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How Can I Celebrate My Child’s Birthday after Divorce?

Among all the changes that come when a couple goes through a divorce, parents often say sharing their child’s birthday is one of the biggest adjustments they must make. If you are newly divorced, you may be wondering how to celebrate your child’s next birthday as coparents. Even if you want to spend the day with your child, it may fall during your ex-spouse’s parenting time, or they may have different ideas about how to spend the occasion.

This discussion offers solutions to this common roadblock to make the day special for your child, peaceful for you, and memorable for friends and family.

Include Birthdays in Your Parenting Agreement

One of the most effective ways to prevent arguments and battles about children’s birthdays is to plan ahead. If you have not already, ask your divorce lawyer about including something in your parenting plan about what to do for your child’s birthday. If you can agree to the terms in mediation, great. If not, the courts will decide if you switch child custody on birthdays from year to year or share the day.

Even if your parenting plan has already been created, you can ask your ex-spouse to agree to revise it with a formal plan for birthdays and other special occasions. If they do not agree, you must file a motion in court. You should weigh the advantages and disadvantages to determine if legal action is worth the time, money, and stress in this case.

The hope is you and your ex-spouse can agree on one of the options below out of court, under the guidance of your divorce lawyers.

Have One Party

This day is about your child. It would probably make them happy to spend their birthday with both parents. If you have a good relationship with your ex-spouse and are certain you can avoid conflict, consider having one party.

This works best in a neutral location such as a movie theater, bowling alley, park, or favorite restaurant. If you want to invite extended family, remind them to be on their best behavior as well. You child’s special day is not the time to bring up past hurts and resentments.

Take Shifts during the Party

One adjustment to the single party idea keeps things simple but gives ex-spouses space from each other. Some coparents host one party at an outside location and take shifts at the event. Therefore, perhaps Dad attends for the first hour and Mom takes over for the second. This way, the child spends time with both parents and does not have to travel from location to location. Parents can also split the cost of the party and supplies.

Opt for Separate Parties

Although a single, family birthday party is a great idea in theory, it just is not practical for many divorced couples. Some divorces are more contentious than others. If spending the day together is likely to lead to arguments, avoid a joint party at all costs.

If you and your ex-spouse live nearby, consider hosting two birthday parties. For example, Mom can take the child out for bowling and pizza in the afternoon, and Dad can host friends and family for birthday cake and ice cream in the evening. This way, the child can see both parents and both sides of the family on their actual birthday.

The disadvantage to this option is it can be a long and tiring day, especially for younger children. Teens and tweens who invite friends to their birthday may not want to leave them to go the other parent’s home. What works one year may not work the next.

Alternate Year to Year

Another option for scheduling parenting time around your child’s birthday is to switch who gets the child for the birthday from year to year. Mom might get odd years, while Dad gets the even years. Coparents who do not get along, live at a great distance from each other, or just want the entire day with the child can use this schedule.

Of course, the downside to this plan is that one parent does not get to see the child on their birthday. In that case, they can celebrate another day that week. Although it may be hard for you, you might be surprised how easily your child adjusts. They might prefer to spend their birthday with both parents, but they may not be opposed to having two birthday parties in one year.

Questions to Ask When Planning Your Child’s Birthday

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for how to handle birthdays after divorce. It really depends on your relationship with your ex-spouse. How you interact, communicate, and coparent your child will help you determine the best arrangement for your youngster.

Before you make a plan, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there animosity between you and your ex-spouse?
  • Will you permit new partners to attend the party?
  • Are either one of you likely to pick a fight at the party?
  • How do you each get along with your in-laws?
  • Will your behavior change around each other?
  • Will your child sense tension between you and your ex-spouse?
  • How involved is your ex-spouse in the child’s life?
  • How long has it been since your divorce?
  • When is the last time you both attended something together, and how did it go?
  • Does your child want to spend their birthday with both parents?

Put Your Child First

This last piece of advice is really the most important. When thinking about how to celebrate your child’s birthday, follow their lead. After all, it is their day. Ask them what they want to do for their birthday and work with your ex-spouse to accommodate their wishes, within reason of course.

As children get older, it is even more important to give children some input in the plan, understanding their needs change over time as peers and socializing become more important. The schedule in your parenting plan for your five-year-old’s birthday may not work when your child turns 14 or 15.

Your Feelings Matter as Well

Your child’s best interests should always be the motivation for decisions about custody, visitation, and parenting time in general. But before you commit to spend the day with your ex-spouse, check in with yourself and your own feelings.

Divorce is a major life event, and one that requires time and space to heal. If it is hard to see your former spouse, or if they have moved on and you are not quite there yet, sharing the day may not be the right option, for now. Your child is likely to pick up on your pain and sadness, and that can overshadow their day.

The last thing you want to do on a day that is supposed to be joyful is pretend to be okay if you are not. If your feelings are still raw and you would rather not see your ex-spouse, it is okay. Choose a plan that allows you to be there for your child but offers some space from your ex-spouse.

However you choose to celebrate your child’s birthday after divorce, it is always smart to start discussing the day at least a few months ahead. This way, you have more time to make a plan and iron out any kinks ahead of time. When your child’s special day rolls around, everyone will be in a good place and ready to have fun and make memories.

Somerville Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., Help Clients Create Fair and Effective Parenting Plans through Mediation

Birthdays and holidays are just one piece of the coparenting puzzle you will deal with during divorce. The Somerville child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., understand that sharing custody for these special events is not always easy. That is why we do all we can to resolve child custody matters peacefully and effectively to reduce conflict and legal battles going forward. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.

What Should I Know about a Midlife Divorce?

Midlife divorce, or so-called gray divorce, rates are on the rise. In fact, the divorce rate among people over 50 has doubled over the past two decades. For many people, midlife is a catalyst for making major life changes. It is a time when many people take stock of their lives and feel a sense of urgency to make the most of the years ahead.

For some couples, that means taking a closer look at their marriage and deciding if they really want to spend their golden years with their spouse. This discussion explains why so many married people opt for a midlife divorce and the first steps to take if you are considering ending your marriage in your 40s or 50s.

The Midlife Transition

Everyone who lives to a certain age will experience a midlife transition. It is simply the passage from one’s young adulthood into the middle years of life. Also, people have different perspectives on aging. Some are confident the best days are yet to come. Others see getting older as a gift and feel gratitude for the chance to experience all life has to offer.

Still for others, hitting the late 40s and early 50s is more challenging, even a crisis.

Am I Having a Midlife Crisis?

To understand why midlife is a common time for divorce, it is helpful to understand the psychology behind the midlife crisis.

A midlife crisis is a period of transition that, for many people, comes with a range of uncomfortable emotions and behaviors that seem out of character. A midlife crisis affects people differently and can last anywhere from a few months to as long as a decade. Generally, they occur between the ages of 45 and 65.

Although it is normal to feel ambivalent about the aging process, a midlife crisis comes with actions and symptoms that are more intense than the expected wistfulness about one’s passing youth. 

