NFL Player’s Change of Residence Means NJ Court Can’t Rule in Custody Case

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What happens when two parents/spouses separate in New Jersey and go through the process of having a temporary child support order put in place, but then both move out of state before the child support order can be finalized? According to a recent high profile ruling involving former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, a New Jersey family court judge has held that when both parents no longer reside in the state, the Courts are no longer able to modify child support orders.

The case in question involved a child born in Virginia in 2010 to Margot Patrice Johnson; Bradshaw is the child’s father. Johnson and Bradshaw were never married and neither she nor the child ever lived in New Jersey. Johnson sought support here in a June 9, 2011 complaint based on Bradshaw’s residence in the state. While playing with the Giants (he was part of the team until last year), Bradshaw lived in Clinton, NJ.

In December of 2011, Superior Court Judge John Selser in Passaic County awarded Johnson $1,200 per month from Bradshaw in pendente lite (temporary) chid support. In the order, the judge noted that this was only a temporary order, pending further litigation. Selser, however, did not set a date to return to court at that time.

Over the next year, Johnson tried to obtain financial information from Bradshaw in order to modify (change) the temporary order into a permanent one. However, the parties did not return to court during 2012. It was at this same time that Bradshaw was released from his contract with the Giants and became a free agent. He was signed by the Indianapolis Colts on a one-year contract last June and two months after that, bought a house in Virginia, where he now resides.

When Johnson finally moved to modify the 2011 order and have a judge change it to a permanent order for child support, Bradshaw had already left New Jersey.

Is he required to come back to settle this matter? In a ruling being called precedent setting, Superior Court Judge Sohail Mohammed wrote that because the child and both parents do not currently live in New Jersey, the state lacked jurisdiction under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) to require Bradshaw to come back to the court for the custody modification hearing.

As the New Jersey Law Journal reports:

With New Jersey precedent lacking, [Mohammed] found case law from Louisiana and Kansas courts holding that personal jurisdiction to modify support is lost once all parties have left and additional support from the UIFSA drafters’ comments to the uniform law.

Mohammed noted that New Jersey’s definition of child support does not distinguish between temporary and final orders and thus, any new order would be a modification, especially because he would almost certainly need additional evidence and hearings.

Other courts would not have to recognize it because New Jersey lacked jurisdiction to modify, he pointed out.

Mohammed did find he jurisdiction to enforce the 2011 order under Youssefi v. Youssefi, 328 N.J. Super. 12 (App. Div. 2000), but that was not what Johnson was looking for, since Bradshaw was paying the $1,200 per month. The decision expressly retained that enforcement jurisdiction.

Because both parents now appear to live in Virginia, it is likely that Johnson will file a motion for child support in that state, but apparently will need to start the process over again. In the meantime, the temporary order providing a monthly support payment of $1200 is still in place.

What does this mean for you? If the party you are seeking support from has a highly mobile career, it’s clear that delaying on taking action could cost you time and frustration if that person leaves before a court order can be finalized. Child custody can be a complicated matter. If you have questions about how to move forward, we would be happy to talk with you about your concerns and what options might be best to help you move forward.