Custody Agreements, Child Support, Alimony and The Changed Circumstances Standard
Docket No. A-1967-18T4
Decided June 16, 2020
Submitted by New Jersey Family Law Firm, Hark and Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division reviewed a trial judge decision to force defendant to pay part of her child’s college expenses, reduce the child support she was receiving, and make her pay $10,000 of plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, despite defendant earning only $71,000 and plaintiff earning $500,000.
In L.P., the parties divorced after 9 years of marriage. They have two children, a daughter born in 2002 and a son in 2007. Prior to their divorce, the parties entered into a consent order that resolved the custody and parenting time issues arising from the divorce. The parties’ property settlement agreement, that was made part of their judgment of divorce, incorporated the consent order.
The consent order awarded joint legal custody to the parties with plaintiff being designated as the parent of primary residence. It also established a parenting time schedule for defendant. In the order, the parties agreed that if they had any disagreements regarding custody or parenting time, they would consult with a parent coordinator before seeking relief from the court.
Problems between the parties developed. Defendant filed a motion seeking custody of the parties’ son after the boy expressed a desire to live with defendant, when plaintiff was relocating to a new town. Defendant’s motion was denied and the Judge ordered for the parties to consult with the parenting coordinator for future disputes.
More problems arose between the parties, including various disputes and altercations between defendant and plaintiff’s fiancé. Defendant filed a second motion seeking custody, as the son continued to express that he wanted to live with defendant. Nonetheless, the trial judge denied defendant’s motion once again, ruling that despite the son wanting to live with defendant, he thrived in school and had no trouble making friends. Therefore, the Defendant failed to show changed circumstances warranting a review of the custody factors.
Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision.
Custody agreements or orders, just like child support, alimony, and other areas of family law, is subject to the changed circumstances standard. In order to modify a court order or agreement, you must show a significant change in circumstances warranting a modification. This is usually no easy task, and the courts are reluctant to modify existing orders and agreements. Make sure you hire an experienced matrimonial attorney to advise you of your situation and to bolster your argument for changed circumstances to get over the high legal standard.
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Michael J. Collis, Esquire
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