Consistently among the most common points of contention in any New Jersey divorce are conflicts over child custody. Even after an order is in place, custody interference can be an ongoing problem.
Custody interference is when a parent violates Court instructions on custody and parenting time. These violations can be minor, such as calling the child more frequently than the order stipulates, or severe, such as absconding to another country with the child. Most of those requiring the help of Freehold child custody lawyers fall somewhere in the middle.
A person who has custody of a child has certain rights and responsibilities. Many parents in New Jersey share joint custody, as NJSA 9:2-4 stipulates it is public policy to assure minor children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. But even when one parent maintains primary residential custody, the other usually still has parenting time rights, barring some evidence that it’s not in the best interest of the child. Anything that interferes with that Court-ordered custody agreement is considered custody interference, and it may be actionable by the Court.
New Jersey Custody Interference Examples
Some common custody interference examples we’ve come across with our clients:
- Failure to return the child from parenting time in a timely manner.
- Undermining the reasonable authority of the other parent.
- Showing up for unplanned visits at unapproved times.
- Preventing the child from contacting the other parent.
- Taking the child without consent.
- Denying the other parent their right to parenting time/visitations.
- Trash-talking the other parent in front of the child, seeking to alienate them from the other parent (parental alienation).
It should be noted that even if a child is happy to overstay their visitation or doesn’t want to see the other parent, it is still the obligation of both parents to abide by the Court order. Failure to do so can result in serious legal consequences. Unless such actions are taken to avoid physical injury or other immediate, direct danger to the child (what we refer to as imminent harm), deviations from the custodial agreement can be considered custodial interference.
What Can I Do About Custodial Interference?
How to best approach custodial interference will vary depending on the unique circumstances of your case. If it’s possible the breaches were minor oversights and you’re able to communicate civilly with your co-parent, you may try broaching it directly with them first. Remind them that these terms were determined to be in the best interests of your child, who benefits from the consistency of cooperative parents. Then document the lapse in case it happens again. If that approach fails to make a difference, take the next step by reaching out to a local family law attorney for guidance.
If, however, the custody interference violations were intentional, repeated or egregious and/or communication between you has the potential to quickly turn hostile or even dangerous, feel free to go straight to a child custody attorney.
Some of the legal remedies co-parents have for custodial interference in New Jersey include:
- Motion to enforce custody order. This is usually the first step. This is simply asking the Court to enforce the order already on the books. It’s basically a slap on the wrist, but it can also be the foundation of more serious action if the problem persists.
- Motion for sanctions. This would be action taken against the offending parent, possibly in the form of fees or attorney costs.
- Motion for contempt. This would allow for more significant penalties, which could even include jail time for an ongoing pattern of willful violations.
- Motion to change parenting time schedule. If problems with custodial interference continue, the Court can restrict parenting time/visitation of the offending co-parent.
- Motion for supervised parenting time. If other measures are ineffective or there is a potential risk to the child’s well-being, the Judge can require that parenting time be supervised.
- Motion to suspend parenting time. This is one of the last resorts, but if other remedies are ineffective, the Court can suspend parenting time entirely. Revocation of parental rights, however, is a separate process.
- Motion to change custody. Sole custody may be awarded or revoked for repeated or severe custodial interference.
If you are grappling with custodial interference in New Jersey or if you’ve been accused of it by your co-parent, our dedicated Freehold child custody lawyers can assist, advocating fiercely for your rights and your child’s best interests.
Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.