Negotiating Parenting Time Arrangements from a Distance in New Jersey

child and dog
In a recent unpublished New Jersey appellate opinion, a mother appealed from a custody order that directed the parents to share equal parenting time with their only child on an alternating weekly basis. The mother argued that the father’s parenting time should have been restricted to Thursday through Saturday on alternating weeks.

The child was born in 2014 after the couple had been dating for two years. They both worked for the United States Navy. The mother lived in New Jersey, while the father lived in Maryland. Due to Navy paternity and maternity leave benefits, the couple could live together after the baby was born until 2014. From the time the child was born until the father’s paternity leave ended, the couple lived in the mother’s house. When the father went back to work, they lived in his home during the week in Maryland and lived in the mother’s New Jersey home on weekends. For five months, their child lived in the same household as his parents and was cared for by both of them.

When the mother went back to work in June 2014, their relationship ended. She filed a verified complaint asking for custody of the child. The father counterclaimed, asking for joint legal but not physical custody of the child. They went to mediation, which didn’t resolve anything. However, pending the hearing on custody, they agreed to a temporary parenting time arrangement such that the father would have parenting time with the child on alternate weeks from Thursday through Sunday. The father could take off every other Friday, and the parenting schedule would coincide with those weeks.

When the custody hearing rolled around, the father only wanted equal parenting time, rather than physical custody. He asked to have his son on alternating weeks and that the couple exchange the baby on Sundays. The mother was fine with a shared parenting arrangement but didn’t want it to be equal. She wanted to be the parent of primary residence and to have the father use his parenting time every other week only from Thursday through Sunday. She believed that if the father kept the child a whole week, he’d have to be in daycare, and that this would be disruptive. Her mother would care for the child while she worked, which she believed was more stable.

She also thought it would be hard for the son to drive 200 miles every Sunday. She further reasoned that she had been the primary caretaker since the child was born and that she was still breastfeeding. She also claimed the father was a good father but had anger issues. She stated communicating by email with the father would be “great,” as long as he did not make any harassing comments. She submitted a letter from the pediatrician stating that it was preferred that a child being breastfed be close to the mother until he no longer was.

The court found it wasn’t relevant that the mother cared for the child for a regular basis for a period of time and took maternity leave. He noted it was inconvenient to be at such a distance, but it was something they’d chosen. He determined that there should be true shared parenting and that the mom could designate the pediatrician. With regard to the breastfeeding, he found that whatever was being used when the mother was at work could continue.

The appellate court explained that the purpose of a custody decision is to serve the child’s best interests. It also reasoned that New Jersey’s public policy is to make sure minor children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. The mother argued that the 14 custody factors had not been considered, and therefore it should be reversed.

The appellate court explained that many factors wouldn’t apply, and the judge’s decision not to address factors that wouldn’t have significant bearing didn’t require reversal. The court noted that there was no history of domestic violence, and the child was too young to express his preference. Both parents worked full-time. The primary concern was the couple’s ability to communicate well. The mother complained, among other things, that the judge hadn’t taken seriously her breastfeeding. The appellate court disagreed, finding that the family law judge had made appropriate findings. It affirmed the lower court.

If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about parenting time, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive child custody attorney to seek an appropriate outcome. Contact the lawyers of Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or through our online form. We have attorneys available who can handle all aspects of a divorce and post-divorce family law matters.