WILLIAM H. MONE reports on a recent decision from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
A recent New Jersey case involved a dispute between a child’s grandparents and divorced parents for parenting time with the now nine-year-old child. The child’s parents were divorced in 2011. The father was on active military duty and the mother worked on weekends, leading to the child’s grandparents caring for the child on weekends from Thursday nights until Sundays for several years and on various holidays.
After a breakdown in the grandparents’ relationship with the child’s mother resulted in the mother cutting off their time with the child, the grandparents filed a complaint seeking custody of their grandson, or in the alternative, seeking parenting time.
As a result of the application, the grandparents and the divorced parents of the child entered into a consent order allowing the grandparents one Saturday per month with their grandson. Several months later, the child’s mother filed a motion to terminate the grandparents’ parenting time, and the grandparents moved to modify the consent order to allow for more parenting time.
After a short hearing on the issue, the trial judge entered an order declaring “grandparenting time” to be at the sole discretion of either the mother or the father, but allowed the grandparents to attend school events and activities if neither parent objected. In doing so, the trial judge held that the grandparents had not met their burden of proving that “grandparenting time” was necessary to prevent harm to the child.
The grandparents appealed the trial court’s decision. The Appellate Division noted that neither the grandparents nor the divorced parents objected to the trial judge’s failure to consider changed circumstances in modifying the original parenting time consent order.
In doing so, the Appellate Division held that the trial judge should have first decided whether there was a prima facie showing of changed circumstances warranting a departure from the “grandparenting time” in the consent order before addressing whether or not the grandparents had met their burden of proving that “grandparenting time” was necessary to prevent harm to the child. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case for a determination of changed circumstances before addressing whether or not “grandparenting time” was necessary to avoid harm to the child.
Please contact William H. Mone if you have any questions or need assistance in connection with this subject.