Some signs of a midlife crisis include:

  • Fixating on past mistakes and regrets
  • Feeling unsure about what direction to take
  • Changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns
  • Increase in anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Impulsive and reckless decisions
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Obsessing over one’s appearance
  • Tasking sudden or drastic measures to look more youthful

It is not uncommon for people going through a midlife crisis to experience a mental health disorder at the same time. Anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and substance use disorders can appear or worsen during a midlife crisis.

It is important to note that if you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, reach out for help immediately.

How a Midlife Crisis Can Lead to Divorce

Knowing the common signs and behaviors of this transition will help you determine if you are in the throes of a midlife crisis so you can be proactive about getting help and protecting your marriage from the fallout. 

Person pulls away from their spouse. There are a few reasons why a midlife crisis leads to a late-in-life divorce for some couples. First, when someone is in the throes of a personal crisis of any kind, they tend to focus a good deal of their time and energy on themselves. Friends, family members, and their spouse sense them withdrawing and retreating into their own world. That emotional and physical separation leaves the spouse feeling rejected and alone. 

Person questions their life choices. During a midlife crisis, the sudden reality of a person’s own mortality causes them to question their life choices. Am I stuck in a rut? Did I take the right career path? Do I want to spend the rest of my life with my partner?

These are all valid questions. After all, there are no guarantees the choices we make at 20 will reflect the person we are at 50. People change over time, along with their goals, needs, and general views on life. Our own roles begin to change. Adult children need their parents less, whereas aging parents need them more.

Spouses tend to grow together or grow apart over the years. Sadly, many couples no longer recognize the person they fell in love with so many years ago. They decide to divorce and see if there is someone more compatible out there waiting for them.

Person experiences a significant life event. Some people notice feelings of boredom, restlessness, or dissatisfaction developing gradually over time. Yet for others, it is solitary and sudden life event that triggers a midlife crisis and divorce. These milestones can be joyful or traumatic, but either way, they are powerful enough to cause the person to question their own identity and their priorities.

The loss of a job, death of a loved one, a major illness, or a big number birthday are all reminders that life is precious and time is a gift. For someone in an unhappy marriage, a major life event if often the final straw that pushes them toward divorce.

What to Consider When Divorcing Over 50

With divorce at any age, certain legal and financial details need to be resolved. Those details vary, depending on the age of the spouses and the length of the marriage. Here are some issues to consider if you are divorcing later in life.

Fewer child custody issues. Couples in middle age may not have to navigate the complexities of child custody, visitation, and child support if their children have reached the age of adulthood and are independent.

Complex marital estates. Marital assets tend to be more substantial for couples in their 40s, 50s, or 60s because one or both partners have been working for several decades. Along the way, they may have made investments or inherited assets from other family members. In a gray divorce, the marital portfolio tends to be larger and more complex, requiring more time and legal guidance to distribute. 

Retirement accounts. Middle-aged couples are closer to the age of retirement, making retirement benefits a pressing matter during midlife divorce. Spouses have less time to replenish these funds, so it is imperative to accurately account for what is available and distribute retirement accounts according to any pre- or postnuptial agreements, state divorce laws, and terms specific to each account.

Updating beneficiaries. Estate planning is the process of making certain legal, financial, and medical arrangements and completing certain documents to protect one’s assets in the event of their incapacitation or passing. Although estate planning is important for adults of all ages, it becomes even more critical during midlife.

Generally, a married person names a spouse and/or children as executors or beneficiaries in wills, trusts, life insurance policies, and other accounts. In many cases, a spouse asks their partner to make crucial medical decisions for them if they cannot do so for any reason.

During divorce, individuals should review all estate planning documents to remove a former spouse as a power of attorney, executor, or beneficiary when appropriate. A lawyer focused on estate law is the best resource to make these changes.

First Steps to Take When Divorce Is Inevitable

Getting older is easier for some than for others. Although the growing pains in one’s 40s and 50s can be difficult to navigate, they can also provide invaluable clarity about what a person wants, and does not want, for their golden years.

Think about the person married to an unfaithful, abusive, or just incompatible spouse. Coming to terms with a dysfunctional marriage can be quite liberating, and the possibility of true happiness on the other side of divorce can be invigorating.

If you are considering divorce, the first thing to do is to get organized and gather important financial documents. It is surprising how many spouses are in the dark about their family’s financial picture.

Gather account statements for investment and checking accounts, recent pay stubs, and at least three years of tax returns. This information will be helpful when it is time to make that first appointment with the divorce lawyer.

Hire a Lawyer with Midlife Divorce Experience

A midlife divorce comes with its own unique concerns and challenges. Someone divorcing in their early 20s is going to have very different needs and goals than someone in their 50s. When divorcing in midlife, it is vital to hire a divorce lawyer with a proven track record of success resolving gray divorce matters in a way that protects their client’s interests above all else.

Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., Represent Clients Divorcing Later in Life

Midlife divorce is becoming more common that you might realize. The Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., want you to know there is hope and a new beginning on the other side of a gray divorce. As a firm, we understand the unique challenges that come with a midlife divorce, and we use every legal tool available to resolve your divorce matters quickly and effectively. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.

What Can I Do if Something Was Overlooked in My Divorce Settlement?

Divorce is a complex undertaking, one that involves many details and documents. It is not as simple as just signing on the dotted line. There are matters of division of property, alimony, and child custody and child support that must be determined. And the reality is, it is not uncommon for one or both parties to discover that something has been overlooked in the divorce settlement. 

Omissions or errors in divorce proceedings happen for a variety of reasons. Either spouse may neglect to disclose important financial information. The judge can make a mistake. Or more commonly, the terms to which both parties agree at the time no longer reflect their home, job, or financial situation months or years later. 

If something is missing or incorrect in your divorce settlement, you have two primary options to make it right. This discussion explains how to appeal a judge’s decision or file a motion for a post-divorce modification in New Jersey. 

Post-Divorce Modification 

When you divorce, the terms of your settlement reflect your current life circumstances, including your job, income, expenses, debts, and custody arrangement. 

But of course, the only constant in life is change. A remarriage, new job, health crisis, or drastic change in income can significantly impact how you live your life. It may be possible to modify your divorce settlement, if you can show there has been a major change of circumstances for either party or for your children.

The most common reasons to change a divorce settlement include the following: 

Alimony. If the spouse paying alimony or the spouse receiving it has a substantial change in income or circumstances, it may be necessary to adjust the amount of alimony accordingly. In some cases, the paying spouse seeks to terminate spousal support altogether, particularly if the receiving spouse is living with a new partner or has remarried. 

Child support. Modifications to child support usually occur when the parent paying support, the non-custodial parent, has a significant income change or has another child. It is unlikely that child support will be terminated, unless the child becomes emancipated, but it can be recalculated to reflect both parties’ new financial circumstances. 

