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Court Modifies Child Support And Custody Based on Father’s Mental Instability

Court Modifies Child Support And Custody Based on Father’s Mental Instability

In the recent Appellate Division case, Cowie v. Cowie, the Plaintiff, in a post-judgment matrimonial matter, appealed from a 2013 court order denying her Motion to reconsider and modify the Defendant’s child support obligation retroactively after his custody was diminished due to mental illness. The Appellate Court reversed the decision of the Family Court and remanded the case back to that court for reconsideration. The parties in this case were married in 1999 and the marriage bore two (2) children, a son born in 2001 and another son born in 2003. In 2011, the parties obtained a divorce and entered into a property settlement agreement (PSA) on the same date. The PSA specified that the parties were to share joint legal and residential custody of their children and were to share equal parenting time. Child support was calculated using the NJ Child Support Guidelines based upon the shared parenting worksheet. Subsequently, the Defendant began to suffer from mental health problems and in 2012 the Plaintiff sought temporary sole legal and residential custody of their children as well as a suspension of the Defendant’s parenting time. Shortly thereafter, the Family Court granted the Plaintiff’s request for temporary sole legal and residential custody of the parties’ children and established supervised visitation with the Defendant without over nights. In 2013, the Plaintiff submitted a Motion for a modification of the Defendant’s child support obligation because the custody arrangement had been drastically modified. The judge denied her request because the arrangement was deemed to be “temporary.” The Plaintiff appealed from this decision. The Appellate Division found that the Plaintiff’s application to modify the Defendant’s child support was governed by well-settled legal principles. Specifically, a party seeking to modify a child support obligation has the burden of presenting a prima facie case of change circumstances. Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J.139, 157-59 (1980); Innes v. Innes, 117 N.J. 496, 504 (1990); N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. The Appellate Division held that in this case there has been a changed circumstance in the parties’ parenting time and that the change in custody was due to the Defendant’s incapacity and lack of ability to provide adequate care for his children. Although the modification to the original custody arrangement was deemed to be “temporary,” there was no contemplation in the record as to the duration of the Defendant’s incapacity. Although courts can reject requests for modification based upon temporary changed circumstances, there is no bright line rule to measure changed circumstances and therefore any determination is left to the discretion of the court. In this case, there has been a “reasonable” time period of the changed circumstance and the children should not be denied appropriate support to meet their needs. Therefore, the Appellate Division reversed the decision of the lower court and remanded the case back to the court for an Order consistent with its decision. If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your child support obligation it is imperative that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about post-judgment modification, parenting time, child support, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.

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