New Jersey Child Custody and Visitation Rights for Parents in the Military – Help is on the Way
In New Jersey, as in many other States, getting the other parent to agree on a reasonable child custody and visitation plan is sometimes difficult. If you are serving in the military, that difficulty can be even greater because of your current or imminent deployment.
Is that fair to the brave mothers and fathers who are risking their lives to protect our country?
The New Jersey Legislature does not think so. On November 19, 2012, the Judiciary Committee in the New Jersey Assembly recommended passage of a bill which protects the custody and visitation rights of parents facing long-term military deployment. The bill was already passed unanimously by the New Jersey Senate in June 2012 and is backed by the New Jersey judiciary and the New Jersey State Bar Association.
When New Jersey family court judges must decide child custody or parenting time issues arrangement or any parenting time, the question is always: “What is in the best interests of the child? “Under the proposed new bill, New Jersey family court judges would not be allowed to use a parent’s active military status as a factor against that parent, when making a child custody determination.
If a parent is about to be deployed and there is no custody agreement in place, the proposed new bill states that a judge would have to accelerate the ruling on custody. Additionally, when a parent is being deployed, the proposed new bill allows a judge to make a temporary modification to the current child custody order.
The bill’s proponents point out that the United States military already provides protects soldiers from losing their jobs or their homes while overseas. Why, then, should they not also be protected from losing custody of their child while they are deployed?
New Jersey mother and soldier Leydi Mendoza is a heartbreaking example of why this bill is needed. She returned home from Iraq in 2009, only to find herself in the middle of a custody battle with her ex-boyfriend and the father of her two-year-old daughter. The plan had been to give the child’s father temporary custody of their daughter while Mendoza was deployed. However, when she returned, the child’s father severely limited Mendoza’s time with their daughter, and she was forced to file an application with the New Jersey Family Court to intervene. That application resulted in an Order granting Mendoza daily access to the child and also allowing her to have the child at her home for weekend sleepovers until the legal dispute was resolved.
If this bill is passed, the ordeal that Mendoza endured would be quickly resolved. During a military parent’s deployment, the other parent would have to make the child “reasonably available” to the service member. This would be done through telephone and email, along with any other forms of communication that are available–such as Skype. This mirrors an emerging trend in child custody called electronic visitation, which allows parents to use technology to keep in touch with their child.
In addition, the other parent must make reasonable efforts to allow the service member to see the child, while the service member is on leave or break from the deployment. The rationale behind this requirement is simple. Courts try to have both parents involved in the child’s life and a parent should not be penalized because of his/her deployment.
Furthermore, the proposed bill states that once the parent in the military returns from deployment, the custody arrangement that was in effect before deployment must resume. This arrangement would not be subject to modification for 90 days, which would give everyone time to get used to the resumed custody arrangement.
Salvaggio Law Group LLC devotes its entire practice to New Jersey Divorce and Family Law matters, including issues relating to child custody and parenting time.
If you want to talk, please call us at (973) 455-1220 or fill out the Contact Form on our website.