The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division recently decided a case involving relocation entitled K.F. v. N.V. The parties dated from April 2014 through June 2016 and lived in Wayne, New Jersey. A son was born of their courtship in April 2015. After the parties separated, the Father moved three (3) times, eventually settling in Edison, an hour away from Wayne. The parties entered into a Consent Order wherein they confirmed that they would share joint legal custody of their son with the Mother designated as parent of primary residence and the Father designated as parent of alternate residence. The Father exercised parenting time in accordance with their Consent Order, with approximately 144 overnights.
However, in June of 2018, Mother advised Father of her plans to marry and her desire to relocate to Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, approximately 155 miles from Edison. Father objected. In August of 2018, Mother filed an application to relocate in addition to requesting other forms of relief. Father filed a cross-application seeking denial of Mother’s relocation and primary custody of the parties’ son. A relocation hearing began in May 2019 and concluded in October 2020. The Judge heard testimony from the parties, the mother’s parents, the father’s fiancé, and two expert witnesses. Most notably, the Mother set forth various parenting plan arrangements during her testimony in order to afford the Father significant time with the parties’ son.
On December 17, 2019, the Judge denied Mother’s request to relocate to Pennsylvania and ordered that if Mother relocated to Pennsylvania, Father would become the child’s primary physical custodian. The Judge found that Mother’s proposed relocation would “have an adverse effect on the [Father’s] parenting time as the non-custodial parent by significantly altering the frequency and convenience of [Father’s] parenting time.” Mother appealed the decision.
The Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded the proceeding back to the trial court for a new trial. The Appellate Division determined that the trial judge gave significant weight to Father’s testimony as to the number of days he spent with his son which skewed the best interests analysis and elevated Father’s custodial status to that of a primary residential parent.
Despite the reversal, the trial court decision is instructive with respect to the significance of the interrelationship between the parties regarding parenting time and the analysis of the N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c) factors.
Notably, because the Mother had initially limited the Father’s parenting time, the trial court found that the factor with respect to the parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse, weighed in the Father’s favor and impacted the decision to deny relocation. Moreover, the parties were unable to communicate well, as the Father used harsh and demeaning language which caused the Mother to shut down and avoid all communication.
Additionally, the Appellate Division criticized the trial judge for not comparing the number of days the child spent with his Father, versus his Mother, and how the allocation would be impacted under the Mother’s proposed parenting plans if she were permitted to relocate. The Appellate Division is “convinced that [the Mother] is entitled to reconsideration of her relocation application based on the number of overnights each parent would enjoy under her proposed parenting plans.”
The opinion underscores the importance of avoiding any unwillingness to allow parenting time with the other parent and ensuring that you communicate efficiently and cooperate in any and all matters relative to the children. It is equally important to afford significant parenting time to the other parent and afford various alternative parenting plans achieving this goal, especially when young children are involved as they are entitled to constant contact with both parents to maintain a bond.
Please note that this warning is not intended to accuse or admonish. It is strictly to inform you of the factors considered by the trial court when rendering a decision on the issue of relocation and emphasize to you the impact that certain actions can have on the Judge’s ultimate decision regarding relocation.
Please feel free to contact our firm with any questions with respect to the above information.