In what seemed like an eventual, but no less dramatic change in family law jurisprudence, the Supreme Court of New Jersey in Bisbing v. Bisbing overturned the well-established two-part test used in determining whether a primary custodian should be permitted to relocate interstate with an unemancipated child and, in connection therewith, the primary custodian’s presumptive

In the newly published decision of Benjamin v. Benjamin out of the Ocean County Family Part, which has released several reported decisions within the past few years, the court held that having a guaranteed job in another state is not a mandatory prerequisite for it to approve a custodial parent’s request to relocate to another state with a child born.  The court did hold, however, that the “likelihood that the custodial parent can provide the child with a financially stable household in the new state, including obtaining employment as necessary is relevant in determining whether a proposed relocation is reasonable or inimical to a child’s interests.”

On first blush, the court’s statement that the primary residential custodian has the right to seek relocation almost suggests that such a right is automatic.  A closer read of the decision and its ultimate holding, however, indicates that the standard fits within the existing relocation standard. 

The parties were divorced in 2008 and agreed in a settlement agreement that mom would be the child’s primary residential custodian.  In 2012, mom filed an application to relocate with the child to North Carolina, which dad objected to by filing a cross motion seeking a transfer to him of residential custody.  One of dad’s arguments was that mom did not have a job in North Carolina, which would inure to the child’s financial detriment.


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 It is well-settled law in New Jersey that prior to the relocation of a child from the this state by a custodial parent on a permanent basis, the parent first must formally request leave from the Court. The court will then examine the move under the factors set forth in the seminal case Baures v. Lewis, which guides the court’s relocation inquiry. In Baures, the Court recognized three now-established legal principals:

1. The relocation standard is based upon a custodial parent’s right to seek happiness and fulfillment, which in turn, benefits the child.
2. Upon relocation, the non-custodial parent’s communication and exposure to the child must be sufficient to sustain that relationship.
3. Finally, the custodial parent must provide proof that the child would not suffer as a result of the move.

While Baures is proverbial gospel when it comes to relocation from the State of New Jersey, an interesting question arose in the Ocean County trial Court in McKinley v. Naters, which was approved for publication (binding opinion) on April 13, 2011. Namely, the McKinley case examined whether the court should grant a contested application for a temporary removal of a child to another state for “extended vacation purposes” prior to a formal relocation hearing under Baures?

The parties in McKinley were divorced on December 10, 2002. They share one child together, whom the Court referred to as H.M. At the time of the divorce, the parties agreed to share residential (physical) custody of H.M.


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A New Jersey trial court recently held in the published (precedential) decision of McKinley v. Naters that it was appropriate under a given set of circumstances to allow for the pre-trial, temporary removal of a child to another state for what it described as “extended vacation purposes” to provide the child with a “reasonable opportunity . . . to experience living in the proposed new state prior to trial.”  When I read the court’s conclusion, which is briefly laid out on the first page of the Opinion, my first thought was the seeming tactical advantage that would inure to the parent seeking removal.   After a full review of the court’s conclusions and rationale, however, it seems that the interests of both parties were properly balanced so as not to provide leverage to one party over the other.    

The facts are relatively straightforward for a removal scenario.  The parties divorced in 2002 and the settlement agreement provided for shared residential custody of the child.  In May 2010, Mom filed a motion seeking to permanently relocate to Florida with the child.  She claimed that she and her present spouse sought to relocate there for employment reasons, the child would have greater educational opportunities in Florida, and he would “enjoy life” more in Florida than in New Jersey.  Dad opposed Mom’s motion and sought residential custody of the child.

A plenary hearing was scheduled to occur in August 2010 and, in the interim, the parties could attempt to mediate and conduct discovery.  A psychological expert was appointed by the court to perform a custody evaluation.  In June, Mom filed a motion seeking the court’s permission to “temporarily remove” the child from New Jersey to Florida for 4 weeks for “extended vacation” purposes, and so the child could obtain a “feel” for the new neighborhood in Florida.  Dad opposed the request.  Not surprisingly, each party claimed that the other’s position was nothing more than an effort to obtain an advantage in the litigation.


