Do I Have A Legal Right To Overnight Parenting Time With My Child In N.J.?
Yes. As an attorney with decades of experience here in New Jersey, I can assure you that you certainly have a right to overnight parenting time with your child. Only exceptional circumstances would stand in your attorney’s way to achieve overnight parenting time in a court order from a New Jersey Family Court. An example would be a substance abuse issue that would place the child’s welfare in jeopardy.
It is also important to note that you should not allow time to pass by before hiring a lawyer to enforce your rights as a parent for overnight parenting time. Otherwise, the passage of time would actually work against you as the Court shall always base decisions upon the best interests of the child. Therefore, if years go bye without exercising overnight parenting time, this could delay the process as a reunification period between yourself and your child may be ordered. All told, if you are not enjoying parenting time with your child, the lawyers at our law firm can help you obtain it.
In Ruiru Ji v. Hanson Lo, the parties were married in 1998. The parties had two daughters born of the marriage, Annie and May. On May 31, 2013 the parties entered a dual judgment of divorce (“DJOD”) in the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Part. At the time of the divorce, Annie and May were twelve and eight, respectively. The DJOD decided issues among the parties, such as custody and parenting time. The DJOD also appointed a parenting time coordinator to decide parenting time matters between the parties. The Family Part also ordered that the parties must bring issues of parenting time to the parenting time coordinator before filing any motions with the court, and that the parenting time coordinator’s recommendation must be included in any motions that the parties’ subsequently file. The court ordered that the parenting time coordinator should act as a middleman because the parties have filed over thirty motions with the court since their divorce.
The DJOD stated that the father had parenting time with May during the week. The father also had parenting time with May overnight every other weekend. However, the father was not allowed to share a bedroom with May during his parenting time. Also, the father was not allowed parenting time with Annie until both the father and Annie attended therapy together to address the problems in their relationship.
The father’s overnight parenting time with May was suspended in April 2014 until he could demonstrate to the parenting time coordinator that he was living in a two-bedroom apartment. In July 2014, the court denied the father’s request to reinstate his overnight parenting time with May because the father still did not have the proper living arrangements. The mother asked the court to modify the parenting time schedule in 2015 to reflect the recommendations made by the parenting time coordinator. The recommendations included Thursday visitation and parenting time on Saturdays and Sundays, but no overnight visits. At that time, the father asked for extended visitation with May. He also asked that the court to interview May to determine her feelings on the parenting time schedule.
The court agreed with the parenting time coordinator’s recommendation and ordered parenting time for Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays on May 29, 2015. The father was still not allowed overnight visitation because he did not allow an inspection of his home. The father then asked that the court conduct interviews with both children to discuss parenting time scheduling, as well as other issues. The court denied the father’s request on June 5, 2015 because custody was not at issue. The court granted the father’s request to resume overnight parenting time on July 24, 2015 after the father showed that his circumstances had changed and that he was living in a two-bedroom apartment. However, the court granted only one overnight every other weekend instead of two overnights because it was in May’s best interest. The court denied the father’s request for reconsideration of overnight parenting time with May on September 1, 2015.
The DJOD also stated that the mother had full custody of the children with regard to making medical decisions. The court gave the mother full custody over these decisions after finding that she was better suited to handle these decisions and that it was in the best interests of the children. In November 2012, Annie threatened to hurt herself and opposed visitation with the father after the incident. In 2014, Annie attempted to commit suicide and was hospitalized. The father believed that the mother had an abusive parenting style. The father wanted Annie to continue therapy with the doctor specified in the DJOD and he asked the court to order that the mother stop meddling with Annie’s therapy. On June 5, 2015, the court denied the father’s requests. The court reasoned that the DJOD required Annie to attend therapy on an as needed basis with the specified therapist, but the father did not demonstrate that therapy was needed. Furthermore, the court reasoned that the father did not show that the mother’s parenting style was related to Annie’s suicide attempt or that the mother interfered with Annie’s therapy. The court also denied the father’s request for in camera interviews with the children because custody was not at issue. On September 1, 2015, the court denied the father’s request to reconsider these matters.
The father appealed the Family Part’s decision to modify parenting time based only on the recommendation of the parenting time coordinator, as well as the June 5 and September 1 orders, claiming the court failed to find misappropriate behavior by the mother based on the evidence. The father also appealed the court’s finding that Annie did not need therapy with the DJOD specified doctor. The father claimed that the mother failed to show that the other doctors were better for Annie and that the court should have found the mother at fault for Annie’s suicide attempt.
On appeal, The New Jersey Appellate Division recognized that the lower court judge has particular expertise in this area and that the lower court’s decision should be reversed only when it was not supported by reliable and credible evidence. The Appellate Division found that a decision regarding the parenting time schedule based on the parenting time coordinator’s recommendation was not necessary because the July 24, 2015 order modified the May 29, 2015 order. Further, the Appellate Division found that the father did not appeal the July 24 order, which modified his overnights with May, in a timely fashion. The court stated that even if the father appealed the order in time, there was no abuse of discretion by the lower court because overnight parenting time had been suspended for fifteen months.
The Appellate Division also found that the lower court did not abuse its discretion by holding that the father did not demonstrate that the mother failed to comply with the DJOD in regards to sole custody of medical decisions. The Appellate Division reasoned that there was no evidence to indicate that Annie was not receiving therapy from competent doctors or that the mother was not providing Annie with therapy. Therefore, the Appellate Division agreed that there was no necessity to appoint a parental alienation expert. Also, the Appellate Division agreed that there was no reason for the court to interview the children because custody was not at issue in this case. Lastly, the Appellate Division agreed with the lower court that there was no need to grant the father’s motions for reconsideration because he did not present new evidence to consider.
The father also appealed the part of the June 5, 2015 order that required the parties to obtain prior approval from the parenting time coordinator before filing a motion in court. The father claimed on appeal that the court had never found the parties’ motions to be frivolous or inappropriate. The Appellate Division found that prior approval portion of the June 5, 2015 order was made without consideration of court precedent that indicates what a judge must find before prohibiting parties from making claims. The Appellate Division reasoned that the order required pre-screening, but it did not identify what factors the parenting time coordinator should consider when screening the motions. Also, the Appellate Division noted that the court did not find any other motions the parties made to be frivolous. Therefore, the Appellate Division reversed the portion of the June 5, 2015 order that required prior approval before the parties could file subsequent motions.
Ultimately, the Appellate Division agreed with and affirmed most of the lower court’s decisions on appeal. The Appellate Division found that the lower court was correct to modify the father’s parenting time and correct to hold that the mother did not engage in any inappropriate behavior. The Appellate Division reversed the portion of the lower court’s order that required prior approval because the lower court did not comply with the standards required from an earlier Appellate Division case.