With the COVID-19 quarantines and lockdowns, a number of men and fathers in New Jersey want to be named as either the custodial parent or a co-parent of their children. Doing this may be more complicated right now right now than under more normal circumstances, but in some situations, it can be done.
Still, it is not uncommon for fathers to come back to us some time after we handled their divorce to ask about changing the custody order or visitation schedule laid out in the final decree. Especially regarding visitation schedules, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact.
Recently, a dad called me to ask about changing his situation and that of his children regarding custody and visitation. Roughly speaking, he asked this of me:
“I’ve been divorced several years and want to change the custody and time I can spend with my children because my ex is moving home to look after her parents. With everything else that’s going on will this be difficult to do and what is involved?”
Best Interests of Children of Divorced New Jersey Fathers
To modify custody orders and parenting time, you must show that there has been a substantial change in the circumstances that warrant modifying the original decree.
If your ex is moving to another town in New Jersey, she does not need the court’s permission. But if the move means going to another state, you can file an application with the court to block the move if you can prove that it is not in the best interests of the children – the court’s overriding concern.
During the pandemic, in deciding what is in the best interests of the children a judge is sure to look at the potential medical ramifications of them staying with you.
Beyond COVID-19, in considering a motion to change custody and parenting time or issues around the mother relocating, the court looks at a number of other factors, as well:
- Your fitness to raise the child especially if you have no income right now
- The age and number of children
- The needs of each child
- The parent’s ability to communicate and cooperate with each other regarding the child
- How the child interacts with the parents and their siblings
- How much time each parent spent with the child before and after the divorce
- Any history of a parent not allowing parenting time other than because of abuse
- Any history of domestic violence that endangers the safety of the child or the other parent
- For older children, their ability to express their wishes
- The stability of the home where the non-custodial parent wants the child to live or spend more time
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education
- How close will a child be to each parent’s home after a move
- The employment situation of each parent
A change in the distance between the homes of the two parents can be what a court considers a “substantial change” that might justify modifying the original custody or parenting time order. And with the mother moving in with her parents – who are in a high-risk group – it may be easier to change the custodial parent to a New Jersey father.
Custody and Relocation Questions Are Complex in New Jersey
Questions involving child custody and relocation are very complex. If you are a divorced father in New Jersey, feel free to contact one of our divorce and custody lawyers even if we did not handle your original divorce. Even though we are all working at home, our electronic infrastructure allows us to be in touch with clients, each other and the court. We can “meet” in our video conference room, discuss your issue by email, or talk over the phone by calling either 973.562.0100 in Nutley or, in Montclair, at 862.245.4620.