On August 8, 2017, the law governing a parent’s ability to move with their child out of New Jersey changed dramatically.
New Jersey joined 42 other states in our country that view this issue as one that focuses on the best interests of the child. This is a marked change from the previous law, which essentially presumed the custodial parent would be able to relocate with the child.
The social sciences underpinning the old law suggested that a happy custodial parent led to a happy child, so if the move made the custodial parent happy, then the child would be happy too. More recently, both studies and common sense have shown this is not the case when children have two active, involved, and loving parents.
Now, the law has shifted the focus to where it should be — on the child. Factors a court should consider in analyzing the best interest of a child when considering a parent’s request to move from New Jersey are the:
- Parents’ ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate in matters relating to the child
- Parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse
- Interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings
- History of domestic violence, if any
- Safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent
- Preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to form an intelligent decision
- Needs of the child
- Stability of the home environment offered
- Quality and continuity of the child’s education
- Fitness of the parents
- Geographical proximity of the parents’ homes
- Extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation
- Parents’ employment responsibilities
- Age and number of the children
Additional factors, suggested for the court to consider are:
- Reasons for seeking or opposing relocation
- The right of the child separated from one parent to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis in a manner consistent with the child’s development, except if the contact is contrary to the child’s best interests
- Pre-existing custody and parenting time determinations
- History of the family and particularly the continuity and quality of past and current care and contact arrangements, including any prior relocation
- Impact of granting or refusing the child’s relocation, paying particular attention to the child’s extended family, education, and social life
- Nature of the inter-parental relationships and the commitment of the applicant to support and facilitate the child’s relationship with the stay-behind parent after relocation
- Whether the parties’ proposals for parenting time after relocation are realistic, paying particular attention to the cost to the family and burden to the child
- Enforceability of parenting time provisions ordered as conditions of relocation in the state of destination
- Issues of mobility for family members, both seeking and opposing relocation
- Economic impact of relocation on both parents
- Any special medical, mental, or educational needs of the child and the likelihood that those needs can be met at the same or better level in the state of destination than in New Jersey
- Other factors the court may deem relevant under the circumstances
When I served as Chair of the Family Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association, we studied this issue exhaustively and drafted a statute which incorporated this best interest standard, and it was slowly making its way through the legislature. Thankfully, the judiciary, specifically the New Jersey Supreme Court, acted first to address this very important issue.
Relocation/removal cases are some of the most difficult and heart-wrenching of all. This change in the law is welcome, and will hopefully reduce the strife and stress in children’s lives.