M.E.G. v. C.P., unpublished (2021).
It is not unheard of for one parent to move out of state. If the parties have minor children together, then the question is which parent is primarily going to have custody of the children. Many factors may come into play when making the determination. One set of parents in New Jersey tried to negotiate a relocation in an agreement. In this case, we see just how a court treats such agreement.
- Facts: Plaintiff and Defendant were parents to a minor child that resided in New Jersey. They entered into a relocation agreement in 2017 to move to Florida to seek better jobs and a fresh start. The agreement provided that Defendant and the child would move first, and then Plaintiff would move down at a later date. Defendant and child moved to Florida. Plaintiff paid for expenses related to the child during this time period. The parties separated in 2018. However, after separation, Defendant brought the child back to New Jersey to live with Plaintiff, while she went back to Florida to look for a higher paying job. After finding such job, Defendant visited Plaintiff in New Jersey and brought the child to Florida without the consent of Plaintiff. Plaintiff filed a motion to have the child returned and was granted primary custody. The court gave little weight to the relocation agreement. Defendant appealed.
- Issue: Did the trial court err in granting custody to Plaintiff, and not giving weight to the relocation agreement?
- Rationale: The New Jersey trial court, much like courts in North Carolina, is required to consider factors that relate to the best interests of the children. The trial court assessed fourteen factors when determining that custody would be better suited with the Plaintiff. Among those, the close ties between the child and his stepbrothers in New Jersey seemed to be given the most weight when the court balanced the factors. The relocation agreement was given little weight because in New Jersey, as it is in North Carolina, the court must determine custody pursuant to the best interests of the child. Agreements, while considered by the court, cannot remove the court’s burden to safeguard the interests of the child.
- Lessons and Observations:
- If relocation agreements are not particularly useful. They have the ability to show the court some motivations for relocation or that the parties are okay with some relocation. However, in a contested custody case, they are not likely to be useful because they cannot be binding on the court when it comes to the issue of child custody.