of the two young children, stated that the “United States Supreme Court has held that biological parents’ relationships with their children ‘is an interest far more precious than any property right.’ Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 758-59 (1982). Therefore, New Jersey courts protect that interest by imposing “strict standards for the termination of parental rights.” Continue reading ›

 

For the third time since 2012, the New Jersey lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow persons to enter into gestational carrier agreements; namely for the intended parents to enter into a contract with a woman 21 years of age or older to become pregnant by assisted reproductive technology without the use of her own egg, and to surrender custody of the child to the intended parent immediately upon birth, and considered neither an adoption nor termination of parental rights, as long as the requirements of the statute are strictly adhered to. While two prior legislative attempts were vetoed by then Gov. Christie, it is expected that this Baby-M-movie-300x238current legislation (S482) will be signed by Gov. Murphy soon and become law. Many people continue to refer to the agreements covered by the statute as “surrogacy contracts”, and that they would in effect overturn the Supreme Court ruling in Matter of Baby M, 109 N.J. 396 (1988) which deemed such surrogacy contracts invalid. Continue reading ›

When custody disputes arise, I often consider the Biblical narrative, 1 Kings 3:16-28,  which tells the story of how King Solomon resolved a custody dispute of sorts between two women who lived 296050aba1c021ff4a7e4cab0ed498d2-3-300x200 in the same home.  The women came before King Solomon, each claiming to be the mother of the same baby boy.   King Solomon called for a sword and rendered his judgment:  He would cut the baby in two so that each woman could receive half.  The first woman did not contest Solomon’s decision, arguing that if she could not have the baby, then neither woman could.  The second woman begged King Solomon to give the baby to the other woman instead of killing the baby. King Solomon declared the second woman as the infant’s true mother, reasoning that as a mother she would give up the baby if she had to in order to save his life. Continue reading ›

In the case of Slawinski v. Nicholas, 448 N.J. Super. 25 (App. Div. 2016), the Appellate Division addressed a dispute involving parents who entered into a consent order establishing rights to grandparent visitation but then later wished to abrogate those rights. In this case, a motion was brought by the mother to terminate the visitation rights of the fraternal grandparents, claiming that the children were being harmed by the visits. The Appellate Division reversed the decision of trial court and stated that a parent could not unilaterally modify the consent order granting rights of grandparent visitation. The Court rejected the mother’s argument that, “[T]here is no burden that [mother] has to do anything other than say this is not working out, I tried.” The Appellate Division addressed grandparent visitation, as follows: Continue reading ›

On August 15, 2017, the New Jersey Appellate Division approved for publication the decision in the matter of E.S. v. H.A (A-3230-14T2 and A-3256-14T2), in which the Appellate Division addressed whether a parent may be required to admit to a crime as a condition for that parent to be able to make an application for visitation with one’s child.  The Appellate Division concluded that parents cannot be required by the state to forego their Constitutional right against self-incrimination as a condition to seek custody or visitation with their child. Continue reading ›

Nothing is more precious to us than our children. The Supreme Court of the United States has established the right to know one’s children as a fundamental Constitutional right. In New Jersey the9-08-3-300x225 right to know and raise one’s children is firmly entrenched in statutory and case law.  In our mobile society the right to know one’s children post-divorce has often come in conflict with the post-divorce business or social needs of the parents.  New Jersey, like many North Eastern states, has a highly transient population who has come here for business or personal reasons and may find business or social needs more compelling than identity to the State as home. When parents of children feel compelled to move, there is often contention over the impact of such a move on custody of the children. Continue reading ›