All over yesterday’s news, including the Dallas Morning New, were reports that Deion Sanders won his custody trial.  As reported, Deion received sole custody of his two sons with his wife, Pilar.  The parties also were awarded shared custody of their daughter.  In English, Deion will make all educational, health and extracurricular decisions for his two sons, ages 11 and 13, and the parties will share that responsibility for their 9-year-old daughter

As these things tend to be, this was a nasty custody fight, with Pilar making allegations of abuse and Deion alleging that this was all about the money.

For a New Jersey divorce attorney, what is also interesting about this case is that it was decided by a jury of 7 women and 5 men.  The concept of a jury deciding custody, or for that matter, any family law issue other than perhaps (but not always) a marital tort, is completely foreign in New Jersey and most jurisdictions.  In fact, other than perhaps Georgia, I am unaware of any other jurisdiction where there are jury trials for custody.  New York used to have jury trials to decide a contested divorce – i.e. whether the fault cause of action had been proven.  I suspect that this too is largely a thing of the past since no-fault divorce was recently enacted in New York, as previously noted on this blog.

In New Jersey, typically custody decisions take weeks if not months to get a decision from a judge.  In the Sanders case, the jury deliberated for less than two hours.  In New Jersey, the decision is determined less by the he said/she said, mud slinging, and more upon the testimony of one or more custody experts.  Moreover, as noted in my blog post last week entitled Custody – Back to Basics, the decision must consider the 14 factors set forth in the custody statute.


Continue Reading Deion Sanders Wins Custody Super Bowl

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?

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