If you share a minor child with someone in New Jersey and wish to relocate with that child to a different residence, you need to protect everyone involved with a child relocation agreement. This should be drafted with the help of a child custody attorney and approved by the Court. However, even with a New Jersey child relocation agreement, the Court may alter its stance if there is a material change in circumstances and the original terms are no longer in the best interests of the child.
In the recent non-precedented opinion of M.E.G. v. C.P., the New Jersey appellate Court reversed course on an established child relocation agreement because of a material change in circumstances.
According to Court records, the child is a New Jersey native born in the summer of 2016. Per state law, kids cannot be removed from the state without both parents’ consent unless the Court allows a removal. In this case, the mother and father weren’t married, but planned to move together from New Jersey to Florida after their baby was born, seeking more financial stability and an overall fresh start. The pair drafted and signed a child relocation agreement allowing the mom to move to Florida with the child, with the understanding father would likely be soon to follow.
After the mother and child moved, the father sent money regularly to help with the child’s expenses. However, he didn’t move to Florida as they’d previously discussed. A few months later, the two broke up. Soon after, the mother returned the child to New Jersey to live with the father until she was fully back on her feet financially. They agreed verbally that she’d eventually return with the child to Florida. However, when she found a better job, she returned to New Jersey for a “visit” and then took the child to Florida absent dad’s consent. He sought Court intervention. The judge ordered the child returned to New Jersey.
The mother sought to be named the parent of primary residence. The Court denied her this and instead named the father the parent of primary residence. The mother then sought to modify the custody order and gain permission to move the child to Florida with her.
The trial Court ruled that despite the previous child relocation agreement, the mother’s return to New Jersey for the child to live with the father amounted to a material change in circumstance. Further, the previous child relocation agreement didn’t carry as much weight as before, and the child’s best interests (as considered under N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c) ) were better served living with the dad.
The Courts did note that while both parties did communicate and cooperate where the child is concerned, the mother was less cooperative in providing communication time for the father when the child was in her custody. The father made time and effort to allow the child to see their half-siblings, who lived in New Jersey. There was no history of domestic violence in the case and the child was too young to cite a preference for themselves. Both parties could adequately care for the child, but the geographical distance between New Jersey and Florida made coordination of parenting time tough to coordinate.
The primary takeaway here is that New Jersey child relocation agreements aren’t set in stone. Any changes - however seemingly temporary - should be promptly discussed with an experienced family law attorney (preferably before they occur).
Contact our Middlesex County family law attorneys today at (732) 810-0034 to schedule an appointment.