How to Change Custody of a Minor in New Jersey

By Beverly Bird

After parents separate or divorce, life goes on; children grow older and their needs change. Parents move on, too, establishing new relationships or moving on to new jobs. Eventually, changed circumstances might require alterations in the custody terms. All states allow parents an opportunity to modify custody orders. In New Jersey, there's an easy way and a hard way to accomplish this.

By Consent

The easiest way to change custody in New Jersey is to amicably work out a new agreement with your child’s other parent. Such an agreement must be in writing and filed with the court. You may have a lawyer draft the new consent order or write it yourself. Consent orders clearly specify the new terms on which you've agreed, along with language indicating that the parties want the new terms to replace the existing custodial court order. Both parents must sign it, then submit it to the court for the judge’s signature, which makes your new arrangement official.

Modification Proceedings

If you can’t come to an agreement with your ex, you’ll have to use a court procedure. In New Jersey, this means filing a motion for modification. These motions are filed with the same court that granted your divorce or issued your existing custody order. The motion for modification process may involve two hearings. At the first hearing, the judge can order you to attend mediation to try to work out a new custody arrangement on your own. If you’re successful, the mediator will submit the new terms to the court, where the judge will issue a new custody order. If you and your ex fail to reach an agreement, you’ll have to go back to court for a second hearing, where the judge will rule on the matter.

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Change of Circumstances

Your family's changed circumstances must be significant for a New Jersey judge to alter an existing custody arrangement, unless you do so by consent. A judge probably won’t grant a change of custody just because you don’t like your ex’s new girlfriend and you don’t want her around your child. But if his new girlfriend abuses drugs or alcohol and lives with your ex, this may constitute a significant change of circumstances that would convince the court to alter custody. If your ex plans to move out of state, this circumstance might warrant a change of custody so your child can remain with you. The court will consider if your child has close emotional ties to you and your neighborhood and whether she wants to leave. If your ex moves to a new residence that is simply too small for your child to have a bedroom of her own, this, too, might qualify as a significant change of circumstances and convince a judge to modify custody.

Burden of Proof

If you file a motion for modification, the burden of proof is on you to convince the court that the changed circumstances would be detrimental to your child. In this case, you must document how your child would be negatively affected, and attach copies of this proof to your motion papers. If your situation is too complicated to address at a simple motion hearing, the judge may order a plenary hearing instead. A plenary hearing is much like a trial, where you'll be permitted to call witnesses who can substantiate your case with testimony. Witness testimony usually isn't heard at motion hearings in New Jersey.

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The Tennessee Joint Custody Relocation Statute

Tennessee law does not prevent a divorced parent from moving out of state, but if you have a joint custody arrangement, the other parent may be able to prevent you from taking your child with you. If you move, you will likely need a new parenting plan with an updated visitation schedule, which you may agree to with your ex-spouse. If the parents can't agree on new custody and visitation arrangements, the court may modify the schedule for you or prevent you from relocating the child if it concludes the move is not in the child's best interest.

How to Reverse a Sole Custody Order in Missouri

Provided the existence of certain conditions, a parent can be successful in reversing a sole custody order in the state of Missouri. An important first step in the process is understanding the difference between legal and physical custody, and that modifications of existing arrangements require a showing of new facts coming to light after the original order. Notice must be provided to the other parent, and if the parties cannot agree on a parenting plan, the judge will rule in favor of the modification if it is in the best interest of the child.

Remarriage & Custody

Remarriage is usually not a reason for a change in custody unless other factors are involved. Parents naturally move on to new partners after a breakup. The fact that they have a child doesn’t change this. Unless the new relationship affects the child or his relationship with his other parent, courts are not likely to modify custody because of it. Judges are obligated to place custody based on the best interest of the child.

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