Here is an interesting case regarding New Jersey intrastate relocation. In the case of A.J. v. R.J., the mother unilaterally moved 62.3 miles away from Elizabeth, New Jersey to Mt. Holly, New Jersey after sending only one text message to the father about the move. The father is an active and involved parent. He enjoyed a shared-parenting time schedule with their children. After a plenary hearing, the trial court ordered the mother to return with the children. Further, the court ordered her to live within 15 miles of Union, New Jersey. However, the mother did not abide by the court’s Order. Thereafter, the father sought to enforce the Order and compel the mother to move within 15 miles of Union, then or to otherwise transfer custody of the children to the father. Ultimately, the court did order the transfer of custody to the father. The mother’s appeal followed.
The Appellate Division held that the trial court needed to have a best interest hearing before the court could order the change of custody. The court further held that when the parent of primary residence seeks an intrastate relocation and the parent of alternate residence opposes it, the parent of alternate residence must convince the court that the move constitutes a change in circumstances affecting the best interests of the children. If a prima facia case is established, the court must consider the best interests of the children and statutory factors found in NJSA 9:2-4.
What is noticeably troubling with this decision is that the mother first acted unilaterally by moving the children very far away from the father. Then, she defied a court Order to return with the children. Lastly, she remained in violation of a court Order by continuing to reside 62.3 miles away. The father now awaits another hearing as per the Appellate Division decision. While this decision gives bright-line rules and guidance for future relocation cases, in this particular one, the mother, who acted unreasonably, has been able to successfully defy court Orders without any repercussions. This is unfair to not only the father in this circumstance, but the children as well.