When a couple divorces, they are obviously free to live their lives as they deem fit, as though he or she has never been married. This may include moving out of New Jersey for a fresh start. When children are involved, however, the decision to relocate out of the state becomes much more difficult, as such relocation may or may not put significant strain on the non-custodial parent’s parenting time. With that being said, the Court will only step in if one parent requests to relocate out of the state with the parties’ child(ren), and the other parent objects to that request. In that instance, the relocation request will be considered contested, and the Court will be required to get involved, as it is the public policy of the State of New Jersey that parents be afforded equal decision-making power regarding the custody of his or her child(ren).
Prior to 2017, a custodial parent seeking to relocate out of the state only had to prove (or “show cause”) that his or her request to relocate was made in good faith and that said relocation would not be detrimental to the child(ren), otherwise known as the Baures standard. The overarching theory behind the Baures standard—as rooted in social science research—was essentially that a custodial parent’s well-being and the child(ren)’s well-being were one in the same, thereby creating a relatively low threshold for the custodial parent to overcome. For almost 20 years, this was the standard followed by New Jersey Courts.
However, the easy-to-overcome Baures standard was replaced in 2017 by Bisbing v. Bisbing, 230 N.J. 309 (2017). In Bisbing, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided that a request for relocation should instead be considered under the best interest of the child standard, regardless of whether the parties’ custody arrangement designates a Parent of Primary Residence and a Parent of Alternate Residence, or the parents share equal custody. Thus, when faced with a contested relocation case, the Court must determine what is in the child’s best interests. In making that determination, the Court must consider the following statutory factors, as enumerated in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;
- The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
- The history of domestic violence, if any;
- The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
- The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason, so as to form an intelligent decision;
- The needs of the child;
- The stability of the home environment offered;
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
- The fitness of the parents;
- The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
- The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
- The parents employment responsibilities; and
- The age and number of the children.
When bringing a relocation application, it would be in the best interest of the parent seeking relocation to be as detailed as possible to convince the Court that said relocation is in the child(ren)’s best interest. Some of the most important things that a parenting seeking relocation should think about, prior to filing a relocation application, are: (1) the state and town in which to relocate; (2) the school in which the child will attend in the new state, if the child is still of school age; and (3) what a custody and parenting time arrangement will look like in the new state, especially if the relocation is to a state, which is further away such as Texas or California as opposed to a state, which is in closer proximity such as New York or Pennsylvania.
If you are a parent seeking guidance on relocation issues concerning your child(ren) moving out of New Jersey, the experienced attorneys at Lyons & Associates, P.C. can help. With offices in Morristown, Somerville, and Freehold, we serve clients all over the state. To schedule a free consultation, call us at (908) 575-9777.
 Baures v. Lewis, 167 N.J. 91 (2001).