If your divorce involved children, the New Jersey Courts required you and your former spouse to resolve legal custody and parenting time issues. No matter how much thought went into your custody and parenting time plan, however, it is not unusual for parents to seek modification(s) after the divorce. A recent New Jersey Appellate Division case highlights the challenges that come with modifications of parenting time Orders.
In Gatto v. Breton, after a trial involving parenting time, the Plaintiff/Father asked the Court to transfer custody of the child to him. The Defendant/Mother responded by asking the Court to appoint a parent coordinator. The Court appointed a Parent Coordinator, but did not transfer custody of the child to the father. Soon thereafter, the wife refused to work with the Parent Coordinator.
In response to the mother’s refusal to work with the parent coordinator, the father once again asked the Court to transfer custody. The Court denied the request to transfer custody, finding that there was “no prima facie showing that it’s [in] the best interests of this child and there hasn’t been a demonstration that there is a significant change in circumstances.” However, the Court reinstated the parent coordinator and permitted the father to retain a custody evaluator to determine whether it was in the child’s best interests to reside with the father.
On appeal, the Court agreed with the Family Part Judge’s decision reinstating the parent coordinator. However, the Appellate Court found that ordering the mother to cooperate in a custody evaluation was impermissible because the Judge did not find that the father had made a prima facie showing of changed circumstances. Therefore, the Judge’s Order allowing the father to hire a custody evaluator was vacated.
Among the lessons Gatto v. Bretton teaches divorced parents is that parenting time agreements are not easily modified, but will be enforced. For instance, if a parent agrees to use a parent coordinator, they should expect to be compelled by the Court to cooperate with the parent coordinator. Moreover, it is important for parents to notify their attorneys as soon as possible if there are problems with child custody and parenting time agreements.
The attorneys at Donahue, Hagan, Klein & Weisberg, LLC have extensive experience with child custody and parenting time issues. If you need assistance, contact us for a consultation.