Frequently people come in to see me who want to relocate to another state with their children. Sometimes divorced, and sometimes having reached the end of non-marital cohabitation with the other natural parent, these individuals express a number of different reasons for wanting to leave New Jersey. Among the most common reasons are: A desire to go to a sun-belt state with appreciably cheaper costs of living and better job prospects; reuniting with family members who reside in another state; and a job transfer by a new spouse.
Under New Jersey law, N.J.S.A. 9:2-2, minor children of parents divorced, separated or living apart, who are natives of New Jersey, or having resided five years within its limits, cannot be removed for residential purposes out of this jurisdiction without the consent of both parents unless the court shall otherwise order.
A New Jersey Supreme Court case, Baures v. Lewis, 167 N.J. 91 (2001), establishes that a party seeking to move out of New Jersey with his/her children bears the burden of proving that there is a good-faith reason for the proposed move, and that the proposed move will not be inimical to the children’s interests. The following factors are addressed by the court in making this decision:
(1) the reasons given for the move;
(2) the reasons given for the opposition;
(3) the past history of dealings between the parties insofar as it bears on the reasons advanced by both parties for supporting and opposing the move;
(4) whether the child will receive educational, health and leisure opportunities at least equal to what is available here;
(5) any special needs or talents of the child;
(6) whether a parenting-time schedule and communication schedule can be developed that will allow the non-custodial parent to maintain a full and continuous relationship with the child;
(7) the likelihood that the custodial parent will continue to foster the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent if the move is allowed;
(8) the effect of the move on extended family relationships here and in the new location;
(9) if the child is of age, his or her preference;
(10) whether the child is entering his or her senior year in high school at which point he or she should generally not be moved until graduation without his or her consent;
(11) whether the non-custodial parent has the ability to relocate; and
(12) any other factor bearing on the child’s interest.
From my experience practicing in South Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part judges in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem Counties will almost always let the custodial parent move to either Philadelphia or New Castle County, Delaware, if minimally sufficient reasons are set forth by the party seeking to move as long as New Jersey retains jurisdiction of the case for so long as the law allows. As far as distant locales are concerned, I have always found that the best approach is to present the judge with a host of favorable options so as to make it difficult for him/her to deny the removal application. These reasons may include: An offer by the custodial parent to permit the non-custodial parent substantially extended summer and holiday parenting time; agreement to fly the non-custodial parent to the children’s new location several times per year if financially feasible; providing the judge with comprehensive statistics about the lower cost of living in the proposed new state, including housing costs, lower taxes and the consumer prices; more favorable job prospects in the new state than those available in New Jersey if the parent seeking to move has not already been offered or accepted new employment; and offering extensive telephone, Skype or Face Time contact with the children.
In a particularly thoughtful, comprehensive opinion, Benjamin v. Benjamin, 430 N.J. Super. 301 (Ch. Div. 2012), Judge L. R. Jones held that it was not a mandatory prerequisite for relocation that the parent seeking to move had obtained a guaranteed job in the other state. The court reasoned that it was not realistic to expect an employer in another state to offer guaranteed employment to an arms-length job applicant who (a) still lives in New Jersey, (b) is in the middle of ongoing family court litigation which may last for months, and (c) cannot reasonably tell the employer whether or when he or she might be able to start work.
If the other parent objects to the relocation, and there are genuine issues of fact as to whether or not the move would be personally, socially and financial harmful to the child, generally, the court schedules the removal application for a plenary hearing. This procedure is akin to a trial where witnesses are presented, documents introduced into evidence, and the attorneys prepare post-hearing, proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.
All in all, if the party seeking to relocate out-of-state prepares his/her application comprehensively, taking all of the factors set forth in Baures and Benjamin into consideration, there is a reasonable chance that relocation will be permitted.