Post-Judgment Custody Modification Denied
- January 2, 2015
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In the recent Appellate Division case, C.T. v. M.L., the Defendant, M.L., appealed from a 2013 Family Court Order that denied her post judgment Motion that sought to restore joint custody of the parties’ children and other forms of relief. The Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the Family Court. The parties in this case were married in 1999. Three (3) children were born of their marriage in 2000, 2002, and 2004. The parties obtained a legal divorce in 2006. When the parties separated in 2005 the Defendant had residential custody of all three (3) children. In January of 2006, residential custody was transferred to the Plaintiff, C.T., because the Defendant’s boyfriend, F.L., inflicted serious injuries to Lila, one of the parties’ children. In addition, the Defendant’s parenting time with the children was suspended. The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), conducted several risk assessments and following these, the Defendant was allowed limited parenting time with her children conditioned upon the fact that she not have any contact with F.L. In September of that year, the parties executed a property settlement agreement (PSA) that provided that the parties share joint legal custody of the children but that the Plaintiff would have sole residential custody of them. The agreement specified that the Defendant have liberal and reasonable parenting time with the children and included a schedule as part of the provisions. Finally, a provision was entered into the agreement wherein the Defendant was prohibited from having any contact with her former boyfriend, F.L. or his family members, and if such contact was resumed the Defendant would forfeit her future parenting time with the children. Following the divorce the Defendant subsequently married F.L. and when the Plaintiff learned of the marriage he implemented the provision of the PSA that suspended the Defendant’s parenting time. The Defendant moved before the court to reinstate her parenting time but in 2007 her Motion was denied and she was only allowed limited telephone contact with the children. Extensive Motion practice on this issue followed and in 2010 a Family Court judge awarded full legal custody to the parties’ children to the Plaintiff and suspended the Defendant’s right to telephone contact with the children. The judge based his opinion on psychological evaluations of the children that concluded that contact with the Defendant should cease. In 2012, the Defendant filed another Motion seeking the restoration of joint legal custody of her children and the establishment of a supervised parenting time schedule for her to have restored contact with them. The judge denied her request and she appealed from that decision. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the Family Court was mistaken in finding that she did not present a prima facie case of a change in circumstances that would warrant a change in custody. According to the Appellate Court, a party who seeks modification of a judgment or Order regarding custody and visitation “must meet the burden of showing changed circumstances and that the agreement is [no longer] in the best interests of the child.” Abouzahr v. Matera-Abouzahr, 361 N.J. Super. 135, 152 (App. Div.). The Appellate Division found that the prior rulings on this issue were correct because the Defendant’s repeated filing of the same Motion and hoping for a different result did not rise to the level of a changed circumstance and did not solve the underlying problems that were preventing her from having contact with her children. Therefore, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the Family Court. If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your child custody arrangement 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 custody, 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.