Do your summer plans include relocating with your children to another part of New Jersey — or out of state? Strict court rules govern parental requests to relocate. And recently these rules have changed!
Let’s understand the new standards parents who wish to move away must meet through the lens of one family’s story.
Sarah and Sam’s Story: Sarah’s Promotion
Sarah is a mid-level executive who lives in Sussex County. She’s also a mom and co-parent of primary residence to her son Jacob, age five. Sarah’s former spouse Sam lives only a few miles away and the two share parenting time with their son during the week. Sam is the coach of Jacob’s soccer team, picks him up every day after school, makes and eats dinner with him and stays with him until 7 pm when Sarah returns home from work.
One day Sarah’s CEO delivers the news that Sarah will be promoted to senior executive, a position that comes with a higher salary and a great deal of prestige. But the promotion also requires her to move to the company’s headquarters in Cape May, an over 3-hour drive from her current hometown.
Accepting this long-awaited promotion will mean that Sam and Sarah’s parenting time plan will be required to change. Looking at work schedules and the driving distance involved, Sarah thinks that the easiest solution is for Sam to see Jacob on the weekends at her home.
Sarah calls Sam and breaks the news about her promotion and need to move, and proffers the parenting time solution that she came up with. As she suspected, Sam was instantly angry at the prospect of giving up so much time with Jacob.
“What you are doing is effectively cutting me out of our son’s life. After factoring in all the driving. I would see Jake for about 8 hours on the weekends I can get time off from work. This represents a complete disruption to my bond with my son and is unacceptable. Expect me to fight you tooth and nail on this, Sarah,” Sam told her before curtly hanging up.
Parental Relocation in New Jersey: Old Rules vs. New Rules
At the time of her divorce in 2015, Sarah discussed the possibility of a future job promotion with her attorney. She had concerns even then that Sam would object to her moving, but her attorney reassured her that the courts generally sided with parents who moved for things like big job promotions.
And at the time, her attorney’s advice was spot on. For many years, in disputes in which a non-residential parent objected to the residential parent’s long-distance relocation plans, the courts in New Jersey generally ruled that if the move was good for the relocating parent, made in good faith, and not inimical (harmful) to the child, permission for the relocation was usually granted. These standards were known as the Baures factors, after the court case in which they were established.
When Sarah’s call with Sam ended, she wasn’t happy at how hard he took the news, but she also wasn’t too rattled because of her information from years ago.
She called her attorney the next day. After quickly catching him up to speed on her situation, Sarah was in for a shock.
The rules in New Jersey pertaining to custodial parent relocation requests underwent a major change in the past year.
In the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in a new case — Bisbing v. Bisbing — the Court completely upended the Baures factors, holding in Bisbing that the “best interest of the child” should govern in all relocation cases. In doing so, it shifted the burden to the parent requesting relocation to convince the court that the relocation is in the “best interests of the child” — a standard that is inherently stricter than “not harmful” to a child.
As Sarah’s attorney explained, Sam would most likely make the case that it was in Jacob’s best interests to be with his father in the afternoon and early evening hours, rather than receive care from a nanny, as Sarah would be forced to do in her new setting. Sam was heavily involved in Jacob’s school as a classroom volunteer and soccer coach and would need to relinquish these duties. Would it be in Jacob’s best interest to have this close parent-child bond diminished due to Sarah’s career advancement?
Her attorney was candid with her that she may have an uphill battle to fight — one that was still “winnable” by Sarah to be certain — but one that would require much more savvy and skill to pull together.
Making the Case for a Relocation Request
Sarah will need to go to court to have a judge decide her request ONLY if Sam remains resistant. If she can get Sam to agree to the move, the two can write up a new parenting time plan with the help of their attorneys and the matter will be settled. Sam has refused to speak to Sarah since that first phone call, so what could Sarah to do to present a “best interests” plan that Sam might be willing to agree to?
Maximize Sam’s time with Jacob
Sarah could total the amount of time Sam spends with Jacob right now in a typical year and offer a schedule that incorporates this same amount spread out in a way that works for their geographic locations. During the school year, Jacob may be limited mostly to weekends, but during the summer, perhaps Sarah could be the weekend parent and Sam could spend Monday through Friday with Jacob. Sarah may also consider offering school vacation weeks and a greater share of holidays.
Offer ways to stay bonded between visitation times
Sarah could find a weekend soccer league near her house to help Sam accept the plan for weekend visits near her. If Sam is adamant that Jacob stay in his home, Sarah could figure out drop off/pick up points halfway between their homes to ease the travel burden, or see if friends or family could help out with transportation. During the week, Sarah could offer times for Sam and Jacob to Skype or Facetime.
3. Could Sam move too?
Sarah and Sam moved to Sussex County for work and don’t have any deep roots in the area; both their families are from Bergen County. They stayed in the area after their divorce so that Sarah could keep her higher paying job. Sam is a weekends-only chef at a local restaurant, an arrangement they both agreed to before Jacob was born so they could have an “at home” parent during Sarah’s busy work week. In their divorce, they affirmed support for this arrangement through Jacob’s school years. Sarah pays Sam alimony as part of this agreement and has declined to receive child support from him.
Given this, what if Sarah offered Sam additional financial help moving to Cape May to find a similar restaurant job and help obtaining a suitable apartment? Sam may be willing to move, but is waiting for Sarah to broach the subject.
Sarah’s situation will require a smart strategy, but if she’s willing to be flexible, and Sam is willing to be equally creative, this couple may indeed be able to reach a new parenting time agreement that everyone feels good about — and that won’t require the time, money and loss of control that going to court represents.
Securing Your Future
The change offered by Bisbing is a significant one, but it does certainly fall in line with the widely-accepted premise that children thrive with the constant and loving involvement of both parents in their lives to the greatest extent possible.
Planning a move? Speak with a family law attorney to understand your rights and determine the best strategy for securing your future with your kids. We’re here to help. To schedule a free confidential consultation with one of highly skilled and compassionate attorneys, please call us today at (888) 888-0919.