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No Vacating A Child Custody Agreement Based on Party’s Mistake

No Vacating A Child Custody Agreement Based on Party’s Mistake

In a recent, Morris County New Jersey case, Alexin v. Raiter, the Plaintiff, Alexander Alexin and the Defendant, Irena Raiter, established a consent agreement to provide solutions to child custody issues in their relationship dissolution and the Appellate Division ruled that the Plaintiff could not vacate the agreement after it was signed when he claimed that he thought it was temporary and could be changed. The Plaintiff and Defendant had been dating when they discovered that the Defendant was pregnant. In 2010, a son was born to the couple but their relationship ended soon thereafter. In October of 2012, the Defendant filed a domestic violence complaint against the Plaintiff and was awarded a temporary restraining order. The restraining order granted the Defendant temporary custody of the parties’ son and provided no parenting time for the Plaintiff. The parties then filed criminal complaints against each other. In late October 2012, the parties and their attorneys negotiated a civil consent agreement and the Plaintiff and his attorney made handwritten changes to the agreement at that time. The agreement indicated that the parties, through their attorneys, had resolved their issues in consideration of the promises that were made in the agreement. On the issue of child custody, the agreement specified that that Defendant shall have full physical custody of the parties’ son and the Plaintiff shall have parenting time on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Barely three months after the agreement was signed by the parties and their attorneys, the Plaintiff filed another complaint with the Family Court requesting joint legal and physical custody of the parties’ child, arguing that he did not need to show a change in circumstances because he did not enter into the agreement voluntarily. In February 2013, the Family Court conducted a hearing at which the judge issued a written opinion denying the Plaintiff’s request to vacate the agreement because the Plaintiff was represented by counsel, had be questioned under oath, and affirmed his understanding of the agreement and his willingness to sign it. The Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appellate Court and the Court affirmed the decision of the lower court. According to the Appellate Division, although the Plaintiff offered two certifications to support his motion to vacate the agreement, his arguments do not raise a genuine, material issue of fact given the explicit terms of the agreement. The Plaintiff contended that he signed the agreement believing that the terms were temporary and could be changed, and that he only had 10-15 minutes to review the agreement with his attorney. The Appellate Court reasoned that settlement agreements are contracts and therefore “should be enforced according to the intent of the parties.” J.B. v. W.B., 215 N.J. 305, 326 (2013). A contracting party to an agreement is “bound by the apparent intention he or she outwardly manifests to the other party. It is immaterial that he or she has a different, secret intention from that outwardly manifested.” Brawer v. Brawer, 329 N.J. Super. 213, 283 (App. Div. 2000). Disputes regarding child custody can be of the most important and emotional in family law. If you are involved in a child custody or child support dispute it is imperative that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before proceeding. For more information on custody, parenting time, post judgment modification, child support, divorce, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit Darlingfirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way intended to replace the advice of an attorney.

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