The New Jersey Supreme Court recently overturned a decades-old law, and set a new standard, in the best interest of children in relocation disputes. Relocation disputes arise when one of the parents wants to move away with the child after divorce or separation.

The court ruling Tuesday affects cases in which parents have divorced and one wants to leave New Jersey with a child against the wishes of the other parent.

The old law focused on whether the move would “cause harm” to the child. With the court ruling, divorced parents now must prove the move is in the child’s best interest.

Florida Divorce Relocation

In Florida, “relocation” is defined as changing a parent’s principal residence to a new one at least 50 miles away from his or her current address for at least 60 consecutive days. Relocation is a topic that I have lectured and written on before.

Florida has a relocation statute, which in addition to defining relocations, sets out the requirements a parent needs to fill to legally relocate by agreement or court order.

The relocation statute is very technical, and lays out very specific factors a relocation parent must prove, and the court must consider to determine if the proposed relocation is in the best interests of the child.

There is no presumption in favor of or against a request to relocate with the child even though the move will materially affect the current schedule of contact, access, and time-sharing with the nonrelocating parent.

Instead, the court looks at specific factors, such as: the child’s relationship with the relocating parent and with the non-relocating parent, the age and needs of the child, the ability to preserve the relationship with the non-relocating parent; and the child’s preference, among others.

New Jersey Supreme Court Case

The recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision stems from a 2015 case in which a father tried to keep his daughters from moving to Utah with his ex-wife after the divorce.

Jamie Taormina Bisbing, the primary custodian of her twin daughters, planned to move with them to Utah after getting remarried.

Her divorce settlement required she get written consent from her ex-husband, Glenn, before moving. Glenn Bisbing argued that his daughters should remain in New Jersey.

A trial court permitted the girls and their mother to move to Utah, but an appellate court later reversed that decision, saying the “best interests of the child standard” should be applied.

Matheu Nunn, the father’s attorney, said the state Supreme Court ruling resolves the issue of why the “best interest” standard was applied to all other custody rulings except for cases where a parent is separated from a child.

The New Jersey Supreme Court changes the burden of proof in New Jersey from the old standard in which there was a presumption that children were happiest when their custodial parent was the happiest.

The new standard brings New Jersey law into line with Florida, which puts the burden of proof on the parent who wants to relocate and it reflects a growing trend in New Jersey to consider the rights of both parents.

The US News article is here.