In 2015, a New Jersey father objected to his ex-wife’s plans to move their twin daughters – of whom she had primary custody of – to Utah. As part of their custody agreement, she was required to get written consent from the father in the event she wanted to relocate with their daughters.
When the father refused to consent, the case went to trial. The trial court found in favor of the mother and she moved the children to Utah. An appellate court later reversed that decision, agreeing with the father that the move was not in the best interest of the children. The “best interest of the child” standard is what family courts throughout the country base their custody decisions on.
The mother appealed that decision to the state supreme court, which recently upheld the appellate court’s decision. Many legal pundits say that this decision sets a new standard on custody relocation issues. For decades, courts tended to favor the custodial parent’s request to move, relying on a theory that children are happy when the parent they live with is happy. Research has proven, however, that children do best when they have both parents playing active roles in their lives.
But this decision now means that the best interest of the child standard will be the focus on relocation issues, just as it is in initial custody decisions.
Now, the burden of proof will shift to the custodial parent. Instead of the noncustodial parent having to convince the court why relocation would have an overwhelmingly negative impact on the child, the custodial parent will have to convince the court why the move would have an overwhelmingly positive impact.
In a discussion about the ruling, attorney Edward Weinstein commented, “I’m pleased to see the New Jersey Supreme Court has finally set the best interest of the child standard to this custody issue. It never made sense to me that custodial parents were allowed to move children thousands of miles away from the noncustodial parent and how that benefited the child. It obviously doesn’t.”