The ruling will affect cases in which one divorced parent wants to move out of state with the child against the wishes of the other parent. Now, parents have to prove that the move would be in the child's best interests.
Prior to the ruling, judges based their decision on whether the move would "harm" the child – not if the move was in the interest of the child. The previous standard worked under the assumption that the children were happiest when their parents were happiest.
At the heart of the decision is a 2015 case involving Jamie Taormina Bisbing and her ex-husband Glenn Bisbing. Jamie wanted to move to Utah with the former couple's twin daughters, but as per their divorce agreement, she was required to obtain written permission from her ex.
"When parents relocate to another state or country, child custody and support issues must be modified and parent-child relationships protected," explains Maxim Law, a firm that deals with interstate custody issues.
Glenn argued that his children should remain in New Jersey. With the previous rules still in effect, Jamie only had to prove that the move was for a good reason and would not hurt the child's interests.
Jamie moved with the children to Utah and enrolled them in elementary school. An appellate court later reversed the ruling and required the lower court to rule with the "child's best interests" standard.
Jamie and her children returned to New Jersey. A trial court then denied her request for a stay and ordered both parents to abide by the terms of the divorce agreement.
"In the intervening years, the social science just didn't bear that out," said Jennifer Weisberg Millner, at attorney who also took a child-relocation case to the New Jersey Supreme Court. "Instead, it's been shown a child and children need that continuous contact with both parents."
While the ruling is an important one, legal experts say it's not a landmark decision. New Jersey now joins the majority of other states in the country which consider the child's best interests when making relocation decisions.
Most states require the custodial parent to give the noncustodial parent a formal written notice of the parent's intention to move with the children. The noncustodial parent must file an objection with the court if he or she disagrees with the move. A "move away" trial is then scheduled to determine whether it's in the best interests of the child for the custodial parent to move out of state.
Justice Anne Patterson said the decision to overturn the previous ruling was "not lightly" done. Social science research, she said, is inconclusive, but the best interests of the child will now be the guide when making relocation decisions.
In the ruling, Patterson wrote:
"We find such justification for a departure from precedent in this case. Our custody statute clearly envisions that a custody arrangement will serve a paramount purpose: the promotion of a child's best interests."
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