Division of property. If a spouse hides or undervalues certain marital assets during the divorce process, that is considered fraud. Fraud is a valid reason for changing a divorce settlement to reflect the true value of all joint property. 

Child custody and visitation. Child custody and visitation are granted to fit parents who are able and willing to actively parent their children financially, emotionally, and physically. Child custody and visitation arrangements can be revised if a parent becomes unfit, or if the custodial parent attempts to move the child out of state. 

This list of reasons for a post-divorce modification is simply an overview. If your concern is not listed above, contact a trusted divorce lawyer for guidance on your individual situation. 

How to Modify Your Divorce Agreement 

If you believe you have cause for a post-divorce modification, you can file a motion, usually in the same court where you were granted the divorce. A motion is just a written request for the change and an explanation of what why you are asking for it.

It is not enough to simply say you want to revise your divorce agreement. You need to show a major life change has occurred and provide documentation to prove the change and support your request. 

Here are the specific steps to file a motion to change or enforce an order in your divorce case: 

  • Complete all the required forms. 
  • Select a motion date at least one month away in the Family Division of Superior Court where your divorce was granted. 
  • Make three copies of all the documents and five copies of the proposed order. Keep a copy of each for yourself in a safe place. 
  • Upload the documents into the Judiciary Electronic Document Submission (JEDS) system. Mail the originals to the Family Division of Superior Court where your divorce was issued. 
  • Pay the filing fee.
  • Deliver or mail a copy of all the documents to your ex-spouse at least 24 days prior to the motion date you selected. 
  • Your spouse has 15 days prior to the motion date to file a certification, or a response, with the court and send you a copy. 
  • The motion date arrives, and the judge makes a decision based on all of the information provided. It usually happens “on the papers,” meaning no hearing is necessary, unless one or both parties request an oral argument and the judge agrees it is necessary. 
  • The motion is decided, and each party receives a copy of the signed order stating the decision on the initial request for a post-divorce modification. 

Note: Although the process for filing a motion in New Jersey is described above, the procedures may be slightly different if you reside outside of New Jersey. Contact an experienced divorce lawyer and the family court in your county for more information. 

Appealing the Court’s Decision 

The other option to have your divorce settlement changed when something has been overlooked is to appeal the court’s decision. 

Unlike a post-divorce modification, you only have 45 days from the time the divorce decree is filed to appeal the judge’s decision, and you can do so only if the judge made a mistake. The appellate process can be quite time consuming and costly, and appellate courts tend to review appeals with a bias in the original court’s favor. 

Even if an error has occurred, it is unlikely the original divorce settlement will be dismissed or modified. Instead, it may go back to the original judge for reconsideration. 

How to Prevent Mistakes in Your Divorce Settlement 

Obviously, no one can predict the changes their life will take in the future. That is why the courts allow divorced individuals to request changes to their settlement after the fact. However, in the case of glaring mistakes, it is always better to catch them during mediation or before the trial court issues the divorce judgement. 

Here are some tips for avoiding costly and stressful mistakes in your divorce settlement. 

Put your divorce settlement in writing. Couples who have a relatively amicable breakup often make the mistake of handling things verbally. They wrongly assume a formal settlement is not necessary because they get along. 

But as any experienced divorce lawyer will tell you, that harmonious relationship can change quickly. If one parent remarries, has another child, or wants to relocate with their child, the once cordial relationship can quickly become quite bitter. 

Always protect you, your child, and your interests with a formal, written divorce agreement that clearly and correctly names all parties involved and outlines all the terms of the divorce. Never assume your ex-spouse will always be agreeable. Things change and people change, and you need that layer of protection. 

Disclose and discover all marital assets. Most mistakes in divorce settlements involve finances. A spouse can forget to account for an account or asset, or they may undervalue it for their own benefit. However, it benefits both parties to be fully transparent when disclosing assets, debts, and liabilities. The courts do not take fraud lightly. 

Hire the right lawyer. A knowledgeable divorce lawyer knows common settlement mistakes and how to avoid them at every stage of the divorce process to save their clients from additional litigation after the divorce is final. 

Because there is a lot at stake, especially when it comes to custody or visitation changes, it is best to defer to a seasoned divorce lawyer to oversee the motion or appeal process, gather the appropriate documents, and ensure all deadlines are made. If you skip any of these steps or miss important deadlines, it is unlikely you will get the change you are seeking. 

Somerville Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., Assist Clients with Post-Divorce Modifications 

Mistakes or omissions in divorce settlements can have a big impact on your legal and financial situation. If you believe the judge made a mistake or your circumstances have changed since your divorce was final, the Somerville divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. can help. We will review your agreement and recommend the best course of action based on your situation. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.

What Happens with Child Custody When a Parent Dies?

When a parent dies with a child custody order or a pending child custody case, the issue of what happens to the child can be complex. If the parent who passed away was the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent and the surviving family may worry about where the child will go.

No parent wants to consider they may not have the opportunity to watch their child grow up. However, it is always wise to take precautions in case they die while their child is still a minor. If you are not married to your child’s other parent, or you are concerned they may get custody if you pass away, this discussion explains how to prepare for the unexpected and protect your child from an uncertain future.

Some Custody Arrangements Are More Complex than Others

If both parents were actively and effectively coparenting prior to the parent’s death, the issue should be easily resolved. However, if there are questions about the surviving parent’s ability or willingness to take full legal and physical custody of the child, things get complicated.

In many families, it is not uncommon for older siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents to step in and pursue custody of the child if they are a big part of their life and have played an instrumental role in their upbringing to this point.

Types of Child Custody

Before exploring the different scenarios that occur when an unmarried parent dies, it is helpful to explain the different types of child custody in New Jersey and across the United States.

Physical custody. Physical custody refers to where the child lives after the parents separate or divorce. If the child spends equal time residing with both parents, that is called joint or shared physical custody.

In many cases, one parent has sole or primary physical custody, but the child may still see and spend time with the other parent. Some parents prefer this arrangement because they believe it offers more stability for the child.

Legal custody. Legal custody refers to the parent’s right to make important decisions for the child’s health and well-being, including choices about their education, health care, and religious upbringing.

A parent with sole legal custody can make these decisions without the other parent’s input. Parents with joint legal custody must consult each other and come to a mutual agreement regarding major choices impacting the child.

Because geography is not an issue with legal custody, parents who do not have joint physical custody can still have joint legal custody.

Death of a Custodial Parent

When parents are married, it is usually understood the child will remain in the home with the surviving parent. However, that is not so simple with separated parents, parents who have gone through divorce, or parents who have never been married.

When the custodial parent dies while a custody and visitation order is in place, it is presumed that custody will revert to the non-custodial parent. In this country, biological parents have the presumption of custody over third-party individuals in most cases.

Those parental rights are actually protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, provided those parents act with the child’s best interests in mind.

If the parents had a fairly amicable coparenting relationship and both parents were equally invested in raising the child, this usually is not a problem. Although the death of a parent is understandably painful for all involved, at least this transition can happen relatively peacefully.

