Dear Cassie: I am in the process of going through a divorce. We have three children (I am the mother), but we have not yet been able to resolve our custody dispute. How can I ensure that I get to see our children on Mother’s Day?
All custody and parenting time disputes in New Jersey are governed by the overarching principle that the best interests of the child (or children) controls. This principle applies to regular parenting time, vacation parenting time, and holiday parenting time, including holidays such as Mother’s Day.
In assessing the best interests of the child and establishing custody and parenting time arrangements, the Court will consider a number of factors that are set forth in New Jersey’s custody statute. These factors are: 1) the parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child; 2) the parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse; 3) the interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings; 4) the history of domestic violence, if any; 5) the safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent; 6) the preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision; 7) the needs of the child; 8) the stability of the home environment offered; 9) the quality and continuity of the child’s education; 10) the fitness of the parents; 11) the geographical proximity of the parents’ homes; 12) the extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation; 13) the parents’ employment responsibilities; and 14) the age and number of the children.
The Court will pay attention to the historical caretaking arrangements to the parties before their relationship dissolved. In other words: was one parent primarily responsible for the children while the other parent worked? Who took the children to the doctor, did their schoolwork with them, and prepared their meals? While not determinative, this analysis is influential in terms of establishing custody and parenting time arrangements for the future.
As for holiday parenting time, it is customary for Courts to establish a “rotating” schedule, whereby important holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are rotated between the parties on alternating years. However, the parties are always free to negotiate between themselves their own holiday parenting time schedule that meets their family’s unique needs. Barring unique circumstances such as risk of harm to the child, holidays such as Mother’s Day, the mother’s birthday, Father’s Day, and the father’s birthday are routinely awarded to the respective mother or father every year. If your spouse will not agree to such a provision, you can file a Motion with the Court and ask the Court to award you this holiday parenting time.
If you are dealing with a custody and parenting time dispute, you should seek the advice of matrimonial counsel.
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Cassie Murphy is a divorce and family law Partner with the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy, with offices in Red Bank and Woodbridge.