How to Undo Custody Arrangements in New Jersey

By Beverly Bird

The divorce process can be a bumpy road. You may think you have certain issues resolved, such as custody, but then something happens that makes you uncomfortable with the terms you agreed to, or you may disagree with a judge's decision. In New Jersey, you may or may not be able to undo the arrangement. It depends a great deal on where you are in the divorce process and why you want to change your parenting plan.

Reversing a Property Settlement Agreement

You have a limited window of time in which to change your mind if you've agreed to a custody arrangement in a marital settlement agreement -- called a "property settlement agreement" in New Jersey. After you and your spouse both sign a PSA, it's binding. You or your lawyer will submit it to the court and a judge will attach it to a divorce judgment and sign the judgment, making it official. If you notify the court immediately that you've changed your mind about the custody terms, the judge may not sign the judgment and you can go back to the drawing board -- either by attempting to negotiate a new agreement with your spouse or by going to trial so the court can decide custody.

Motions for Relief From Judgment

If a judge signs your judgment before you notify the court you want to vacate your custody agreement, you may have one other option, depending on why you want to undo your arrangement. If you feel you were railroaded into the agreement because your spouse had an attorney and you didn't, or if your spouse lied about something that influenced your decision, you can file a motion with the court for "relief from judgment." This is complex litigation requiring knowledge of the law so you might need the help of an attorney.

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Fighting a Temporary Order

Temporary custody arrangements are often put into place early in divorce proceedings. They're included in "pendente lite" orders in New Jersey and stay in effect until your divorce is final. They're temporary by nature so if you want to undo this kind of custody arrangement, you can argue your case at trial when a final custody order is decided.

Appealing a Judgment

If a judge ordered your custody arrangement after a divorce trial and you disagree with his decision, you might be able to appeal the judgment. However, this is also a highly complex legal proceeding and you'd probably need the help of an attorney. You can't submit new evidence in an appeal -- you can only argue the judge misinterpreted the law or circumstances of your case when he ordered your custody arrangement. Appeals can take up to two years to work their way through the New Jersey judicial system so this is not a quick or easy remedy.

Custody Modifications

Undoing your arrangement is easiest when you and your spouse agree to a change. In this case, you can both sign a consent order with the new terms and submit it to the court. The judge will sign it and it will override your old custody arrangement, even if that arrangement was included in your divorce judgment. You can also ask the court to readdress issues of custody whenever a significant change occurs that makes your arrangement no longer workable. You can file a motion for modification after your divorce is final, but the judge will want to see evidence of a major change, such as your ex has developed a drug or alcohol dependency, lost his home or remarried someone who is abusive toward your child.

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