Early in case where children are involved, we discuss the different types of custody.  There is residential custody – i.e. who the children live with and the resulting parenting time for the other parent. Then there is legal custody which is decision making regarding issues of the health, education, religion and general welfare of the kids.  in 99% of the cases, the parties will share joint legal custody – it is usually a no brainer.  in fact, In the New Jersey Supreme Court’s seminal decision of Beck v. Beck, 86 N.J. 480, 497-501 (1981), the Court stated as follows with regard to whether joint custody should be awarded:

At a minimum both parents must be ‘fit’ that is, physically and psychologically capable of fulfilling the role of parent.

That said, the minimum requirement of joint legal custody is the ability to communicate and cooperate on some basic level as it relates to the best interests of the children.  The Court in Beck further noted:

The judge must look for the parents’ ability to cooperate and if the potential exists, encourage its activation by instructing the parents on what is expected of them. . . [W]hen the actions of [an uncooperative] parent deprive the child of the kind of relationship with the other parent that is deemed to be in the child’s best interests, removing the child from the custody of the uncooperative parent may well be appropriate as a remedy of last resort.

Again, in Beck, the Supreme Court of New Jersey has written:

The most troublesome aspect of a joint custody decree is the additional requirement that the parents exhibit the potential for cooperation in matters of child rearing. This feature does not translate into a requirement that the parents have an amicable relationship. Although such a positive relationship is preferable, a successful joint custody arrangement requires only that the parents be able to exclude their personal conflicts from their roles as parents and that the children be spared whatever resentments and rancor the parents may harbor. Beck v. Beck, 480, 498 (1981).


Continue Reading HOW CAN THERE BE JOINT LEGAL CUSTODY IF THE PARTIES CANNOT COOPERATE AND REFUSE TO COMMUNICATE?

There is never a shortage of new and interesting stories involving social media that impact upon our world of family law.  We have previously blogged about what NOT to do online, because there may be a spouse ready and willing to use such online postings, pictures and the like against you in your divorce proceeding.

Apparently the Mom in the case of Melody M. did not read our blog posts. In a decision from a New York appellate court that garnered enough attention that I first read about it in the New York Daily News, Mom lost legal custody of the children for being mean to her oldest child on Facebook.

The basic facts were relatively straightforward.  The parties entered into a separation agreement in 2006 providing for joint custody of their three children, with “alternating physical placement.”  In 2009, the parties stipulated to continuing joint legal custody, with Dad having primary physicla custody and Mom having scheduled parenting time for an evening each week and on weekends during the school year.  In 2010, Mom commenced the first proceeding to increase her parenting time.  Dad opposed the requested modification, and, among other things, sought his own form of modification by requesting that he be granted sole legal custody of the children.


Continue Reading Mom Insults Son on Facebook – Loses Custody

On June 28, 2010, the Appellate Division released the unreported (non-precedential) opinion in the case of "O.R. v. H.S."  In this case, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s Order,


Continue Reading Appellate Division Reverses Award, Without a Plenary Hearing, of Joint Legal Custody, to Someone Guilty of Domestic Violence

Custody disputes are often the most emotional part of any divorce litigation.  Determining what the physical and legal custodial arrangement will be is a fact-specific analysis that puts at the forefront the best interests of the child.  While both parents start out with a presumpton of equal rights in a custody proceeding, fostering a child’s relationship with both parents is of utmost importance, as is encouraging both parents’ involvement in raising the child. 

N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c) provides for several factors that a trial court must consider in determining whether to award joint custody, sole custody or an alternative that works in the child’s best interests.  These factors include, but are not limited to, the parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child; the parents’ willingness to accept custody; and the needs of the child.  The Appellate Division recently addressed these factors in the context of a physical and legal custodial dispute in Elliott v. Prisock-Elliott, decided June 2, 2009. 

For a joint physical and legal custodial arrangement, the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that the children must recognize both parents as sources of "security and love," with a desire to continue both relationships; both parents must be fit and willing to accept custody; and the parents must demonstrate a "potential" for cooperation analyzed outside of the divorce context.  A parent involved in such a dispute should understand, though, that he or she need not have been as involved as the other parent in the child rearing process for joint custody to be appropriate. 


Continue Reading Physical and Legal Custody Determinations – Look at the Facts