Divorced in New Jersey and Having an Issue About Your Child’s Preschool? Who Gets to Decide?
More often than not following a New Jersey divorce, parents have “joint legal custody” of their children. “Joint legal custody” means that the parents share authority and responsibility for making ‘major’ decisions regarding a child’s welfare. Among those major decisions is the child’s education.
However, also more often than not following a New Jersey divorce, the child lives with one of the parents and the other parent has parenting time. The parent who has physical custody is termed the “primary caretaker” of the child and the other parent is termed the “secondary caretaker.”
The New Jersey Supreme Court has said that the primary caretaker has the right to exercise parental discretion and authority on many child-rearing issues. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court has also said that the secondary caretaker has the right to participate in child-rearing decisions.
How should a New Jersey Family Court reconcile those competing interests, when the parents cannot agree on where their child should go to pre-school?
Earlier this year, in a case called Madison v. Davis, a New Jersey Family Court judge created the following 7 step process:
1. When a pre-school program is being used to fill a need for work-related day care, the primary caretaker should have the right to select the pre-school program for the child, or to transfer the child from one program to another one.
2. However, the selection has to be reasonable, based on cost, location, educational content, and other factors.
3. The primary caretaker must give the secondary caretaker notice of any proposed change in reasonably timely fashion.
4. The secondary caretaker has the right to file a Motion with the New Jersey Family Court, but he or she has the burden of convincing the Court that the primary caretaker’s selection or change of the child’s pre-school is unreasonable and contrary to the child’s health, education, general welfare and best interests.
5. The secondary caretaker must also show that there is a more reasonable alternative.
6. If the New Jersey Family Court judge finds that the pre-school selected by the primary caretaker is unreasonable, the judge may override the primary caretaker’s decision and order placement at a different pre-school.
7. The New Jersey Family Court judge can impose attorneys’ fees or other monetary sanctions on a parent who is acting unreasonably.
It is not uncommon for parents dealing with New Jersey child custody and parenting time issues to disagree on a wide range of child-rearing matters and for each parent to feel entitled to have a say. Whether you are the primary caretaker or the secondary caretaker, an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer can help you protect your rights in and out of court.
Salvaggio Law Group LLC is a Morris County, New Jersey family law firm which devotes its practice exclusively to New Jersey divorce and family law matters.
If you need help or just have a question, please call (973) 855-3595 today for a confidential consultation.