The problem arises when other friends or family members have concerns about the other parent taking custody of the child. They may believe the surviving parent is unfit to raise the child or worry that parent will keep them from seeing the child in the future.

Watkins v. Nelson: A Precedent for Third-Party Custody

The reality is not every parent is capable or interested in parenting their child. Custody disputes between a biological parent and a third-party person are governed by the 2000 case Watkins vs. Nelson.

In this case, the court stated the biological parent presumption can be overcome if a third-party can show: gross misconduct, unfitness, neglect, or exceptional circumstances affecting the welfare of the child. Examples of a parent’s unfitness or misconduct might be a parent who physically abuses the child, neglects their basic needs, has substance abuse issues, or is incarcerated.

Exceptional circumstances might be a grandparent who takes on a parental role. They may take care of the child’s basic needs such as food, clothing, and education; give them emotional support; and provide for them financially. In a legal context, this is known as a psychological parent.

Any third-party individual can be a psychological parent if they fulfill all the duties and responsibilities that come with parenting. It is often a grandparent, stepparent, aunt, uncle, older sibling, or same-sex partner. If the non-custodial parent is not able to parent and there is no third-party available to assume custody, the child will be left to the state’s care.

Who Decides Custody after a Parent Dies?

All custody decisions are made based on the best interests of the child. Unfortunately, the parties involved may not always agree on what that means.

If the child custody order for unmarried parents is not clear about what should happen to a minor child if a parent dies, or if a third party wants to challenge the non-custodial parent’s custody, New Jersey Superior Court will intervene.

According to New Jersey State Law 9:2-5: Superior Court shall have the right, in an action brought by a guardian ad litem behalf of the children, to appoint such friend or other suitable person, guardian of such minor children…remove such guardian, and to appoint a new guardian or guardians…as the circumstances of the case and the benefit of the children shall require.

What Is a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a person appointed by the court to investigate which solution would be best for the child. GALs are usually mental health professionals or lawyers who are familiar with the complexities of child custody and child welfare.

In the case of a deceased parent, they would investigate the family situation and advise the court on the surviving parent’s overall fitness and if there are any red flags that may compromise their ability to parent. The GAL may dig deeper to learn about the child’s relationship with other family members, in particular a third-party person seeking custody.

Most important, the GAL meets with the child to learn their wishes. Cooperation with a GAL is required by law. After conducting their investigation, the GAL makes their recommendation to the court, either orally or in writing. The GALs report for the court is sealed and not accessible to the parent or anyone else.

The court considers the recommendation and usually follows it, but is not legally required to do so.

Conclusion

When parents share physical and/or legal custody of a minor child and one of them dies, the surviving parent is most likely to get custody. However, if the surviving parent does not want to parent or cannot for any reason, custody matters get more complex. If a grandparent, other relative, or close family friend wants custody, the courts will confirm it is in the child’s best interests before awarding custody.

The best way to protect your child and their future in the event of your passing is to meet with a child custody lawyer and take the appropriate legal steps to put a plan in place for your child’s care.

Morristown Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Resolve Difficult Custody Battles for Clients across New Jersey

It is never easy for a child when they lose a parent. But a bitter custody battle can add undue stress and worry to an already sad situation. The Morristown child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. can protect your child and secure their future. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.

Do I Need to Tell the Coparent if I Am Traveling with Our Children?

For many families, the holidays mean vacations to warmer climates or trips to visit out-of-state family and friends. If you have gone through divorce and share child custody with their other parent, it is important that you notify the other parent and honor your custody agreement regarding travel, or you could find yourself dealing with a legal headache.

This is what you need to know if you are a coparent and want to take your child out of town. With a bit of preparation and legal guidance, you can avoid the stress of a custody problem caused by a winter vacation.

Check Your Custody Agreement

Before booking those airline tickets, planning that cruise, or just taking an out-of-state road trip to visit relatives, you need to check the terms of your custody agreement or parenting plan.

During divorce, it is common for parents to outline the guidelines for summer breaks, school vacations, and holidays. Many parents also include rules that require one parent to get permission from the other to travel with the child out of state. If you do not honor your parenting plan, you could be inviting conflict and costly and time-consuming custody battles.

Keep Communication Open

Parental rights are protected in this country. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions for a child’s care, health, and well-being. Therefore, a parent with legal custody does have the right to have some input about a child’s travel plans, even if they do not have primary physical custody.

Imagine finding out your ex-spouse booked a week-long vacation for your child in another state without checking with you first. How would you feel? Beyond the legal rights and responsibilities that come with shared custody, being open and transparent about your vacation plans can go a long way to keep your coparenting relationship peaceful and productive.

It may take some time and practice to find the communication method that works best for you both. If talking in person or speaking on the phone is challenging, consider checking-in via text or email.

There are also several different coparenting apps to make the process smoother. These apps offer messaging; shared calendars; photo storage; and even the ability to upload, store, and share important documents such as medical records and receipts.

Share Your Itinerary

Along those same lines, while you are being total upfront about your intention to take your travel with your child, it is important to provide your coparent with a detailed itinerary for your trip.

Tell the other parent when you are leaving, when you plan to arrive, and where you are staying. If you are flying, provide the flight information and other details. It is not always easy for a parent knowing their child is miles away, but knowing where they are and when they are coming back can help ease an anxious mind.

Be Willing to Compromise

If you are planning a post-divorce trip with your child, you may soon realize how difficult it is to pick a time that does not interfere with your coparent’s parenting time or your child’s social or sports calendar. If you are traveling with family or friends, you have to work around their schedule as well.

It is inevitable that a vacation will interfere with the parenting schedule in some way or another. For that reason, it is helpful to be flexible and willing to compromise with your parenting plan.

If your trip requires a coparent to give up a few days of parenting time, discuss when they can make it up in the future. If your ex-spouse wants to take your child away but it runs into your scheduled parenting time, refrain from saying no just to prove a point.

Instead, step back and consider the bigger picture. What is best for the child? Their best interests should guide each and every parenting decision, including family travel plans.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Travel Plans

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some parents are finding their ex-spouse is much more hesitant to let their child travel than in the past, and with good reason. Although incredible strides have been made in vaccinating the public and reducing cases of the novel Coronavirus, the pandemic is not yet over.

Regardless of how you feel about precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, it is essential that you adhere to any public health orders in place regarding interstate or international travel, mask mandates, and quarantine requirements. Violating these restrictions can get you into trouble with your ex-spouse.

Conversely, if you believe the coparent is putting your child at risk by traveling with them at this time, you should contact your lawyer for help.

Can My Ex-Spouse Keep Me from Taking My Child on Vacation?

Despite all this talk of flexibility, communication, and compromise, the reality is many divorced couples find it nearly impossible to get along, even after the divorce is final and they have moved on with life.

What Can I Do if My Ex-Spouse Says No to My Vacation Plans?

