Parenting Time

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

Very often, clients ask us how old their child has to be before he or she can choose which parent they want to live with.  The answer is not a simple one.  In most cases, absent undue influence or improper involvement of a child in the matter (or worse yet, alienation), once a child is a teenager, their wishes, while not determinative, should at least be considered.  Again, the age and weight given a teenagers wishes varies from judge to judge.

In fact, I tried a case a few years ago where it was undisputed that all of the children said that they wanted to spend more time with the father.  However, it was also undisputed that the father repeatedly improperly involved the children in the matter, or worse, and this, it was also undisputed that additional time with the father was not in the children’s best interests.  As a result, his request for more time was denied.  About two years later, he tried to get more time again.  The motion judge (now a second judge hearing this issue) denied it because the submissions confirmed that the father was still improperly involving the children.  Two months later, with no new facts, and no evidence that more time was in the child’s best interests, a third judge let the 17 year old go live with the father because it was this judge’s belief that, unequivocally, a teenager can choose where they want to live.

This concept was recently discussed in the case of M.I. v. B.I., an unreported (non-precedential) Appellate Division decision released on January 23, 2013.  In this post-judgment case, the Appellate Division repeated the concept that the law requires that a teenager’s (here a 15 year old) preference be considered absent evidence that the child was overly influenced by the parent with who she wanted to live.Continue Reading Absent Evidence of Undue Influence by a Parent, the Wishes of a Teenager When it Comes to Custody Must at Least Be Considered