Here are the top 10 most commonly asked questions asked during a New Jersey child custody consultation.
I put together the list of questions below that I send to my consultation clients before I meet with them, outlining the top 10 questions that I tend to be asked by most people. My hope is that answering these questions in advance will get them out of the way so that we can really sit down and maximize our time together and speak about the real important issues of the case.
I hope some of these questions will help you, whether you’re preparing to meet with me or another attorney any time soon. These are the top 10 child custody questions I get during a consultation.
1.) How much is this going to cost me?
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to ascertain what a case will cost, any case. The terms and the fee schedule will vary depending on the law firm that you’re with. Our firm, for instance, has certain sliding scales to our hourly rates, and some flat fee offers that we make depending on the complexity of the case. Not all firms necessarily do that, so it’s going to be difficult to determine the exact cost.
If you’re doing an hourly case, it’s going to turn on the complexity of your issues:
- The relationship of the two parents, meaning how well they get along, and how reasonable they are with one another.
- The court’s ability to schedule the case promptly and to manage it properly, meaning that you don’t spend all day in court. They get to you early.
These two factors are going to greatly influence how much your costs are from that early arranged case.
2.) How long will a custody case last?
I estimate anywhere from three to nine months. I know it’s a large window, but it depends on how quickly the court’s going to schedule the hearings, and whether or not the hearings that I will mention below are scheduled at the same time, or on different days.
3.) How many times will I be required to appear in court?
I tell clients to estimate anywhere from three to six times. The first appearance is going to be the return of the application. The second appearance is going to be a court-ordered mediation, which almost always follows a custody case. Sometimes, the mediation is offered at the first hearing, so that’s why the number of hearings you have may vary. The last one is going to be, or at least the third one, would be whether the court makes the actual decision on the custody application.
The reason why there’s three others that may be in there is that there may be hearings to determine whether or not there’s going to be experts appointed. There may be case management if the court needs to schedule the case and see where it’s going. This adds on to the number of times you may need to appear in court, getting between three and six.
4.) Will the court will interview my child?
The general practice courts don’t interview children. Many believe that they don’t necessarily have the background to ascertain the sort of mental or psychological issues that may be necessary in determining a custody case. They leave that to experts.
In the cases where they’re going to interview your child, it usually has to be that one of the parties have requested it before filing. The judge will usually do in what’s called “in camera”, which means behind closed doors, and without the parties or the parents watching it. It’s usually going to be either video or audio recorded, or both, and you will be able to access it later with a certain court order. You won’t be sitting in during the interview.
5.) At what age can my child decide whom he or she wants to live with?
My basic answer to that is there is not age, as long as they’re unemancipated, which is generally 19 or below. The court will not let a child make a determination of custody.
- They don’t know that a child, at any age, has the ability to make such a sophisticated decision.
- Probably more importantly, they don’t want to put any child in between their fighting parents on this kind of an issue.
Now, with that being said, at around 13 or so, they will start to consider what a child’s desire is for custody. They’ll listen to it, but they will not let that child ever decide.
6.) What does a parent need to prove in order to change custody?
The standard is the best interest of the child. You have to prove immaterial substantial change of circumstances that inures to the best interest of the child, which means two things really:
- Something significantly has changed; but more importantly,
- Changing custody is in the best interest of the child.
The reason I emphasize that is a lot of parents will seek to change custody because employment changes, or because living arrangements change. These are issues that more commonly benefit the parents and not the actual child. You need to show that the benefit, or the changes, is to the benefit of the child. Not that it’s just better for him or her, but it’s in the child’s best interest.
7.) Will I be able to have the other parent pay my legal fees?
There is a law that suggests, in some circumstances, a family court judge can make one parent pay the other parent’s legal fees in a family matter. They will usually look to issues like discrepancy in income, and good and bad faith positions that were taken during the litigation.
However, I tell my clients don’t expect it.
- It doesn’t happen that often;
- If you don’t expect it when you’re paying your legal fees, and you receive it in the end, you’re ahead of the game. If you go through the litigation with the hopes of getting fees paid back, and you don’t, you’re going to suffer a very large detriment at the end.
8.) How many times can the other parent take me back to court?
That’s really not limited, unfortunately. The courts have very little discretion in closing somebody’s access to the courts, whether it’s for custody or any other reason.
However, if it does look like they’re abusing the process, there can be other sanctions that are imposed: the payment of legal fees, make up parenting time, changes in custody, or sometimes even threaten when somebody’s abusing the process like that. But a bright line rule doesn’t exist because it’s a very harsh remedy to impose.
9.) Can I refuse parenting time to the other parent?
That generally means parental interference. The question will depend on whether or not you have a court order. If there’s a court order for parenting time, you cannot refuse parenting time even if you think your child’s at risk of harm.
There are steps to take, and agencies to help you if you think there’s a risk of harm, but you don’t have the discretion to disobey a court order. If there’s not a court order, and you think it’s in your child’s best interest, you do have the right to refuse parenting time. But I would do so cautiously.
10.) Can I leave the state of New Jersey without the parent’s permission, or can the other parent leave without my permission?
The answer is a very tricky one, so it’s important that you understand the distinction. If you’ve ever been to court with the other parent on issues about the child, whether it be child support, parenting time and visitation, custody, even possibly domestic violence cases, then you cannot leave the state of New Jersey without either the other parent’s consent or a court order.
That statute says if custody has ever been an issue, you cannot leave. So the examples I just gave you are where the courts consider custody to be an issue, even if it wasn’t an actual custody case and you were just in court for some issue about your child.
Now, if you’ve never been to court on any issue regarding your child, then you can leave the state of New Jersey without parent’s permission.
I hope this information helps you prepare for whatever meeting you may have coming up. If you need more information, text “MLG” to 72000.