What happens if you make plans well in advance, give your former spouse all the details for the trip, offer to make up any missed custody time, and they still say no?

If your child custody agreement does not allow you to take your child out of the state for without the other parent’s permission, it is important that you honor those terms, as frustrating as it may be.

Once your child custody agreement is reached, both parties are expected to honor it. If either parent does not abide by the terms of your agreement, the other can file a contempt petition against the offending party.

What Happens if a Parent Violates a Custody Order?

If you take your child on vacation against your ex-spouse’s wishes and it is a clear violation of the custody agreement, you can be found in contempt. Repercussions for contempt include financial penalties, a custody order modification, and even possible jail time.

Our recommendation is always to follow your custody order. It is an essential tool for coparenting and works only if both parents are compliant. If it states you must get permission from your ex-spouse or the court to travel out of state with your child, you cannot leave until you file a written request and get approval to do so.

If you are nervous about asking your ex-spouse to change up the parenting schedule so you can take your child on a vacation, remember the sooner you do it the better. Your ex-spouse may be more receptive to the idea if they have some time to think it over. Springing a last-minute getaway on them may not go over so well.

Approach the conversation with an open mind and have all the details available: dates, times, accommodations, flights, and other information. If you are aggressive and seem prepared for a fight, your coparent may feel defensive and less willing to consent to the trip. If you do meet resistance, contact your child custody lawyer for guidance on your next step.

Somerville Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients with Complex Custody Matters

If your ex-spouse is challenging your travel plans with your child, contact the Somerville child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. for guidance. We will review your custody agreement to clarify your rights and responsibilities and explain your legal options when an ex-spouse will not compromise. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.

How Does Parental Alienation Affect Child Custody Decisions?

An unmarried parent who uses lies and manipulation to turn their child against their ex-spouse can face harsh consequences in child custody decisions. Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a real and serious disorder that not only damages the parent-child relationship, but also severely impacts the child’s mental health.

If your ex-spouse has tried to undermine your relationship with your child, you should take immediate action. Talk to your lawyer about reviewing your child custody arrangement to ensure it makes sense considering the circumstances. It may also be a good idea to discuss further legal action to protect your child from an emotionally abusive parent.

What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

PAS is a disorder most often seen in the context of child custody disputes. It manifests in the child criticizing and even vilifying one parent exclusively, seemingly without justification.

The behavior arises from another parent’s brainwashing, or programming, combined with the child’s own proclivity to denigrate the parent who is the target of their disapproval.

PAS should not be confused with rational anger toward a parent who has legitimately abused the child in some way. In that case, the child’s hostility is justified and would not be considered PAS. 

Parental Behaviors Intended to Alienate a Child from the Other Parent

A parent will do many things to create a division between a child and the child’s other parent. All are damaging, and all can impact child custody litigation. Social workers and therapists often refer to these behaviors as a campaign of denigration.

In cases of parental alienation, the abusive parent might: 

  • Refuse to change parenting time to accommodate the child’s schedule
  • Share painful or inappropriate details about the breakup of the marriage or divorce with the child
  • Refuse to permit the child to bring items from one parent’s home to the other
  • Complain to the child about their ex-spouse’s perceived failures, including financial missteps, infidelity, breaking up the family, or dating a new partner
  • Use the child to spy and report back on the other parent’s comings and goings
  • Act hurt or sad when the child spends time with the other parent
  • Act as though they are emotionally or physically rescuing the child even if no real threat exists
  • Withhold vital medical or school records and other documents from the other parent
  • Deny their ex-spouse visitation time, whether court ordered or not
  • Encourage the child to ask to skip visitation with their other parent
  • Outright ask the child to choose them over their ex-spouse

Signs of Parental Alienation in Children

There are several common signs of parental alienation in children. Often, the child will have excessive anger toward one parent without being able to express why they are angry. The child may be spiteful, rude, cold, or ungrateful toward the targeted parent, again seemingly without cause. If they do give a reason for their disgust, it is often irrational or untrue.

The child will not show gratitude or appreciation for kinds acts from the alienated parent. They do not often feel any guilt or ambivalence about mistreating this parent because they have been so conditioned to believe they are bad.

The so-called independent thinker phenomenon is another hallmark of PAS. This means the child believes their opinions are solely theirs, without realizing they have been carefully crafted and influenced by the alienating parent.

When you see just how this condition manifests in children, you can grasp how damaging it can be to the bond between a child and a parent who has been targeted by their ex-partner.

Long-Term Impact of Parental Alienation on Children

Research on the long-term effects of parental alienation on children is concerning. Adult children who have experienced this dynamic in their youth describe substance abuse, depression, and very often a pattern of failed relationships including multiple divorces. Many even say they have become alienated from their own children, perpetuating the family cycle of emotional abuse.

What Can I Do if My Ex-Spouse Is Turning My Child Against Me?

If the descriptions of alienating behavior are throwing up red flags for you, it is vital that you take swift and powerful action to protect your relationship with your child as well as their emotional health and well-being.

New Jersey Laws Concerning Parental Alienation

New Jersey Revised Statutes Section 9:2-4 states it is New Jersey public policy to: Assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.

In other words, it is the opinion of the state, and most child therapists and psychologists, that the involvement of both parents in a child’s life is beneficial for healthy growth and development. To that end, child custody determinations in New Jersey are designed and entered to maximize the participation of both parents in the life of the child.

Unless one parent is endangering the child or subjecting them to abuse in any form, family law judges in New Jersey frown on a parent’s efforts to alienate a child from their other parent.

The First Hurdle: Proving Parental Alienation Exists

Although it may be obvious to you that your ex-spouse has poisoned your child against you or denied you parenting time, it is not always easy to prove parental alienation has occurred. It is common for divorced parents to dislike each other, and many divorces devolve into the classic he said, she said battles. The courts may not believe family conflict rises to the level of psychological alienation.

For that reason, it is important to save any direct evidence that confirms your allegations. That can be texts, emails, or recorded phone calls where your ex-spouse is actively engaging in alienating behaviors.

If your child attends therapy, their counselor can possibly speak to any signs of alienation they have encountered. Although there are privacy laws that protect therapists from speaking about their clients, the judge can order them to provide evidence directly without disclosing it to the parents or the public.

Parental Alienation Syndrome and Child Custody Proceedings

Family courts are increasingly recognizing the existence of PAS and have allowed experts to testify on the subject. Some courts have gone as far as to transfer custody of the child to the alienated parent.

Although there are currently no published cases on the books in New Jersey that specifically discuss PAS, any attempt to manipulate a child against another parent is not taken lightly.

Criminal Charges for Interference with Custody

Any person, whether they be a parent, guardian, or lawful custodian, who takes the child with the purpose of concealing them and depriving the other parent of custody or visitation can be charged with a crime.

Interference with custody is considered a third-degree crime in New Jersey, punishable by heavy fines and possible jail time. If the child is taken out of the country, interference with custody becomes a second-degree crime bringing more severe penalties.

