NJ SUPREME COURT CHANGES CHILD RELOCATION LAW

On August 6th, 2017 the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on the base of Bisbing v Bisbing, resulting in a dramatic change to how and when parents can relocate with their children out-of-state after a divorce. This ruling has overturned 20 years or prior case law, and has established a new standard for all out-of-state relocation petitions. 

The Old "Baures v Lewis" Standard for Relocation Matters

Chester, NJ Child Relocation Attorneys

Prior to the ruling in last month's Bisbing v Bisbing decision, the case law for deciding when and how parents could relocate with their children was based upon the standards established in the case of Baures v Lewis. In this case, the ruling court determined that whatever was in the best interests of the custodial parent was also in the best interests of the children involved.

This allowed for parents who had been designated as the "Parent of Primary Residence" to relocate out-of-state without the other parent really being able to contest the relocation. This in turn lead to a great deal of abuse when negotiating a divorce's child custody agreement. As the designation of "Primary Custodial Parent" is usually only used to determine which address is legally tied to the children for things like which school district they will attend and where formal letters to those children will be sent, many parents unknowing consented to giving the other parent this designation, not understanding that this designation would later allow that parent to relocate with their children if they could simply demonstrate that the relocation was "in good faith".

The issue with this standard that has slowly become apparent to lawmakers across the state is that this method does not truly take into account the best interests of the children involved, the most important factor in any legal decision involving children in the state of New Jersey.

The Case of Bisbing v Bisbing

Mendham, NJ Child Custody Lawyers

In the case whose outcome has now set a new standard for child relocation matters, father Glenn Bisbing and mother Jamie Bisbing settled their divorce and their child custody agreement in such a way which gave both parents shared legal custody and roughly equal parenting time, but designated Jamie Bisbing as the "Parent of Primary Residence". However, as part of consenting to this designation, Glenn asked that Jamie agree to not relocate with their children following their divorce. Furthermore, as part of the language included in their divorce settlement agreement, both parents shared the belief and understanding that the removal of the children out-of-state by either parent would have an expressly negative impact on the children.

One year following the settlement of their divorce, Jamie alerted Glenn that she intended to move to Utah in order to marry a man she had been dating there, and that she intended to bring the children with her. While Glenn had no objection to Jamie's remarriage or her move, he strongly objected to Jamie's intention to also bring their children. However, Jamie insisted, and filed a request for approval of her relocation with their children with the family courts.

As we discussed above, the law at the time was such that, as the Parent of Primary Residence, Jamie only had to show that her intended relocation was in good faith, and in this case, a relocation with the purpose of remarriage was considered acceptable cause for relocation, and in good faith. Upon this decision, Glenn began the family law appeals process, and his case finally arrived at the desk of the highest level of family law court in the state, the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The NJ Supreme Court Sets a New Standard for Relocation and Custody

Now in front of the NJ Supreme Court, Glenn and his child custody attorney made several clear arguments. First, Glenn held that his wife acted in bad faith during their divorce negotiations, knowing that if she could secure the designation of Parent of Primary Residence, she could secure court approval for relocating her children out-of-state without Glenn being able to contest said relocation. Second, Glenn argued that the existing Baures standards was against the intent of the legislation to acknowledge both parent's equal rights during custody matters, and failed to properly take into account the child's best interest, the most important factor in any custody issue.

The NJ Supreme Court recognized the importance of this case and their decision, and as such asked that the New Jersey State Bar Association appear before the court as amicus curiae (impratial advisors). The Bar Association urged the NJ Supreme Court to overturn the prior standards, stating that parents should not waive their right to seek a judicial hearing on a relocation matter based simply upon the type of child custody that had been secured during divorce.

After listening to both sides, and the testimony of the Bar Association, the NJ Supreme Court finally ruled in Glenn's favor, stating that the Baures standard failed to achieve its intended result, and had resulted in a slew of bad faith accusations in relocation requests, unnecessarily exhaustive litigation in these types of disputes, and that the focus of the existing child relocation laws had lost sight of the most important aspect, the best interests of the children involved.

What Does This Mean for My Morris County Relocation Request?

According to the new case law established in the Bisbing v Bisbing decision, all child relocation requests will be decided upon what the court believes to be in the best interests of the children involved, regardless of the type of child custody that either parent may have.

Parents seeking to relocate with their children must first demonstrate that their relocation is in good faith, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:2-2, and if the other parent chooses to contest the relocation, than the deciding court will perform the same "best interest analysis" they do during many different child custody disputes.

This best interest analysis, described in N.J.S.A. 9:4-2, will involve interviewing the parents, adults with close relationships to the children, and sometimes even the children themselves, and may also involve outside testimony from family dynamic and child development experts, and potentially even psychological testing as well, all with the goal of determining what kind of arrangement will be in the best interests of the children involved.

Following this exhaustive analysis, the courts will award one parent primary custody with whom the children will live, will modify the existing child custody agreement to reflect this new arrangement, and will finally seek to find the best possible way for the children to still maintain their relationship with their other parent.

Contact Our Morris County Relocation Attorneys Today

At Laufer, Dalena, Cadicina, Jensen & Bradley, our attorneys have extensive experience helping parents with all manner of child custody issues, including child custody modifications and child relocations across Chester, Chatham, Mendham, Harding, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area.

Our firm features many attorneys regularly nominated to the Super Lawyers list as it relates to family law, signifying peer and industry recognition of our accomplishments and the level of service we provide to each of our family law clients. For a complete list of our attorneys and their years of inclusion to Super Lawyers, please view the section below.

If you are thinking about relocating out-of-state with your children, or are a parent facing a pending relocation request, it is critical that you have experienced legal counsel on your side during such an important matter. To speak with one of our child relocation attorneys today in a free and confidential consultation regarding your unique situation, your options moving forward, and how we can help you to secure the resolution that makes the most sense for you and your children, please contact us online, or through our Morristown office at (973) 975-4043.

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