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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.


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We have blogged about the issue of relocation (removal) with children after a divorce and the standards that a court must follow.  To see our prior posts, click here, here and here.  The considerations are different if the parties have a truly shared parenting plan or if the non-custodial parent has something less than 50-50.  In the latter instance, the move must be made in good faith and not inimical to the child(rens) best interests (and there are numerous factors set forth in the Baures v. Lewis case that a court must consider. For true shared parenting cases, moves are more difficult because a more stringent best interests analysis is employed. On top of that, it is not enough that the parties designate their arrangement as joint or shared custody, the case law post-Baures made clear that it was the actual parenting time that mattered not what the parties described to to be.

Against that backdrop, we turn to the unreported (non-precedential) Appellate Division in the case of Walsh-Morales v. Morales decided on November 5, 2010.  In this case, post-divorce, the mother sought to re-marry and move to Texas with the parties’ daughter.  The father moved to bar the move, seeking sole custody if the mother moved.  The mother asserted that she was the primary residential parent- the father asserted that there was true shared parenting.

The trial court determined that there was true shared parenting, denied the mother’s request to relocate and directed that the father be the primary parent if the mother moved.  The mother appealed not necessarily as to the law applied, but rather, as to the factual determination that the parties had true shared parenting.


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I have previously blogged on the standard courts consider when asked whether a custodial parent can relocate outside of New Jersey.

In our global economy with the economic times being what they are, more and more often I hear people asking if they’ll be allowed to move with their children after the divorce.  Recently, the Appellate Court in New Jersey issued an unpublished decision in what appears to have been a hotly contested divorce and relocation trial.  In Hryack v. Hyrack, A-1321-08T4, A-3645-08T2 (two consolidated appeals) decided October 29, 2009, the court gave its thorough analysis of the relocation issue as it pertained to this family.

The first question for a court to answer when faced with an application for relocation outside of New Jersey is whether the physical custodial relationship between the parents is one where one parent is the primary caretaker and the other the secondary caretaker. O’Connor v. O’Connor 349 NJ Super. 381, 385 (App. Div. 2002). If a court does find that the relationship between parties is one where one parent is the primary caretaker and the other the secondary caretaker, the request to relocate must be analyzed further with the standard set forth in the New Jersey Supreme Court case of Baures v. Lewis, 167 N.J. 91 (2001).


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With technology, the Internet, mobility and information overflow, post divorce individuals often wonder if they can relocate to another state for personal or business related reasons.  The easy answer is sure, so long as there are no children or if your divorce judgment or agreement addresses this issue.

What happens when children are involved and the agreement or divorce judgment does not address the issue of relocation of a custodial parent.  The custodial parent seeking to relocate can file an application with the Court for an Order granting them permission to relocate.  The controlling statutory law is N.J.S.A. 9:2-2 and the precedential case in the state of NJ is Baures v. Lewis, 167 N.J. 91 (2001).

Recently, the Appellate Division revisited this issue in the unpublished matter of Cathrall n/k/a Greenberg v. Cathrall, IV, decided March 18, 2009, Docket Number A-4085-06T3.  This appeal stemmed from a post judgment order denying relocation, which resulted from a post judgment motion requesting permission to relocate from New Jersey to Florida, filed by the mother/custodial parent.

The parties were divorced in 2003.  Since their separation, plaintiff/mother had custody of the two minor children born of the marriage.  Defendant/father had supervised parenting time due to admitted issues with alcoholism and had a strained relationship with the minor children.  A year after the divorce was finalized plaintiff/mother remarried.  She was also the owner and operator of a children’s clothing store in Stone Harbor, which was operated as a seasonal business during the summer months.  Plaintiff/mother filed an application in early 2004 seeking permission to relocate to Marathon, Florida.  Her desire was to open a similar store in Florida to operate during the winter months and return to NJ during the summer months to operate the store in Stone Harbor.  Defendant/father opposed this application, however by way of an Order dated April 8, 2004, the trial court granted the request.


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