Civil Sanctions for Interference with Custody

In addition to criminal charges, the courts can also impose civil sanctions for interference with custody. The parent who has been denied custody by deception can seek relief under R. 1:10-3 for contempt or R. 5:3-7(a). Some of the possible remedies include:

  • Economic sanctions for costs resulting from a parent’s failure to adhere to custody arrangements
  • Compensatory time with the child
  • Counseling paid for by the parent who violated the custody plan
  • A temporary or permanent modification of the child custody agreement

In New Jersey, parents do not have a course of action for parental alienation. That means the targeted parent cannot sue for damages if their ex-spouse turns their child against them. Instead, the most practical course of action is to seek a child custody modification.

If you sense your ex-spouse is turning your child against you, or if they have already disregarded your custody arrangement, contact a child custody lawyer to learn your rights and remedies to prevent further alienation.

Morristown Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Victims of Parental Alienation

The Morristown child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. have seen the devastating impact of parental alienation syndrome on children and the parents who love them. We use every legal tool available to break the cycle of abuse and secure child custody orders, and help you rebuild that bond with your child. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.

How Do I Divide a Family Business during Divorce?

The path to divorce is never simple. And when spouses own a family business together, the process becomes even more complicated. Couples contemplating divorce often think about the family home, bank accounts, and retirement funds.

However, they often overlook their family-owned business, which can be the most challenging asset to distribute. It takes exceptional legal counsel to protect your family business so it can continue to grow and thrive even after you and your spouse divorce.

Generally, you have a few options. You can hand over the business to your soon-to-be ex-spouse, buy out your ex-spouse’s interests, or sell it altogether. A lot depends on how much the company is worth and the marital property rules in the state where you live. Here are some things to consider if you and your spouse share a business and are considering divorce.

Understanding Marital Assets

Marital assets are considered property that belong to both spouses in a marriage. Generally, it involves property acquired after the marriage was finalized. That can include anything from homes, cars, and jewelry; to bank accounts and investment portfolios. In New Jersey, unless a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement states otherwise, when a couple divorces, their marital assets are distributed according to equitable distribution.

Equitable distribution does not mean couples share assets 50-50. Rather, it means joint property is distributed in a way that is fair based on a variety of factors including how much each spouse earns, their expenses, and the duration of the marriage.

Conversely, nonmarital assets are considered property that belongs to either one spouse or the other. These are items or accounts that one spouse owned before the marriage. They are also considered nonmarital property, or separate property, if they were gifted to one spouse by someone outside of the marriage, such as an inheritance.

Each spouse leaves the marriage with whatever nonmarital assets they started with, unless they agree to different terms during mediation or have a prenuptial or postnuptial contract saying otherwise. 

Is My Business Considered Marital Property?

Now that the difference between marital and nonmarital assets has been examined, it is time to determine how to classify the family business.

To figure that out, the courts will consider many details, including:

  • The date the business was established
  • Source of the funds to start the business
  • Each spouse’s contributions to the business
  • The skills and expertise required to run the business
  • How much the business was worth before and during the marriage, and at the time of divorce

Unlike physical assets such as art or jewelry, a business is not quite as easy to classify for equitable distribution purposes. For example, if a couple launched the business before they got married using both their savings, it is likely to be considered marital property through a concept called transmutation in which personal separate property evolves into joint assets.

Conversely, if one spouse acquired a business on their own through purchasing it or through inheritance during the marriage, it may actually be considered separate property. In some cases, some parts of the business are considered nonmarital property, whereas others are considered marital assets. Some spouses have a written agreement that designates one spouse as the owner of a family business.

As can be seen, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to deciding how to deal with a family business during the distribution of property.  It varies from couple to couple and business to business. A consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer can offer clarity on your individual situation.

Determine the Value of Your Family Business

To treat the business like a marital asset, you need to first determine its worth. That is a complex endeavor. You need to hire an unbiased expert to provide a formal appraisal of the company. Your divorce lawyer can recommend one in your area.

To assess the value of your business, the appraiser looks at the following:

  • Tangible assets: This includes machinery, in-stock supplies, office equipment, and any vehicles and buildings that are owned outright. Cash in bank accounts is also considered tangible property.
  • Intangible property: These include things less easy to value, things such as customer relations and goodwill that affect how the public views the company and the brand.
  • Liabilities: These are things that take away from a company’s overall value, things such as scheduled outgoing payments including credit lines, or rent for office space or equipment.
  • Profits: Profits are the final piece of the valuation puzzle. Expect the appraiser to conduct a detailed examination of your company’s financial records.

Options for Dividing a Family Business in a Divorce

Once the business valuation has been conducted and if the company is subject to equitable distribution, the next step is to decide what happens to the company after the divorce.

When it comes to a family-owned businesses, there are few options:

One spouse keeps the family business. For couples who have no interest in working together after divorce, this is the most common option. Typically, the spouse more involved in running the day-to-day business operations buys out the other based on the appraised value.

If that spouse cannot afford to buy the other out outright, they might consider setting up a structured settlement note to be paid out over time.

Another possibility works when each spouse has shares in the company. The company can buy back shares from the spouse who wants out. In this case, it is smart to work with a financial advisor who can structure the sale efficiently to avoid steep capital gains taxes.

Both spouses keep the family business. There are situations in which both spouses have invested so much blood, sweat, and tears into a family business, they are not willing to step away even after divorce. If their business relationship remains amicable despite their personal issues, they may consider keeping the business together.

Although this is the most straightforward option financially, it does tend to be less common because many couples find it hard to work together after the romantic relationship ends.

Both spouses sell the business. The third option is for both spouses to sell the family business and split the proceeds. Some couples go this route because it allows them to cut all ties and pursue their own business and career interests. However, selling a business takes time, and that will prolong the divorce process.

Protecting a Family Business with a Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement

If you are newly married or recently started a family business, divorce is probably not on your mind. However, it is always a good idea to be proactive when it comes to protecting your assets in case of the unexpected. A prenuptial agreement is the most effective way to protect your business.

A prenuptial agreement is a legally binding contract both partners sign before getting married. It describes what happens to income, property, and other assets should a separation, divorce, or death occur in the future. A prenuptial agreement is a simple and straightforward way to protect a family business.

Both partners sign a prenuptial agreement freely, free of coercion, and usually with a lawyer present. Beyond the legal protections provided by a prenuptial agreement, discussing these important financial issues can be quite beneficial for couples. Frank and honest conversations about money early on can help prevent painful conflict in the future.

If you married without getting a prenuptial agreement, you have another option. A postnuptial agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement but is created after marriage. A postnuptial agreement is a legally binding mutual contract that determines how the family business and other assets will be distributed if the couple divorces or one partner passes away.

A postnuptial agreement can also be used as an update to an existing prenuptial agreement, reflecting changes in income, assets, and the family business during the marriage.

