Being a divorced parent and attempting to relocate to another state can be a difficult proposition. N.J.S.A. 9:2-2 provides that children cannot be removed from the state without the consent of both parents unless the court otherwise orders. The statute’s intent is to preserve the rights of the noncustodial parent and to ensure that children are able to maintain their familial relationship. Although the statute is stated simply enough, the process of relocating without the consent of the noncustodial parent can be extremely trying as evidenced in a recent published New Jersey Supreme Court decision, Morgan v. Morgan (n/k/a Leary).
In Morgan, the Court reviewed a decision denying a divorced mother’s request to move with her children to another state after the children’s father objected to the relocation. These parties were married for 13 years and had two children when they divorced in 2005. The final judgment of divorce incorporated the couple’s Property Settlement Agreement (PSA), which provided for joint legal custody of the children and which indicated that mom would be the party of primary residence. Under the PSA, dad would have the children alternate weekends, every Tuesday evening, every Thursday night until Friday morning, and for two weeks of vacation.
In late 2005, in anticipation of an application by mom to move with the children to Massachusetts, dad filed a motion seeking a re-determination of custody based on “a substantial change in circumstances.” He contended that he should be designated the parent of primary residence because he saw the children more than the PSA provided and was very involved in their school and recreational activities. Mom opposed this motion and filed a cross-motion seeking permission to move with their children to Massachusetts or, alternatively, a plenary hearing. In support of her request to relocate, mom pointed to the fact that Massachusetts is her home state; her entire family resides there; she was by then engaged to a Massachusetts resident; that her marriage would enable her to forego employment and become a “stay-at-home” mother; and that the PSA was not based on her promise to remain in New Jersey. As a result of these filings, a plenary hearing was held with both sides presenting fact and expert witnesses.