Grandmother Challenges Custody Of Child’s Father
- April 9, 2015
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Reed v. Pettiford, is an Essex County case in which the Plaintiff, a child’s father, was engaged in a custody dispute with the Defendant, the child’s maternal grandmother. The Defendant appealed from the Family Court’s 2013 Order which denied her application for sole legal and physical custody of her grandson. The Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the lower court. The child’s mother died in 2004 before he turned two years old. After his mother died, the child remained in the custody of the Plaintiff and the Defendant assumed custody of the child’s half sister. Subsequently, the Family Court awarded both parties joint legal custody of the boy. In 2005, the Defendant wrote a letter to the court expressing her doubt that the Plaintiff was the child’s biological father and asking the court to vacate the prior custody order. She did not legally challenge the Plaintiff’s paternity at the time. Rather, she continued to allow the Plaintiff to have residential custody of the child by a private agreement. The boy had a visitation schedule with the Defendant for years. As he aged and became involved in school sports his visitation with the Defendant became sparse and in 2012 the Defendant filed an application with the court to compel the Plaintiff to present the child for visitation. The court ordered visitation. Following a N.J.S.A. 9:2-4 best interests evaluation it was determined that the Plaintiff and Defendant could no longer communicate effectively with regard to the child and it was not in the best interest of child to have both the Plaintiff and Defendant share joint legal custody of him and to compel him to attend visitations with the Defendant. The Court issued a subsequent Order reflecting this change. The Defendant appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the Family Court holding that none of the Defendant’s arguments on appeal were sufficient to warrant discussion in a written opinion pursuant to Rule 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). The court did note that the Defendant never properly challenged the Plaintiff’s paternity under N.J.S.A . 9:17-38, the New Jersey Parentage Act which governs the issue of paternity in New Jersey. This Act was created to “establish the principle that regardless of the marital status of the parents, all children and parents have equal rights with respect to each other and to provide a procedure to establish parentage in disputed cases. Fazilat v. Feldstein, 180 N.J. 74, 82 (2004). The Plaintiff was never married to the child’s mother, but he is presumptively his father under subsections a(4) and (5) of the Parentage Act because he received the child into his home, had supported him, and had always held him out to be his natural child. N.J.S.A. 9:17-43(a)-(5). Child custody and parenting time cases are of the most emotional and difficult cases in all of family law. If you think that it may be beneficial for you to petition the court for a modification of your current child custody arrangement it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about child custody, grandparent’s rights, parenting time, 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.