For many married couples, deciding what to do with a family business after divorce is a significant challenge. Both spouses need to decide if they want to keep it in the family, sell it to their ex-spouse, or sell it outright and split the profits. When a divorcing couple owns a business, the guidance of a skilled divorce lawyer and a proven financial advisor is recommended to prevent costly mistakes that may impact the business’ bottom line. 

Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients and Business Owners Protect Their Interests During Divorce

The distribution of assets is part of the divorce process. And when a family business is at stake, that process becomes more complicated. The Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. understand the unique challenges of couples who own a company. We carefully review your situation and explain all your legal options so you can make informed decisions for you, your business, and your family. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.

What Is the Difference between Legal and Physical Custody?

New Jersey courts recognize two types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody. The two are not interchangeable. Under each category, legal and physical custody can further be broken down into multiple different custody arrangements. Also, child custody arrangements vary from family to family.

Knowing more about different custody terms and what they mean under the law will help you make informed decisions for your child’s best interests.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is the right to make decisions for the child, including decisions about their education, medical care, and religious upbringing.

Joint legal custody. The term joint legal custody means both parents have input in these decisions. When coparents share legal custody, they both have access to the child’s academic records, medical records, and other important documents. Legal custody has nothing to do with where the child lives. Parents who live on opposite ends of the country can share legal custody.

Physical Custody

A parent who has physical custody of their child is responsible for their day-to-day care. It is their right and obligation to care for the child every day, and for the child to live with them primarily.

Shared physical custody. Like legal custody, parents can also share physical custody. In fact, that is preferred in cases in which both parents are capable, willing, and eager to be engaged in their child’s life. However, because it is not always in the best interests of the child to be continually shuttling back and forth between homes, the courts will generally designate one parent as the primary physical custodian and give the other parent secondary physical custody.

Primary physical custody. With this arrangement, the child’s primary residence will be with the parent who has primary physical custody, and the child will spend time with the other parent according to the visitation schedule agreed on in their parenting plan. It is important to remember that this arrangement is not always a reflection on who is the better parent. It is more of a way to give the child a sense of stability, continuity, and a place to call home.

Structuring Parenting Time

Essentially, parenting time is the time a parent spends living with their child. The schedule a family adopts for parenting time is important because it can impact the relationship the child has with each parent.

Decisions about custody and parenting time should always focus on what is best for the child and evolve as their needs change over time, always encouraging healthy and consistent interactions with both parents. Research shows that children benefit from frequent contact with both parents.

Visitation schedules should also allow for frequent quality time with the non-custodial parent without disrupting the school week or preventing the child from developing relationships with their peers and becoming involved in the extracurricular activities that is a part of a well-rounded childhood experience.

The hope is both parents will agree on the big issues and work together to maintain a parenting schedule that helps their child thrive at every age and stage of development.

Can Couples Decide Custody and Visitation Without Going to Court?

The answer depends on the relationship the ex-spouses have with each other.

Many divorced parents, or coparents who have never been married, have an amicable relationship and are willing to put pride and past resentments aside to focus on the business at hand: deciding what is best for their child.

Parenting plans can be as simple or complex as parents desire. Some coparents have a level of understanding and flexibility that does not require a highly detailed agreement. Others want every detail in writing to prevent confusion and disagreements.

Parents can work with the assistance of their respective divorce lawyers to create a parenting plan that checks every box and meets their child’s needs, while offering both parents plenty of time with the child.

Once parents mutually agree on a parenting plan, it is presented for the court for approval. If the judge agrees the plan makes sense and is best for the child, they will sign off on it, making it official. This option is ideal because it offers the most input for both parents, reduces conflict, and saves time and money.

Custody and Visitation for Parents Who Cannot Agree

Physical and legal custody of minor children are often some of the most contentious points of divorce. Most parents will agree nothing is more important than their child’s welfare, but divorced parents may not always agree on that that means. That is where heated custody battles come into play.

A custody battle is a legal fight between unmarried parents over who will take care of the child. Unfortunately, this fight can get quite ugly and quite expensive. If parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, particularly where and with whom the child should live most of the time, those decisions will be left for the courts to decide.

What Does a Judge Consider When Determining Child Custody?

A custody arrangement will significantly impact the child’s life. For that reason, child custody decisions are not taken lightly by the courts. The judge considers a wide range of factors to ultimately decide which parent can better meet the child’s needs and who should receive primary custody.

Some of those considerations include the following:

  • The age and number of children in the family
  • The coparenting relationship, how the parents cooperate and communicate
  • If the parents can provide a stable and healthy home
  • Where each parent lives and their proximity to each other
  • Which parent is seeking primary physical custody and their relationship to the child
  • If the child has siblings, and the nature of their relationships
  • If there is a threat of substance misuse, domestic violence, emotional abuse, and other safety concerns in the home
  • The child’s preference if they are old and mature enough to understand the dynamics at hand

To sum up all these considerations, the judge’s job is to determine what is best for the child and create the custody arrangement that best reflects their best interests, above all else.

How to Modify a Custody Arrangement in New Jersey

Once a child custody plan is determined, there may be a need to make changes at some point in the future. Changes in a parent’s job schedule, a move, or a remarriage may necessitate a revised parenting schedule.

The child’s needs may change as well. For example, as children enter the teen years, their peer relationships become more important. Parenting plans may be revised to ensure youngsters have time to socialize in healthy, age-appropriate ways as they get older.

In New Jersey, there are two ways to modify a child custody order: through parental consent or by filing a motion. Minor changes can usually be made if both parents mutually agree the revised plan is best for the child. They would update the parenting plan and present it to the judge, who will sign off if they approve.

If one parent wants a change and the other does not, the parent who wants the change files a motion with the court to modify the child custody order. To prove their case, they need to show there has been a substantial change in circumstances that warrants a change in child custody.

Skilled Legal Guidance Is Essential When Navigating Child Custody Matters

The assistance of an experienced and dedicated divorce lawyer is invaluable for any parent dealing with complex custody matters. The right lawyer understands New Jersey custody laws, listens to their client’s concerns and goals, and advocates for the welfare of the child first and foremost.

Somerville Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Handle Complex Custody Matters to Protect the Child’s Best Interests

As stated, it is important for parents who are divorced to understand the forms of child custody so that decisions can be made in the child’s best interest. If you have questions about legal and physical custody, the Somerville child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. are here to help. We will answer your questions and provide exceptional legal guidance for all divorce matters. To learn more about our approach or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.

Pop Star Zayn Malik Ordered to Stay Away from His Child’s Grandmother

British Pop star Zayn Malik, who has been living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with supermodel Gigi Hadid and their child, has pleaded no contest to four criminal harassment charges by the child’s grandmother, Yolanda Hadid.

The grandmother, a former model, and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star, accused Malik of cursing at her, demanding that she stay away from the baby, and shoving her. It is at that home where Malik and Yolanda got into an argument on Sept. 29. According to court documents, Malik used expletives to demand Hadid to “stay away” from Khai before shoving her into a dresser. He is also accused of attempting to get into a fight with security guard John McMahon, per court records.

Grandparents often suffer when a couple divorces or separates. The New Jersey child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. can help grandparents apply for third-party visitation rights. Call 908-575-9777 or complete an online form to set up a free consultation. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, the firm serves clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.

Can Non-Biological Parents Seek Custody Rights?

Generally, child custody cases involve biological parents who must determine the terms of custody and visitation if they are not together. This process happens through mediation or in court. But it is also possible for individuals other than the child’s biological parents to seek custody.

This discussion explains the law regarding third-party nonparents and child custody cases in New Jersey, and first steps to take for anyone seeking custody of a minor child they are not related to by blood.

The Changing Shape of the American Family

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Now more than ever, the traditional nuclear family structure of a mother, father, and children has evolved to include same-sex unions and non-biological parental figures such as stepparents, other relatives, and family friends.

Fifty years ago, 42 percent of all households in the United States were nuclear families. Today, that number is approximately 22 percent. To function efficiently, family law must reflect the changing dynamic of the modern family in this country, opening the door for non-biological, third-party adults to seek custody if it is best for the child.

Reasons for Third-Party Custody

There are a few primary reasons why the courts will grant a third-party, non-biological adult custody of a minor child:

  • The biological parent does not want custody of their child.
  • The biological parent is incapable of caring and providing for the child.
  • The biological parent is not available because of death, desertion, or other circumstances.

Situations in Which Non-Parents Obtain Custody

Here are some specific scenarios in which a non-biological adult would seek custody of a minor child:

  • Consent. Biological parents can willingly ask the courts to terminate their parental rights, giving the third party the opportunity to adopt the child.
  • Consent guardianship. With consent guardianship, the biological parent does not forfeit their parental rights. However, the guardianship does give the non-parent custody and the right to make decisions about the child’s care. The biological parent can rescind their consent to the guardianship at any time and resume custody of the child.
  • Foster parent adoption. A foster parent who has been caring for a child for a long period can adopt them if the biological parents’ parental rights have been terminated for any reason.
  • Incapacity or unfitness. When biological parents will not consent to adoption but are unfit to care for the child because of abuse, addiction, or criminal activity, the non-parent can take steps to show they are unfit. Although this is not an easy process, it is critical for children whose safety and well-being are at stake.
  • Stepparent adoption. The laws and procedures for these situations vary from state to state, and even county to county. For that reason, it is always best to consult with experienced family law attorney specializing in complex child custody matters in one’s own community.

What Is a Psychological Parent?

For a biological parent to lose custody, the situation is probably extreme. The court does not take child custody matters lightly.

In New Jersey, the presumption is generally that children are best left in the care of the biological parent. A third party can overcome that presumption only if they can show the biological parent to be unfit or unavailable.

The courts may determine a non-biological, third party is the right person to raise the child if the non-biological person and the child have formed a significant parent-like bond. That is referred to as psychological parentage. Essentially, the psychological parent fulfills all the needs of the child, like a biological parent would.

There are certain criteria a person must meet to be considered a psychological parent in New Jersey: 

  • The child must have resided with the adult seeking psychological parentage for a significant period.
  • The adult must have formed a psychological bond with the child in question.
  • The adult has shown an ability to care for the child as a parent would, providing for all their physical and emotional needs.
  • A legal parent has given permission and support for the adult to enter a guardianship of the child.

Physical and Legal Custody in New Jersey

Before discussing the process for non-biological parents to obtain custody rights, it is helpful to explain the different types of child custody in New Jersey.

  • Legal custody. The right to make vital decisions about a child’s upbringing, including their education, religious training, and medical care. 
  • Physical custody. Refers to where the child resides most of the time.

Specific child custody arrangements vary from family to family. One parent can retain sole physical and/or legal custody, or parents can share both. Shared legal and physical custody is preferred by many parents because it offers an equal division of parenting time.

Custody Rights for Non-Biological Parents

If a family friend, stepparent, or other non-biological person has played an integral role in the child’s life over a long period and can show they are a psychological parent, they may choose to seek custody rights.

Being granted psychological parentage effectively gives the individual the same legal status as an adoptive or biological parent throughout custody proceedings. Although it may not guarantee custody or visitation, it will provide some leverage for someone seeking to remain a part of the child’s life.

How Do Non-Biological Parents Adopt a Child?

How does a non-biological parent adopt a child to whom they are not related, but still have a vested interest in their care?

Imagine a scenario in which a mother is considered unfit to parent, for whatever reason. Her husband divorces her and gets sole legal and physical custody of their young baby. A year later he marries again, and his new wife welcomes the chance to be a mother figure to the child. Over time, they form a bond and the stepmother becomes a psychological parent.

Tragically, the father passes away from illness. What will happen to the child?

Technically, the biological mother is first in line to assume custody. If she is not prepared to parent, the stepmother can pursue custody.

If the biological mother is available and willing to waive her parental rights, she can turn over custody to the stepmother and all parties can come to a custody arrangement peacefully. If she is unwilling or unable to give consent, the stepmother must prove the biological mother is unfit and make a case for adoption in New Jersey Family Court.

How Does a Non-Biological Parent Obtain Custody of a Child They Are Raising?

Chances are, if a non-biological parent is raising a child who is not their own, there is an issue with the parents. If custody is the goal, the first step is to hire a trusted family law attorney to lead the case.

With an attorney’s guidance, the third-party person can request consent for guardianship or adoption from the biological parents. If both parents are living, both must agree. If the parents do not provide consent, the next step is to show why it is not in the child’s best interests to remain in their care. This is true if:

  • The parent has neglected the child in some way.
  • The parent has emotionally, physically, or sexually abused the child.
  • The parent has abandoned the child and cannot be located.

Next it is time to complete and file the appropriate paperwork with the courts; generally, this is a petition for adoption or guardianship. The biological parents are notified when a third party seeks custody of their child, and they have the right to respond and potentially fight the bid for custody.

From there, the non-parent seeking custody must show the courts a parental relationship exists with the child, and they are capable and willing to provide for all the child’s needs. Some states require a home study in which a social worker visits the non-biological parent’s home to observe their living conditions and how they interact with the child.

If the biological parents do not agree to give up custody, a hearing is scheduled to decide the matter. Evidence is presented and witnesses are heard, much like a traditional court proceeding. The parents will be there to present their case as well.

In the end, the judge decides whether to give the third-party parent custody. Custody decisions and all legal matters involving minors are always based on what is best for the child, first and foremost.

Somerville Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Non-Biological Parents Seeking Custody Rights

Although it is not a simple process for a non-biological parent to obtain custody rights, in many cases, it is the best thing for child’s health and well-being. The Somerville child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. are proud to be a voice for the children of New Jersey. We are committed to guiding our clients to make legal decisions that are best for their children and their families. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.